Windows XP: Essential tools

Time again to share with PC World readers the little things that bump up the usability of Windows XP.

Microsoft's offerings

Of the Power Toys, TweakUI, Power Calculator, Virtual Desktop Manager and Open Command Window Here are worth installing. My favourite, the Virtual Desktop Manager, gives Windows four desktops that you can flick between using hotkeys or the mouse - great for the manic multi-tasker with a system powerful enough to run it.

The graphic Power Calculator is neat for bashing out scientific and statistic stuff, and the TweakUI unlocks many Windows user interface settings. Microsoft's PowerToys are free.


Outlook Express is a pretty good e-mail program. Turn off all the HTML nonsense, and you have an e-mail client with threaded message view, multiple accounts, secure e-mail, both POP3 and IMAPv4 support, newsreader, and local/remote address books. But, it doesn't know how properly to quote messages to which you reply. For this, you want Dominik Jain's excellent OE-QuoteFix add-on that'll teach OE to quote like a pro. OE-QuoteFix will strip 'dash dash space' signatures, wrap text correctly, and colour code blocks of text so that it's easy to follow who said what in a long thread. OE-QuoteFix is donation-ware.


Since Internet Explorer is so hard to excise from Windows XP and the most egregious security holes have been fixed in Service Pack 2, you may want to consider using it again. It's not a bad browser, per se, but, lately, Mozilla and Opera have bypassed it in terms of useful features. This is where MyIE2 comes in, providing all the things you don't get with plain-vanilla IE. Tabbed browsing, mouse gestures, easy privacy protection, ad blocking, browser skinning, and more. Try it, and it'll make standard IE seem completely pedestrian in comparison. MyIE2 is donation-ware.

Click here to view a screen shot of MyIE2, which has the look and feel of Internet Explorer, but with all the features that Microsoft's ageing browser lacks.

Update January 2018 // MyIE2 is now known as Maxthon. You can find out more about it here and here.

4NT and Take Command/32

GUIs are for WIMPs. As any seasoned systems administrator will tell you, the command line's where the action is. They'll also tell you that the Windows XP CMD shell is rubbish.

The fix is to use JP Software's 4NT or Take Command shells instead. The former is similar to the Windows CMD shell, whereas the latter is a 'GUI command line', designed for a graphical environment.

Both 4NT and Take Command provide a tremendous amount of powerful features, such as command line editor, built-in file viewer, file descriptions using NTFS meta-data, batch programming language with subroutines, IF/THEN/ELSE/ conditional branching, variables and much more.

The current version 5 of 4NT and Take Command are very good, but JP Software is currently beta-testing what it says is "our most significant upgrade ever". Developer Rex Conn hopes to release a public beta of both by the time you read this, with the final versions soon to follow. 4NT and Take Command/32 cost $US69.95 each, or you can get the JP-CD suite with both programs plus 4DOS for Windows 9x/Me for $US99.95. Trial versions are available.

CoreFTP Lite and Pro

Try uploading and downloading files to your Web site with the Windows FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client. Not very nice, is it? No, if you transfer files on a regular basis, you'll want to try out CoreFTP, a graphical FTP client that makes an easy job of punting data across networks. CoreFTP can queue transfers to multiple sites, and resume them if interrupted. It'll do recursive uploads and downloads, plus delete files, and even handles encrypted transfers using Secure Shell (SSH).

The Lite version is free, and the feature-packed CoreFTP Pro costs $US29.95.


Windows XP comes with a Telnet client and the HyperTerminal terminal emulator. Neither is particularly good, so try PuTTY instead. PuTTY handles both Telnet and SSH, and also provides an xterm terminal emulator. If you connect to Linux/UNIX boxes from Windows, you simply cannot live without PuTTY. PuTTY is freeware.


If you want to take screenshots, you could press the PrintScreen key and edit the picture. Or, you could get MWSnap, which lets you capture windows or their elements separately.

MWsnap hasn't been updated for a few years, but nevertheless is an excellent screen capture tool that can also be used as a picture viewer and converter. Moreover, it's available in 18 languages, including traditional and Big5 Chinese. Mirek Wojtowicz's MWSnap is donation-ware.

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