Every few years, a new version of Windows comes out with some decent, but minor upgrades and a $ 100 price tag. If you’d rather pay $ 100 for a real boost in features, consider buying these five programs to get a truly new version of Windows.
Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This post was originally published before the release of Windows 8, but now that Windows 10 is going to be free at launch, it’s the perfect time to put that $ 100 toward some real software upgrades.
Xplorer2 Pro – $ 30
Windows Explorer is simple and easy to use, which is great for beginners—but once you cross the line into power user territory, it really just doesn’t cut it. There are a ton of great alternative file browsers out there, but our favorite is Xplorer 2. It has an advanced, but not difficult-to-use interface that lets you browse with tabs, multiple panes for easy file copying, tons of keyboard shortcuts, and advanced searching (which is the main reason to buy Pro over the free lite version). It’ll also replace Windows Explorer as your default file manager, which is absolutely killer.
If you don’t like Xplorer 2, you can check out some of its competition, like the similarly-priced but somewhat ugly Total Commander, or the much more expensive, but amazing, Directory Opus. Check out our App Directory entry on Xplorer2 for more info on its competition.
Fences Pro – $ 10
We’ve talked about Fences numerous times before, and there’s a reason for that: there’s just no better way to get your desktop clean and organized. Fences lets you divide up your messy desktop into a number of groups—or “fences”—letting you put newly-downloaded files in one fence, current projects in another fence, and short notes in another. You can double-click on the desktop to hide all your icons when you don’t want to see them, and even give them names.
These basic features are all free, but Fences really gets useful with the $ 10 pro version. With a pro license, you can have Fences organize your desktop automatically, by putting new files into a certain fence, or grouping them by things like name and file type. You can even fade your fences until they’re moused over, so they’re only 100% visible when you actually work with them. If you actually use your desktop to organize working files, Fences Pro is the perfect app to keep it from getting cluttered.
Bins – $ 5
At a measly $ 5, there’s no reason not to try Bins. Created by the same developer as Fences, Bins lets you group together icons in your Windows Taskbar, almost like the popular Stacks feature in OS X. It keeps your Taskbar slim, while keeping all your apps at the ready: just is mouse over a group’s icon to get access to the shortcuts within. It also lets you pin files and folders to your taskbar, which is something we’ve all been wishing for forever. Essentially, it does for your taskbar what Fences does for your desktop: it keeps it clean, organized, and much easier to sift through.
One of Windows 7’s best new features was Aero Snap, the feature that let you “snap” a window to a screen edge to make it take up half the screen, or to the top of your screen to maximize it. It can get a little annoying, though—sometimes you’re just moving a window and it thinks you want to snap it; other times you wish you had more options over how to divide up your windows. What if you wanted to split your screen 60-40 between two windows instead of 50-50? Or put one window on top and one on the bottom? Divvy lets you do that. With just a hotkey, you can bring up the Divvy grid and tell it exactly where you want the current window to reside. You can even create keyboard shortcuts for different custom layouts, so you can split your screen up into even chunks with just a few keystrokes. If you like Aero Snap but think it could be better, turn it off and use Divvy instead.
DisplayFusion Pro – $ 25
Lastly, if you use multiple monitors, DisplayFusion Pro is a must have piece of software (if you only use one monitor, you can probably skip this one). Windows’ multi-monitor support got better in Windows 8, but it’s nowhere near as powerful as DisplayFusion. With it, you can manage your multi-monitor wallpaper, gives you hotkeys to move windows between monitors or change their opacity, adds extra titlebar buttons, more window snapping features (though you won’t need them, since you’ll use Divvy!), and a ton of other stuff. You can get a few of these features with the free version of DisplayFusion, but all the good stuff comes with a $ 25 pro license, so if you use multiple monitors in your setup, DisplayFusion Pro is absolutely worth the price. It’ll make you feel like your computer was actually meant to have multiple monitors.
Obviously, Windows has a lot of great programs worth paying for—like Trillian Pro, Breevy, or MediaMonkey Gold, but our goal today was to find $ 100 worth of apps that are so well integrated that they should be part of Windows in the first place. It’s also worth mentioning there are a lot of free apps that fit this category, too like Console2, Launchy, or Dexpot, so check out our App Directory for more Windows essentials. If you have a favorite Windows add-on we didn’t mention, be sure to share it in the comments below.
Video music by Russel Reynolds.