How to Make the Most of Windows Accessories

Notepad, Calculator, and Paint aren't the flashiest apps around, but they do have a few embedded secrets. Use these tips to get a little more use out of the accessories that come with every Windows installation; and don't forget to check out a few potential upgrades.

Track time with Notepad: Type .LOG (in all-capital letters) on the first line of a Notepad document, and Notepad will automatically stamp the current date and time in the doc every time you open it--handy for logging events or notes.

Windows Calculator can handle a few new tricks.
Use the new Calculator: Microsoft gave the humble calculator a makeover in Windows 7. Not only does the updated app have four different settings (Standard, Scientific, Programmer, and Statistics), but you can use new worksheets to calculate gas mileage, mortgage payments, and leasing prices, or to convert units of measure.

Switch to watercolors: Paint in Windows 7 includes a few new brushes that can add artistic effects to your scribbles. The Crayon brush leaves a bumpy, uneven texture; the Watercolor paintbrush introduces lighter streaks; and the Oil paintbrush has a notably thicker texture. Also, the Watercolor and Oil brushes will run out of paint if you hold down the mouse button for a particularly long stroke; click again to reload them.

Edit pixel-by-pixel in Paint: Need a little more precision in your Paint editing? Turn on the grid by pressing Ctrl-G. You'll need to zoom in to about 600% before the grid will show individual pixels.

Upgrade Your PC's Accessories

Windows' built-in accessories are nice, but eventually you may want something more.

Notepad++ is Notepad for advanced text wranglers. Most of the features in this application are aimed at people who work with raw code--Notepad++ supports HTML, XML, JavaScript, .ini files, and various flavors of C, among other languages and formats--but the tabbed document displays, macros, and in-document bookmarking features are useful for anyone who regularly works with plain text.

The ZuluPad app allows you to link automatically to other notes from the note you are currently typing.
ZuluPad, on the other hand, focuses on the "note" side of the Notepad feature set. With ZuluPad (the Basic version is free; the Pro version costs $15), you can pull in images, automatically link to your other notes while you type, and even sync your ZuluPad documents online.

Paint.net is a lightweight paint program that has been around forever--and with good reason. It's much more capable than Microsoft Paint (which falls short of most people's image-editing needs), and yet at the same time it's smaller and easier to use than professional-caliber applications such as Adobe Photoshop Elements and GIMP.

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