By Lenny Bailes
Wish there was an easier way to navigate with Win95's Explorer and My Computer? Are you looking for an alternate to the Start menu's nested program groups for launching applications? Do you want to gain more control over the System Tray, add to your right-click mouse options and float a few handy toolbars on your desktop?
You could scour the Web's shareware and freeware applications and sort through myriad commercial programs for the answers to those questions. But you don't have to--we've already searched the jungle of apps to turn up a batch of utilities that will add new dimensions to your desktop and system controls, System Tray and Clipboard. We've also identified alternate file managers, application launchers, shell utilities and virtual screen utilities.
The best place to find Windows 95 enhancements is to go right to the source. Microsoft offers three groups of free utilities: Windows 95 PowerToys, KernelToys and Imaging for Windows 95. We'll look at each of them, then continue with a close-up of other options for enhancing the Win95 desktop.
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The PowerToys suite is an unofficial utility collection written by the Win95 interface developers. Here are highlights of some recent additions to the set. Use at your own risk: Microsoft does not support these applets.
Windows 95 KernelToys is a smaller utility collection authored by the Windows 95 kernel team. It includes a utility for quickly constructing custom CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files for various MS-DOS mode program scenarios. There are also memory and CPU performance auditors. The Windows Time Zone Editor allows you to customize and control the default Win95 time-zone settings.
Microsoft Imaging for Windows 95 is a welcome replacement for the limited Fax Viewer bundled with the operating system. In addition to viewing and saving fax .AWD files, it adds TWAIN scanner support and a series of annotation and drawing tools. Once installed, this full-featured fax editor automatically becomes Microsoft Exchange's default fax viewer.
Many power users think the navigation and file-management capabilities of Explorer and My Computer are limited. Multiple mouse clicks are required to copy and move files between two drives. You can't sort listings by DOS file extension, nor can you view filtered file lists. The ability to view file contents without launching another application is limited, and there's no support for zip/unzip archive management. Guess what? You can do all that and more with this batch of apps.
Drag and File Gold. Canyon Software's utility is perhaps the most flexible and useful substitute file manager for straight directory maintenance and manipulation. It restores all the features Explorer deleted from the Windows 3.1x File Manager. The Copy, Move, Delete, Launch and Rename file menu options accept wildcard variables. You get multiple drive and folder display lists.
It has a Copy/Format Disk menu, as well as a number of convenient file sorting and filtering options. The ability to browse files in various formats is linked to INSO's QuickView or QuickView Plus file viewers. Drag and File also lets you create and edit multiple file associations and synchronize directories. In addition, it provides convenient one-click archive management for the ZIP and LHARC compressed formats.
Turbo Browser 5.0a. Here's a slightly different approach to Win95 file management. This app, from Pacific Gold Coast, lacks Drag and File's multiple drive displays, file sorting options and convenient one-click zip management. But it adds several useful file-preview functions, bitmap conversions and special file queues.
These unique file queues are Turbo Browser's most valuable feature. Have you ever wanted to select 50 files in an Explorer window, choose the Print option and go for a cup of coffee? With Windows 95's native print management, you'd wind up with 50 instances of programs opening themselves and trying to print simultaneously. Turbo Browser's PrintQ can hold and manage documents associated with various programs, printing them all without generating printer time-outs or crashing the system. Similar queues are included for zipping and unzipping, bitmap file conversion, file viewing and multimedia play.
If browsing is your passion, Turbo Browser is the app to run. Built-in file viewers let you display a wide variety of word processing, database, spreadsheet, vector and bitmap file types. You can also play Windows Video, Wave Sound, MIDI or Animator Pro multimedia files in the preview window without launching Win95's Media Player. The Autoview feature allows you to inspect and play several specified files in sequence.
The included archive manager requires multiple keystrokes, is not integrated into the file display window and has no drag-and-drop support. However, Turbo Browser allows you to copy, move and delete files and folders from a single tree/file list.
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PowerDesk's Explorer Plus
Button, button-just click on a button. These programs provide single mouse-click access to applications and common Win95 system functions through neatly arranged toolbar icons.
PowerDesk. Take a toolbar utility, add virtual-screen capabilities, toss in an Explorer substitute, and you've got MicroHelp's PowerDesk. A double arrow on the left side of PowerDesk's toolbar cycles you through all the program groups on your Start menu. The toolbar's center section contains mini-icons for all your current desktop objects. It provides access to file manager Explorer Plus, as well as any installed printer. It also lets you switch between two virtual desktop screens. The toolbar's right side provides quick access to additional Start menu and Control Panel options, along with Win95's shutdown options. It contains icons to change video resolution without rebooting.
Explorer Plus is slightly less full-featured than either Drag and File Gold or Turbo Browser. It has some of the Windows 3.1x File Manager's functionality with Move-To, CopyTo and Rename keyboard shortcuts; a disk formatting menu; and the ability to sort by extension, size, date and file attribute. Explorer Plus also includes an archive manager (zip only) and a preview window that works with Win95's QuickView or INSO's enhanced QuickView Plus file viewers.
SmilerShell 95 1.4. Add a program-launch button to the title bar of the currently active application or file window with this small but handy utility. The DOS command line accepts 4DOS/NDOS (enhanced DOS command shells) commands, and includes history and search features.
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ToolBar95 1.1. Silent Software's app is a classic toolbar utility of the Norton Desktop/ Dashboard variety. Create any number of toolbar icon-strips that launch programs with a single click. The toolbars can be oriented vertically and horizontally or docked to any desktop corner. Each can contain one to six icon columns. You can add new programs, folders, data files and system tools simply by dragging them over a toolbar with the mouse.
Extend the size of your Windows workspace, with simultaneously maximized, full-screen applications, open folder windows, DOS command prompts and more stashed away on a series of virtual desktops. A small floating map window usually allows you to switch from one desktop to another. The MicroHelp PowerDesk application also contains two virtual desktops, selectable from the PowerHelp toolbar.
VERN (Virtual Environment Resource Navigator). This easy-to-use virtual screen utility allows you to switch among any number of Win95 desktops (limited only by available memory and system resources). Switch desktops by clicking on the small desktop map with the mouse, by panning to any screen edge, or by assigning hotkey shortcuts to individual desktops.
Perfect Screens 1.5. This more complex virtual screen utility combines horizontal and vertical toolbars for switching between desktops and individual applications. Save individual desktop configurations so that you can load them again whenever you wish.
Some utilities automatically place small control icons in the Win95 System Tray. You can use these programs to make the System Tray more useful.
Win Tray 96 and Tray Folders 1.13a. Bypass the Start menu by adding your own shortcuts to the System Tray with Win Tray 96. This shareware quick-starts applications with a single mouse click. Tray Folders places shortcuts on the System Tray. You're allowed to add up to 12 shortcuts to individual drives, directories or folders.
These two utilities don't fit into any particular categories, but they'll complete your new Windows 95 desktop quite nicely.
ClipMate 4.0. Thornsoft's must-have Windows Clipboard enhancer captures, saves and pastes multiple clipboard objects, sorts them with thumbnails, and "power-pastes" object series into any application.
FileSync 1.1 and Synchronizer 2.03. Do what Explorer and Briefcase can't-select any two directories and synchronize them so their content becomes identical. If you've ever had Explorer abort a mass-copy operation over a network, you'll appreciate these programs, which spare you from recopying megabytes of files from scratch or continuously clicking "yes" to replace every already copied item.
Hope you enjoyed our exploration of Win95-enhancing utilities. Once you download a few of these handy tools, you'll have the ultimate Windows 95 desktop. Happy hunting!
Lenny Bailes is a computer writer, teacher and consultant who resides in the San Francisco Bay area. He is the author of The Byte Guide to Optimizing Windows 95 (Osborne-McGraw Hill, 1995). Click Here to find the e-mail IDs for our editors, who can put you in touch with this author.