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72. PowerToys let users customize Windows

By Andrew D. Wright

Most readers are familiar with Microsoft's Windows Operating System and know that it can be customized a great deal to suit the needs of the user. Probably fewer are aware that there are a number of tools created by Microsoft to help with this. These are called "PowerToys" and we'll take a look at some of them here.

Microsoft's Windows PowerToys are a free download from the Microsoft website, but since Microsoft does not consider them to be an official part of Windows, they do not provide any additional technical support for them. Most of these PowerToys are for Windows XP only.

Probably the most famous PowerToy is TweakUI. This powerful user interface tool was first released after Windows 95 came out and allows a user to change everything from how the mouse behaves to the appearance of desktop icons. Do you want to clear your document history on shutdown automatically? Turn off AutoPlay on your CD or DVD drives? Repair incorrectly displayed desktop icons? TweakUI does this and dozens of other tasks from setting up automatic logging on to the computer to customizing what icons are shown in Control Panel.

Another handy PowerToy is the replacement for Alt-Tab task switching. The new Alt-Tab not only switches from one open task to another but also shows a preview window for each task. This is very useful when you have multiple windows of the same application open.

The Virtual Desktop Manager gives Windows XP users a new ability which Linux users have had all along: the power to switch between different desktops at the same time for the same logged in user. With this PowerToy, you can have four different desktops - each with its own wallpaper - and click from one to another with a handy taskbar button. You can select whether you want to share open applications between desktops or not, and a preview button will show you all four desktops at the same time.

The Taskbar Magnifier is a particularly useful PowerToy. It takes a piece of your taskbar and shows a magnified view of the area around your mouse pointer. You can select from 8x, 4x, 2x and even 1x magnifying power and resize the magnifier area on your taskbar as large or small as you wish. This is just the thing for when you come across some small type you need to read.

While not strictly speaking a PowerToy, there is a new Windows XP version of the familiar MSCONFIG system startup manager tool that has shipped with Windows since Windows 98. This new version keeps the old familiar format but adds a new tab for Tools. This new tab puts more than a dozen different control options for Windows XP in one easy to find place.

Windows XP PowerToys (includes TweakUI for Windows XP):

TweakUI for Windows 2000, Windows NT, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows 98 and Windows 95:

New MSCONFIG for Windows XP:

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Originally published 13 November 2005


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