Samer at freewaregenius has compiled an excellent list of tools to enhance any Windows experience. A few have been reviewed, Dexpot and StandaloneStack for example, here at RGdot but there is lots more by checking his article.
Nexus, from the makers of the Winstep desktop enhancement package, is a standalone dock launcher that is otherwise also part of the aforementioned shareware package. This is a true dock in competition with RocketDock and ObjectDock. It is attractive but lightweight and fast.
Going through the settings or preferences, accessible most easily by right clicking the Nexus icon that is part of the default dock or by right clicking on the tray icon itself, is the way to discover its many features. Adding program shortcuts to the dock is done in two ways. The more difficult way is to right click anywhere on the dock and choose ‘Insert New Dock Item’. Doing it this way requires choosing a label, finding the item or program by browsing and more. The slightly easier way is to drag the program’s icon to the dock where it can be added automatically. In both cases a hot key can be added by choosing combinations of Ctrl, Shift and Alt keys or mouse actions or gestures such as ‘bumping’ corners of the screen.
Getting back to the program’s options and preferences, there are many possibilities for making an attractive and useful dock. The Position & Behavior tab has settings for the screen position of the dock, offset pixels from any of the set (top, center, etc.) positions, behavior relating to multi-monitor set ups, auto hide options and whether the dock reserves its place on screen or allows windows to open on top of it or permanently stays on top. The Appearance tab controls the size of the dock icons and transparency and reflection of the dock and icons respectively. The Effects tab is the place to change the effects (obviously) of the icons when they are clicked. Themes is where the shape of the dock as a whole is chosen and the default install includes choices that make its background transparent. Tasks, among others, has such settings as ‘Show running applications in this dock’ and ‘Would you like to group windows that belong to the same application in a single icon or next to each other?’. Therefore the tasks setting can dramatically increase the size of the dock but provide easy access to all open windows. Sounds adds sounds (obviously again) to many and all actions associated with the program including a talking clock. The General tab is to control such things as the auto-hide settings, Windows Start up behavior and others such as leaving the program icon in the tray area and whether to launch programs within the dock with a single or double click. Advanced tries to help the user in balancing performance and speed, troubleshoot, back up and restore dock configurations and more.
As seen in the image I have added the stacks from Standalonestack, featured here on RGdot, on to the Nexus dock. In my opinion this works well in terms of efficiency, productivity and even eye candy.
Nexus runs on virtually all versions of Windows including its 64 bit flavors and Windows 7.
StandaloneStack is an attractive and useful way of accessing files and folders from any location.
The main use of StandaloneStack is to place a shortcut of sorts on the desktop that acts as a launcher. Only in this case StandaloneStack as it is is not a dock like ObjectDock from StarDock or perhaps the more famous RocketDock. Here a ‘stack’ is created and provides some eye candy and navigation without a dock.
Once downloaded and unzipped one can create a new stack by simply clicking ‘New Stack’. Choose a name and browse to the folder which will be the target of the stack and opened when clicking on the stack icon. Then choose it’s shape and direction. The shape can be in the form of accordion like collection of icons or a rectangular grid (as shown in the image). The sorting can be set here as well plus the option to add an icon to open the folder in the usual way via Windows Explorer.
Some of the more interesting ‘General Settings’ consist of the following. It is possible to animate video icons, meaning that if a video resides in one of the stacked folders the icon will be dynamic and change. Custom icons are supported when checking the corresponding option and placing the icons or images in the Images folder inside the program folder. By checking the option to ‘Don’t Close Stack On Focus Lost (Run Shortcut Again To close)’ one can keep the stack open since by default the stack collapses after losing focus like when a file is launched. Icon size, text spacing, color and font are configurable for the fan or accordion and grid styles as well as the transparency and color of the text and stack background itself.
But perhaps most importantly is the fact that one can navigate within stacks. Clicking on a folder opens the sub folder using the same stack style with an additional icon to go back.
Follow its development on the Aqua-Soft forums where you can find many interesting utilities and related discussions.
Desktop Calendar is described as
Organize your life! Never forget a birthday or anniversary ever again!
Desktop Calendar is a relatively simple and potentially useful almost 2.5MB download that overlays a calendar on any desktop. It can be thought of a semi-dynamic calendar, that is the calendar is certainly not a static image but on the other hand the reminders are restricted to annual events in the freeware version of the program. Having said that setting one time reminders is of course possible, just leave the ‘Every Year’ checkbox unchecked when adding it. The said reminders are set by right clicking on a date and choosing Edit, then filling the text area presented.
The program has more settings to control its looks than anything else. Background color of calendars is configurable as are today and other days’ text colors. The format of the month and time shown is configurable as well. The placement and size of the calendar can also be changed as can the style of the notification when hovering over a day (that contains an event). The author has also provided wallpaper packs to be used in conjunction with Desktop Calendar. Using the Wallpaper tab of the settings one can check to choose and enable the packs and choose a small or full screen preview, using the slider for the former and the preview button for the latter. Strangely there is no clear way to stop the full screen preview as it cycles through each month’s wallpaper, however the preview happens in the ‘background’ (pun intended) and doesn’t disrupt other tasks.
Desktop Calendar is one not so new tool for enhancing the desktop. It does have one very useful added capability, it is possible export (and import) data and settings to either a .dat, .txt, or .csv format. It runs on Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP and NT. Many screenshots are available on the author’s site.
Hawkscope is described by its author as
Hawkscope is a productivity tool that allows you to access your hard drive contents quickly via system tray / menubar icon with dynamic pop-up menu
The main feature and usefulness of Hawkscope is that it provides a dynamic menu that pops up anywhere on the desktop by way of a configurable hot key. The same can be done by clicking on the program icon in the tray area. The Quick Access tab of the settings lets folders be chosen that will appear above the default local drive navigation built in. The Blacklist is somewhat an interesting and rare feature in that certain folders can be configured or added to the list to remain hidden and not show up when navigating using Hawkscope. The Network tab lets the user configure a proxy server to use when invoking the plugins that require internet access.
The available plugins are few as of this article and some are of limited value. For example the Googlescope plugin opens an ‘Input Dialog’ box that then in turns opens the system’s default browser to search google for the term(s) entered. As far as productivity and number of clicks little is gained but other plugins that exist now and in the future may prove more useful. The final tab in the settings is the Open With one and here programs can be chosen for opening directories (perhaps a windows explorer alternative) and unknown files (perhaps a text editor) by double clicking in the corresponding text box. Additionally file extensions can be associated with programs so that using Hawkscope one can override the default applications that open .txt, .html or any other file.
Hawkscope is cross platform and is certainly promising. With more plugins and slightly better memory usage – up to 60MB on a XP SP3 system – it has potential for efficiency and productivity users.
SysPad is a utility from CodePlex, it is described simply as
A Notepad-like program and folder management program
Syspad is only 570KB but sometimes consumes a bit more than expected memory, approaching 40MB, but nevertheless provides easy access to two useful functions for the efficient user. Installation adds an icon to the tray bar. Thereafter a right click launches a tabbed notepad and a left click launches a favorites folder manager.
The notepad (called TrayPad) is simple, allows for the typical background and font control. Notes can be saved in .txt format. There is an option to export and open the note using the famous and highly rated Notepad ++ – with syntax highlighting preset from within SysPad – but in my test I was unable to launch Notepad++ after doing the required to set the path to the program within Syspad’s settings (Edit—>Settings).
The file manager (called FolderPad) has preset icons to common folders and locations including My Computer, My Documents, Desktop, Control Panel, Program Files, Add/Remove Programs, Network Properties, plus the Printers and Font folders. Right clicking in the white area presents a dialog to add one’s own favorite folders either via browsing or manually typing a location. A tag or title can be added to server as a description as well.
SysPad while certainly not unique or feature rich is useful and is another download that works well to add some level of efficiency for any computer user. Interestingly since both right and left clicks are used to launch the note and folder utilities there is no way to shut down and completely exit the program via the computer’s tray area. The only way seems to be to have the notes or TrayPad portion open and use File—>Exit Syspad.
One of the important but yet incomplete moves towards reducing harmful emissions has been the advent of the hybrid electric vehicle. Those include the now famous Honda Insight and Toyota Prius for example, running on a combination of the old and outdated propulsion system plus different forms of rechargeable batteries. Recently Honda Insight has for the first time been a best selling car in Japan and that in itself is an important indicator of the mood and the need of the population. While hybrids of different kind contribute well to the low emissions needs of our planet ‘full’ electric vehicles can and certainly have the potential for even better results. For the time being, although not scientifically limited, the number of choices for full electric vehicles are more limited and not fully supported by the traditional big auto makers.
Two companies that do manufactures the vehicles and are slowly gearing towards providing cars for everyday use are Miles Electric Vehicles and Tesla Motors. The former has begun launching the Coda Automotive brand which, while expensive, is targeted at the no-frills environmentalist. The company is trying to get a 5 star highway safety rating from the US government agency National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and sell the cars online. Tesla Motors has taken a more luxurious and high performance route with the likes of Tesla Roadster.
With the bigger traditional companies manufacturing their own or investing in startups, legislative bodies taking the lead in making sure cars can be made available in the market and barring ‘outside’ destructive propaganda against the developing technology the future is looking clean (poor pun intended) for electric vehicles and the health of the environment.
FontViewOK is a simple no-installation 35KB program that displays fonts installed on any system. It is written by the same person who has brought us the “Quadro-View” file manager or windows explorer alternative Q-Dir.
FontViewOK is an often useful visual preview of fonts that acts as a tool to compare fonts and to see how they look like with any user entered text. Enter any text in the box near the top, choose the font size, color and style from the right of the box and scroll down to view the resulting previews. Alternatively use the drop down menu to navigate through all fonts.
Given the size and nature of the program that is all there is to it but one more sometimes useful feature that may be missed is that of printing and previewing the print. This can prove practical when one wants to see how the printed version of the fonts really look like. Download FontViewOK and many more small and sometimes useful programs that do everything from saving desktop icon positions to changing a file’s time stamp at the link above.