Windows News, Updates, tips and software

20 essential Freeware and Open Source programs

Since I started blogging two years ago I came upon thousands of essential, ultimate and top freeware lists but only few really had a lasting impact on the internet community. Most are forgotten the next day and everyone heads on to the next list in line. It does not make sense to simply write another essential list, it does however make sense when I'm concentrating this list on freeware and Open source that I have reviewed here at ghacks. I reviewed more than 360 freeware and Open Source products which could be seen as a preselection.

vista free drivers

Windows Vista Drivers

It is rather unfortunate that Windows Vista has problems to provide correct drivers for many "not so popular" devices. This could lead to the problem that a device will not be recognized correctly under Windows Vista reducing its functionality or that the device is not working at all. The usual search the web for drivers option was bad in Windows XP and is bad in Windows Vista as well. You could of course head out and search the internet for drivers to make them work in Windows Vista but this takes lots of time and knowledge.

wma to mp3 converter

Free WMA to MP3 Converter

Several software music players and mp3 players do not support WMA files at all. Wma, Windows Media Audio, is a format that was developed by Microsoft and initially designed to compete with the popular mp3 format. WMA however never received the popularity of the mp3 format and many users don't like WMA at all because of its DRM capabilities. Converting WMA to MP3 is one solution to get rid of WMA files and make them playable in your software and mp3 players. One way to convert wma audio files to mp3 is to use the software Free WMA to MP3 Converter.

Forget the Windows Start Menu: use Toolbox instead

The Windows start menu is not really excellent when you want to find something fast. It always takes some clicks to reach the destination - be it a program, the control panel or a drive that is connected to your computer. Toolbox was designed as a application launcher that makes it easier to access drives, folders and applications in Windows. It uses an intuitive way to display toolboxes that contain links to everything that you can think off. You can link to drives and display their size, launch applications with one click and open folders with another. Access to those elements can't be faster in Windows.

Create tiny cool looking wallpapers

Many users tend to use wallpapers to customize the look and feel of their operating system. Wallpapers come in all sizes and shapes but have one thing in common, they are normally image files that have a size of 100K and more. This is probably not a problem for most new computers but when you have a old machine you might want to fight for every byte that you can save somewhere. The alternative to those wallpapers are tiny wallpapers that have the exact same effect. Sure, they do not show objects or people but they are still nice to look at.

recover files

Recover accidentally deleted files

I disabled my trashbin by default which means that deleted items bypass the trashbin and are deleted immediately. This works fine most of the time but it happens that I occasionally delete a file that I need later on again. There is no obvious way to get those files back and you will face serious troubles if want to get them back but used something like defragmentation on that hard drive after the deletion.

The question that some might ask is why one could recover deleted files at all. This is actually a very good question. Windows does not delete the file at all when you press the delete button. It simply deleted the reference to that file and makes the space the file occupied writable again. This means that you can recover most files if you are just fast enough. One freeware that can do the job is Recuva which is supposed to be pronounced recover.

Free Version Tracking with File Hamster

Version tracking is extremely useful if you work with files that change very often. This is mostly interesting for coders and website owners but also for users who write large text files and artists that work with graphics or music for instance. In short; File Hamster keeps backups of all old versions of files that you specify making it incredibly easy to revert back to a previous version or take a look at the changes between different versions.

Partypoker Windows Vista Fix

One of the first programs that I installed on my new notebook that is running Windows Vista is the Partypoker application. The first start of the Partypoker application went fine and I was able to login into Partypoker and play Poker games. The next time I tried to start the Partypoker application I witnessed something that left me puzzled for a while. The application would not start.

superfast shutdown

Superfast Shutdown for Windows

It sometimes takes ages to shutdown Windows XP and Windows Vista, most of the time when you are in a hurry. This can be caused by processes that are still open or not reacting. Windows tries to close those processes which can take a long time. If you don't have the time or patience to wait for the shutdown you might want to try the excellent freeware Superfast Shutdown which does exactly what the name suggests.

Extend Vista Activation Period to 12 Months

It is getting better and better. I was describing a method to extend the activation period of Windows Vista by 90 days to a total activation period of 120 days. But this is actually not the maximum that you can extend the activation period of Windows Vista. Ryan from Cybernet wrote a nice article today that explains how every Windows Vista user can extend the activation period by the factor three raising the total time until Windows Vista has to be activated to

hitachi feature tool

Reduce Hard Drive Noise with Hitachi's Feature Tool

Many modern hard drives support a function called AAM - Automatic Accustic Management. The feature is currently supported by most hard drives from Samsung, Maxtor and Hitachi. Most hard drives have the feature disabled by default which decreases access time but increases the noise level of the hard drive. If you prefer silence over performance you might want to enable AAM to decrease the noise level of your hard drive and slightly increase the access time.

Crap Cleaner (CCleaner) a second look

Crap Cleaner has been released in a new version just a day ago and I decided to take another look at it. I removed all options during installation except the one that would create a start menu entry in Windows - no need for additional toolbars on my system. I especially wanted to take a look at the Issues tab which someone mentioned in the comments sometime ago.

The Issues tab in Crap Cleaner scans the registry for missing shared dlls, activex issues, unused file extensions, obsolete software and many more entries and displays them after finishing the scan. You may then click on fix all issues which prompts to backup your registry before continuing. After that the first issue is displayed with information why Crap Cleaner decided it is one.


Free Fast Virtual PDF Printer

I'm currently using the Screen grab extension in Firefox to save complete websites as pdf files to read them later or print them eventually. Screen grab has some limitations, mainly size of the website that should be saved and that it only works in Firefox. I sometimes use Opera or want to convert other documents such as emails to pdf.

DoPDF looks like the perfect replacement for Screen Grab. It is a freeware application for Windows and takes only a few megabytes of hard drive space. It adds a virtual printer to your installed printers in Windows and you can choose to make it the default one. Please make sure that the Print Spooler service is running during installation, otherwise the setup of the virtual printer will fail.

CrossLoop - free secure screen sharing

You might want to take a look at Croosloops if you are looking for an efficient, easy and free way to connect securely to a computer at another physical location. CrossLoop enables you to see the screen and control the mouse and keyboard on a remote computer using an encrypted connection which utilizes the Blowfish 128 bit algorithm. Explicit permission has to be granted before the connection is established.

Cancelling WGA Installation sends a report to Microsoft

The German computer magazine CT analyzed the new WGA Notification that is installed during Windows Update. They decided to cancel the installation and immediately after doing so the firewall reported that update.exe tried to connect to the internet. This caught their attention of course and they decided to analyze the data that was send after the connection was established.

They used Wireshark to analyze the traffic and found out that update.exe sends data to Some of the data seems to be encrypted while some could be identified. It sends registry information, namely the SusClientID as well as information about the version of the WGA tool, the windows version and the language of the operating system. It also sets a cookie which contains a GUID which could possibly be used to identify the computer.

New Filters for Vista Search

Did you know that you can add ifilters to the search function in Windows Vista ? The new ifilters, think of plugins if you like, add content indexing for various formats that the default Vista search (and desktop search) does not support, those include Adobe Reader documents, mp3, wmv and wma files as well as various other formats including zip, rar and help files. This is a great addition to the search in Windows Vista, especially if you do work with those file formats regularly.

Method to Bruteforce Vista key a hoax - kinda

Yesterday I was writing about a method to get a working Windows Vista key by bruteforcing. The method would generate random keys and check them locally for validity. If the local check would be successful the user had to try and use the key to activate his version of Windows Vista. This could of course still be rejected if someone else did already use the key to activate his version.

Windows Vista Bootlogo Generator

Many users are disappointed with the selection of bootlogos that are preinstalled in Windows Vista and many would like to change the bootlogo to a custom one. The process of creating a custom boot logo is pretty easy. You do need to download the boot logo generator which can be freely obtained at the authors homepage.