Win 9x - Freebies go the OS one better

TWEAK UI Microsoft's programmers knew that intermediate and advanced users would want more control over the Windows interface than the basic operating system provided. So they created Tweak UI, one of the best all-around Windows fixers. This utility has plenty of useful options to please power users and determined tinkerers. For an indication of some of the things it can do, see page 130, December 2000.

WEBSHOTS DESKTOP You spend many hours peering at your computer screen every day, so why settle for a static or boring view? You can spruce things up with Webshots Desktop, a combination wallpaper manager and slide-show screen saver. Webshots Desktop can automatically change your wallpaper at preset intervals and resize any image to fill the screen on the fly. The screen saver provides an array of transition effects between the pictures in your collection, and it features password protection.

Too frivolous for you? Perhaps you'd prefer to superimpose a no-nonsense calendar grid (with past and future months if desired) on your desktop wallpaper. Free registration at the Webshots Web site (www.webshots.com) entitles you to download stunning images to your computer and purchase poster versions of some photographs. You can share your photos with friends and family by adding your picture collection, using a simple drag-and-drop feature. The built-in photo manager allows you to create logical groupings for your images and preview them in thumbnail form.

EDITPAD For skimming ReadMe files, editing simple HTML code, or jotting down notes, a simple text processor can be a handy tool. Unfortunately, Notepad - the text editor that comes with Windows - lacks a search-and-replace feature, can't cope with files larger than 45KB, and has other flaws.

You can find many freeware replacements, but few are as elegant and functional as EditPad. EditPad lets you customise your font style, font colours, and background colours, and it supports multiple open documents (in one or multiple windows). It also has a helpful toolbar; a fully-featured find-and-replace command that works on one or more documents simultaneously; and tools for converting between spaces and tabs, changing case, and jumping to a specified line number.

EditPad is a variant of freeware that its developer calls postcardware: the only payment he requires is that you send him a postcard if you decide to use the product.

POWERDESK Good software isn't just about piling on features; it's also about design. Spend a few minutes working with Ontrack's PowerDesk file manager, and you'll find an elegance of workmanship that Windows Explorer cannot match. You'll discover, for example, how much easier it is to access drives from a simple bar at the top of the window than by scrolling through ranks of folders in the tree pane. It's also nice to be able to access common files and folders in your Favorites menu without having to wade through the undergrowth of all your Internet shortcuts. (What was Microsoft think-ing?) Imagine the time you'll save by having two folders that open in a single window tiled any way you want and that stay the way you laid them out (Windows forces you to drag and resize multiple windows every time you need to manage files in multiple folders). If you use the QuickView viewer that comes with Windows, you can integrate that pane into the window as well. The list goes on and on. Ontrack offers a more robust version (PowerDesk Pro) for only $US20, but the freeware version will suit many people just fine.

NOTIFY CD PLAYER Don't be fooled by the boring name - this handy software should be called Nifty CD Player. The simple, elegant utility plays audio (or mixed data/audio) CDs from an unobtrusive tray icon. You can extract the relevant information for your CD from the online CDDB database or submit the information yourself. Play tracks in order or randomly, and see information about the current CD, including track name, time remaining, and track number. In the title bar of the active application, Notify CD Player will display the information you like in the font of your choice. You'll find customisation options that you would expect to see in a shareware application costing $20 or more. But this one's free.

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