By Deb Littlejohn Shinder and Tom Shinder
Windows XP includes some neat new features, but what about the features we were hoping for that Microsoft left out? Third-party vendors have rushed to help fill in the gaps. We’ll take a look at a few of the add-on programs that can increase XP’s functionality for the IT pro: UltraMon multiple-monitor utility, PowerDesk Pro 5.0 file manager, and O&O Defrag 4.0.
One of the nicest features of Windows XP (carried over from Windows 2000) is multiple-monitor support. For those who do quite a bit of multitasking or who like to keep a lot of shortcuts at their fingertips, the ability to spread the desktop across two or three (or more) monitors is a godsend.
As great as the multiple-monitor feature is, at times I’ve wished it could do just a little more. For example, wouldn’t it be great to be able to put a separate taskbar on each monitor, which would show only the icons for the programs that are running on that screen? How about setting different wallpapers on different monitors? Also, I’ve occasionally wanted to maximize a window across all the monitors.
Now you can do all that and more with a nifty little add-on called UltraMon from Realtime Soft. I stumbled across UltraMon when I was looking for a way to extend my XP taskbar across two screens. I downloaded and installed the free trial version and was so impressed with its performance that I didn’t even wait for the 30-day trial period to expire before I bought the license, which is an extremely reasonable $24.95 US for one user.
The program installed without a hitch, and UltraMon placed itself in my system tray. Right-clicking the icon brought up the menu shown in Figure A.
Exploring the UltraMon menu
The Display Properties selection takes you to the standard Windows display properties sheet, which you can also get to through Control Panel or by right-clicking the desktop and choosing Properties. You won’t find anything new there, but the next selection, Mirroring, allows you to mirror either of the monitors, so that the same desktop is displayed on both rather than spanning the desktop. This is useful for doing presentations and for training purposes when you want another user to see your desktop on his or her monitor. The Mirroring settings sheet is shown in Figure B.
Sure, you could buy a hardware splitter or use a dual-head video card and do the same thing. But you get a couple of extras with UltraMon’s Mirroring feature. You can set different resolutions for the mirrored monitors. You can mirror to any number of multiple monitors that you have attached to the computer. You can also choose, on the Options tab, whether or not to mirror the mouse pointer.
Setting separate screensavers and wallpapers
The next menu selection is Screen Saver, which gives you a way to set a different screensaver on each monitor. Figure C shows the Screen Saver properties sheet, which has a tab for each monitor so you can configure each screen saver separately.
The Shortcuts selection allows you to create “smart” shortcuts that will open programs on a specific monitor. The Wallpaper menu selection makes it possible for you to set different wallpapers on different monitors, as shown in Figure D. You can also stretch one wallpaper graphic across both desktops (be forewarned that most wallpaper graphics will be very distorted if you do this).
Other Configuration options
The Desktop Icons selection gives you a quick, handy way to save the current positions of your icons on all monitors and to restore icon positions. The Options property sheet accessed on the Option selection is where most of UltraMon’s features are configured. On the General tab, you are able to choose how windows will be resized when you move them from one monitor to another if the monitors use different resolutions. You can select either proportional mode, or have the window resized to fit. You can also enable moving maximized windows with the mouse; by default, maximized windows were “stuck” on the original monitor.
The Smart Taskbar tab, shown in Figure E, allows you to put a taskbar on each monitor by checking the Use Smart Taskbar box. You can then select whether to have each taskbar show only the tasks from the monitor it’s on (standard mode) or to have all the taskbars show all the tasks that are open on all monitors.
The Window Title Bar tab lets you add two buttons to the title bar of programs: a Move Window button and/or a Maximize To Desktop button. The first lets you move a window to the other monitor instantly by clicking the button. If you have more than two monitors, each click moves the window to the next monitor. The second button maximizes the window across all monitors. This works nicely for wide spreadsheets.
The Window Menu tab lets you add the same commands represented by the buttons above to applications’ window or system menu.
On the Hotkeys tab, youhave the option of setting hotkeys to perform the following UltraMon tasks:
- Moving the active window to the next monitor
- Moving the active window to the previous monitor
- Moving the active window to the primary monitor
- Maximizing or restoring the window to the desktop
- Maximizing or restoring the window
- Centering the cursor on the primary monitor
- Disabling or enabling the secondary monitor(s)
- Confining the mouse to a window and releasing it
Finally, on the Customization tab, you can check the optional menu commands that you want to use, including saving/restoring desktop icons, disabling/enabling secondary monitors, changing the primary monitor, and/or starting and stopping the Smart Taskbar.
The UltraMon Web site provides several free add-ons, including a screen-saver player that allows you to run a screen saver on the secondary monitor while you work on the primary. There are also optional replacement taskbar icons for UltraMon (and instructions for how to create your own UltraMon taskbar icon). You can also get custom Windows buttons (UltraMon already includes buttons for the XP default and classic themes). Finally, you can download scripts to add to UltraMon’s functionality.
To download the UltraMon add-ons, click here. RealTime Soft maintains an excellent multimonitor resource page with news, tips and tricks, and answers to questions about using multiple monitors. You can also join their multimonitor mailing list from this page.
PowerDesk Pro 5.0
All I want for Christmas is a Windows Explorer that allows me to do sophisticated file management. The Windows Explorer has come a long way since the old Windows 3.x File Manager, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Enter PowerDesk Pro 5.0. I’ve been using PowerDesk as my preferred file management tool for the last five years, and it has never disappointed. PowerDesk has all the features you wished were included with Windows Explorer but Microsoft never thought to add.
Below is a short list of some of the very cool things you can do with PowerDesk Pro 5.0 that you cannot do with Windows Explorer.
Add notes to files
The Add Notes feature allows you to attach notes to files so you can identify the files without opening them. Figure F shows a note attached to the strong_words.txt file.
Change folder colors
The Folder Colors feature helps you to quickly identify a folder. If you have a long list of folders in your My Documents folder, you know that finding a particular folder can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Folder colors allow you to quickly locate your most important folders. Figure G shows the 2-TechRepublic folder, colored green. It sticks out from the yellow folders and is quite easy to find.
Integrated File Viewer
The integrated file viewing feature allows you to see the contents of a file without opening the application associated with the file. More recent versions of Windows (Windows 2000/XP) do not include Quick View, an extremely helpful feature that allowed you to view the contents of multiple file types, even if you didn’t have the native application associated with the file type.
The PowerDesk file viewer supports over 200 file types. In Figure H, you can see Integrated File Viewer displaying the contents of a .jpg file. You can also configure PowerDesk to provide a thumbnail view and show the contents of files in each thumbnail.
Fast File Finder
Forget about using the Windows integrated Search feature. The Windows Search is far too slow to find files on today’s 160-GB+ systems. PowerDesk’s File Finder is lightning fast. You can find a particular file or group of files on your computer, or on a network drive, in less than half the time it would take the Windows Search feature.
Built-in “touch” feature
Touching a file allows you to change the Date and Time on a particular file. You might want to do this so that all the files in an archive you’re working with have the same file date and time, or perhaps you want to indicate that you finished a particular piece of work at a certain date and time.
PowerDesk allows you to change the date and time of any file or folder. Just select the file, click the File menu, and select the Change Date And Time command. The resulting dialog box, shown in Figure I, lets you make the desired changes. After you make the changes, the created and modified time will change to the date and time you selected.
Have you ever tried to rename a group of files using the built-in Windows tools? Is it even possible? Use PowerDesk’s Group Rename feature to rename a group of files with an easy and intuitive graphical interface. Figure J shows an example of how to change a group of files with the names file1.txt, file2.txt, etc., to Passwords1.doc, Passwords2.doc, etc. Group Rename is a powerful feature that you’ll find yourself using frequently.
Integrated File Wiper
The integrated File Wiper deletes files so that they’re unrecoverable. If you delete a file on any Windows computer, that file can be recovered using utilities such as Norton Utilities. You need to overwrite the deleted file with 0s to prevent files from being recovered by inquisitive souls. PowerDesk’s File Wiper will do the work for you. Just select the file you need to wipe and use the Destroy command.
The Graphics Converter is the tool I like the best. I take a lot of screenshots for training materials, books, and magazines. Everyone seems to want files in .tif format, which can be a real problem if you want to just copy and paste the images into Word. Also, Word doesn’t do a very good job of saving file quality, so I insert the Word document into a FrontPage document and save the graphics as better quality .gif files. With PowerDesk and a couple of clicks, all those .gifs are converted to .tif files. Figure K shows you how it’s done.
If you find the Windows command-line FTP application uninspiring, try out the PowerDesk FTP feature (Figure L). Files and folders appear in the File Manager window in the same way as your local files and folder. You can upload and download files just like you can with the command line or other third-party FTP applications.
O&O Defrag 4.0
Windows XP has a built-in defragger that is based on the Diskeeper defragmentation engine. The built-in defragger is good for basic hard disk defragmentation, but it’s limited to a subset of features that you can get from commercial defraggers like O&O Defrag.
O&O Defrag is a great defragging tool for Windows XP. Some of the features provided by O&O Defragger that you don’t have with the built-in tool include:
- Scheduled defragmentation runs
- Free space consolidation
- File ordering
- Offline defragmentation of locked files
O&O Defrag’s interface reminds me of a cross between the Norton defragger and an MMC snap-in (Figure M). In fact, you can run the O&O defragger from an MMC console.
You can schedule defragmentation runs using O&O Defrag’s intuitive scheduling interface (Figure N). I found the O&O Defrag’s scheduling interface much easier to use than Diskeeper’s. Just enter the start time, recurrence schedule, and type of defrag. No blue screens, no lock-ups, and no problems.
O&O Defrag allows you to defrag your drives in a variety of ways. Defragmentation methods include:
- Stealth: Stealth defragments all files and consolidates free disk space. The level of consolidation is dependent on how much impact the consolidation process will have on system performance. If O&O Defrag determines that system resource usage would be too high, a limitation consolidation takes place. Stealth is recommended for disks with more than 1 TB of disk capacity or with large numbers of files. How large “large” happens to be isn’t defined.
- SPACE: The SPACE method defragments all files by placing fragments into existing gaps in the defragmented regions of the disk. It doesn’t reorganize the files on the disk, but does increase the amount of contiguous free space. SPACE is a good place to start on a highly fragmented disk.
- COMPLETE/Access: The COMPLETE/Access method reorganizes the files on a disk based on the last access times on the files. Most recently accessed files are placed at the end of the partition so they can be accessed more quickly. Files that are rarely touched remain at the beginning and probably won’t ever require defragmentation again. This method speeds up subsequent defragmentation runs.
- COMPLETE/Date: The COMPLETE/Date method is similar to the COMPLETE/Access method but uses the last modified date on files to reorganize the files on disk. The most recently modified files are placed at the end of the disk, and those not modified (such as operating system files) remain at the beginning of the disk and won’t ever need to be defragmented again. This is a good method to use for databases and partitions that contain a large number of program and operating-system files.
- COMPLETE/Name: The COMPLETE/Name method reorganizes files by name. O&O Defrag recommends using this method on system drives but doesn’t provide much information on why it would be a good idea to reorganize files by name.
I’ve found O&O Defrag to be faster than any of the defragmenters on the market, and the performance improvement after using one of the COMPLETE defragmentation methods is noticeable.
More add-ons for XP
While Windows XP comes with more bells and whistles than any other version of Windows right out of the box, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. UltraMon, PowerDesk, and O&O Defrag all provide valuable enhancements to Windows XP and are a step in the right direction for IT pros wanting more functionality. If you crave add-ons with a more personal touch, try the Microsoft Plus Web site, which is dedicated to extending the Windows XP experience.
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.