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Pepping Up Windows

Introduction

The average Windows user tends to be less than satisfied with Windows. And that's no surprise, either, given the rather woeful state of its default applications. Consider that both Wordpad and Notepad refuse to open larger files, the integrated audio recorder limits recordings to 60 seconds, and Paint, the integrated graphics program, offers only the most rudimentary of features. Worse still, Internet Explorer can neither be considered modern nor safe for browsing, while Outlook Express is known for its affinity for contracting any number of worms and viruses. In short, the out-of-the-box Windows configuration is usually outdated and problem laden.

The good news is that there's hope for improving your Windows experience. There are many alternatives to these and other default Windows apps - many of them open source and freeware - that can help you pep up your Windows installation and boost your productivity, making life with Windows more bearable.

Here is an alphabetical list of the programs we review in this article. Following the table, we'll describe each one, organized by category.

ProgramDescription
7-ZipOne of the most powerful archiving and zipping tools
AbiwordA real alternative to MS Word
CdexA CD ripper, MP3 encoder and an analog sound recorder all rolled into one
CygwinA powerful command shell. It can even open a KDE user interface inside a window.
Dao-SetupA freeware database extension; required for Ditto
DittoA smart and practical extension to the standard Windows clipboard; may require the file "dao_setup.exe"
FilezillaA powerful FTP client with graphical user interface
FirefoxThe modern and secure web browser
GimpOne of the best image editing programs, which can handle even professional tasks; requires GTK+
GraphcalcA scientific Calculator that can also render animations
GTK+Runtime Environment; required for Gimp
KeynoteA text editor that can created nested documents
Litestep InstallerA convenient installer for the Litestep user interface
Open OfficeA complete office suite for Windows
Task Switch XP ProThis extension replaces the Windows Task Switcher
ThunderbirdA potent email client and newsreader from the Mozilla Foundation
TinnA text editor that offers more functionality than Notepad
VirtuawinThis program allows the use of up to nine virtual desktops
VLC Media PlayerA multimedia player that supports numerous codecs
Win Dir StatA tool that illustrates disk usage using colored diagrams