Note: Most of these apps do, indeed, use less than 10MB of hard drive space when installed, or use that much when they're running in the background. Some will scale in use as you demand more or less from them—DisplayFusion or UltraMon, for example, when handling very high-resolution backgrounds or a wall of monitors—but all should have an almost negligible performance impact on a modern system.
You don't open your programs in the order you want them nealy arranged on your taskbar, you open them when you need them. Taskbar Shuffle knows this, and makes it easy to quickly swap windows around, along with system tray icons. It also allows you to close out windows with a simple middle-click, which alone could make it worth the roughly 6MB price of admission. You won't know you wanted to fling windows out of your cursor's way until you try it.
It's probably smaller than your desktop wallpaper. But Everything is more useful and efficient than applications 25x its size. Everything only searches through file names, not inside the contents of them, but it does so stupid-fast as you type. You'll usually find your file with a few keystrokes, and Google fans will appreciate the boolean operators that enable and/or elegance. Definitely an app you'll want to right-click and create a keyboard shortcut for. There's also Locate32, which does a bit more, is portable, and has more user-friendly features—we just like Everything for its single box that searches, uh, everything.
8. DisplayFusion or UltraMon
If you're rocking dual, triple, or even quadruple monitors at home or at the office (and, let us just say, lucky you on that last bit), these apps have a relatively small system footprint, but make a big impact in how your system looks. They both manage separate or split wallpapers across multiple monitors, and can grab and rotate images from your computer, Flickr, or other sources. With DisplayFusion's recent update, they also both maintain your Windows taskbar across all your monitors (or don't, if that's how you like it). Our resident multi-monitor enthusiast Jason still keeps both apps on his system for the little things, like multi-monitor screensavers in UltraMon, but both are among the very select paid apps we'll admit to being worth shelling out for (although both have restricted "free" versions as well).
I know, it's like we never give up on promoting this, right? Well, what can we say—we (the royal "we," really) wrote it because it filled a need in our half-breed lives of alternating text and HTML. Turns out, though, that folks ranging from power emailers to military writers have found dull, boring text they can automate, misspelled words to catch on the fly, or perhaps powerful, seriously secretive acronyms they'd occasionally like to spell out. For less than 2.5MB of RAM on most systems, this one packs a pretty hefty punch.
In a magical world without computer stress, we're all running virtual machines to try out software we might not want, and we simply uninstall it there, keeping one system nearly pristine. For the real world, Revo Uninstaller scrubs an application and all its traces off your Windows system. It can also turn off programs that are starting up with Windows, and uninstall applications with a crosshair "Hunter Mode" that doesn't require you to know what it's named.
5. NirSoft's password recovery tools
Nir Sofer has contributed a wealth of great applications to the Windows world, but his Lifetime Achievement award for free software could be granted on his password utilities alone. Need to share your network password, but haven't actually typed it in forever and a day? Network Password Recovery to the rescue. Need to unlock an Outlook PST file? Hit up PstPassword. Nir's got you covered for email clients, IM apps, and, for every other app in your system that you can only see asteriks for, Asterisk Logger. Use them with the light side of the geek Force, and you'll owe Nir a beer after he saves your unlucky day.
With good reason, this tiny, powerful little app has remained our readers' favorite Windows maintenance tool. With a few clicks, it guns through your web browser remains, Recycle Bin, temporary system files, registry, and unnecessary application left-behinds, clearing them out and, in some cases, freeing up at least a DivX movie's worth of space. It also offers a startup program analyzer and disabling tool, and can be run on a schedule for that light, regular crap-free feeling (ew, but good, right?)
Windows Task Manager isn't a bad tool, necessarily, but it only gives you a layman's view of what's eating up memory or pulling serious CPU cycles. Process Explorer expands on the vagueries of "rundll" or "svchost" with a double-click, links background services to applications, and points to the folders they come from. You might not need it all the time, but when you're rooting around and trying to free up system memory, it's like a finely-tuned metal detector.
2. Replacements for built-in Windows utilities
There are a lot of good reasons to keep on rockin' Windows XP, but some of the built-in utilities can feel a bit, well, dated—and that goes for a good number of Vista tools, tool. Notepads without tabs? A Paint app that can't really resize or undo more than one action? Skip the headaches and work-arounds and run down our list of power replacements for built-in Windows utilities, almost all of which are tiny litle buggers that do their work a whole lot better than Windows' own stuff. This editor, for instance, tries not to think about what file copying was like before TeraCopy came along—or, if he does, tries to keep himself calm about that 4GB transfer that failed out for no reason, overnight.
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