Better Windows Accessories

by Jonathan Plutchok

Hello again from Jonathan’s Tool Bar & Grill, where I live just to tell you about great free or cheap utilities and Web sites that solve the little problems in your computing life – sometimes problems you didn’t even know you had. This week I recommend two desktop accessories that are big improvements over the ones provided with Windows.

See the Task You’re Switching To

Veteran Windows users know they often can flip more quickly from one open window to another by pressing Alt+Tab than by clicking the desired window’s button in the taskbar. When you press Alt+Tab, a small window pops up to show you icons representing all your currently open windows, with brief descriptions. The problem is that sometimes these are not enough to enable you to distinguish one window from another, and confusion ensues.

The solution is TaskSwitch XP Pro, which replaces the Windows function when you press Alt+Tab. TaskSwitch XP Pro shows more text and a live preview of each running application in a larger window. Now each window’s contents are immediately apparent.

You can freely configure the sizes of the preview and file list panes, font, and everything else about TaskSwitch XP Pro. Versions are available in various languages. TaskSwitch XP Pro can occasionally drag your computer’s performance down a bit, especially on systems with too little memory – but it’s still faster even than Kenny Chesney’s marriage. Once you try TaskSwitch XP Pro, you’ll never want to go back to the basic Windows function.

TaskSwitch XP Pro works on Windows XP and 2003, and can run on Vista in compatibility mode, but only without the Aero interface theme.

I have tried a few similar free utilities, such as Microsoft’s TaskSwitcher Power Toy and Alt-Tab Thingy, but TaskSwitch XP Pro is my favorite for its appearance and configurability. TaskSwitch XP Pro is absolutely free from, though the author does accept (and deserve) donations.

Only the Paper Is Missing from This Calculator

Do you miss the paper print-out of the old calculator that sat on your desktop – your real desktop, not your computer screen? The basic Windows calendar accessory won’t help. However, Moffsoft FreeCalc will. This full-featured calculator includes a scrolling “tape” window that shows all your previous calculations. And if you really do want the tape, you can print or save it.

FreeCalc’s size and appearance are configurable. It is, as the name implies, free from (donations are accepted), where you’ll also find a more sophisticated shareware version. FreeCalc runs on all versions of Windows through XP, but Vista is not explicitly supported yet.

Moffsoft FreeCalc is not the only free tape calculator, though it is one of my favorites. Another is the venerable TapeCalc from the PC Magazine utility treasure chest, but you must pay to enjoy the excellent PC utilities.

As always, I urge you to support your favorite freeware by sending contributions to the authors.

Please do stop back in to the Tool Bar & Grill every week for more useful tips on handy software tools and Web sites. And while you’re here, feel free to email your thoughts to