So you've just broken the seal on a shiny new laptop or PC, but you have the feeling something's missing? We've put together our ultimate list of 50 amazing free downloads every PC user should know about. Here's 5 more (for the full list get the July 2010 issue of PC Authority, on sale now):
Though it sounds like a weather monitoring application, Rainmeter is actually a very cool tool for desktop customisation in Windows. It allows you to apply skins to your Windows desktop. In addition to sounds and images, the skins can include application launchers, RSS feeds, email info and more. Rainmeter also has a built-in system monitoring tools, and can display CPU usage, memory usage, battery power and other system details right on your desktop. On top of all that, widgets embedded in your desktop can even be interactive, allowing you to record notes or send tweets, for example.
It can be a little complicated to set up, and creating your own skins is a major task, but there are plenty of pre-made skins available that will make your desktop look and work like it never has before. To check out some pre-made skins, see www.customize.org/rainmeter/skins
NASA Hidden Universe
One of many Windows 7 themes available from the Microsoft site, NASA's hidden universe is among the coolest, especially if you have an interest in astronomy. Your desktop will rotate between images taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope, showing the universe as we've not seen it before.
Perhaps the best free video and audio transcoder we've seen, MediaCoder can perform batch video conversions to and from just about any codec you can name (including in Linux, if you use Wine). It can also resize and resample videos, and has excellent support for multi-core processors. It can even use your GPU to encode high-definition H.264 video, which in our experience makes the process five to six times faster (assuming you have a decent GPU), although it reduces the number of transcoding options available.
While it's an excellent tool for converting your .flv files to .avi and .mp4 files, it doesn't have an inbuilt video editor. For that you'll need something like VirtualDub (www.virtualdub.org).
A virtualisation tool similar to commercial solutions like VMWare, VirtualBox allows you to run another operating system within your normal OS. For example, you can have Linux running inside a window on your Windows desktop (or vice versa). It supports quite a few guest operating systems, including all currently available versions of Windows, Linux, Solaris and OpenBSD. You can see a full list of guest operating systems here: www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Guest_OSes.
Virtualisation is great for developers, because it allows you to test products on different platforms. Regular users might also find it useful for getting access to software not normally available on their platform of choice, or for trying out software without having to install it on their main system.
One of the big limitations of home printing is no matter how new your printer is, you're likely to be limited to A4, or A3 pages if you're lucky. The Rasterbator is designed to overcome this limitation. By selecting an image file and choosing how big you want your final print to be, the software can split your image into a multiple-page pdf.
Print the file, and paste or tape together the individual pages, and you have a giant version of the original image. Quality and results will obviously vary, and it's potentially an expensive use of your printer, but for home DIY art projects this gives you the ability to create "prints" up to 20 metres in size. For some examples, go to http://homokaasu.org/rasterbator