Some of my favorite kinds of freeware apps to find (and install) are the ones that build new functionality into the Windows operating system. I'm running Windows 7 right now, but even this latest version of Microsoft's OS has substantial room for third-party improvements.
It's not difficult to find free or open-source apps to boost the common interactions one has with one's operating system. The tough part is in the classification: I'm really not sure how to best lump this week's applications together, save for the fact that they're all awesome ways to enhance Windows with new and useful features. And I'm not talking about super-complex, command-line scripts or what-have-you. No, these apps are all super-easy to use-if you even see them at all, given that most will modify some form of your Windows OS without needing any further interaction past the installation screen.
Anyway, if you can think of a better way to classify this week's Freeware Files other than, "Apps that Make Windows Rock," I'm all ears. Otherwise, click the jump and get ready to take your operating system to new places!
If you're sporting Windows 7, you'll love the organizational enhancements offered by the freeware application Folderico. This nifty little utility allows you to change the color of any folder on your hard drive to preset shades via an easy-to-access right-click context menu. Sure, you can always change the icon of any folder by hand if you so desire. But like the labeling features in Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird, Folderico gives you instant access to this visual organization-change folder colors on the fly to reflect whatever new status you want to assign.
Why do I mention Windows 7? You lose the right-click context menu in other versions of the Windows operating system, which makes re-coloring your folders a bit more of a drag.
Sometimes, one desktop just isn't enough. That's fine. Grab and install dexpot and you can launch up to 20 virtual desktops at a time, all easily accessible through Windows 7's Aero Peek taskbar functionality. This is an excellent way to keep track of your various desktops that, unfortunately, users of previous versions of the Windows OS will have to do without. That's not to say that the prospect of switching through your desktops to find the correct one should in any way discourage you from running Dexpot-especially since Dexpot itself can benefit from third-party plugins that extend its features even more!
You don't have to be a total Windows newb to benefit from the amazing services offered by this super-tiny, and super-new, freeware application for Windows 7 and Windows Vista. Sure, it helps, but you can also just be plain forgetful. FixWin loads as a pleasantly sorted list of common Windows issues-things like, "where the heck is my Recycle Bin" and "I can't find my CD or DVD drive in Windows Explorer." FixWin can't move mountains, but the program does give you a one-button fix for many of these typical (and annoying) issues. I can't begin to fathom the countless hours and forum searches now eliminated by this super-friendly fix-it app.
We've gone through a number of the traditional, "run this program to check and see if the other applications on your computer are as updated as they can be" applications. So don't just shrug off Ketarin and toss it in the pile with all the others. While this freeware app performs a similar ritual in that it runs online to check for updated software that you've installed, the nice thing about Ketarin is that it doesn't actually update what's on your system.
No, Ketarin is more designed for archiving and system restoring. For this app merely takes the latest version of whatever apps you've installed and dumps it in a preselected folder on your hard drive. In theory, this allows you to create the most up-to-date archive of installer files that you can possibly have-perfect for loading out a new PC with your favorite apps or, worst-case, restoring your system without missing any of your preferred programs!
Little is more frustrating then when your desktop icons get all out of whack. Whether it's the result of a ton of program installations, a jerk friend, or some kind of Windows glitch, it can take a lot of time to restore your desktop to the picture-perfect shape you previously created. And even if your desktop is messy as can be... that's your mess. Don't let other programs-or Desktop Cleaning Wizards-ruin the chaotic way you go about accessing the many, many shortcuts littering your operating system.
Icon Configuration Utility is a universal freeware app that can save and restore the state of your desktop with but a click or two of the mouse. It's as easy as that, and it saves you countless hours spent rearranging the wrong picture into a perfect puzzle of icons.
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!