5 free apps that add cool Windows 7 features to Windows 10

If you’re still holding onto Windows 7 because a feature you're fond of doesn’t appear in Windows 10, chances are there are alternative programs you can install to replace it

5 free apps that add cool Windows 7 features to Windows 10

A new OS often retires features that were in its predecessor. If you're still holding onto Windows 7 because a feature you're fond of doesn't appear in Windows 10, chances are there are alternative programs you can install to replace it. Here are five of them, and they're all free.

1. Aero Glass: For that transparent look

Microsoft didn't include this transparent Windows theme in Windows 10. Since the style of Aero Glass goes against the more minimal, "flat" design that's currently popular for operating systems, Aero Glass' return to Windows may be unlikely. In a recent Windows 10 update, Microsoft did add a switch to the Colors section of the Settings app which lets you turn on a transparency effect to the Start Menu, taskbar and Action Center panel, but not to the title bars of application windows.

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Aero Glass for Windows 8.1+ works with the latest build of Windows 10 to implement a transparency effect to title bars, and it also adds Windows 7-style borders and title bar buttons to application windows. Unfortunately, Aero Glass for Windows 8.1+ doesn't provide a way to switch these effects off (you have to uninstall the program to revert back to the Windows 10 theme you were previously using), and it adds a watermark over the lower-right corner of your desktop's background.

2. DVD movie playback

Since most people are accustomed nowadays to watching video over an internet connection, it's not unusual for new notebooks to lack a DVD drive. Though Windows 10 recognizes DVD drives (it can read computer data written on DVD media), it doesn't come with support to play DVD movies: discs which have been encoded with the proprietary DVD video playback format.

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Microsoft probably dropped this to save itself money from having to pay licensing fees for this code. To put this function into Windows 10, you can buy Windows DVD Player from the Windows Store. This Windows 10 app, an official program by Microsoft, costs $14.99. It's free if you are upgrading to Windows 10 from Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate, or from Windows 8/8.1 Pro -- but any of these versions must have Windows Media Center installed on it.

Regardless, the best choice is free: VLC. This open source application is renowned for being a "Swiss Army knife" media player because it can play nearly any audio and video file format you load into it, including DVD movies. Versions of VLC are also available for several other OSes, including Android, iOS, Linux and OS X. Note that for Windows, there are separate 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

3. Gadgets

Microsoft discontinued their widgets platform, which they called Gadgets, long before the release of Windows 8. They cited security concerns in which Gadgets could be written to harm a user's computer. While this might have been justified, the more obvious reason is that the Windows universal app platform introduced in Windows 8 is meant to replace the basic functionality of widgets.

If it's been designed to do so, an app pinned as a tile on the Start Menu can be set to display updated information. Such is the case with the Weather app, which can show your current local weather on its tile. But unlike Gadgets, app tiles cannot be dragged-and-dropped to anywhere on the desktop: They can only be moved within the confines of the right half of the Start Menu.

If you have favorite Gadgets you use in Windows 7 that you'd like to keep in Windows 10, there's 8GadgetPack. It installs the original Microsoft files of the Gadget platform and tweaks registry settings to make Gadgets work on Windows 10. 8GadgetPack comes packed with several Gadgets including nine by Microsoft which were in Windows 7.

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As for security concerns, in an extensive FAQ, the (re-)developer of 8GadgetPack implies that Microsoft may have over-exaggerated things: "Opening a gadget is as dangerous as it is to run an .exe file. But this is not a security hole. If an attacker wanted to access your computer, he'd need to convince you to open his prepared .gadget file. As long as you trust the source of the gadgets you install and you use anti-virus software you should be safe."

4. Start Menu

One of the main selling points of Windows 10 is that Microsoft brought back the Start Menu UI. However, it doesn't look or work particularly like Windows 7's. For example, the tiles of Windows apps are set on the right half of the Start Menu. On the left half, application shortcuts and folders are listed by alphabetical order, whereas in Windows 7, application shortcuts are listed first alphabetically, followed by folders.

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The freeware program Classic Shell replaces the Windows 10 Start Menu with a clone of Windows 7's. Or, you can switch to one that operates like Windows XP's, for an even more old-school experience: When you hover the mouse cursor over a folder, it automatically branches open a panel to the right that lists the shortcuts inside it. (In Windows 10 and Windows 7, folders are opened when you click on them -- the shortcuts inside them branch down in a list.) In fact, Classic Shell originally was developed seven years ago to replace the Windows 7 Start Menu with a clone of XP's.

5. Windows Media Center

Microsoft stopped development of this digital video recording and media playback application in 2009, but still offered it separately for sale for Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8.1 Pro. The arrival of Windows 10 finally killed it: Upgrading a Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 computer, which has Windows Media Center installed on it, to Windows 10 renders it inoperable, because Microsoft consider Windows Media Center to be incompatible with the newer OS.

There's a way to forcibly install it onto Windows 10, but recording TV transmissions may not work due to your system's particular TV decoding hardware. One highly touted replacement to consider is MediaPortal, an impressive open source program. It continues to be in active development and runs on Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1 and Windows 10. There are two versions. The older one remains supported with updates because it has more plugins that its users still rely on. MediaPortal 2, being developed simultaneously, was started in 2011 to improve upon the original with new features, but uses a different plugin architecture. image:

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This story, "5 free apps that add cool Windows 7 features to Windows 10" was originally published by Network World.

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