How to make Windows XP last for the next seven years

Vista, schmista. Follow our tips for keeping your XP setup humming happily for a long, long time

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Firewall

As for a firewall, XP's built-in firewall has one major limitation compared with Vista's -- it doesn't include outbound protection. There's a great deal of debate about whether Vista's firewall includes true outbound protection, but if you want a firewall with true, configurable outbound protection for XP, get the free Comodo Firewall Pro.

Comodo Firewall Pro
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Get inbound and outbound protection from Comodo. (Click for larger view.)

As Computerworld online editorial director Scot Finnie points out in Slim is in for Windows desktop firewalls, Comodo Group earns the top firewall rating for security from the independent testing site Matousec and offers a good balance between security and convenience.

Parental controls

Windows Vista includes built-in parental controls that let you filter Web sites and otherwise limit how your children use the computer. You can get similar technology for XP, although you'll have to pay for it. There are quite a few programs and services out there, but two good bets are SafeBrowse.com's Safe Eyes, which costs $50 for use on three computers, and Webroot Software Inc.'s Child Safe, $40 for use on three computers.

Vista security features you can't get in XP

Note that there are some Vista security features you won't be able to replicate on Windows XP, such as Internet Explorer's Protected Mode, which protects your system from malware that enters via the browser. (GreenBorder Technologies used to offer a protected-mode add-on for both IE and Firefox, but the software is no longer available for download. The company has been purchased by Google Inc., so it's possible this technology will reappear in a Google product in the future.)

Another Vista feature that you can't replicate in XP but that you probably won't miss at all is User Account Control, a universally reviled security measure that seeks users' permission before taking many actions, such as running a program or opening a dialog box. Many Vista users turn it off because of its intrusiveness.

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Get Vista's eye candy in XP

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Besides security, one of Vista's main attractions is its new Aero interface featuring transparent windows, eye-popping animations and cool new ways to navigate. But you don't have to upgrade to Vista to get many of these features. Using freeware or low-cost shareware, you can transform your XP computer into a Vista lookalike.

Keep in mind, though, that adding all this eye candy can slow down your machine, depending on your system configuration. So be prepared to scale back on some of it if you find your PC becomes sluggish.

 
Desktop Sidebar
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Desktop Sidebar. (Click for larger view.)
 

Sidebar and Gadgets One of Windows Vista's niftiest features is the Sidebar and its Gadgets -- little applets capable of gathering, displaying and using live information from the Internet or from your PC. But there are plenty of ways to get the same things for free on Windows XP.

Desktop Sidebar gives XP a full-blown sidebar like Vista's, with numerous built-in gadgets, including a clock, weather gadget, performance monitor, mail checker, media player, stock tracker and more.

Two other good choices from well-known search companies are Google Desktop Gadgets and Yahoo Widgets. To use Yahoo Widgets, you'll first have to download the software. It comes with a variety of widgets, such as a weather checker, CPU monitor, stock checker and so on. But you're not stuck with just those -- there are more than 4,000 widgets available. In fact, you'll have a greater choice of Yahoo Widgets than you'd have it you were using Gadgets for the Vista Sidebar. Yahoo Widgets run in a Sidebar-like application, but can also be placed anywhere on your Windows desktop.

Google's Desktop Gadgets require that you download and use Google Desktop, which may be problematic for some people because Google Desktop is a big piece of software, primarily used for searching your PC. It includes a live indexer that runs all the time, which could possibly slow down your PC. But if you're already a Google Desktop user or want a good searching tool, the Gadgets are a nice bonus. They live in a sidebar that looks and works a lot like Windows Vista's Sidebar. You'll find plenty of Gadgets, including Real Simple Syndication readers, a stock checker, to-do list creator, weather watcher and more -- although not as many as Yahoo Widgets.

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