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Now Zen

Simplify and enhance your Windows experience with this free set of useful tools.

According to Zencode's Web site, Zenkey is not a hard-boiled fruitbat. However, to call it a free desktop and system utility hardly seems to do it more justice than the developer's infrequent quirky reminders of what it isn't. Its Keystrokes feature creates versatile hot keys that can access just about anything on your system. Its Infinite Desktop extends your real estate as far as you like, with a handy map and a bunch of other useful features to keep track of it all, including the ability to "iconify" and "rollup" windows, set transparency, and bring things back to normal instantly.

Zenkey is based around a simple but efficient context menu system that gives quick right-click access to "My" stuff: Programs, Documents, Infinite Desktop, Window (the program), Keystrokes, Control Panel, Internet Sites, Search, and Windows system utilities, management consoles, media commands, and more. Zenkey doesn't leave out much, but it's a cinch to add stuff. Clicking My Keystrokes called up a menu with several helpful examples of what hot keys can do; we tried out the Windows Configuration Utility command. Menu enhancements and hot keys are useful, but desktop enhancements are fun; next we enabled the Infinite Desktop and companion Desktop Map, a small window displaying color-coded outlines of the open elements on the desktop, with the ability to set transparency, position, and more. We could grab our whole Windows desktop and drag it in any direction to get more space without ever losing sight of the whole picture. While that's pretty slick, our favorite feature is probably the ability to Iconify any window, miniaturizing it to a small, draggable window displaying a program icon and CPU and disk usage, letting us keep track of a lot of active applications and processes without having to have their windows open. Clicking on an Iconified window restored the normal view. You can configure nearly everything about how Zenkey looks and behaves, even whether it should display helpful hints and interesting quotes and sayings.

Zenkey is worth having simply because it provides quick, central access to everything, but its extensive hot-key capabilities and its desktop enhancements set it apart from similar tools, even those that aren't free.

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