Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sorry for my laziness, but summer and a little vacation are the culprits...

I have been very very lazy for the last few weeks. It's been hot and humid around my neck of the woods and frankly I have had no great enthusiasm to sit at the computer and do a little writing for the blog. I am sorry for those who expect to see interesting and useful stuff published on a regular basis.

Well, today I felt I could finally come up with some good stuff, which I have been reviewing on some of my favorite computer publications. First, from PCWorld Patrick Miller tech writer, here goes:

(I am not selecting all the items in his publication because it would be too long. However I made a selection of those tips that I think all of you readers of this blog will find very practical and useful).

Super Software Secrets:

The apps you use most--your Web browser, productivity tools, media managers, and Windows and its built-in accessories--are more powerful than you realize. They are loaded with unpublicized features that make your PC easier to use, they respond to superquick keyboard shortcuts that you've never heard about, and they support add-ons and plug-ins that can shave minutes or even hours off of mundane daily chores.

But finding these shortcuts and obscure features usually means perusing dusty manuals or digging through intimidating help menus, and many of the most useful tips are ones that you would never have thought to look for in the first place. Fortunately, you don't have to do the searching yourself--we've done it for you. Read on for the mother lode of expert software secrets.

Work Your Windows Key:

Quickly view your system specs: Press Windows-Pause to bring up the System Info window. This keyboard shortcut can be especially handy if you're troubleshooting a PC and need to pull up the system's specs in a hurry.

Launch taskbar apps: Put your most commonly used appli­cations in the taskbar, and you'll use your mouse a lot less. Pressing Windows plus any number key will launch the program in the corresponding taskbar slot (so Windows-1 will open Windows Explorer, Windows-2 will open the app positioned to the right of Explorer, and so on).

Run apps from anywhere: You can launch applications and set parameters from your keyboard, without having to waste time digging through the Start menu to find the one you want to use. Press Windows-R to bring up the Run dialog box.

Fix the Small Stuff
Don't lose your work to automatic updates: Windows Update often forces your PC to restart after it finishes updating the operating system with the latest fixes--and if you're away from your desk with an unsaved document open at the time, you'll lose your work. To prevent this from happening, open Windows Update in the Control Panel, click Change settings, and in the drop-down menu select Download updates but let me choose whether to install them. That way, you'll never again get burned by a post-update reboot.

Safely remove memory cards without waiting: You're supposed to use the Safely Remove Hardware icon in the system tray before unplugging memory cards and the like--but waiting for it is such a pain that you'll be itching to pull your memory card without waiting for Safely Remove Hardware to do its thing. The key to making quick removal safe is to ensure that Windows isn't writing to the card without your knowledge; if the operating system behaves itself, you can eject the card whenever you want without corrupting your data. To adjust your settings, first right-click the memory card in Windows Explorer, choose Properties, click the Hardware tab, select the memory card reader, and choose Properties; then click the Policies tab (you may have to click the ‘Change settings' button before Policies shows up), and choose Optimize for quick removal. Henceforth, you won't need Safely Remove Hardware.

Mastering Microsoft Office
While your job might be sheer drudgery on certain assignments, working in Office doesn't have to be. Office has its fair share of hidden secrets that can lighten the load of your workday.
Convert your PDF files: PDF to Word is a neat Web service that converts PDF files to Word format so that you can edit them. Alternatively, you can download Nitro PDF Reader, an app that comes from the same company and offers similar features.

Maximize your macros: If you spend a significant amount of time in Word, consider using the built-in Macro function to record and automate repetitive tasks. First enable the Developer tab (in Office 2007): Click the Office button in the upper-left corner, choose Word Options, and check Show Developer tab in the Ribbon. Then switch to the Developer tab in your document, and you can record your own macros (global as well as document-specific) and assign them to keys or toolbar buttons.

Navigate with your thumbnails: Scrolling through long Word documents is a waste of time. Click the View tab and check the Thumbnails box to add a bar on the left side of the window that you can use to skip quickly from page to page.

Find a lost e-mail message: By default, in its All Items searches, Outlook 2007 doesn't include e-mail messages consigned to the Deleted Items folder. If you're looking for a missive that you think you may have deleted, select Tools, Options, Preferences, and click Search Options. Check the box under ‘Deleted Items' that says Include messages from the Deleted Items folder in each data file when searching in All Items, and you may be able to pull your missing mail out of the trash.

Web Browser Tricks and Scripts
Like the exploding ballpoint pen and powerful laser watch that James Bond found so handy in GoldenEye, your browser can do more than meets the eye. Whether you are Firefox friendly or an Internet Explorer devotee, plenty of great add-ons are available for customizing and controlling your Web browsing experience.

Take advantage of the tips in this section, and you'll never again have to endure a lost comment or forum post, spend precious time stripping unwanted formatting out of blocks of copied and pasted text, or waste sheets of paper every time you print out a copy of a Web page. Besides being easy on your processor, these practical add-ons are free, so load up on them.

Firefox Fans Only
Make Gmail better: Grab Better Gmail 2, a suite of scripts and add-ons designed to fix some of Gmail's niggling annoyances. With Better Gmail 2, your mouse will highlight the e-mail message that you hover it over, the Unread count in the Gmail window will ap­­pear first (so that it won't get cut off if it's located in a tab), and attachments will show up from the list view, among other useful improvements. Meanwhile, the first version of Better Gmail has become available to users as a Chrome extension.

Never lose another forum post: Use the Lazarus Firefox add-on to save everything you type in a form, just in case your PC crashes at an inopportune moment. Your blood pressure will thank you.

Deep-six the links: Copy Plain Text is another convenient Firefox add-on. It strips all of the nasty, unpredictable formatting out of text that you copy and paste.

Tips for Any Browser:

Save eight keystrokes from every URL: You no longer need to type "www." or ".com" in most URLs. Instead, merely type the unique part of the domain name that you want to visit--say, pcworld--into your browser's navigation bar, and press Ctrl-Enter. Your browser will automatically fill in the "www." and ".com" parts of the address.

Middle-click to open a link in a new tab: Middle-clicking a link (that is, clicking it with the scrollwheel) will cause it to open in a new tab. Middle-clicking a folder containing multiple bookmarks will cause all of them to open in new tabs.

Upgrade Your PC's Accessories:

Windows' built-in accessories are nice, but eventually you may want something more. If so, check out these apps, which pack more useful features while managing to stay svelte.

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.

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. 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.

I hope the above tips will keep you occupied for a couple of days!

George Freire

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