The best Windows 7 downloads

With these free and low-cost downloads, you can customize and tweak Windows 7 just about any way you wish.

Not quite happy with the way Windows 7 works, or looking to get more out of the operating system? You've come to the right place. We're big fans of Microsoft's latest OS, but we're also big fans of making Windows better. In this article, we've rounded up the best Windows 7 downloads. They'll let you customize it in any way possible, give it features that Microsoft removed or neglected to include, and more. So get ready to download--you're about to take Windows 7 to a new level.

(If you're eager to grab more than one of these great programs, see our Windows 7 Downloads collection.)

Network Activity Indicator for Windows 7

When Microsoft released Windows 7, the company inexplicably did away with a small, nifty utility called the Network Activity Indicator. Now you can have it back. The Network Activity Indicator for Windows 7 does what the Vista utility does, and then some. Like the Vista version, this tool puts a small icon (depicting two monitors) in the system tray to indicate when you're connected to a network or the Internet, and the icon blinks to show you when your machine is sending or receiving data; it also provides useful information, such as the network to which you're connected.

On top of that, however, this utility offers a lot more detail. For example, if you hover your mouse over its icon, you'll see transmission data about the number of packets you've sent and received. Right-click the icon, and you'll find yourself in network techie heaven, with gobs of statistics such as your active open connections, the number of errors you've received, your minimum timeout settings, and the like.

Even if you don't need all of that information, though, this is a very practical addition to your Windows 7 PC. It's a convenient tool for seeing your network status at a glance.

Download Network Activity Indicator for Windows 7 | Price: Free

7Smoker Pro

Want more customization power than you can get from free Windows 7 utilities? Try the for-pay 7Smoker Pro. It gives you enormous control over countless aspects of Windows 7's appearance and functionality in four categories: Tweaks, Maintenance, Security, and Passwords. Each of those categories has subcategories, and each subcategory offers multiple tweaks--which means that you can customize hundreds of individual Windows 7 settings.

If you don't have the patience to make that many tweaks, the program also has a one-click automatic tuner that peers into your system and adjusts it to make it run more effectively. You'll also find other nice tools, such as one that looks for the folders consuming the most space on your hard disk so that you can trim them down.

Although some of the tweaks are straightforward and easy to understand, many others are more technical in nature. Do you know what it means to 'Disable paging of kernel' or to 'Disable TIF Settings', for example? This application lets you do such things, but it doesn't tell you what they mean, or what effect the settings have on your PC. As a result, 7Smoker Pro is best suited for more-experienced Windows fans--but they'll find it very useful.

Download 7Smoker Pro | Price: US$30 (free trial)

Windows 7 Manager

A great way to bend Windows 7 to your will is to use Windows 7 Manager. With this utility, you have the power to customize and improve just about every aspect of Windows 7. Want to optimize and clean your system? Need to control what programs run on Windows startup, or to adjust the Task Scheduler to turn off unnecessary system tasks? No problem.

This application also does far more, including improving security and cleaning your hard disk. The amount of control that Windows 7 Manager gives you is extraordinary. For example, you can change the mouse hover time before a pop-up displays, repair hardware and software problems, or optimize your broadband connection.

The neatly laid-out interface puts everything within reach. Click what you want to improve, and you'll see a screen full of options, often accompanied by simple-to-follow wizards. In other instances, you'll need to have a bit of technical background. But no matter what, in this program you'll find easy ways to make Windows 7 work just as you want it to.

Download Windows 7 Manager (32-bit) | Download Windows 7 Manager (64-bit) | Price: $40 (free trial)

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Preston Gralla

PC World (US online)
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