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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Windows Flip and Windows Flip 3D replacements

Two of the more useful new features in Windows Vista are Windows Flip and Windows Flip 3D. With them, when you switch between windows or applications using Alt-Tab (for Windows Flip), or Windows key-Tab (for Windows Flip 3D), you can see a preview of the windows, making it easier to decide to which window you want to switch. As the name suggests, Windows Flip 3D shows you the open windows in a three-dimensional view, a very nice piece of eye candy.

You can get the same features in Windows XP using a couple of software add-ons. Microsoft's free Alt-Tab Replacement Power Toy is your best choice for the Windows Flip replacement. It's two-dimensional only.

Alt-Tab Replacement Power Toy
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Preview windows with the Alt-Tab Replacement Power Toy. (Click for larger view.)

If you must have the 3-D look, you'll have to pay for it. Top Desk is shareware from Otaku Software that gives you the equivalent of Windows Flip 3D on XP. You can try it for free for 14 days. If you want to use it after that, you'll have to fork over $18.

Transparent windows and other interface tweaks

For many people, the niftiest feature of Vista's Aero interface is its transparent windows. You can get the same thing in XP, with AbsoluteWay's TweakWindow. In fact, TweakWindow gives you far more transparency-related features than Windows Vista. You can make entire windows -- not just borders -- transparent, and you have a great deal of control over the degree of transparency.

There are plenty of other extras as well, such as the ability to hide windows, to control transparency on a window-by-window basis, and even turn windows into "ghost" windows that stay on top of other windows, are transparent, and let you click through to other windows beneath them. It's shareware; registration costs $21.

TweakWindow
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TweakWindow's "ghost" window feature.

(Click for larger view.)

If you want to go the whole hog and replace your entire desktop and interface, you can download and use Stardock Corp.'s WindowBlinds. It lets you make all kinds of changes to XP's user interface, including transparent windows and a lot more. Install the program, and you can apply a skin that makes it look like Vista, such as the Arrow skin. WindowBlinds is shareware, and costs $20 to register.

 
Vista Transformation Pack
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The Vista Transformation Pack makes XP look like Vista.

(Click for larger view.)
 

You can get much the same thing for free with Softpedia's Vista Transformation Pack. It changes the Start button, the Control Panel, system dialogs and more so that XP looks like Vista. The programs aren't exact duplicates, so you get some things with WindowBlinds that you don't get with Vista Transformation Pack, and vice versa. For instance, Vista Tranformation Pack won't give you transparent windows or Vista applets. But you can use the two programs in concert with each other to get all their features.

Be aware that installing the Vista Transformation Pack is not for the weak of heart. Follow the installation instructions extremely carefully -- they'll take some time. And just to be safe, we suggest creating a Restore Point before you begin, because you'll be mucking about with system files.

When you first install the Vista Transformation Pack, it may not look like Vista. To get the Vista look, right-click the Desktop, choose Properties --> Appearance, and from the "Windows and buttons" drop-down list choose Windows Aero. You can also use Vista wallpaper by clicking the Desktop tab and scrolling through the backgrounds. Note that the Vista wallpaper will have odd numbers, such as "img19," instead of names.

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