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Not thrilled about spending a bundle on Vista–and dealing with potential bugs and hardware upgrades? Stick with XP, and use these tools to emulate the Vista experience.

The Hassle: I'm trying to resist moving to Vista. How can I make XP perform like the new Windows OS?

The Fix(es): You can be a holdout (like me) and use a few XP-based freebies that do a surprisingly good job of emulating some of Vista's fancy graphical features. The first three apps listed below are my favorites. You can find all of the free tools and more online at "Add Vista Features to XP."

Copernic Desktop Search: Vista's search is fast and smart–and so is Copernic's, with keyword, file content, Boolean, and wildcard searches. If you don't like the look and feel of Copernic, Google Desktop makes a good substitute.

Desktop Sidebar: Vista has a handy Windows sidebar with calendars, calculators, a quick link to your media player, and RSS feeds. Desktop Sidebar offers similar features, with zillions of add-ons, including a file browser, a weather summary, news updates, and an e-mail checker. Too complicated for you? Then try the simpler LaunchBar Commander, which lets you create multiple on-screen panels (called docks) for launching various applications and documents.

Vista Start Menu SE: This utility creates a fair imitation of Vista's Start menu, but adds functions that Vista lacks–built-in shortcut keys to frequently used Windows functions such as Reboot, Switch Users, and Hibernate. Another great alternative for organizing apps and files is JetStart Free; it's faster than Vista Start Menu SE, but less fancy. (Choose just one of these tools.)

Visual Task Tips: This clever tool pops up a preview–a miniature image–of the open window in the taskbar. Scroll your mouse wheel up or down on the image to resize it.

Folder Marker: Customize your folder icons and icon backgrounds with Vista icons. Folder Marker is a snap to use, and you can visit Horizon Software to download a bunch of Vista icons. (Choose icons of the Ico file type.)

If you haven't had enough (and I know you haven't), read "Why Wait for Vista?" Scott Dunn's take on tools that give your PC the look of Vista without the annoying underlying operating system.

WindowBlinds 5: One prominent Vista feature you might like is Windows Glass, the semitransparent, colored window edges that Windows Aero has. WindowBlinds 5 provides skins–visual styles and themes–that allow you to change the look and feel of many parts of Windows XP. For example, this $20 program lets you modify toolbar icons, the Start Menu and Start button, menu and dialog borders, and the taskbar and title bar. Get the Vista Plus Version 2 skin at the WinCustomize site.

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