Steve's do-it-yourself Windows upgrade

SAN FRANCISCO (10/27/2003) - I'm happy with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP, but that doesn't mean I don't have suggestions for Longhorn--Microsoft's next version of Windows.

But who wants to wait two years for the operating system of our dreams? These nine tweaks and tools give current versions of Windows some long horns of their own.

Uninstaller extraordinaire: The next version of Windows will, I hope, include an uninstaller similar to Nir Sofer's MyUninstaller, a free tool that provides rich details about the program that's being uninstalled, such as its vendor, its product version, its Web site, when it was installed and the folder it resides in. The utility also lets you uninstall programs not removed properly by Windows' Add/Remove Programs.

Two cool Registry tools: I hope that in Windows' next incarnation I never have to touch the Registry. But to make Windows work the way I want until then, I have little choice but to tweak the Registry occasionally. DC Software Design Inc.'s RegEditX is a brilliant little freebie that adds features to all versions of Windows' own Registry Editor. My favorite innovation: RegEditX lets you enter a long Registry key into the address field and be whisked right to it. No more having to use the Registry's tree to navigate to a key.

If you're willing to spend US$25, Super Win Software's WinRescue eliminates all the drudgery from backing up and restoring the Registry. Better than the backup in Windows' Registry Editor (and more comprehensive than System Restore), WinRescue backs up your Start Menu, Favorites, and desktop folders, as well as all your system configuration files. The program creates rescue boot disks, provides crash recovery, and removes discarded Registry entries. There's a version of the utility for each flavor of Windows.

Crash control times two: I'll wager that even if you use Windows XP, your system still crashes. While XP sends crash details to the Crash Keeper at Microsoft, it does not let you in on why it happened. Until there is a crash-proof version of Windows (ha!), or at least a version with more informative reporting, I'll use Bugtoaster. This free utility provides intricate crash details that I can analyze and use to diagnose my machine. An alternative is Alexander LAN's $39 Alexander System Protection Kit, which captures information about Windows XP and 2000 crashes, automatically restarts the system, and provides a detailed report that isolates the problem.

Quick tip: System crashes may create large crash-dump files in XP systems. (I found two such files on my PC, each 80MB.) Clear disk space by searching for *.dmp and deleting the files. To learn more about controlling how Windows XP handles these files, visit the Registry Guide for Windows.

Sock it to pop-ups: I'm really tired of ads popping up (and under) my PC screen. I wish Windows would offer a way to control them--but until then I'll use the free Google Toolbar 2, which has a built-in pop-up blocker for Internet Explorer that bests most commercial ad stoppers.

Beef up the Restricted Zone: IE's Restricted Zone prevents Web sites from damaging your PC, but this underused tool can also protect you from spyware and adware when you load the URLs of these sleazeballs into the Zone. Why not invite Camtech 2000's SpySites to handle this job for you? The free utility will place more than 2700 Web sites into IE's Restricted Zone.

Stop pushing my buttons: "Mr. Bass, are you sure you want to delete that file?" Sure I'm sure, pal, and I spend too much time answering this type of pesky Windows dialog question (not to mention questions from pesky editors). But with Paul A. Roberts's free PTFB, I sidestep dozens of repetitive confirmations. (Okay, I know you're wondering--it stands for "Push The Freakin' Button.")

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