My top free Windows 7 add-ons

These are my current top free Windows 7 add-ons (they will all work with Windows XP and Windows Vista too).

allSnap

http://ivanheckman.com/allsnap/

allsnap

allSnap is a small system tray app that makes all top level windows automatically align like they do in programs such as Winamp or Photoshop. Makes your windows feel slightly magnetic.

On 64-bit applications you have to run both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions but you can hide them from displaying in the notification area/system tray; apparently they are working on a version that will work with both 32- and 64-bit PCs.

There is no installer, just drag a shortcut to your Start > Programs > Startup folder.


Classic Shell

http://classicshell.sourceforge.net/

classicshell

Add the “Up” button back on Windows 7 Explorer. They’re bringing it back to Windows 8, I believe. Classic Shell has other features, but I just use the Up button, mostly.

Update: It’s worth pointing out that Classic Shell is dependent on Internet Explorer. I did a reset of IE9 and disabled all the add-ons and extensions, which resulted in the Up button disappearing from Windows Explorer. Thankfully there is documentation on the Classic Shell website to address this.


Dexpot

http://www.dexpot.de/

dexpot

Advertised as “the tool Windows lacks”, Dexpot is a virtual desktop application enabling you to create up to 20 virtual desktops: one desktop might be for email, another for editing graphics, another for writing, etc.

So, rather than switching between multiple applications, just switch to the appropriate desktop. It supports Windows Gadgets and in multiple-monitor setups you can choose to create virtual desktops on any of your monitors (e.g. only switch monitor 1).

The effects (found under Plugins and Extras) are attractive offering sliding desktops or cube-like effects.


Dropbox

http://www.dropbox.com/

dropbox

It would have been remiss of me to not include Dropbox. 2GB of free space, drop your files into a directory and they are accessible everywhere: on your laptop, on your mobile phone, via a Web browser. You can also share folders with other users or with the public.

And if you start inviting others to use it, Dropbox will give you 250MB more space for each new user who joins (up to a certain limit).


Fences

http://www.stardock.com/products/fences/

fences

Organise your desktop icons into groups that you can label.


Microsoft Security Essentials

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/products/security-essentials

microsoftsecurityessentials

The anti-annoying, anti-expensive, anti-virus application. I now use it on my desktop and both laptops, replacing AVG Free and Symantec Norton AntiVirus 2011.


Mouse without borders

Microsoft Garage

mousewithoutborders

Move your mouse between computers attached to your network (e.g. desktop and laptop), drag-and-drop files from one PC to the next, copy and paste between machines, and share the keyboard too.


PrintFolder

http://no-nonsense-software.com/freeware/

printfolder

A really handy utility to print or save a list of files located in any folder. Right-click any folder in Windows Explorer and select “PrintFolder” in the popup menu.


PureText

http://www.stevemiller.net/puretext/

puretext

Windows + V will paste your clipboard text as plain text — great for pasting from Word or webpages and stripping out formatting.


RocketDock

http://rocketdock.com/

RocketDock

A customizable, hide-able application launcher. I have it hidden beneath my main toolbar and it contains my most-used application shortcuts — those that are not pinned to my main Windows 7 toolbar.


Switcher

http://insentient.net/

switcher

Like the Mac exposé feature, but on Windows. Shows you all the currently open windows.


TreeSize Free

http://www.jam-software.com/treesize_free/

treesize

Right-click a folder, select TreeSize and it will tell you how big that folder and all its sub-folders are. Great for checking to see if stuff will fit onto CD-R or USB drives.


Winsplit Revolution

http://winsplit-revolution.com/

winsplit-revolution

Does magic with windows: reorganise windows to 33%, 50% or 66% (or define your own) with keyboard shortcuts. Windows 7 comes with the ability to quickly show two windows side-by-side, well this does it too and a whole lot more.

I’ve mapped my keyboard number pad to the monitor so that I can easily resize windows with just a few key presses.


What are your favourites?

What are your favourite, free Windows applications let me know in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll post my favourites on this blog too.

Now playing–Windows 7 gadget that works with Winamp

Yesterday I discovered a Windows 7 gadget that I had been wishing for months someone would write. It turns out that it has been around since 2007, I’d just not found it yet.

The gadget is called Now Playing – With Lyrics by Lawrence and it shows in a small window the song you are currently listening to, including album art and, on hover, track details and player controls:

20110605-windows7gadgets20110605-windows7gadgets-hover

Compatible media players

The gadget works with a number of media players:

using custom plugins, but it would appear that the website where the plugins were all hosted has been taken down and so on first-run the gadget now returns an error.

Plugins

This is the point where I uninstalled the gadget the first time I looked at it a few months ago. This time I went to investigate and discovered that they’ve been moved to this basic site: Now Playing plugins.

Once downloaded, and with the gadget installed, place them in this Windows folder:

%HOMEPATH%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Sidebar\Gadgets\nowplaying.gadget\plugins

Then open your media player and click on the gadget. When I did that with Winamp  5.61 I was prompted to install the plugin. And then, as if by magic, I could see the album art in the gadget.

It’s really handy to, at a glance, see what track/album/artist is currently playing. I wish I’d found this before.

Since Microsoft have taken down the gadget gallery, I’ve had some folks asking me where they can download the gadget. So I’ve uploaded it here:

Download gadget and plugins (2.85 MB)

Windows 7 sidebar

Windows 7 dual-monitor with gadgets
Windows 7 dual-monitor with gadgets

Back in October 2006 I wrote about how to create a new toolbar in Windows XP. For the last year I’ve been using Windows 7 Professional and for some inexplicable reason, in their wisdom the Microsoft boffins removed the ability to create new toolbars that can be docked apart from the main taskbar.

They must have thought that the new Windows 7 toolbar was enough. It’s not. While you can still create new toolbars, you just can’t separate them from the main Windows 7 taskbar.

What I liked about the XP toolbar I wrote in my original post four years ago:

The toolbar is always on top, meaning that when I’m running a maximized application (that is, full-screen), such as Outlook, the toolbar is still visible on the right-hand side of my screen.

No alternative

But to date I have not yet found an alternative that does what I want.  I’ve tried ObjectDock, OrbitDock, RocketDock, Google Desktop and a bunch of others and none of them worked the way I wanted them to: a toolbar of shortcuts that always sits on top, reserving its own space so that maximized applications don’t obscure it.

7 Sidebar

While I was looking for an alternative shortcuts toolbar I stumbled across the 7 Sidebar gadget for Windows 7.

One of the genuinely cool things about Windows Vista, in my opinion, was the sidebar: an always-on-top area of the screen onto which you could add gadgets. While Windows 7 kept the gadgets it ditched the dockable sidebar.  Again … come on boffins! Couldn’t you just have made it an option?

So, some genius from Germany has written a Windows 7 gadget that emulates the original Windows Vista sidebar: a gadget that will allow you to install gadgets within it. And the great thing is that it has a “Show sidebar always on top” option.

Which got me thinking: what if I could use the 7 Sidebar gadget to both

  1. Hold my Windows 7 gadgets so that I can see them even when I have an application maximized.
  2. Reserve the right-hand screen space and use RocketDock to manage my shortcuts above the 7 Sidebar.  Like this:
RocketDock shortcuts over 7 gadget sidebar
RocketDock shortcuts over Windows 7 “7 Sidebar” gadget

So that’s what I did and it’s working great, both at work (Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, 3 monitors) and home (Windows 7 Professional, 32-bit, 2 monitors).

Update

In response to a comment: the desktop clock featured on my desktop and in the Sidebar is called Transparent Customisable Desktop Clock.

Update 2: Fix

Sometimes when I start up my PC the gadgets are not working. There are a couple of things I’ve had to do in the past to fix these.

Simple fix

Most of the time this simple fix works:

  1. Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to bring up the Windows Task Manager.
  2. On the Processes tab locate and select “sidebar.exe”.
  3. Click on End Process.
  4. Wait for the process to end and disappear from the list.
  5. Right-click an empty point on the Windows desktop and select Gadgets from the context-menu. Your gadgets should now reappear.

Complex fix

Occasionally the above fix doesn’t work and I have to do the following:

  1. Click Start, and then click All Programs.
  2. Click Accessories, right-click Command Prompt, and select Run as administrator. If you are prompted for an administrator password or for confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  3. At the command prompt, type the following commands. Press ENTER after each command.Regsvr32 atl.dll
    Regsvr32 "%ProgramFiles%\Windows Sidebar\sbdrop.dll"
    Regsvr32 "%ProgramFiles%\Windows Sidebar\wlsrvc.dll"
    exit
  4. Restart the computer.