50 tips and (mostly) free tools to extend Windows XP's life

Extend XP today, for free

Extra media muscle for XP

From music players to image editors, add-ons abound in the world of multimedia. To upgrade your audio or jazz up your photos and videos, check out our favourite plug-ins for iTunes, Windows Media Player, Photoshop and other popular programs.

Get music recommendations

iLike is a plug-in for iTunes that expands your music listening options. A standard (and popular) social-networking component turns you on to people with musical tastes similar to yours, but the 'related music' system seals the deal. Choose a song in your library and iLike suggests other music you might like, along with free, similar MP3s from independent artists.

Variable Bit Rate encoding in iTunes

Regardless of the overall bitrate you use to rip tracks, Variable Bit Rate (VBR) delivers the best music quality in iTunes while keeping file sizes small.

To get there, click Edit, Preferences, Advanced, click the Importing tab, then click the Setting drop-down menu. Choose Custom, then tick the Use Variable Bit Rate Encoding box. A transfer rate of 192 kilobits per second (Kbps) and Medium High quality for VBR yield exceptional results; aim higher if you think you can hear the difference.

Upgrade Windows Media Player

Windows Media Player may not be the most exciting application on its own, but the free Windows Media Bonus Pack add-on for XP gives it considerably more oomph. Extras include visualisations, skins and sound effects, plus a raft of new features. These include the ability to export playlists to Excel and a better tool for finding missing artwork and other metadata on your audio tracks.

Upload to Flickr in bulk

Sending 10, 20, 50 or more photos to the Flickr.com photo-sharing site can be dull and time-consuming. Download Flickr Uploadr for a quick and easy way to upload photos in bulk, all in a standalone application. Right-click any image and you'll get a 'Send to Flickr' menu item, which opens the application and gets your shots ready to go.

Upload to Flickr by email

Even if you don't have web access you can send pictures to your Flickr account by email. First, you need a custom Yahoo Flickr upload email address. Use the subject line of your message for the photo's title and the body for a description. Flag any tags by prefacing them with 'tags:' on their own line.

Shrink photos in a trice

It's wise to take photos at the highest resolution that your camera supports, but your friends and family members probably don't want to receive 4MB files over email. Firing up a full-blown image editor such as Photoshop for a simple resizing job seems like overkill. Instead, you can use Microsoft's Image Resizer PowerToy. Right-click any image to open a Resize Pictures menu for easy pic shrinking.

Make The Gimp look like Photoshop

Gimpshop, a tweaked version of the free, open-source The Gimp image editor, mimics the look and feel of Photoshop, so you needn't learn any new commands. Think of it as a Gimp mod that doesn't require you to install Gimp before getting started.

An avalanche of art effects

Filter Forge offers a monster collection of methods (including more than 4,000 filters) for tweaking and digitally adding textures and lighting tricks to your photographs. Photoshop fans can create their own filters and upload them to the Filter Forge community. Contributors get the plug-in for free; everyone else pays $US99 to $299, depending on the resolution they require.

Apply film effects to stills

OptikVerve VirtualPhotographer, a handy Photoshop plug-in, lets you apply dozens of preset film styles (such as extra grain, soft focus, high contrast and so on) to your photos in just a couple of clicks.

Silence noisy photos

On some cameras, ISO modes as high as 3200 tempt many people to shoot pictures in the dark. This can lead to disappointment and noisy photos. Noise Ninja cleans up grainy, pixellated shots. Plug the application into Photoshop and select noisy areas by hand, or use the Noise Brush to swipe your pointer over trouble spots. The program costs $US45 for home use and $80 for pros.

Make photos look like TV

Looking for a way to crop a photograph on to a television screen and make the resulting image look realistic? Namesuppressed Design's Autointerlace plug-in for Photoshop adds horizontal lines to your image, making it look like you've just photographed an old CRT television.

Expand your 3D library

Adobe's Photoshop CS3 Extended Plug-In for Google 3D Warehouse lets you search and import 3D models from Google's online repository of photorealistic art.

Get the best colour from your PC

Printed photos don't look the same as photos on a monitor. Reconciling the two (and images from other sources) involves installing a colour profile for each device. Microsoft Color Control Panel Applet for Windows XP enables you to switch between the profiles on your machine.

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PC Advisor staff

PC Advisor (UK)
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