You've got your own Top 10, right? Well, here are my top 10 for XP through Win10: maybe the list, will stimulate you to write here about your own top 10?
1. Linux on a stick..for Windows. This is not 'liveUSB', but full-fledged INSTALLED Linux: but not, to your hard drive. No vm, no wubi, no dual booting hassles. For Windows and Linux don't get along well on the same disk. They try, but sooner or later you'll have a boot problem. So what's the alternative?
- Make the Linux installer, just download the distro's iso, burn to DVD or to another stick -- or buy in Amazon, with great Linux primers, but I'm not sure the distro will be the latest. See if you like the interface, by looking at the installer version. It's the equivalent of a Windows 'install/factory reinstall' disk, so you'll always want to keep it. Just do a cold boot, and see what you like. Shutdown with power key, and wait for the machine prompt to remove the stick/DVD.
- Stick the Linux flavor installer you want, in your DVD drive or usb port, and turn on. (Presumably you already set BIOS to first look for a DVD or usb port, prior to using the hard drive, for booting.)
- Actual installation: when the installer is finally booted and idle (can take up to 10 mins, as it locates drivers), locate the 'Install (Linux flavor name here)' icon somewhere on the desktop or in the menu, and then
- YES install.. but not to an internal hard drive as the target. Instead, to an external drive or second stick. The external's size should be at least 60 GB, and if to a stick, have it be bigger than the hard drive. External drive is faster. Tip: name the drive/stick beforehand. Makes it easier to identify.
- You'll be asked some basic but important questions. Accept the defaults for anything but the drive to install TO (make sure the installer sees and accepts your external drive/2nd stick); then, BE SURE to input a username you'll remember AND a password (keep the password as short as possible, but do provide one). Then, go get coffee, as it will take 30+ minutes for the installation to finish. Go offline just after you've finished answering the questions, to avoid interruptions. (All the software needed, is on the installer. Or should be.)
- Why have a drive so big? Well, honey: once you see how many programs are 'out there' for Linux, your installed Linux drive will quickly fill up with your extra selections!
Just as it takes a few hours to learn where Windows moved the cheese this time (@!@#@#!), that's how long it takes to learn the graphical interface of Linux. Worth it, because as you play with the (unhappily arcane) Linux file manager but viewing/using your WINDOWS files, you'll find out Linux better does batch stuff than Windows. Well, so long as it's only working ON Windows files. Batch copy, move, etc. Because, Windows itself, balks at copying/moving ini or sys files, etc. (Of course, you have to know what you're doing, but I presume you'd know better than to move a mysterious sys file.)
But here's the big payoff: When Windows won't boot, you can still copy etc. using Linux instead. Nice graphical interface enough like Windows so you're comfortable. But not, restricted. Computer techies do this all the time, but Mr. Average Joe, doesn't know about it. So you can save a bundle of money or even a friendship, if you know how to do this YOURSELF.
Their file manager vocabulary is weird: 'media' instead of 'disk', with the disk's name (so always name your drives in Windows); or, 'sda1' usually for C drive, really the first partition (which might be the mbr). But you'll catch on.
If you don't know what flavor to pick and you're a Windows die-hard like me, pick Mint 13 or 17. With it (if purchased at Amazon) you get a wardrobe of graphical interfaces (menuing style click philosophy, iconography, options and settings): the ones most like XP's, are KDE and MATE. So you won't feel lost. In their menu, 'Synaptic Package Manager' is a kind of Windows Store, a huge master list of downloadable Linux programs from all over the world; you WILL want to use it, to download more programs/apps. Inter alia, my favs are:
- KAZAM so you can record your (up to two monitor) screen(s) as a video, talking (it will pick up a logitech webcam with no buzz);
- Clonezilla (mentioned below),
- GParted (which might already be on there, that's a cloning and partitioning, copying program Clonezilla emulates, saves your Win machine when it crashes),
- Xfce (file manager which is most like Windows and lets you configure its colors and fonts)
- 'Redglass', a big pretty red mouse pointer suite which is better than anything in Windows. They also have whiteglass and blueglass, if you prefer. (If I can find where Windows stores the mouse pointer settings, I'm gonna copy that theme there. Bet it will work.)
This is one of the great things about Linux: centralized 'repositories' (one place where you can find a ton of programs, many very like their Windows counterparts for average use). It matters, since if your Win machine goes down, and you gotta still edit that report or finish that illustration, you'll be able to access your WINDOWS files yet use Linux to get the job done. Linux is not a replacement for Windows, nor vice versa. But they are each others' best friend.
So here, you've got your all-purpose Windows savior tool, when nothing else works. And, you've got a Linux computer in your pocket. Take anywhere, use on any computer without touching its boot sector. So if your friend's computer is wonky, well.. this will help you fix it for the stuff Windows can't do.
2. Cloning. This is better than backup, and native Windows doesn't have that function, or the Windows cloning programs (all third party) have glitches. So again, Linux to the rescue, using any number of programs, but most are derivatives of each other. Clonezilla at Sourceforge free download (use Windows Method B to create the Clonezilla stick).
Why better? Because it creates a bootable live copy of your entire disk on any external drive, and fast: 20 minutes for 70 GB, even at usb 2.0 speed. (You can clone to a stick, but Windows might not be able to read it, at boot. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.) So now all your docs are better than backed up, they are live on that external drive, not something you have to 'restore'. So you can put your WINDOWS computer in your pocket, too. You get the value of that, right?
For cloning, if your machine has at least 1 GB of RAM, it should work. Knoppix is also suggested, but since I can't get an available server to download it, I don't know its specs.
Booting from the clone will trigger Windows repair mode, if Windows can detect itself on your hard drive. That's nice, as sometimes getting TO repair mode is tricky. It's also handy if you don't have a reinstallation disk, since the Windows clone is the same as what's on the hard drive (presuming the clone was made before Windows went wonky). As I've said elsewhere, by mistake I hooked up a Windows 7 clone to an XP machine at boot, and in seconds it did a 'repair' so now I have dual boot from either that 7 clone, or from the native XP!
If the internal drive dies or is corrupted, you can just use Clonezilla and clone back to your internal hard drive. I've had to do that at least six times with the very Win7 machine I'm typing on, during the past 2 years (Win7 updates keep trashing it.)
Other cloning uses are many. You can clone external drive to drive, same time cost. You can clone drive to stick or stick to stick, latter might take all night. So you can have your old computer (for Clonezilla even operates in an old Acer netbook with Atom and 1 GB ram) -- you can have that old trusty thing, clone while you work on your main machine. You can also copy partitions or image, etc. I don't know anything about servers, but Clonezilla has a separate server edition. (A Linux purist will suggest better options involving the console, for servers.)
3. ZtreeWin, a godsend filemanager. It's the progeny of the classic DOS Xtree Gold, which allows global file specs and searches you cannot do in Windows. Best of all, you can install it to a stick, and then put the stick in any machine. The limit on what it logs (mounts) is the limit of the RAM on that machine. So you can say log a 500 GB disk (slow if 4 GB ram, but do-able), then search on all files including hidden ones or deleted ones that begin with (pretend) *se*.* (You can't do this in Windows and get good results.) You can also compare files, dates, search and read text Windows otherwise can't read, a ton of things. Huge learning curve due to the many options. But if you find yourself screaming at Windows 7 et seq. horrible search, this is for you. (I'll make videos on its usage later in the year, and will put them in my PC World Alumni forum.)
4. Desktop icons turned into a toolbar MENU. Works in Win10 and prior, demo video here. This is easy for many, but yet more useful as a toolbar than in Start Menu or Taskbar. For example, every time I install a Windows OS, I go to the Program Files or Windows System files or Windows System32 files, sort by type and then create shortcuts for every 'exe' file I find. Some of them only run in console, but still they are handy. For it's not always convenient to type in the search bar, if you're sitting back with your wireless mouse, and the monitor is four feet away.
Of course, you could instead use ZtreeWin, search on *.exe' and then see all of them. It has a 'create shortcut' function, too, which you can do all at once.
Before or after you've made all your shortcuts from the executables, you create the Desktop tool bar by right click on the taskbar, Create Toolbar, pick 'Desktop'. Then -- and here's the trick -- UNLOCK the taskbar, and SHORTEN the Desktop toolbar until you see the chevron >> . Click on that, and a 'menu' of the icons instead pops up, and then you can right-click on that menu and Sort By Name. So now you're not stuck with a long line of unnamed icons requiring tooltips. You can also Rename anything there you see to get the Sort to work as you choose. (The Sort won't work unless you shorten the toolbar to create an overflow.) When done, either just lock the task bar again, or drag out the Desktop toolbar as suits you. I like removing the Text (right click on the toolbar to uncheck Text and Title), leaving only the icons, but I shorten the Desktop toolbar so the chevron shows, with the icons I use most, in front of it. So now I don't have to mess with Start Menu or Task Bar, but just click on the chevron, instead. For Win8-10, this is vital. It's the only wholly-configurable menu, allowed.
You can do the same with QuickLaunch (there's a trick to create it in sevenforums), but I don't know if you can do it with Task bar (which is slower to react, can't override that with a registry hack). So you can have toolbars at top and bottom. This makes the horrid Win8 and Win10 menu defaults more tolerable, as you can just avoid them, now.
Of course, to make your real desktop icons not pepper your screen, while on the desktop you can still right-click View, then uncheck the 'Show desktop icons'.
5. Changing Icons in Win10 and prior is the same, rightclick on the Icon, select Properties, Change Icon, but the trick here is, to know the names of the folders which contain icons you like. Windows uses shell32.dll in XP and Win7, and 'imageres' in Win7-10. (Both are in Windows System32.) Now, they changed the icons in Win8-10, which many don't like. So you can copy those same file names in your earlier Windows, put them on a stick, and then copy them somewhere on your hard drive (obviously not to the same folder, as the name is the same but the icons are different). Best of all, if you have other icon files you can point to them, so long as they are on the same root drive. For example, I collect icons from all over, many of them Linux icons (which are gif or png files, can be converted if need be) -- and then put them all in one folder. So then when Changing Icon, navigate to that folder.
Changing icons to make them memorable saves you time. Standardizing them as you best remember them saves you even more time.
6. Sizing text, to change Icon size in taskbar/toolbar: Little known bug/feature of the 'small icons' setting in either Start or Toolbar menu options for Win7+, is that the size you specify for your desktop icons' TEXT, controls the icon size in taskbar and Desktop toolbar, if you've chosen to make them 'small'. In other words, 'small' icons become smaller than they should be, when you size the text for your desktop icons. For desktop and menu icons are always too large, so you tend to select 'small', right? Well, the taskbar and toolbar size is NOT interpreted the same way, so it goes very teeny weeny.
What to do? Size the 'icon' option in Display Settings (Win8-10) or Windows Classic (Win7) or Desktop Properties Appearance Tab (XP) to have TEXT SIZE of 11 or bigger. What happens is, the icon on Desktop stays smaller, but those in Taskbar and toolbar increase so you can actually SEE them.
7. Plus! Themes to force font faces in Win7 and later. (That link's downloads are some of the classic Win95 themes, but surely you know of someone with a Win98 or 95 computer or have the disks yourself, right? The folder is in Program Files. I can't tell if it violates copyright to upload them to my domain for general access, so I won't.) Pity MSFT won't revive these. One of the many bad features in Win3 et seq., is MSFT's insistence on using horribly large dialog boxes, and horribly small, faded and illegible typestyles. So you're faced with forcing the Display Settings text size to be huge -- which increases also the dialog box size -- or living with squinting. There are two solutions to this in Win7, but only one in Win8 et seq. The remaining solution, is to use the old Win95 Plus! Themes.exe. (BTW, this works in Linux, too. Same steps as you'll see below, except right-click on Wine Program Loader to run it, after copying that folder to the .wine Program Files folder.)
To do it properly, you must first put all the cursors, icons, and themes you liked in earlier Windows, into the Themes folder of that freebie Win95 program. Then, you must actually create the theme in a Win98 or XP machine. For the program only works with presets. That's good, for Win10 even will recognize those presets. The presets include wallpaper, so if you want specific wallpaper, you have to put it in the same place as you specified for the original theme (i.e., My Documents/My Themes in XP, means you have to create a MyThemes subfolder in Win8-10).
For Win7, you can instead just use its (right-click, Personalize, Themes, scroll down till you see) 'Basic' (to include Aero) or 'Classic' (to exclude Aero, a technique well suited to Win8-10); then when you click on it, you'll get that same dialog box for making a theme, as you do for XP.
Plus! can read the theme, but cannot execute it unless all the theme's elements (including wallpaper) are in the exact same folder names and places, as when you created the theme (example of MyThemes subfolder, above). So when creating it in XP or Win98, it's probably best to store all the elements in that Themes folder.
SAVE the created theme with a memorable name. Again, you have to do this creation in an XP or Win98-95 machine.
Now, it's time to install on your Win7+ machine. How? BEFORE electing 'Basic', if you still miss Aero -- check the 'visual styles' box at the bottom of (right click on desktop) Performance "Adjust visual effects" tabbed dialog. Then or prior, copy Plus! to your Program Files folder (Program Files x86, in Win8-10).
If you want to use a Win7 theme in Win8-10 (and it might not work), locate that theme in Win7's Users\yourname\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Themes , and copy it to Plus! beforehand. (I couldn't find it in Win7 search, had to use ZtreeWin.)
Yeah, it's kinda complex: so look at the the last five minutes of the Win7 demo video here. (Plus! works well in Win8-10, but I couldn't get the demo to show it working in Win7, and can't get onscreen video to show it working in Win8-10, yet. Stilll, you can see the steps.)
Win8-10 (tested just this last week in 32-bit or 64-bit) won't wholly recognize all the settings and colors Plus! makes, nor will Win7: but at least the font faces and sizes can be changed, even if you keep that neat default Win10 Aero style which changes colors to suit the pictures. For example, I specified the default Win10 style, then ran Themes.exe in Win10, selecting only colors and fonts; one of the fonts, was Franklin Gothic Medium (great use of white space and dark font, not the thin Arial nonsense).
Now, File Explorer, IE, Edge, and many (not all) of the dialogs in Win10, will use that size and font, within the default Win10 color scheme. Sometimes Win8-10 updates reset the fonts, but I made a shortcut to Themes.exe on the taskbar, so I can rerun it at any time, with only the 'fonts' options checked for change. Takes 3 seconds.
Of course, there's also the wonderful and inimitable Firefox, which can override the usually-unreadable gray on white fonts in most website pages, as follows: Tools Options Content Advanced, uncheck the 'allow webpages to choose their own fonts'. to undo the webpage colors and substitute their own, in that same Content section, hit 'Colors' button, then check 'override' (or in later Firefox, select 'Always' for the override'): be sure you've selected the colors you like for background and text, just above and left of the 'override' option. Then when you no longer want to override font/color, reverse the foregoing steps.
8. Sticky Notes. In Win7+, just search on it. The programs are native to Windows. They are stripped down, no important features except size. The notes stay put every time you boot up, but if you click on its taskbar item, they will disappear from the screen. There's also Dema Sticky Notes for XP, too (that link is direct, later version, NOT cnet's usually ad-ware crufted download). The latter can go on later Windows, and has a lot more options, including alarms, etc., yet is very simple. (I can't stand Evernote, OneNote, or all those other overly-complex 'notebook' styles.) Most notably, Dema comes in many languages. Whether it really works well in all versions of later Windows, I can't certify.
9. Audio Splitter. (Search on 'brainout', as Amazon has removed permalinks. That link is my review, has hook up instructions.) Simple audio splitter makes the sound from my TV (one of my monitors) or my computer, port out to the lone set of speakers and I use the splitter also to hook up my other computer's line-out, to port its sound. Two computers, two monitors, two splitters hooked up to each other, one set of speakers. Less configuration to ponder.
10. Monitors with usb hubs or Anker 3.0 usb hub. Computers only have so much juice. Big external drives need a lot of juice, and almost all the complaints on Amazon re WD Passport or other famous drives dying, are due to folks hooking these power-hungry drives, to their computer usb ports. Internal USB ports 'share' power, with internal per-port limits that are too low for big drives. Any drive over 250 GB, might thus falter.
So these drives (say) are returned to Amazon, who slashes their price by 50%. Warehouse Deals then sell them.. and I buy. For the problem is not the drive. It is often the cord, but you can just buy a Blue Tripp Lite and solve that. Remaining problem though, is power. You need a separate hub. A flat panel monitor like Dell 1909 or 2210 has hubs on the monitor's underside and/or left. Plug the drive into those usb ports (2.0), and it will have enough power. Or, get the independently powered Anker for 3.0 native speed, even when plugged into a computer's 2.0 port; then plug your big external drive into the Anker. Really makes a difference.
Now, the product links reference items I actually bought, so this is first-hand info. I can't say how well these ideas will work for you, but I've tested them. Again, I made a demo video on #4 and #7, which you can watch here.
So what works for YOU? What are your own, hot top 10?
Edited by brainout, 12 July 2015 - 11:15 AM.