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Short PC tips and tricks

Save Time and Typing With Windows Shortcuts That Use Environment Variables

You may be wondering what an “environment variable” is. You’ve probably seen them—they are those expressions wrapped in percent signs that you sometimes see in file paths. They are shorthand expressions that stand for certain standard system properties. Some of these system properties are used frequently in filename paths and scripts. Having a short version can save considerable time and effort. This tip will show how convenient they can be and where to get a full explanation of how to use them.

No need to know system details

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How to Check Which Programs Are Phoning Home From Your PC

Anybody who uses the Internet has to be aware of the constant danger of being infected with malware that surreptitiously connects to the Internet. Various kinds of spyware and Trojan horses can phone home and reveal your personal information. Or an infection may turn your computer into a zombie that is part of a botnet without your knowledge.

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How to Keep Microsoft Security Essentials from Slowing Down Your System

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE)  is Gizmo’s Freeware Product of the Year for 2010. Recently, a new version came out and it has a setting that can be very useful to owners of older, slower PCs or netbooks.

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An Easy Way to Check for Unusual Activity in Your Gmail Account

All too frequently these days, we hear about email accounts getting hacked. If somebody is using your email account without your knowledge, how would you know? In the case of Gmail, there is an easy way to check for suspicious activity.

At the bottom of your Gmail inbox, there is an area that says something like this:

Gmail check for activity

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How to Get Your Browser to Download Where You Want

Do you have a personal folder where you would like to put files that you download but your browser keeps putting them somewhere else? All the common browsers have a default location that may not be what you had in mind. In this tip, I’ll tell you how to send downloads where you want in three of the most popular browsers. Except where noted, information applies to Windows XP, Vista, 7.

Select a download folder for Firefox 3.6+

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How to Tame the Annoying Caps Lock Key in Windows

Do you sometimes find yourself suddenly typing in all upper case because you accidentally hit the Caps Lock key?  Do you ever wonder if that key couldn’t be used for something else? If you are one of the many people who are as annoyed by Caps Lock as I am, this tip is for you.  I know there are a lot of you because I recently did a Google search for the phrase “hate Caps Lock” and got 142,000 hits.

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Important and Useful Windows Applications You Didn’t Know You Already Had: Microsoft Management Consoles

I have the impression that Microsoft doesn’t really trust the average PC user. Windows tucks away a lot of system tools in obscure places. These tools aren’t listed in the All Programs menu and you have to hunt them down in Control Panel or already know about them before you can find them. Among these are a group of system applications called "Microsoft Management Consoles" (MMC).  Depending on your system, there are around two to three dozen of these utilities. They are present in Windows XP, Vista, and 7.

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Three Ways to Restore Features That Were Left Out Of Windows Vista or Windows 7

Change is sometimes defined as progress but that can depend on your point of view. One person’s progress might just be an annoyance to someone else. And that applies to some of the “improvements” Microsoft made in Windows Vista and 7. If you are used to certain previous ways of doing things in Windows, you might be interested in the following three ways to restore functions that got removed in Windows Vista or 7.

Restore “Connect To” in the Start menu in Windows 7

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How to Reveal Your Windows Product Key in All Current Versions of Windows

Here’s a situation to be avoided—for one reason or the other you have to reinstall the Windows operating system but you discover that you don’t know the product key. To avoid this predicament, retrieve the key now, print it out and put it somewhere safe.

There are numerous programs that will retrieve the Windows product key but many will not work on 64-bit systems. Some favorites like Belarc Advisor and System Information for Windows are very useful for providing all sorts of information but are overkill if all you want is the Windows key.

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