Turn Vista into Windows 7 for free
Every time Microsoft delivers a new OS it's possible to get many of the features of a Windows upgrade in the previous version of Windows. Windows 7 is no exception. Here's a roundup of a few things you can do to make Windows Vista as Windows 7-like as possible, without shelling out for the new OS.
We'll start out with a couple tweaks, then tell you about four free apps you can download. And a tip of the hat to the amazing Gina Trapani at Lifehacker, from whom I picked up several of these tricks.
First the taskbar. Windows 7 lets you "pin" apps to the taskbar and we can approximate that in Vista. Here's how.
Right-click on your taskbar.
And choose Quick Launch.
Now drag the icons you wish to "pin" into the left side of the taskbar.
Right click on the taskbar again and uncheck "lock taskbar."
Now click on the three rows of dots, hold down the mouse, and drag the bar over until you see all your icons.
Now, they look a little small like that, so let's make them bigger. Make sure the taskbar is unlocked.
Now right click on the taskbar again.
Select the view menu and choose large icons.
But your Windows still looks all Vista-y. One more interface tweak before we move on. Download VistaGlazz 1.3. It's a utility that changes some system files to allow you to implement third-party themes on Vista. Launch VistaGlazz and, if you're sure, agree to allow it to modify your system files. I did it, and had no issues. But I make no guarantee.
Download it, uncompress it, and then inside the Windows 7 Style folder, go into the theme folder and find the file called Windows 7 and the folder called Windows 7. Copy both to C:Windows\Resources\Themes\. (You'll need admin access to copy these.)
Now right-click anywhere on your Desktop and select "Personalize." Click on "Theme" and supposedly you can select the Windows 7 theme from the drop-down list. That didn't work for me, so I had to browse to C:Windows/Resources/Themes and choose the Windows 7 theme manually. Once you've got it, press Apply and you have a Windows 7 look!
You can also go to DeviantArt for wallpaper, log-in screens, and other Windows 7ish customization options.
Four free apps and we're done.
In Windows 7, Aero Shake kicks in when you shake an active Window, minimizing all the other windows. You can download a Vista version from Download.com for free.
Next you'll want the nifty Win 7 feature that halves the size of a window and docks it to the side of the screen. There's an app for that. It's German and it's called AeroSnap. You can get it at aerosnap.de.vu.
The Windows 7 calculator is also a lovely souped-up thing. Some intrepid hacker has actually pulled it out of Windows 7 and made it available on Box.net. You'll have to do a search to find it. And there's no guaranteeing it will still be there when you do. Is it legal? That's fuzzy. Probably not. But it is cool. Just make sure you back up your Vista calculator if you decide to replace it with this one. Just in case things go sideways on you.
Finally, Windows 7 has a much easier way to select Wi-Fi networks. It's not a perfect match, but NetSetMan from netsetman.com is much better than the default Vista manger and gives you lots of other powerful tools as well.
There are plenty of other tweaks, like turning off User Account Control and tricks to speed up startup, covered in Ms. Trapani's Lifehacker article as well as in a few of our Windows videos at cnettv.com.