Two of the handiest giveaways Microsoft programmers ever created for Windows users are Power Toys and Kernel Toys. These toolkits - 15 utilities in the Power Toys set and another six in the Kernel Toys set - were developed by the Windows 95 `shell' team and `kernel' team, respectively. Microsoft posted them for free on its Web site soon after Windows 95 was shipped, and they must have been downloaded millions of times by now.
Unfortunately, these freebies have moved around so much at Microsoft that it's been hard for readers to keep track of them.
Even worse, one of the most popular tools appeared for a while on the Windows 98 CD-ROM, then mysteriously vanished from the Windows 98 Second Edition CD.
The good news is that all these downloads are still available on the Microsoft Web site if you know where to look. And, even better, a third party has developed a new superset of these toolkits - and it's free, too.
First, let's review what's in Power Toys and Kernel Toys that make them so valuable for Windows users. Then, let's see where they've gone, and how you get the latest, greatest toys.l Power Toys' most famous component is undoubtedly Tweak UI. This utility is a Control Panel applet that gives you one-click power over an amazing variety of Windows settings. Without Tweak UI, you'd have to make manual edits to several little-known Registry settings. But with it, you can change your boot-up sequence, repair various Windows resources, and clean out history records automatically if you don't want co-workers to see what documents or Web sites you've recently opened.
Other Power Toys let you change the screen resolution from the system tray, send a file to any folder with a simple context menu, browse the contents inside otherwise-unreadable .cab files, and much more.l Kernel Toys is no less valuable, even though it includes fewer utilities than Power Toys. My favourite is WinTop, which remains on top of your other windows and displays how much CPU time various programs are consuming (including some you may not even know are running).
But other components may also turn you on: Keyboard Remap allows you to swap Ctrl and CapsLock, as well as add Windows Keyboard keys to older keyboards; Conventional Memory Tracker shows you the otherwise inscrutable usage of the first 640KB of your RAM; and Mode Configuration Wizard customises your system without having to edit config.sys and autoexec.bat.
If you have the Windows 98 CD-ROM, Tweak UI is right there at d:\tools\reskit\powertoy (where d: is your CD-ROM drive). It's missing from the Windows 98 Second Edition disk, so visit www.microsoft.com/windows95/ downloads to get an entire kit. Scroll down to Power and Kernel Toys, and click Power Toys or Kernel Toys to get to the download.
Microsoft says that the Power Toys set requires Windows 95 OEM Service Release 2 specifically and that the Kernel Toys set requires Windows 95 - not Windows 98. But people use these tools all the time under Windows 98, and I've never heard of any problems.
To decompress downloads, run a self-extracting .exe file. In most cases, you right-click a .inf file and click Install to make a particular utility work on your system.
An independently designed Swiss army knife of toolkits, TweakAll, is free from Abtons Shed, a developer that also offers a free Internet browser with a multiple-document interface, which can open many Web pages within a convenient master window.
TweakAll customises so many features of Windows that I can hardly think of any it's missed. You can adjust the size of your CD-ROM and hard-disk cache memory. You can define a list of programs to be the only ones that other users of your system can run, on a per-user basis. You can easily make your own Startup and Shutdown screens. You get TweakAll by pointing your browser to www.abtons-shed.com. The file consumes about 2MB of space and about the same amount when installed.
If you've used these utilities or others in a unique way, let me know. Use `power toys' as the subject of your e-mail.
Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows 98 Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to brian_livingston@ infoworld.com. He regrets that he cannot answer individual questions