Two Really Useful Windows 7 Applets


A few days ago I watched one of my computer clients do a calculation on a piece of paper that converted a distance in kilometers into miles. This is the kind of thing I find myself doing quite often as well. It seems that all of my life we have been running imperial measurements side by side with metric ones and can’t just take the plunge into using only metric (or is it just people of my own vintage who are trapped in this endless transition phase?)

Anyway, my point here is that my client didn’t think to use a simple tool built into Windows 7 (and neither did I). This tool is a small program called an “applet” (ie a small “application”). In this case the applet is the calculator. This has different versions built into it for standard use, programmers, a scientific calculator, and a calculator for statisticians. Not only that, though, it also has some pre-defined conversion utilities, such as the one that converts kilometers to miles (or vice versa).

The calculator is easily invoked by clicking on the “Start” button (bottom lefthand corner of the screen) and typing “calc” into the search box. After typing just a couple of characters you will see the calculator program appear in the menu above the search box. Click on the program to start it. You can also place a shortcut to the program directly onto the taskbar by just dragging the program name from the start menu down onto the taskbar.

Windows 7 Calculator Applet OptionsThe “basic” calculator is just like any small handheld calculator (except that it doesn’t slip down the back of the sofa with the TV remote control), but if you click on the “view” option you get some more interesting options:

The option that would have helped my client this week is “Unit conversion”. As you can see from the first illustration, there are many types of conversion offered. Once the type is defined, you choose the relevant units. When converting measurements you do not use the “standard” part of the calculator; just define the units in the righthand side and enter the figure in the “from” field. The converted figure immediately appears in the “To” field.

Windows7 Calculator Conversion Utility

Another very useful option (from the initial “view” window) is “Date calculation”. This allows you to calculate the difference between two dates or add/subtract a specific amount of time to or from a starting date.

The Snipping Tool

I’ve blogged previously about Gadwin PrintScreen and how useful I find it for grabbing parts of a screen display – either to save or to place inside other documents. Windows 7 has an applet called the “snipping tool” that is a bit simpler than Gadwin and, more to the point, is ready-installed.

In the same way that you invoke the calculator by starting to type “calculator” in the search box of the start menu, just start typing “snipping tool” into the search box and you will see the snipping tool appear on the start menu. Just click on it to start it. You can also drag the program down to the taskbar for easy access in the future.

When you open the snipping tool it invites you to “drag the cursor around the area you want to capture”, so you just place the cursor (a big “+”) in one corner of the area you wish to capture and then drag it to the opposite corner of a rectangle that you are defining. As soon as you finish doing this the “captured” rectangle is in the clipboard, available to be “pasted” into another document (using the Control key and the letter “v”). Note that it doesn’t matter whether it was text, images, or a mixture of both that you enclosed in your rectangle, the resulting capture will always be a rectangle in an image format. As well as placing the image directly into somewhere else, you can also save it to a file by clicking on the blue floppy disc icon on the Snipping Tool menu.