By now, most of us have already heard of Microsoft's Power Toys. They're a group of programs created by Microsoft employees (but not supported by Microsoft) that allow you to alter the way your favorite flavor of Windows works by allowing you to, for example, change how the operating system shuts down, or what logo to display when your PC boots up.
Power Toys are very useful and fun, but there are several other programs out there that not only duplicate what Power Toys can do, but also add more functionality and options to the mix.
TweakNow Power Pack (screenshot pictured) is one of the most versatile and powerful of the "tweaking" programs available today. The software allows you to control just about every aspect of your OS, including a DirectX diagnostic area that allows you to examine almost anything having to do with DirectX; a very comprehensive registry cleaner; a system optimizer that teaches your system how best to use the memory it has; a processes menu that shows you exactly where all that system memory is going; and much more. It even lets you list and access the Microsoft Power Toys that you have installed on your PC.
As powerful as the program is, it's also very easy to use. All of the sections of the application are clearly labeled, and the help files included with the program are friendly and easy to understand. If you want to be able to change the way your PC looks and acts but don't have the wherewithal to tinker with the OS itself, you'll love this app. A free ten-day trial version of the program is available; registration costs $25.
Spraying for bugs
As nice as it is to be able to alter core Windows settings with programs such as TweakNow Power Pack, you'll occasionally run into problems that not even the best "tweak" program or power toy will be able to overcome, and that's where PC Bug Doctor comes in. According to the program's Web site, it's not uncommon for a PC to have as many as 200 errors-and the more errors your computer has, the more likely it will be to crash. Culprits include old install/uninstall programs that never got erased, old shortcuts to non-existent programs, invalid application paths, and truncated and corrupted registry entries, all of which can, at best, slow down your PC, or at worst crash your system.
PC Bug Doctor will scan your Windows PC and attempt to fix all of these problems. And while the program doesn't look all that professional (it runs in a quarter-sized window that features a crawling cockroach) it does its job very well. I scanned my 2.0 GHz VPR Matrix system and found 149 errors, including redundant registry entries and corrupted backup files. The program searched the entire computer (which means it takes 5-10 minutes to run) and, upon my okay, deleted or fixed the offending snafus. Less than a half an hour after installation, I had a PC that was running a good 15 percent faster than it had previously.
You can download a trial version of the program that scans but won't actually fix problems. A 30-day unlock key costs $40, while a one-year unlock key will run you $60. The best deal, however, seems to be the lifetime key for $130, which includes a bundle of bonus software and the ability to use the program on as many different PCs as you want. Multi-PC license and bonus software notwithstanding, with Windows upgrades and new software always around the corner a lifetime license might not be such a bad idea.