There are many free ways you can spice up Windows without splashing out on a new operating system. One of the easiest is to customize Windows Explorer and it’s “shell” which is basically everything that allow you to browse and manipulate the contents of your hard drive: windows, menus, etc…
One cool little add-on is Visual Task Tips – a lightweight shell enhancement that provides thumbnail preview images for each task in the Windows Taskbar. This is actually a new feature in Windows Vista but Visual Task Tips allows you to have it in previous operating systems for free. It’s a discreet program that comes in handy when you have several applications open.
Another popular tool is Explorer Breadcrumbs which enhances navigation of folders in Windows XP. Rather than navigating step-by-step through your folder hierarchy, it allows you to view your folders quickly and go directly to any location with a single click. It contains a contextual series of buttons that enable you to quickly see and navigate through the entire folder hierarchy without leaving the current window.
Another great XP extension is TaskSwithXP, an advanced task management utility that picks up where the standard Windows Alt+Tab switcher leaves off. It provides the same functionality but adds visual styles to the dialog and also enhances it by displaying a thumbnail preview of the application that will be switched to.
A similar add-on, but aimed specifically at Vista users, is Switcher. This application enhances Vista’s 3D Aero animation system by emulating MacOS Exposé. It displays a snapshots of all your open windows, both active and minimized, allowing you to easily find the application you’re looking for.
Finally, with so much Flash video on the net, its useful to have a way of previewing all your saved audiovisual files. SWF Live Preview allows you to preview Macromedia Flash files using Windows Explorer. SWF Live preview also enables you to scan directories and subdirectories for Flash files, create and preview thumbnails including information such as Flash version, number of frames, and whether it is compressed or not etc.