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Two programs that simplify Vista system tweaking

The free Ultimate Windows Tweaker and $30 Vista Smoker Pro give you a graphical interface for making Registry changes that enhance Vista's performance.

Last week, I described five ways to squeeze a little more juice out of Vista by using features built into the operating system. A simpler approach that achieves the same system-tuning effects is to use a utility that lets you make the same type of Registry edits and configuration changes without having to navigate 10 rows deep into some obscure hierarchy of "keys" with undecipherable names.

I looked at a free program from Microsoft MVP Anand Khanse called Ultimate Windows Tweaker and the $29.99 Vista Smoker Pro from WareSoft Software (as close to a palindrome as company names get). The freebie acted up a bit on my 64-bit Vista machine, but it's suitable for casual system tweakers. Those who are even a little serious about fine-tuning their PCs will find Vista Smoker Pro worth the investment. A full-function, seven-day trial version is available, so you can take the program out for a spin before you buy.

(As always before making any Registry changes, make a backup of your Registry by creating a restore point. Better yet, get a copy of the free Emergency Recover Utility NT (ERUNT), which works on all versions of Windows, despite the name.)

Ultimate Windows Tweaker tries to be Tweak UI for Vista
There's a lot to like about this Vista enhancer, though the program falls short of its goal of being Tweak UI for Vista. Also, every time I used the utility to change a Vista setting, an error message popped up stating that the change couldn't be made when in fact it was in effect. To top it off, the option to Send Error Report was grayed out.

Ultimate Windows Tweaker
The free Ultimate Windows Tweaker generates a bogus error message whenever you change a system setting. Anand Khanse

You're not likely to need all 130-plus tweaks the program packs into its 380KB executable file. Still, with just a half-dozen clicks on two or three screens you can make changes that in Vista require navigating through dozens of arcane, out-of-the-way windows and dialog boxes.

Ultimate Windows Tweaker System Performance controls
Shorten your wait for hanging apps and processes and change menu speed via slider controls in Ultimate Windows Tweaker. Anand Khanse

Ultimate Windows Tweaker's System Performance options let you shorten the wait for hanging apps and processes and quicken your menus via slider controls. You can also make changes to user accounts and User Account Control, change your security settings, and alter the Vista interface.

Maximize your system-tweak options with Vista Smoker Pro
You could spend the better part of an afternoon twiddling with the many settings in Vista Smoker Pro. Of course, you'll gain a good portion of that time back via Vista's enhanced speed. The program gives you more than 20 categories of tweaks that cover start-ups, disk cleaning, services, passwords, and--of course--performance.

Vista Smoker Pro
Vista Smoker Pro makes performance-enhancing Registry tweaks easier to reach. WareSoft Software

My favorite Vista Smoker Pro feature is the Control Center, which puts just about every Vista research two or three clicks away. The Startup Manager lets you view and delete start-up items in more than a dozen far-flung Registry keys. But one of the nicest touches of the program is its main screen, which shows your system's total RAM and page-file size, as well as the amount of each in use and free.

Vista Smoker Pro main window
Get a graphical view of your system's RAM and page file on Vista Smoker Pro's main window. WareSoft Software

Anyone who frequently accesses Vista configuration settings will save plenty of time reaching into the OS' various nooks and crannies by using Vista Smoker Pro.