Best Vista downloads

There still aren't a lot of downloads out there that can really improve Vista, but we've found twenty real keepers that will allow you to tweak it and improve your experience with the OS.

Looking for software to get the most out of Windows Vista? As yet, there hasn't been a flood of great downloads designed specifically for Microsoft's latest operating system. But that didn't stopped us from searching high and low for the best free Vista apps available -- and we've come up with 20 real keepers.

For your convenience, we've arranged them into four categories: System Tweakers; Startup, Log-On, and Boot Tweakers; Vista Component Tweakers; and Miscellaneous Tools. So if you've got Vista and you're longing to make it better, rev up your browser and start downloading.

System tweakers

Want to bend practically every aspect of Vista to your will, from improving system performance to customizing the interface? Then try out the following six system tweakers. With them, you'll be the master of your own private Vista universe.

Vista Smoker Pro

If you're looking to juice up Vista's performance, give this tool a try. It's designed to help you optimize the way that Vista runs, from memory to hard disk operations to the basic interface. Very little escapes this program's notice. Want to optimize Vista for game play? The GameBoost feature will shut down services and free up RAM and CPU cycles for you. You can also optimize your CD drive, improve your system's graphics performance, shut down unwanted services, and tweak Internet Explorer to your heart's content. If you dislike Vista's intrusive User Account Control feature, you can use this program to change UAC's behavior. Vista Smoker Pro even lets you remove arrows from shortcut icons on your desktop -- talk about attention to detail! If you don't want to get down and dirty with manual performance tweaking, let the Auto Tuner featuredo the job for you. One note of caution: It's a good idea to create a restore point before using this program; that way, if anything goes awry, you can return to an untroubled (albeit considerably slower) version of the OS.

Download Vista Smoker Pro.

Systerac Tools for Vista

Your everything-including-the-kitchen-sink performance tool for Vista is this medley of utilities from Systerac. Among the tools bundled here are a memory optimizer, a disk doctor, a Registry backup program, a Registry optimizer, a shutdown scheduler, an Internet booster, a startup manager -- and that's just the beginning. You'll also find a file shredder and a nifty tool that displays a complete list of all your hardware. That's the good news. Now the bad news: Systerac was perhaps overgenerous in its use of nag screens that pop up whenever you want to use one of the program's features, urging you to make the buy. The trial is good for 14 days, but the importuning starts right away. If you can put up with it, however, you'll find that this a useful program.

Download Systerac Tools for Vista.

Mz Vista Force

Here's a free -- and very accomplished -- Vista tweaker. Use it to accelerate performance, juice your browsing speed, clean up your hard disk, clear out bandwidth-wasting startup programs, and even fine-tune Windows Media Player and Explorer. Many of the settings here are exceedingly fine-grained. Want to change the speed at which the Start menu search displays? With Mz Vista Force, you can. The program is free -- and considering how many tools it brings to the party, it's an irresistible download.

Download Mz Vista Force.

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