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Web and shareware resources for Windows XP.

While I can point out a few tips and tricks in this space every month, I can’t come close to a complete Windows resource. Fortunately, I don’t have to. There are a gazillion places to find more info on Windows on the Web. And a lot of the sticky little problems I can’t solve with Windows alone can be solved through shareware. Here are my favorite places to find the information on (and shareware that I need for) Windows XP–available whenever I need it.

The Windows Users Group Network (WUGNET): founded in 1988 and launched officially on CompuServe in 1989, it is the oldest and largest independent online organization supporting the Microsoft Windows XP, 2000, NT, and 9x environments. The group has actively provided third-party support for Microsoft’s customers for over a decade, and continually helped to provide peer-to-peer support for not only Windows XP but all flavors of the Windows operating systems.

WUGNET is an incredible online resource for anything remotely having to do with Windows. In addition to a new Windows XP resource center, (which was recently still a work in progress, but should have already debuted by the time this column is published) the site offers Windows shareware reviews, a Shareware Hall of Fame, several online forums, a Computing Tip of the Day, and much more. And yes, every bit of it is free.

The forums are particularly useful since they cover a wide variety of topics relating to Windows. Some of the 20-plus forums include Windows Shareware, Palmtop Computing, Printers and Scanners, Windows Entertainment, Internet Explorer, and, of course, the Windows Support Forum. Each forum has subforums (or Message Boards) devoted to particular topics. For example, Outlook Express/Outlook can be found under the Internet Explorer Forum. There is a lot of good information here and the search options are easy to use, so you can find exactly what you’re looking for in no time flat.

The site also offers an assortment of free newsletters that can be delivered to your mailbox daily or weekly. There are five different newsletters available, including my favorite, Shareware Pick of the Week. Once a week, the editors of the site send out their pick for the best shareware program for your Windows PC. Another weekly feature is the Computer Insider newsletter, which is also sent weekly and covers tips and tidbits relating to Windows and the world of computers.

My favorite part of the site is the Shareware Hall of Fame. If you want to find shareware that’s useful and won’t crash your system, this is definitely the place to go. The programs are divided under the different flavors of Windows and new shareware packages are added each week. This week’s pick, for example, is the ACDSee Power Pack, an add-on to the popular graphics viewer from ACDSystems. The site offers a quick rundown of what the programs have to offer as well as a link to download them. The programs listed in the Hall of Fame are, of course, derived from the Shareware Pick of the Week newsletter, but it’s nice to have all of the programs listed on one page in case you’re a recent subscriber or deleted the newsletter before downloading the program in question.

Paul Thurrott’s supersite for Windows: Author Paul Thurrott’s Web site has been mentioned many times in this column, and for good reason. when it comes to information on Windows XP, you just can’t find a better resource–and that includes Microsoft.com. As always, Paul’s site is up-to-date and contains reviews and previews of all the latest Windows-related software.

Scheduled to be released in August, Paul already has the inside scoop on Windows XP Service Pack 1. According to the site, the upgrade will offer enhanced security features, better USB 2.0 support, new UI components (including Configure Program Defaults), and expanded hardware support. The report on the service pack delves into the nitty-gritty of each new offering, and offers up opinions of whether the upgrades are actually worth the download. Also included are screenshots of the Service Pack Wizard in action, so you know exactly what to expect when the software is made available to the general public.

The site also offers comprehensive comparisons of Windows XP add-ons (such as browsers, instant messengers, and media players), Windows XP book reviews, and more. If you want to keep up with the very latest news on Microsoft’s OS, including the dirt on products that have yet to be released, you definitely need to bookmark this site.

Power Toys for Windows XP: Microsoft offers a slew of free add-on programs (called PowerToys) for Windows XP, including programs that replace the old ALT-TAB command, an HTML slide show wizard, a Taskbar magnifier, a power calculator, the famous Tweak UI, and more. It’s always puzzled me that Microsoft doesn’t simply release the PowerToys with the OS in question, but there still are several fun–and functional–programs to be found here.

Most are simple modifications that build upon already-existing Windows functions but manage to make them easier to use or more comprehensive. The ALT-TAB replacement, for example, in addition to displaying the icon of the application window you’re switching to, will also let you see a preview of the page. This helps immensely when you have several browser windows open at the same time, or when you are working on several different Word documents.

The taskbar magnifier works just as the title implies. You can magnify some or all of the icons on your taskbar, giving you a clearer view of what’s going on down there. The power calculator is an enhanced version of the regular Windows calculator that allows you to graph and evaluate functions as well as perform many types of conversions.

Tweak UI is, of course, the real gem among the bunch. Using this clever add-on, you can alter system settings that you wouldn’t normally have access to in the Windows XP default user interface, including mouse, Explorer, and taskbar settings. If you enjoy being in control and making things look and feel exactly how you want them to look and feel, you definitely need this program. While you could ultimately do without most of the other PowerToys available from Microsoft, Tweak UI is a must-have for the Windows XP power user.

Techfacts XP 2.2: If you really want to get under the hood of your Windows XP operating system, Dean Software Design’s Techfacts XP 2.2 provides an inexpensive way to get there. Free to try and $20 to buy, the program enables you to gather detailed data on just about every aspect of your Windows PC and includes a new memory defragmenter and several different CPU benchmark tests.

Using the software, you can get Windows-related information to which you might not otherwise have access. Sections that you can explore include System, Windows, Software, Tools and Reports. You can view reports on memory usage, CPU load, registry analysis, incoming cookies, and more. The program also allows you to save your CMOS settings to a text file, search Windows for text strings, and track changes made by newly installed programs. And when you’re finished, you can export the reports to HTML, Microsoft Excel, or even e-mail them to yourself.

There are several programs that do the same thing that this program does, but few that are as easy to operate and, frankly, as cheap. If you want to get the facts about your system but don’t want to learn a new language and spend an arm and a leg getting there, you could do a lot worse than Techfacts XP 2.2.

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