How to: Windows: Keeping up appearances

My first experience of Windows was on a hulking 386 laptop, back in the days when my Dad foolishly thought 'portable' meant just that. Windows was still little more than a glorified DOS shell which had to be loaded up on 3.5in disks.

The fact I had any control over the look and feel of the information I was tapping into the databases and text documents I created seemed pretty marvellous. Formatting, colored text, customizable backgrounds... Desktop publishing and design as we know it today were all but unthinkable.

Of course Windows XP made a massive change to that. It dumped the hard edges and clunkiness of Windows 98 in favor of a softer, more adaptable interface. And it didn't routinely thrust hundreds of options under your nose whenever you wanted to type a simple letter, just because Microsoft wanted to show off how many features it had included.

Now, despite the predictable delays, we're gearing up for another treat. Windows Vista won't be such a sea change as either 95 or XP, but it will make PC life that little bit lovelier. And, thanks to its 3D, translucent panes, livelier too. Thankfully, Vista should be more secure too -- a relief after XP's holes.

Finding your way through a morass of files will be easier as automatically- and user-tagged data will mean you can search for anything, from any point. Many of Vista's formats and functions were still in their infancy when XP was born. We'll get scalable graphics and 3D folders with visual previews, photo formats that are lossless but highly compressed. DVD playback codecs and disc-burning capabilities natively supported by Windows Media Player 11.0 will be present, too.

You can head to Microsoft's Web site to have a peak but, unless you're one of the chosen few testers, you can't yet give it a try yourself.

Instead, however, we've assembled a step-by-step guide that goes some way towards making XP look and act like Vista.

Make XP look like Vista

  1. If you like the wallpapers Microsoft provides as part of XP, you'll enjoy more of the same with your Vista-esque PC. Head to www.vistawallpaperarchive.com or www.vistaultimate.com/wallpapers1.htm, and choose a design you like. Right-click to download it. Double-click it to view. Right-click and choose 'Set as desktop background'.

  2. To get a snazzy 3D mouse pointer, browse to microsoft.blognewschannel.com/index.php/archives/2006/07/03/get-the-new-vista-aero-cursors. If you're using Windows XP the effect won't be as impressive as if you were working with the Vista beta. Unzip the Aero Cursors folder to your desktop and right-click the Install file.

  3. Go to Control Panel, Appearance and Themes and choose the Mouse Pointers option to the left of the main pane. Click on Pointers and you'll see 'Aero Cursors (Alphablended)' listed in the Scheme drop-down. Scroll down the items in the Customize list for a preview of the symbols that will appear, depending on the task.

  4. Vista will include a range of applets that sit on your desktop and serve up the information that's most useful to you. Known as Gadgets, they're similar to the widgets Yahoo offers for XP users and those Apple's OS X Tiger includes. Head to widgets.yahoo.com and download the installation tool for XP.

  5. By default, Widgets are stored in My Documents. Yahoo displays some of the most popular widgets and directs you to the icon in your System Tray from where you can manage your onscreen applets. Pressing F8 greys out open windows for an unobstructed of view of your widgets.

  6. Another tool you can already take advantage of is Desktop Sidebar. Available from desktopsidebar.com, it displays information such as the weather forecast, information on your PC's performance, news headlines and more. Clicking on a pane enlarges the info and lets you customize aspects such as your location.

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Rosemary Haworth

PC Advisor (UK)
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