Make Windows XP act like Vista

In less than an hour, these freebies can transform XP into an ersatz Vista.

Not thrilled about spending a bundle on Vista - and dealing with potential bugs and hardware upgrades? Stick with XP, and use these tools to emulate the Vista experience.

The Hassle: I'm trying to resist moving to Vista. How can I make XP perform like the new Windows OS?

The Fix(es): You can be a holdout (like me) and use a few XP-based freebies that do a surprisingly good job of emulating some of Vista's fancy graphical features. The first three apps listed below are my favourites.

Copernic Desktop Search: Vista's search is fast and smart - and so is Copernic's, with keyword, file content, Boolean, and wildcard searches (Copernic).

Desktop Sidebar: Vista has a handy Windows sidebar with calendars, calculators, a quick link to your media player, and RSS feeds. Desktop Sidebar (Desktop Sidebar) offers similar features, with zillions of add-ons, including a file browser, a weather summary, news updates and an e-mail checker.

Vista Start Menu SE: This utility creates a fair imitation of Vista's Start menu, but adds functions that Vista lacks - built-in shortcut keys to frequently used Windows functions such as Reboot, Switch Users and Hibernate ( Reboot, Switch Users and Hibernate). Another great alternative for organising apps and files is JetStart Free (codesector); it's faster than Vista Start Menu SE, but less fancy. (Choose just one of these tools.)

Visual Task Tips: This clever tool pops up a preview - a miniature image - of the open window in the taskbar. Scroll your mouse wheel up or down on the image to resize it (Visual Task Tips).

Folder Marker: Customise your folder icons and icon backgrounds with Vista icons (a href=http://foldermarker.com target="_blank">Folder Marker). Folder Marker is a snap to use, and you can visit Horizon Software (Horizon Software) to download a bunch of Vista icons. (Choose icons of the Ico file type.)

WindowBlinds 5: One prominent Vista feature you might like is Windows Glass, the semitransparent, coloured window edges that Windows Aero has. WindowBlinds 5 (WindowBlinds) provides skins - visual styles and themes - that allow you to change the look and feel of many parts of Windows XP. For example, this program lets you modify toolbar icons, the Start Menu and Start button, menu and dialogue borders, and the taskbar and title bar. Get the Vista Plus Version 2 skin at the WinCustomize site (WinCustomize).


Top Tip BOOKMARK DUDS

Do you collect Favourites? Me too - so I use AM-DeadLink (AM-DeadLink). This brilliant tool checks your browser's bookmarks to see if they're alive and well (or dead and in the 404 bit bucket); it also spots duplicate links. Deleting unwanted faves is easy: From Bookmarks, select Sort bookmarks with errors to top of list, highlight the duds, and dismiss them. You can also use AM-DeadLink's built-in viewer to check links or to open them in your browser. Just as nifty is being able to download and install cool icons (called FavIcons) from any bookmarked Web site. AM-DeadLink works with IE 6, IE 7, Mozilla, and - I can sense your synapses snapping to attention - Firefox and Opera.

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