It's easy to find out how much RAM is installed on your system: right-click My Computer in XP or Computer in Vista and choose Properties to see your total system memory and other information about your PC under the General tab.
But where do you look to find the amount of RAM currently in use? (Vista's Reliability and Performance Monitor shows the percent of used physical memory, but I haven't been able to find the equivalent in XP.) Or your BIOS version and date? Or the amount of free storage on your hard drive? Or how long your PC has been on?
You'll find this and similar system information in various nooks and crannies of Windows' settings dialog boxes, or you could get it all in one place with Sepanta Soft's Easy Vista Manager and Easy XP Manager utilities.
For a limited time, the Vista version of the program costs $30, and the XP version is priced at $20. You can try either one 15 times for free. That's plenty to determine whether the utilities are worth the investment. If you're the type of person who likes to have total control over your system settings, you'll likely consider those prices a bargain.
Pinpoint control over hardware, software, Web browsing
Here's a partial list of the settings you can change via the utilities:
—Disable USB storage devices
—Disable CD burning and auto-run
—Prevent writing to USB storage devices
—Disable the Windows key
—Disable file downloads in IE
—Disable password caching
—Disable Registry editing tools
—Restrict access to Windows Update
—Disable Control Panel
—Control access to Windows' appearance settings
—Limit the applications users can run
—Restrict access to Taskbar and Start Menu Properties
—Disable Recent Documents history, or clear the list on exit
—Disable System Restore, or restrict access to System Restore settings
The programs give you an unprecedented level of control over Windows settings of all types. For example, not only can you freeze the size and position of the taskbar, you can remove the networking, volume control, battery meter, and other system-tray icons. Other settings let you automatically end hung applications, set the time before killing a service, or alter the time a hung app has to respond before being quashed.
Two of my other favorite features in the utilities are easy customization of the right-click (context) menu to add items to the Send To list, for example, and the ability to change the color of the command prompt. (You can also change the size of thumbnails and reset their quality level from 1 percent to 100 percent.) The Vista version of the programs lists all the system, disk, file, network, security, and other utilities installed on your PC (from Microsoft and third parties) for fast access to their features.
Finally, if you've ever wanted to add a message to the logon screen, Easy Vista Manager and Easy XP Manager provide text fields for this very purpose. A company might find this feature handy for adding an alert about system-usage restrictions or some other legal notice, but I can also see it being used to remind your kids to finish their homework before they start their online-gaming session.
Interface bug in the XP version
The fly in Easy XP Manager's ointment is a weird interface bug that hides options on some screens. For example, the General Security window is cut off at the bottom and on the left side, putting several options out of view. Likewise, the Control Panel window under the Security tab fails to show the options at the bottom of the window.
You would think that a program at version 5.5.3 would have these types of bugs worked out, but despite the interface quirks, Easy XP Manager and Easy Vista Manager put all of your system settings and information in one easy-to-reach place.
Tomorrow: Get more out of Microsoft Office AutoComplete settings.