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In Pictures: 20 Must-Download Utilities For Windows 7

WindowBlinds

Made by the same company that developed Fences, WindowBlinds gives the desktop a whole new face-lift, allowing users to change the appearance of the Windows Start Bar, Explorer windows, and even add animations to the Start panel.

The Aero Colors preset will keep the overall Windows 7 Aero transparent look and feel. However, users will see a purple tint. Aero Metals adds an awesome, metallic skin to the interface, while Sublime looks somewhat hard and plastic, using gray and black designs.

Each style can be altered as well, allowing for overall changes in color, texture styles, transparency amounts, and fonts. Users can even go online and download and install styles created by other users.

While the "demo" version is free, Stardock offers an "enhanced" version for $19.95, and the "Object Desktop" version for a heftier $49.95.

Download: WindowBlinds 7.1

FileZilla

FileZilla is an open source FTP solution, distributed free of charge under the terms of the GNU General Public License.

The software is provided in two formats: client and server. The client version allows users to connect to external FTP servers and upload/download files, depending on permissions. The server works just the opposite. It allows users to host files for external clients. This is handy when images or game maps are just too large to send via instant messenger or email.

In addition to being free, FileZilla is extremely easy to use. It also supports IPv6, FTP over SSL/TLS (FTPS), SSH File Transfer Protocol (SFTP), and can even resume and transfer files larger than 4 GB. There's also support for drag and drop, remote file editing, configurable transfer speed limits, and synchronized directory browsing.

Download: FileZilla 3.3.4.1

7stacks

The functionality of 7stacks is somewhat similar to Fences. Both programs attempt to de-clutter the desktop by providing a way to organize and remove the shortcuts.

But rather than draw visual "fences" that define a group of icons, 7stacks borrows from Apple's OS X and allows users to stack shortcuts under one icon on the taskbar. When the user hits the icon, a stack of shortcuts pops up, just like the Start Menu. A good example would be Microsoft Office--users could create a stack from that folder so that it lists all the associated programs in the suite.

For those who already use Fences, you won't really need 7stacks. Both apps generally serve the same purpose, but provide a similar end result.

7stacks isn't quite as versatile as Fences. It's more limited with regard to appearance. It also supposedly takes on Windows 7's Aero transparent appearance. But this doesn't seem to work when using WindowBlinds at the same time.

Download: 7stacks 1.5 Beta 1

Inkscape

Looking for a free, open-source replacement for Adobe Illustrator? Inkscape is the ideal candidate, offering vector graphics editing that nearly matches the capabilities of Adobe's premium offering, Corel's CorelDraw, and even Xara X.

The program's file format is based on the W3C standard Scalable Vector Grpahics (SVG) file format, and supports features like alpha blending, cloning, markers, layers, and 3D object creation. The woman shown above isn't a photograph--she's a hand-drawn illustration created in this awesome toolset.

But it gets even better--Inkscape supports digital tablets. For graphic artists, that's an important aspect when considering vector-based solutions. The freeware even goes so far as to support pen tilt and pressure, allowing for unique strokes defined by angle and weight. This manual line-weight support is necessary when trying to cartoon or draw calligraphy.

Honestly, it's simply amazing that this powerful tool doesn't cost a thing.

Download: Inkscape 0.48

Scribus

Here's another graphics art program aimed at those looking for an alternative to Adobe's InDesign software: Scribus. This free, open-source solution supports professional publishing features, such as CMYK color, separations, Spot Colors, ICC color management, and versatile PDF creation. It's designed for flexible layout and typesetting--users can literally create their own business cards, brochures, newsletters, and magazine ads.

Scribus is professional desktop publishing without the hefty fees associated with high-endsoftware. Scribus was originally developed for Linux and Unix machines, its interface is clean and easy to manipulate. Users can quickly create a document from scratch with ease, or use one of the built-in templates, such as Newsletter or Brochure.

The drawback to Scribus is that users are required to download a separate program--Ghostscript 8.60 or greater--that allows Scribus to handle ESP and PS importing and printing. Ghostscript is essentially an interpreter for the PostScript language. This needs to be set up before printing high-quality fonts.

Download: Scribus 1.3.7

Switcher

Want a quick way to switch between open windows on the fly? As its name implies, Switcher does just that, adding a very unique, visual element by displaying everything in a grid, as tiles (meaning all windows are reduced to fit on the screen), or as smaller windows docked to one side.

The program will also label each window with a number: for instance, the browser may be labeled as "1," the movie player as "2," and the chat client as "3," and so on. Users simply activate the array of windows by typing the Window + tilde keys.

In addition to its core offering, Switcher allows the user to personalize the way windows are displayed--color, sizes, and frame types can be altered. The actual desktop itself can be viewed as an individual window, and shortcuts allow users to assign commands to the keyboard like Begin Search (Ctrl + F) and Show Applications Only (Ctrl + W).

Download: Switcher 2.0.0.2705

Steam

Valve Software's Steam service really needs no introduction--it has been around since 2003 and provides a means for digital distribution, digital rights management (DRM), and facilitates its own gaming community.

CDs and DVDs are now a thing of the past, as Steam offers the latest PC games and plenty of classics. Looking for something the kids would enjoy? Steam has it covered. Want to go retro and play Sega's Altered Beast or Golden Axe? Steam is your time machine to the old-school console hits.

Oh did we mention that Steam has an awesome library of PC games?

Download: Steam V009

Trillian

While there are plenty of multi-client chat programs available to download, Trillian has probably been around the longest, having launched ten years ago. Since it's inception, Trillian has picked up a number of additional clients, such as Skype, Facebook, MySpace, and a few others. In the graphics department, it has certainly improved over the years.

Currently Trillian supports the more popular clients, including AIM, ICQ, Windows Live Messenger, Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, Jabber, Bonjour, and Astra. For IRC junkies, Trillian can even keep connection to your favorite channels. The only strange aspect to Trillian is the way it handles Skype: the program is required to be loaded in silent mode in order for users to use its features within Trillian.

In addition to the chat clients, Trillian can check popular Web email accounts like Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo! Mail.

Although Trillian is free to download and use, the "Pro" version ($15) allows for various skins, as well as video and voice messaging.

SysMetrix

SysMetrix is a skinnable dock and metering application that provides system metrics in various and interesting ways. By default, the application shows the date and time, local weather conditions, CPU usage, memory usage, drive capacity limits, network activity, and a few extra options.

The application can monitor and report on hundreds of statistics, including Windows' uptime, the number of files in the recycling bin, the percentage of physical memory used, and the PC's current IP address. This makes it easy for users to keep track of various system levels on the fly, as it resides docked on the desktop.

Other tools in SysMetrix include a mixer for changing the various volume levels (MIDI, CA audio, Line-In, etc.), sequencing with the atomic clock, means to quickly check email, and lots more. Panel buttons give quick access to Explorer and the Control Panel while the main menu grants access to a separate weather screen that tracks and graphs the rise and fall of temperature, pressure, and humidity.

SysMetrix is free to download and use. Various themes can be downloaded and installed by heading here.

  • killerclick
    You forgot IrfanView and MyDefrag, otherwise good list.
    Reply
  • cashews
    I find features like these, "go to 20 different pages to read one article", to be quite annoying and irritating. I take it you guys need to do this to get page impressions for your ads or something.
    Reply
  • Suggesting VLC over MPC-HC? Something is very wrong here.
    Reply
  • darthvidor
    I like fences and switcher, thanks!
    Reply
  • johnyeah
    Fences is nice, but it significantly slows down Windows boot time. I used to use it for organization, until I restructured my desktop and used other taskbar pins and start menu instead.
    Reply
  • thats awesome list, love you tom's
    Reply
  • Stardude82
    Ooo Steam. It should be mentioned that there are a dozen or so pretty decent free games you can get in addition to many demos. Sometime they give games away for free. Also, ask a friend if they have an extra copy of Half-Life 2 to give you and enjoy all the mods!
    Reply
  • mitch074
    A few remarks...
    - CCleaner is good (in fact, VERY good) at removing crap. But it's not completely crapware-free: it installs the Yahoo toolbar by default. However, you can un-check that option at install, so don't go clicking 'next-next-next' too fast. Then, true, it's damn good.
    - 7-zip can unpack anything that is zipped; if a ZIP file fails, then it wasn't a ZIP file... Or it was corrupted.
    - The GIMP accepts what you say, and more: current stable version can deal with CMYK data, colour profiles, and can even delegate some work to the graphics card. And, yes, it provides some HDR effects.
    - Scribus and Ghostscript are separated for one very simple reason: Ghostscript being THE reference implementation of Postscript in the Free Software world, it is very often updated - and it is very nice to be able to update said reference without having to update the whole stack. This may be a drawback on first install (you need to install two packages), it's a boon on prolonged use: no need to download the whole shebang every time Ghostscript is updated...
    - I wonder about Trillian: why not Pidgin? It does the same thing Trillian does (for the free version), on more networks, and sound/video chat are being added little by little.
    Reply
  • Stardude82
    Oh yeah, having an Nvidia or ATI video card gets you on Steam HL2: Deathmatch, but that won't get you access to mods it turns out. You can buying it for $5 should work.
    Reply
  • jimishtar
    CCCP should definitely be on that list.
    Reply