Kp’s Weblog

Archive for November 2008

If you’re tired of hearing about Windows 7’s upcoming features while you sit and stare at your aging XP or Vista desktop, take solace in a few free apps and themes that can give you a taste right now. While it’s true that Windows 7 isn’t much different from Windows Vista (inside and out), a few neat features are worth trying out, and you can do it without installing the Windows 7 Preview. Here are a few free apps and alternatives that simulate Windows 7’s built-in features.

Pin Items to Your Taskbar

Windows 7 lets you pin programs and documents to your taskbar (instead of or in addition to creating shortcuts on your desktop). However, it’s easy to do something very similar right now: using the built-in (but disabled by default) Quick Launch toolbar. To enable it, right-click on your tasbar, and from the Toolbars menu check off “Quick Launch.” There you can drop shortcuts to folders, documents, and programs for easy access. (I like to use the large icons instead of the default small ones, as pictured; to turn those on, right-click on the toolbar and from the View menu choose “Large icons.”)

Update: Helpful reader DieselLives points out that you can make a toolbar out of any folder of shortcuts or documents and dock it to any edge of your screen by just dragging and dropping it there.

For a fuller, dock-like experience, try the free RocketDock application. To turn open windows to just icons on the Vista taskbar, you can use Enhance My Vista.

Snap Your Windows to Size

One of the most useful Windows 7 features (especially for widescreen monitor owners) is its ability to half-size and dock a window to the left or right of the screen, as shown:

Popout

To get this same functionality (and much much more), give the free Winsplit Revolution a try—and you’ll get much more customizable window arrangement options with keyboard combinations, too.

For the drag-and-drop action of Windows 7, try out the free AeroSnap application which mimics Windows 7’s behavior almost perfectly (though without the glass overlay before you drop).

Try Out Aero Shake

The Aero Shake feature in Windows 7 clears away all the background windows when you “shake” the active window you’re working with. Check out a demonstration of how that works here.

Popout

The free Aero Shake app clears your pre-Windows 7 desktop the same way.

Tame User Account Control

Instead of nagging you with “Are you sure?” dialogs at every turn like Vista does, in Windows 7 you can fine-tune what alerts and confirmation prompts you get for what. While the gorgeous slider Win7 offers to do that isn’t available for Vista, you can always just turn off User Account Control to silence the nags entirely. Update: Adam reminds me that Norton’s User Account Control for Vista users adds more control to UAC prompts without disabling them.

Customize Your System Tray

Windows 7 can tame those annoying yellow balloon notifications that show up in your system tray; in it you can configure which apps you want to get notifications from and which you don’t. While that tuning isn’t available for XP or Vista, you can disable balloon notifications in Vista entirely with a change to your registry. XP users can use TweakUI to disable the balloons.

In XP, you can customize your system tray behavior to a point, and tell Windows which icons you want to see and which to hide. Right-click on the Start button, choose Properties, then click the “Customize” button (next to “Hide inactive icons”) to set which icons show up when.

Helpful reader Charax suggests the free, previously mentioned Emerge Windows shell replacement, which will also give you more control over what shows up in your system tray.

Speed Up Your Startup

One of the Windows 7 perks everyone is looking forward to is a faster startup time so you can get to work right away after hitting that Power button. Windows 7 beats out both Vista and Windows XP in the startup time department. The best way to speed up your pre-Windows 7 startup is to upgrade your rig to faster hardware, but failing that, there are several things you can do to Windows XP and Vista to make them reach a working desktop faster. See our complete guide to speeding up your PC’s startup for more.

Upgrade Calculator and Paint; Get PowerShell

Windows 7 brings with it a few key upgrades to the ancillary programs it bundles, like Calculator, Paint, and WordPad. While you can’t get the new Office 2007 ribbon in your WordPad right now, if you’re a Paint user do consider upgrading to the free Paint.NET, which supports layers, multiple open images, and much more than regular Paint ever dreamed. To get you some powered-up Calculator action, XP users can install Power Calculator, and Vista users can don their eye patch and try getting this version of the Win7 Calculator to run on their system. Finally, Windows 7 comes with PowerShell pre-installed, but you can download and install PowerShell yourself right here.

For more souped-up Windows tools, see our power replacements for built-in Windows utilities.

Get the Windows 7 Theme

If you want your computer just to look like it’s running Windows 7, you’re in the right place. The Life Rocks blog runs down how to get the Windows 7 look and feel with the bootup screen, wallpapers, and login screen, too. Here’s a direct link to the Windows 7 theme; and if you’re new to theming your XP desktop, check out our step-by-step for using custom Windows visual styles.

Have More Control over Wi-Fi Networks

One of the most useful Windows 7 features for roaming laptop users is its one-click Wi-Fi network choice. While there isn’t an exact match for that for XP and Vista, NetSetMan offers a more powerful way to manager multiple network profiles.

The big Windows 7 taskbar improvement that no one has replicated with a third-party app is the excellent Aero Peek feature, which adds multiple window previews to the taskbar, with the ability to close windows right from the preview. It doesn’t seem like much, but my bet is that it’s the one Win7 perk we’ll all wind up using the most once 7 hits desktops.

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There is a nice hack out there which you can use on your GMail account to store files [such as mp3, power point, PDFs, ZIP etc]. The only limitation is that you can not upload a file larger than 10Megs in size and also that you will not see a classic windows explorer kind of interface for the uploaded files inside GMail since all the files that you upload are stored as email attachments. However, after installing a shell extension in your system, you can access all the uploaded files in the same way you access file and folders in other system drives [such as a USB drive].

Sounds interesting? Let’s first begin with the installation.

Step# 1Download and install the GMail Drive Shell Extension from [Softpedia] . You may have to restart your system for the changes to take effect.

Step# 2 – After reboot, double click “My Computer“, and check to see if ‘GMail Drive‘ shows up. If you see the drive, it means that your installation was successful. If not, please re-install the shell extension and reboot the system.

GMail Drive in My Computer

Step# 3 – To login and start uploading files to your GMail account, double click on ‘GMail Drive’ in ‘My Computer’ and login to your GMail account. [On a shared computer do not set auto-login]. You can right click and select ‘Login As’ to login as a different User.

GMail Login Screen

Step# 4 – Post login, you will see an empty drive. To create a new folder, right click and select New->Folder. Double click on the folder and then either create a subfolder or just ‘Copy-Paste’ or ‘Drag & Drop’ a file into it. That’s it! You have discovered a new way of using GMail, to store your files. ;) That’s why I love GMail. )

GMail in Windows Explorer

Please note that, an uploaded file/folder has a prefix of GMAILFS when you see them in GMail. I recommend that you create a label called ‘MyFiles’ and label all such emails [uploaded files in fact] so that you do not confuse them with other emails.

uploaded files with GMAILFS prefix

To check the current usage of your GMail drive, right click on the driver letter and select properties.

Now that you know how to use your 2GB of storage in GMail to store your important files, go ahead and upload all those important certificates, mp3s, spredsheets, documents, PDFs etc.

Happy Uploading! )

Update: All of these “official” concept renderings have been apparently taken from Deviant Art and are not official at all. Some still look very nice.

The guys over at Crunchgear came up with eighteen new screenshots of Windows 7 which later turned out to be concept renderings instead of screenshots of the latest Windows 7 build. This was pointed out by a Microsoft representative after posting those images on the website. Several of the features shown on the screenshots however resemble those that we have seen from Windows 7 Milestone 1 screenshots and videos and it is very likely that they will make their way into the final product.

So what is Windows 7?

It’s the next version of Windows for PCs, and it’s the result of working hand-in-hand with our partners and with people who use Windows in the real world every day. We’re paying particular attention to the things they’re telling us are important to them and will make their PCs work the way they want them to—things like enhanced reliability, responsiveness, and faster boot and shut-down. We’re also trying to make their everyday tasks easier, like connecting and syncing devices, browsing the web, and managing a home network.

Of course, we’re also working on new capabilities, so people will be able to do things with Windows 7 that were difficult (or perhaps impossible) to do with PCs before. Finally, we’re working hard to ensure that Windows 7 will run on any PC and work with any program that works today with Windows Vista, so upgrading from Windows Vista will be easy.

Windows 7 Milestone 3 Screenshots:

Did you notice anything special about this screenshot of GMail message ? Well, it has an embedded animated graphic instead of the plain text signature.


GMail has a wonderful rich text editor to compose emails but there are some desirable things that you cannot accomplish in GMail using standard techniques. For example:

1. GMail allows plain text signatures but there’s no way to embed HTML signatures with images like the ones you see in Yahoo, Hotmail or Microsoft Outlook email.

2. Gmail Rich text editor has standard text formatting features like font sizes, colors, bullets, hyperlinks, indentation, etc. but there’s no way to add other HTML tags like TABLE, DIV, EMBED, etc. So how do you embed Youtube videos, sophisticated table layouts, Flash animation movies, inline podcast players like odeo, etc. in GMail ?

3. You can compose new email in either Plain text or Rich text but how to do you compose a new GMail message in native HTML something like a webpage created in Microsoft Frontpage ?

4. Gmail lets you attach pictures to outgoing email but it shows up as an attachment on the recipients’ screen. How do make embed a photograph that appears inline with the actual email message ?

5. You want to embed the Feedburner Headline Animator graphic or the Feedburner Subscriber Counter to your GMail signature which is an animated GIF file.

Now the really good news is that you can do all the above easily with GMail and here’s how to do it:

To embed an HTML signature with Images in GMail ?

Create an HTML signature snippet using notepad or WYSIWYG editors like Dreamweaver/Frontpage/Golive or online with Geocities/GooglePages/Tripod Lycos. Your signature can have all kind of HTML tags (including DIV, EMBED, TABLE) but all linked Image files, audio files and video clips must be pointing somewhere the web and not on your desktop.

Once you are satisfied with the layout, select the entire portion of the webpage that you want to appear in the GMail signature and drag it to the GMail compose window. Alternatively you can copy it to the clipboard and then press Ctrl+V in the Gmail window.

I have an illustration here:

Step 1: The HTML signature is created in Google Page Creator. Select the entire signature and press ctrl+c.

Step 2: Open a new Gmail compose message window. Now either drag the signature in this GMail window or press Ctrl+V to paste it.

The same technique can be applied to embed anything in your gmail message. Say you want to embed an image between two sentences, just drag the image to your gmail compose window and drop it there. It’s that simple but makes you email more appealing as if it’s composed inside Microsoft Word or Outlook.

To embed Feedburner RSS feed animator, open that graphic in your browser window and drag-n-drop it anywhere in your gmail message.

You can even point images to your blog or embed HTML forms so that recipients can subscribe to your blog directly from your gmail message. Or create tables in Microsoft word and place them in your email. Or even send entire webpages as email so readers can view the page in the message itself without having to click the link. The possibilities are endless.