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Helping Windows help itself

A trio of new programs can ease your migration to Windows XP. Windows Advisor hed: Helping Windows help itself dek: a trio of new programs can ease your migration to Windows XP. by Joe DeRouen

While Windows XP is arguably the best-ever release of Microsoft’s OS, there are still a few things that it doesn’t do that some people feel it should do. This month we’ll take a look at three programs that help Windows XP (as well as prior versions of Windows) reach its full potential.

Show me the cache

Cacheman, which is available for all flavors of Windows (including XP), is a performance-enhancement and memory-recovery utility. By optimizing the disk cache and additional system settings, it can prevent frequent data swapping to and from the hard drive, resulting in improved performance, system reaction time, and a more stable system overall.

Cacheman doesn’t do anything that you couldn’t do on your own by editing your System.ini file, but it does make things infinitely easier. The program boasts wizard-style dialogs that guide you through the memory-optimization process, a real-time readout on your physical and virtual memory, a sliding scale that allows you to set the file- and disk-cache size parameters, and more. Once finished, just reboot your system and you’re ready to go.

To make changes easier, the program can create a configuration report profile that you can use to revert to prior cache configurations. Cacheman also lets you customize monitoring functions, including history graphs for analyzing memory, GDI resources, disk cache, and swap files. Cacheman is also accessible from the system tray, and includes extra functions such as Memory Recovery (an option that allows you to automatically free up system resources at specific times or whenever memory falls below a certain threshold) and CD-ROM optimization features that will help your system read and access your discs more efficiently.

Cacheman is extremely easy to use, and the wizards are intuitive for the most part, helping you to get the most out of the utility. I was able to use Cacheman to free up about 5 percent of the 128MB of RAM on my Windows XP system. That may not sound like a lot, but every little bit helps, and if that 5 percent means I can avoid the dreaded “your system is dangerously low on resources” error message every so often, it’s well worth it.

Cacheman is shareware and can be downloaded from several Web sites, including Outer Technologies and costs $10 to register at Outer Technologies or elsewhere.

Tweaking Windows

Have you ever wanted to do something in Windows that you knew was probably possible, but you just couldn’t figure out how to do it? Enter Total Idea’s Tweak-XP, the premier companion to Windows XP. (They also make a version for Windows Me/95/98) This suite bundles more than 22 small utilities into one nice package, including an Internet ad blocker, a ZIP file repair system, a program that allows you to alter Outlook XP security settings, a folder protection utility, a utility that enables you to edit your start menu, and a whole lot more.

Tweak-XP can even do things that you probably never even thought that you might like to do. It can turn the Windows taskbar transparent, for example, or turn compressed folders on your hard drive into self-extracting EXE files. You can also censor the execution of certain applications, erasing any doubt that the kids (or your co-workers) will boot up your PC and access anything that they’re not supposed to. Heck, you can even synch your PC’s time to the atomic clock.

Using the program is as simple as checking and unchecking radio boxes. Very few of the 22 included utilities require you do more than click a few buttons or boxes, and the one or two that do are very well-documented and leave little room for error.

Probably the most complicated (but also potentially most useful) of the utilities is the ad blocker. The program already has a list of servers that it will look for in its mission to block Internet ads, but since new ads are always popping up, you can add to the list. And that’s the tricky part. You have to pay attention to the server sending the ad, add it to the list, and reclick the “Activate Ad-Blocker” radio box. It’s not rocket science, but it might be a bit tricky for someone not used to the inner working of domain names and Web servers.

Tweak-XP is fun to play with and more than a little useful. I’ve already edited my start menu, changed the transparency of the task bar, and started eliminating Internet ads. I also synched my PC’s time with the atomic clock and optimized my connection to the Net, all in the time it took to type that last sentence. I’ll never be late for a virtual meeting again.

Tweak-XP is available for purchase at Total Idea Software and costs $30.

You’ve got the power

Power Drawers 2000 is an enhanced replacement for Windows Explorer that works with all versions of Windows, including Windows XP. The program locates and organizes applications for speedy access, allowing you to navigate through multiple levels of folders with ease. When you first run the program it will give you the option to arrange all your applications into a series of folders. (Once the program is up and running, a very intuitive program called PowerOrganizer will classify items as soon as they’re installed on your system.) For example, Power Drawers can categorize all Internet-related programs and utilities into one easy-to-access folder, as well as make recently accessed files directly available from your desktop. And once everything is clarified and classified, you can instruct the program to clean up your desktop even further by having it eliminate redundant shortcuts.

The program also enables text, graphics, and HTML file previews; enables multiple associations with applications; and offers an impressive array of file- and folder-manipulation tools and the ability to password-protect different parts of your system. By organizing files and folders, Power Drawers 2000 significantly cuts down (if not outright eliminates) desktop clutter. And by right-clicking any drive, the program displays each folder and subfolder from within the menu. This feature enables you to navigate your entire hard drive and execute files with a simple click.

Power Drawers 2000 is packed with all sorts of useful features, but my favorite is called ExplorerTips. This neat function provides drive, folder, and file information whenever you hover your mouse over a particular item. Using this feature, I was able to identify and eliminate several superfluous files and folders that were just taking up space and clogging up my system, making for a leaner, less bloated Windows PC.

Power Drawers is available as shareware from Dynamic Karma and costs $35 to register. The shareware version is fully functional but expires after three weeks.

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