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  • How to Use Windows’ Advanced Search Features: Everything You Need to Know

    - by Chris Hoffman
    You should never have to hunt down a lost file on modern versions of Windows — just perform a quick search. You don’t even have to wait for a cartoon dog to find your files, like on Windows XP. The Windows search indexer is constantly running in the background to make quick local searches possible. This enables the kind of powerful search features you’d use on Google or Bing — but for your local files. Controlling the Indexer By default, the Windows search indexer watches everything under your user folder — that’s C:\Users\NAME. It reads all these files, creating an index of their names, contents, and other metadata. Whenever they change, it notices and updates its index. The index allows you to quickly find a file based on the data in the index. For example, if you want to find files that contain the word “beluga,” you can perform a search for “beluga” and you’ll get a very quick response as Windows looks up the word in its search index. If Windows didn’t use an index, you’d have to sit and wait as Windows opened every file on your hard drive, looked to see if the file contained the word “beluga,” and moved on. Most people shouldn’t have to modify this indexing behavior. However, if you store your important files in other folders — maybe you store your important data a separate partition or drive, such as at D:\Data — you may want to add these folders to your index. You can also choose which types of files you want to index, force Windows to rebuild the index entirely, pause the indexing process so it won’t use any system resources, or move the index to another location to save space on your system drive. To open the Indexing Options window, tap the Windows key on your keyboard, type “index”, and click the Indexing Options shortcut that appears. Use the Modify button to control the folders that Windows indexes or the Advanced button to control other options. To prevent Windows from indexing entirely, click the Modify button and uncheck all the included locations. You could also disable the search indexer entirely from the Programs and Features window. Searching for Files You can search for files right from your Start menu on Windows 7 or Start screen on Windows 8. Just tap the Windows key and perform a search. If you wanted to find files related to Windows, you could perform a search for “Windows.” Windows would show you files that are named Windows or contain the word Windows. From here, you can just click a file to open it. On Windows 7, files are mixed with other types of search results. On Windows 8 or 8.1, you can choose to search only for files. If you want to perform a search without leaving the desktop in Windows 8.1, press Windows Key + S to open a search sidebar. You can also initiate searches directly from Windows Explorer — that’s File Explorer on Windows 8. Just use the search box at the top-right of the window. Windows will search the location you’ve browsed to. For example, if you’re looking for a file related to Windows and know it’s somewhere in your Documents library, open the Documents library and search for Windows. Using Advanced Search Operators On Windows 7, you’ll notice that you can add “search filters” form the search box, allowing you to search by size, date modified, file type, authors, and other metadata. On Windows 8, these options are available from the Search Tools tab on the ribbon. These filters allow you to narrow your search results. If you’re a geek, you can use Windows’ Advanced Query Syntax to perform advanced searches from anywhere, including the Start menu or Start screen. Want to search for “windows,” but only bring up documents that don’t mention Microsoft? Search for “windows -microsoft”. Want to search for all pictures of penguins on your computer, whether they’re PNGs, JPEGs, or any other type of picture file? Search for “penguin kind:picture”. We’ve looked at Windows’ advanced search operators before, so check out our in-depth guide for more information. The Advanced Query Syntax gives you access to options that aren’t available in the graphical interface. Creating Saved Searches Windows allows you to take searches you’ve made and save them as a file. You can then quickly perform the search later by double-clicking the file. The file functions almost like a virtual folder that contains the files you specify. For example, let’s say you wanted to create a saved search that shows you all the new files created in your indexed folders within the last week. You could perform a search for “datecreated:this week”, then click the Save search button on the toolbar or ribbon. You’d have a new virtual folder you could quickly check to see your recent files. One of the best things about Windows search is that it’s available entirely from the keyboard. Just press the Windows key, start typing the name of the file or program you want to open, and press Enter to quickly open it. Windows 8 made this much more obnoxious with its non-unified search, but unified search is finally returning with Windows 8.1.     

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  • 20 of the Best of Shortcut and Hotkey Tips for Your Windows PC

    - by Lori Kaufman
    For those of you who like to use the quickest methods of getting things done on your computer, we have shown you many Windows shortcuts and hotkeys for performing useful tasks in the past. This article compiles 20 of the best Windows shortcuts and hotkeys we have documented. Use Amazon’s Barcode Scanner to Easily Buy Anything from Your Phone How To Migrate Windows 7 to a Solid State Drive Follow How-To Geek on Google+

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  • How to Reduce the Size of Your WinSXS Folder on Windows 7 or 8

    - by Chris Hoffman
    The WinSXS folder at C:\Windows\WinSXS is massive and continues to grow the longer you have Windows installed. This folder builds up unnecessary files over time, such as old versions of system components. This folder also contains files for uninstalled, disabled Windows components. Even if you don’t have a Windows component installed, it will be present in your WinSXS folder, taking up space. Why the WinSXS Folder Gets to Big The WinSXS folder contains all Windows system components. In fact, component files elsewhere in Windows are just links to files contained in the WinSXS folder. The WinSXS folder contains every operating system file. When Windows installs updates, it drops the new Windows component in the WinSXS folder and keeps the old component in the WinSXS folder. This means that every Windows Update you install increases the size of your WinSXS folder. This allows you to uninstall operating system updates from the Control Panel, which can be useful in the case of a buggy update — but it’s a feature that’s rarely used. Windows 7 dealt with this by including a feature that allows Windows to clean up old Windows update files after you install a new Windows service pack. The idea was that the system could be cleaned up regularly along with service packs. However, Windows 7 only saw one service pack — Service Pack 1 — released in 2010. Microsoft has no intention of launching another. This means that, for more than three years, Windows update uninstallation files have been building up on Windows 7 systems and couldn’t be easily removed. Clean Up Update Files To fix this problem, Microsoft recently backported a feature from Windows 8 to Windows 7. They did this without much fanfare — it was rolled out in a typical minor operating system update, the kind that don’t generally add new features. To clean up such update files, open the Disk Cleanup wizard (tap the Windows key, type “disk cleanup” into the Start menu, and press Enter). Click the Clean up System Files button, enable the Windows Update Cleanup option and click OK. If you’ve been using your Windows 7 system for a few years, you’ll likely be able to free several gigabytes of space. The next time you reboot after doing this, Windows will take a few minutes to clean up system files before you can log in and use your desktop. If you don’t see this feature in the Disk Cleanup window, you’re likely behind on your updates — install the latest updates from Windows Update. Windows 8 and 8.1 include built-in features that do this automatically. In fact, there’s a StartComponentCleanup scheduled task included with Windows that will automatically run in the background, cleaning up components 30 days after you’ve installed them. This 30-day period gives you time to uninstall an update if it causes problems. If you’d like to manually clean up updates, you can also use the Windows Update Cleanup option in the Disk Usage window, just as you can on Windows 7. (To open it, tap the Windows key, type “disk cleanup” to perform a search, and click the “Free up disk space by removing unnecessary files” shortcut that appears.) Windows 8.1 gives you more options, allowing you to forcibly remove all previous versions of uninstalled components, even ones that haven’t been around for more than 30 days. These commands must be run in an elevated Command Prompt — in other words, start the Command Prompt window as Administrator. For example, the following command will uninstall all previous versions of components without the scheduled task’s 30-day grace period: DISM.exe /online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup The following command will remove files needed for uninstallation of service packs. You won’t be able to uninstall any currently installed service packs after running this command: DISM.exe /online /Cleanup-Image /SPSuperseded The following command will remove all old versions of every component. You won’t be able to uninstall any currently installed service packs or updates after this completes: DISM.exe /online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup /ResetBase Remove Features on Demand Modern versions of Windows allow you to enable or disable Windows features on demand. You’ll find a list of these features in the Windows Features window you can access from the Control Panel. Even features you don’t have installed — that is, the features you see unchecked in this window — are stored on your hard drive in your WinSXS folder. If you choose to install them, they’ll be made available from your WinSXS folder. This means you won’t have to download anything or provide Windows installation media to install these features. However, these features take up space. While this shouldn’t matter on typical computers, users with extremely low amounts of storage or Windows server administrators who want to slim their Windows installs down to the smallest possible set of system files may want to get these files off their hard drives. For this reason, Windows 8 added a new option that allows you to remove these uninstalled components from the WinSXS folder entirely, freeing up space. If you choose to install the removed components later, Windows will prompt you to download the component files from Microsoft. To do this, open a Command Prompt window as Administrator. Use the following command to see the features available to you: DISM.exe /Online /English /Get-Features /Format:Table You’ll see a table of feature names and their states. To remove a feature from your system, you’d use the following command, replacing NAME with the name of the feature you want to remove. You can get the feature name you need from the table above. DISM.exe /Online /Disable-Feature /featurename:NAME /Remove If you run the /GetFeatures command again, you’ll now see that the feature has a status of “Disabled with Payload Removed” instead of just “Disabled.” That’s how you know it’s not taking up space on your computer’s hard drive. If you’re trying to slim down a Windows system as much as possible, be sure to check out our lists of ways to free up disk space on Windows and reduce the space used by system files.     

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  • How to See What Web Sites Your Computer is Secretly Connecting To

    - by Lori Kaufman
    Has your internet connection become slower than it should be? There may be a chance that you have some malware, spyware, or adware that is using your internet connection in the background without your knowledge. Here’s how to see what’s going on under the hood. Secret Squirrel by akumath HTG Explains: When Do You Need to Update Your Drivers? How to Make the Kindle Fire Silk Browser *Actually* Fast! Amazon’s New Kindle Fire Tablet: the How-To Geek Review

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  • HTG Explains: Why Linux Doesn’t Need Defragmenting

    - by Chris Hoffman
    If you’re a Linux user, you’ve probably heard that you don’t need to defragment your Linux file systems. You’ll also notice that Linux distributions don’t come with disk-defragmenting utilities. But why is that? To understand why Linux file systems don’t need defragmenting in normal use – and Windows ones do – you’ll need to understand why fragmentation occurs and how Linux and Windows file systems work differently from each other. HTG Explains: Why Linux Doesn’t Need Defragmenting How to Convert News Feeds to Ebooks with Calibre How To Customize Your Wallpaper with Google Image Searches, RSS Feeds, and More

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  • 8 Things You Can Do In Android’s Developer Options

    - by Chris Hoffman
    The Developer Options menu in Android is a hidden menu with a variety of advanced options. These options are intended for developers, but many of them will be interesting to geeks. You’ll have to perform a secret handshake to enable the Developer Options menu in the Settings screen, as it’s hidden from Android users by default. Follow the simple steps to quickly enable Developer Options. Enable USB Debugging “USB debugging” sounds like an option only an Android developer would need, but it’s probably the most widely used hidden option in Android. USB debugging allows applications on your computer to interface with your Android phone over the USB connection. This is required for a variety of advanced tricks, including rooting an Android phone, unlocking it, installing a custom ROM, or even using a desktop program that captures screenshots of your Android device’s screen. You can also use ADB commands to push and pull files between your device and your computer or create and restore complete local backups of your Android device without rooting. USB debugging can be a security concern, as it gives computers you plug your device into access to your phone. You could plug your device into a malicious USB charging port, which would try to compromise you. That’s why Android forces you to agree to a prompt every time you plug your device into a new computer with USB debugging enabled. Set a Desktop Backup Password If you use the above ADB trick to create local backups of your Android device over USB, you can protect them with a password with the Set a desktop backup password option here. This password encrypts your backups to secure them, so you won’t be able to access them if you forget the password. Disable or Speed Up Animations When you move between apps and screens in Android, you’re spending some of that time looking at animations and waiting for them to go away. You can disable these animations entirely by changing the Window animation scale, Transition animation scale, and Animator duration scale options here. If you like animations but just wish they were faster, you can speed them up. On a fast phone or tablet, this can make switching between apps nearly instant. If you thought your Android phone was speedy before, just try disabling animations and you’ll be surprised how much faster it can seem. Force-Enable FXAA For OpenGL Games If you have a high-end phone or tablet with great graphics performance and you play 3D games on it, there’s a way to make those games look even better. Just go to the Developer Options screen and enable the Force 4x MSAA option. This will force Android to use 4x multisample anti-aliasing in OpenGL ES 2.0 games and other apps. This requires more graphics power and will probably drain your battery a bit faster, but it will improve image quality in some games. This is a bit like force-enabling antialiasing using the NVIDIA Control Panel on a Windows gaming PC. See How Bad Task Killers Are We’ve written before about how task killers are worse than useless on Android. If you use a task killer, you’re just slowing down your system by throwing out cached data and forcing Android to load apps from system storage whenever you open them again. Don’t believe us? Enable the Don’t keep activities option on the Developer options screen and Android will force-close every app you use as soon as you exit it. Enable this app and use your phone normally for a few minutes — you’ll see just how harmful throwing out all that cached data is and how much it will slow down your phone. Don’t actually use this option unless you want to see how bad it is! It will make your phone perform much more slowly — there’s a reason Google has hidden these options away from average users who might accidentally change them. Fake Your GPS Location The Allow mock locations option allows you to set fake GPS locations, tricking Android into thinking you’re at a location where you actually aren’t. Use this option along with an app like Fake GPS location and you can trick your Android device and the apps running on it into thinking you’re at locations where you actually aren’t. How would this be useful? Well, you could fake a GPS check-in at a location without actually going there or confuse your friends in a location-tracking app by seemingly teleporting around the world. Stay Awake While Charging You can use Android’s Daydream Mode to display certain apps while charging your device. If you want to force Android to display a standard Android app that hasn’t been designed for Daydream Mode, you can enable the Stay awake option here. Android will keep your device’s screen on while charging and won’t turn it off. It’s like Daydream Mode, but can support any app and allows users to interact with them. Show Always-On-Top CPU Usage You can view CPU usage data by toggling the Show CPU usage option to On. This information will appear on top of whatever app you’re using. If you’re a Linux user, the three numbers on top probably look familiar — they represent the system load average. From left to right, the numbers represent your system load over the last one, five, and fifteen minutes. This isn’t the kind of thing you’d want enabled most of the time, but it can save you from having to install third-party floating CPU apps if you want to see CPU usage information for some reason. Most of the other options here will only be useful to developers debugging their Android apps. You shouldn’t start changing options you don’t understand. If you want to undo any of these changes, you can quickly erase all your custom options by sliding the switch at the top of the screen to Off.     

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  • The HTG Guide to Using a Bluetooth Keyboard with Your Android Device

    - by Matt Klein
    Android devices aren’t usually associated with physical keyboards. But, since Google is now bundling their QuickOffice app with the newly-released Kit-Kat, it appears inevitable that at least some Android tablets (particularly 10-inch models) will take on more productivity roles. In recent years, physical keyboards have been rendered obsolete by swipe style input methods such as Swype and Google Keyboard. Physical keyboards tend to make phones thick and plump, and that won’t fly today when thin (and even flexible and curved) is in vogue. So, you’ll be hard-pressed to find smartphone manufacturers launching new models with physical keyboards, thus rendering sliders to a past chapter in mobile phone evolution. It makes sense to ditch the clunky keyboard phone in favor of a lighter, thinner model. You’re going to carry around in your pocket or purse all day, why have that extra bulk and weight? That said, there is sound logic behind pairing tablets with keyboards. Microsoft continues to plod forward with its Surface models, and while critics continue to lavish praise on the iPad, its functionality is obviously enhanced and extended when you add a physical keyboard. Apple even has an entire page devoted specifically to iPad-compatible keyboards. But an Android tablet and a keyboard? Does such a thing even exist? They do actually. There are docking keyboards and keyboard/case combinations, there’s the Asus Transformer family, Logitech markets a Windows 8 keyboard that speaks “Android”, and these are just to name a few. So we know that keyboard products that are designed to work with Android exist, but what about an everyday Bluetooth keyboard you might use with Windows or OS X? How-To Geek wanted look at how viable it is to use such a keyboard with Android. We conducted some research and examined some lists of Android keyboard shortcuts. Most of what we found was long outdated. Many of the shortcuts don’t even apply anymore, while others just didn’t work. Regardless, after a little experimentation and a dash of customization, it turns out using a keyboard with Android is kind of fun, and who knows, maybe it will catch on. Setting things up Setting up a Bluetooth keyboard with Android is very easy. First, you’ll need a Bluetooth keyboard and of course an Android device, preferably running version 4.1 (Jelly Bean) or higher. For our test, we paired a second-generation Google Nexus 7 running Android 4.3 with a Samsung Series 7 keyboard. In Android, enable Bluetooth if it isn’t already on. We’d like to note that if you don’t normally use Bluetooth accessories and peripherals with your Android device (or any device really), it’s best practice to leave Bluetooth off because, like GPS, it drains the device’s battery more quickly. To enable Bluetooth, simply go to “Settings” -> “Bluetooth” and tap the slider button to “On”. To set up the keyboard, make sure it is on and then tap “Bluetooth” in the Android settings. On the resulting screen, your Android device should automatically search for and hopefully find your keyboard. If you don’t get it right the first time, simply turn the keyboard on again and then tap “Search for Devices” to try again. If it still doesn’t work, make sure you have fresh batteries and the keyboard isn’t paired to another device. If it is, you will need to unpair it before it will work with your Android device (consult your keyboard manufacturer’s documentation or Google if you don’t know how to do this). When Android finds your keyboard, select it under “Available Devices” … … and you should be prompted to type in a code: If successful, you will see that device is now “Connected” and you’re ready to go. If you want to test things out, try pressing the “Windows” key (“Apple” or “Command”) + ESC, and you will be whisked to your Home screen. So, what can you do? Traditional Mac and Windows users know there’s usually a keyboard shortcut for just about everything (and if there isn’t, there’s all kinds of ways to remap keys to do a variety of commands, tasks, and functions). So where does Android fall in terms of baked-in keyboard commands? There answer to that is kind of enough, but not too much. There are definitely established combos you can use to get around, but they aren’t clear and there doesn’t appear to be any one authority on what they are. Still, there is enough keyboard functionality in Android to make it a viable option, if only for those times when you need to get something done (long e-mail or important document) and an on-screen keyboard simply won’t do. It’s important to remember that Android is, and likely always will be a touch-first interface. That said, it does make some concessions to physical keyboards. In other words, you can get around Android fairly well without having to lift your hands off the keys, but you will still have to tap the screen regularly, unless you add a mouse. For example, you can wake your device by tapping a key rather than pressing its power button. However, if your device is slide or pattern-locked, then you’ll have to use the touchscreen to unlock it – a password or PIN however, works seamlessly with a keyboard – other things like widgets and app controls and features, have to be tapped. You get the idea. Keyboard shortcuts and navigation As we said, baked-in keyboard shortcut combos aren’t necessarily abundant nor apparent. The one thing you can always do is search. Any time you want to Google something, start typing from the Home screen and the search screen will automatically open and begin displaying results. Other than that, here is what we were able to figure out: ESC = go back CTRL + ESC = menu CTRL + ALT + DEL = restart (no questions asked) ALT + SPACE = search page (say “OK Google” to voice search) ALT + TAB (ALT + SHIFT + TAB) = switch tasks Also, if you have designated volume function keys, those will probably work too. There’s also some dedicated app shortcuts like calculator, Gmail, and a few others: CMD + A = calculator CMD + C = contacts CMD + E = e-mail CMD + G = Gmail CMD + L = Calendar CMD + P = Play Music CMD + Y = YouTube Overall, it’s not a long comprehensive list and there’s no dedicated keyboard combos for the full array of Google’s products. Granted, it’s hard to imagine getting a lot of mileage out of a keyboard with Maps but with something like Keep, you could type out long, detailed lists on your tablet, and then view them on your smartphone when you go out shopping. You can also use the arrow keys to navigate your Home screen over shortcuts and open the app drawer. When something on the screen is selected, it will be highlighted in blue. Press “Enter” to open your selection. Additionally, if an app has its own set of shortcuts, e.g. Gmail has quite a few unique shortcuts to it, as does Chrome, some – though not many – will work in Android (not for YouTube though). Also, many “universal” shortcuts such as Copy (CTRL + C), Cut (CTRL + X), Paste (CTRL + V), and Select All (CTRL + A) work where needed – such as in instant messaging, e-mail, social media apps, etc. Creating custom application shortcuts What about custom shortcuts? When we were researching this article, we were under the impression that it was possible to assign keyboard combinations to specific apps, such as you could do on older Android versions such as Gingerbread. This no long seems to be the case and nowhere in “Settings” could we find a way to assign hotkey combos to any of our favorite, oft-used apps or functions. If you do want custom keyboard shortcuts, what can you do? Luckily, there’s an app on Google Play that allows you to, among other things, create custom app shortcuts. It is called External Keyboard Helper (EKH) and while there is a free demo version, the pay version is only a few bucks. We decided to give EKH a whirl and through a little experimentation and finally reading the developer’s how-to, we found we could map custom keyboard combos to just about anything. To do this, first open the application and you’ll see the main app screen. Don’t worry about choosing a custom layout or anything like that, you want to go straight to the “Advanced settings”: In the “Advanced settings” select “Application shortcuts” to continue: You can have up to 16 custom application shortcuts. We are going to create a custom shortcut to the Facebook app. We choose “A0”, and from the resulting list, Facebook. You can do this for any number of apps, services, and settings. As you can now see, the Facebook app has now been linked to application-zero (A0): Go back to the “Advanced settings” and choose “Customize keyboard mappings”: You will be prompted to create a custom keyboard layout so we choose “Custom 1”: When you choose to create a custom layout, you can do a great many more things with your keyboard. For example, many keyboards have predefined function (Fn) keys, which you can map to your tablet’s brightness controls, toggle WiFi on/off, and much more. A word of advice, the application automatically remaps certain keys when you create a custom layout. This might mess up some existing keyboard combos. If you simply want to add some functionality to your keyboard, you can go ahead and delete EKH’s default changes and start your custom layout from scratch. To create a new combo, select “Add new key mapping”: For our new shortcut, we are going to assign the Facebook app to open when we key in “ALT + F”. To do this, we press the “F” key while in the “Scancode” field and we see it returns a value of “33”. If we wanted to use a different key, we can press “Change” and scan another key’s numerical value. We now want to assign the “ALT” key to application “A0”, previously designated as the Facebook app. In the “AltGr” field, we enter “A0” and then “Save” our custom combo. And now we see our new application shortcut. Now, as long as we’re using our custom layout, every time we press “ALT + F”, the Facebook app will launch: External Keyboard Helper extends far beyond simple application shortcuts and if you are looking for deeper keyboard customization options, you should definitely check it out. Among other things, EKH also supports dozens of languages, allows you to quickly switch between layouts using a key or combo, add up to 16 custom text shortcuts, and much more! It can be had on Google Play for $2.53 for the full version, but you can try the demo version for free. More extensive documentation on how to use the app is also available. Android? Keyboard? Sure, why not? Unlike traditional desktop operating systems, you don’t need a physical keyboard and mouse to use a mobile operating system. You can buy an iPad or Nexus 10 or Galaxy Note, and never need another accessory or peripheral – they work as intended right out of the box. It’s even possible you can write the next great American novel on one these devices, though that might require a lot of practice and patience. That said, using a keyboard with Android is kind of fun. It’s not revelatory but it does elevate the experience. You don’t even need to add customizations (though they are nice) because there are enough existing keyboard shortcuts in Android to make it usable. Plus, when it comes to inputting text such as in an editor or terminal application, we fully advocate big, physical keyboards. Bottom line, if you’re looking for a way to enhance your Android tablet, give a keyboard a chance. Do you use your Android device for productivity? Is a physical keyboard an important part of your setup? Do you have any shortcuts that we missed? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think.     

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  • How to Use An Antivirus Boot Disc or USB Drive to Ensure Your Computer is Clean

    - by Chris Hoffman
    If your computer is infected with malware, running an antivirus within Windows may not be enough to remove it. If your computer has a rootkit, the malware may be able to hide itself from your antivirus software. This is where bootable antivirus solutions come in. They can clean malware from outside the infected Windows system, so the malware won’t be running and interfering with the clean-up process. The Problem With Cleaning Up Malware From Within Windows Standard antivirus software runs within Windows. If your computer is infected with malware, the antivirus software will have to do battle with the malware. Antivirus software will try to stop the malware and remove it, while the malware will attempt to defend itself and shut down the antivirus. For really nasty malware, your antivirus software may not be able to fully remove it from within Windows. Rootkits, a type of malware that hides itself, can be even trickier. A rootkit could load at boot time before other Windows components and prevent Windows from seeing it, hide its processes from the task manager, and even trick antivirus applications into believing that the rootkit isn’t running. The problem here is that the malware and antivirus are both running on the computer at the same time. The antivirus is attempting to fight the malware on its home turf — the malware can put up a fight. Why You Should Use an Antivirus Boot Disc Antivirus boot discs deal with this by approaching the malware from outside Windows. You boot your computer from a CD or USB drive containing the antivirus and it loads a specialized operating system from the disc. Even if your Windows installation is completely infected with malware, the special operating system won’t have any malware running within it. This means the antivirus program can work on the Windows installation from outside it. The malware won’t be running while the antivirus tries to remove it, so the antivirus can methodically locate and remove the harmful software without it interfering. Any rootkits won’t be able to set up the tricks they use at Windows boot time to hide themselves from the rest o the operating system. The antivirus will be able to see the rootkits and remove them. These tools are often referred to as “rescue disks.” They’re meant to be used when you need to rescue a hopelessly infected system. Bootable Antivirus Options As with any type of antivirus software, you have quite a few options. Many antivirus companies offer bootable antivirus systems based on their antivirus software. These tools are generally free, even when they’re offered by companies that specialized in paid antivirus solutions. Here are a few good options: avast! Rescue Disk – We like avast! for offering a capable free antivirus with good detection rates in independent tests. avast! now offers the ability to create an antivirus boot disc or USB drive. Just navigate to the Tools -> Rescue Disk option in the avast! desktop application to create bootable media. BitDefender Rescue CD – BitDefender always seems to receive good scores in independent tests, and the BitDefender Rescue CD offers the same antivirus engine in the form of a bootable disc. Kaspersky Rescue Disk – Kaspersky also receives good scores in independent tests and offers its own antivirus boot disc. These are just a handful of options. If you prefer another antivirus for some reason — Comodo, Norton, Avira, ESET, or almost any other antivirus product — you’ll probably find that it offers its own system rescue disk. How to Use an Antivirus Boot Disc Using an antivirus boot disc or USB drive is actually pretty simple. You’ll just need to find the antivirus boot disc you want to use and burn it to disc or install it on a USB drive. You can do this part on any computer, so you can create antivirus boot media on a clean computer and then take it to an infected computer. Insert the boot media into the infected computer and then reboot. The computer should boot from the removable media and load the secure antivirus environment. (If it doesn’t, you may need to change the boot order in your BIOS or UEFI firmware.) You can then follow the instructions on your screen to scan your Windows system for malware and remove it. No malware will be running in the background while you do this. Antivirus boot discs are useful because they allow you to detect and clean malware infections from outside an infected operating system. If the operating system is severely infected, it may not be possible to remove — or even detect — all the malware from within it. Image Credit: aussiegall on Flickr     

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  • How to Reuse Your Old Wi-Fi Router as a Network Switch

    - by Jason Fitzpatrick
    Just because your old Wi-Fi router has been replaced by a newer model doesn’t mean it needs to gather dust in the closet. Read on as we show you how to take an old and underpowered Wi-Fi router and turn it into a respectable network switch (saving your $20 in the process). Image by mmgallan. Why Do I Want To Do This? Wi-Fi technology has changed significantly in the last ten years but Ethernet-based networking has changed very little. As such, a Wi-Fi router with 2006-era guts is lagging significantly behind current Wi-Fi router technology, but the Ethernet networking component of the device is just as useful as ever; aside from potentially being only 100Mbs instead of 1000Mbs capable (which for 99% of home applications is irrelevant) Ethernet is Ethernet. What does this matter to you, the consumer? It means that even though your old router doesn’t hack it for your Wi-Fi needs any longer the device is still a perfectly serviceable (and high quality) network switch. When do you need a network switch? Any time you want to share an Ethernet cable among multiple devices, you need a switch. For example, let’s say you have a single Ethernet wall jack behind your entertainment center. Unfortunately you have four devices that you want to link to your local network via hardline including your smart HDTV, DVR, Xbox, and a little Raspberry Pi running XBMC. Instead of spending $20-30 to purchase a brand new switch of comparable build quality to your old Wi-Fi router it makes financial sense (and is environmentally friendly) to invest five minutes of your time tweaking the settings on the old router to turn it from a Wi-Fi access point and routing tool into a network switch–perfect for dropping behind your entertainment center so that your DVR, Xbox, and media center computer can all share an Ethernet connection. What Do I Need? For this tutorial you’ll need a few things, all of which you likely have readily on hand or are free for download. To follow the basic portion of the tutorial, you’ll need the following: 1 Wi-Fi router with Ethernet ports 1 Computer with Ethernet jack 1 Ethernet cable For the advanced tutorial you’ll need all of those things, plus: 1 copy of DD-WRT firmware for your Wi-Fi router We’re conducting the experiment with a Linksys WRT54GL Wi-Fi router. The WRT54 series is one of the best selling Wi-Fi router series of all time and there’s a good chance a significant number of readers have one (or more) of them stuffed in an office closet. Even if you don’t have one of the WRT54 series routers, however, the principles we’re outlining here apply to all Wi-Fi routers; as long as your router administration panel allows the necessary changes you can follow right along with us. A quick note on the difference between the basic and advanced versions of this tutorial before we proceed. Your typical Wi-Fi router has 5 Ethernet ports on the back: 1 labeled “Internet”, “WAN”, or a variation thereof and intended to be connected to your DSL/Cable modem, and 4 labeled 1-4 intended to connect Ethernet devices like computers, printers, and game consoles directly to the Wi-Fi router. When you convert a Wi-Fi router to a switch, in most situations, you’ll lose two port as the “Internet” port cannot be used as a normal switch port and one of the switch ports becomes the input port for the Ethernet cable linking the switch to the main network. This means, referencing the diagram above, you’d lose the WAN port and LAN port 1, but retain LAN ports 2, 3, and 4 for use. If you only need to switch for 2-3 devices this may be satisfactory. However, for those of you that would prefer a more traditional switch setup where there is a dedicated WAN port and the rest of the ports are accessible, you’ll need to flash a third-party router firmware like the powerful DD-WRT onto your device. Doing so opens up the router to a greater degree of modification and allows you to assign the previously reserved WAN port to the switch, thus opening up LAN ports 1-4. Even if you don’t intend to use that extra port, DD-WRT offers you so many more options that it’s worth the extra few steps. Preparing Your Router for Life as a Switch Before we jump right in to shutting down the Wi-Fi functionality and repurposing your device as a network switch, there are a few important prep steps to attend to. First, you want to reset the router (if you just flashed a new firmware to your router, skip this step). Following the reset procedures for your particular router or go with what is known as the “Peacock Method” wherein you hold down the reset button for thirty seconds, unplug the router and wait (while still holding the reset button) for thirty seconds, and then plug it in while, again, continuing to hold down the rest button. Over the life of a router there are a variety of changes made, big and small, so it’s best to wipe them all back to the factory default before repurposing the router as a switch. Second, after resetting, we need to change the IP address of the device on the local network to an address which does not directly conflict with the new router. The typical default IP address for a home router is 192.168.1.1; if you ever need to get back into the administration panel of the router-turned-switch to check on things or make changes it will be a real hassle if the IP address of the device conflicts with the new home router. The simplest way to deal with this is to assign an address close to the actual router address but outside the range of addresses that your router will assign via the DHCP client; a good pick then is 192.168.1.2. Once the router is reset (or re-flashed) and has been assigned a new IP address, it’s time to configure it as a switch. Basic Router to Switch Configuration If you don’t want to (or need to) flash new firmware onto your device to open up that extra port, this is the section of the tutorial for you: we’ll cover how to take a stock router, our previously mentioned WRT54 series Linksys, and convert it to a switch. Hook the Wi-Fi router up to the network via one of the LAN ports (consider the WAN port as good as dead from this point forward, unless you start using the router in its traditional function again or later flash a more advanced firmware to the device, the port is officially retired at this point). Open the administration control panel via  web browser on a connected computer. Before we get started two things: first,  anything we don’t explicitly instruct you to change should be left in the default factory-reset setting as you find it, and two, change the settings in the order we list them as some settings can’t be changed after certain features are disabled. To start, let’s navigate to Setup ->Basic Setup. Here you need to change the following things: Local IP Address: [different than the primary router, e.g. 192.168.1.2] Subnet Mask: [same as the primary router, e.g. 255.255.255.0] DHCP Server: Disable Save with the “Save Settings” button and then navigate to Setup -> Advanced Routing: Operating Mode: Router This particular setting is very counterintuitive. The “Operating Mode” toggle tells the device whether or not it should enable the Network Address Translation (NAT)  feature. Because we’re turning a smart piece of networking hardware into a relatively dumb one, we don’t need this feature so we switch from Gateway mode (NAT on) to Router mode (NAT off). Our next stop is Wireless -> Basic Wireless Settings: Wireless SSID Broadcast: Disable Wireless Network Mode: Disabled After disabling the wireless we’re going to, again, do something counterintuitive. Navigate to Wireless -> Wireless Security and set the following parameters: Security Mode: WPA2 Personal WPA Algorithms: TKIP+AES WPA Shared Key: [select some random string of letters, numbers, and symbols like JF#d$di!Hdgio890] Now you may be asking yourself, why on Earth are we setting a rather secure Wi-Fi configuration on a Wi-Fi router we’re not going to use as a Wi-Fi node? On the off chance that something strange happens after, say, a power outage when your router-turned-switch cycles on and off a bunch of times and the Wi-Fi functionality is activated we don’t want to be running the Wi-Fi node wide open and granting unfettered access to your network. While the chances of this are next-to-nonexistent, it takes only a few seconds to apply the security measure so there’s little reason not to. Save your changes and navigate to Security ->Firewall. Uncheck everything but Filter Multicast Firewall Protect: Disable At this point you can save your changes again, review the changes you’ve made to ensure they all stuck, and then deploy your “new” switch wherever it is needed. Advanced Router to Switch Configuration For the advanced configuration, you’ll need a copy of DD-WRT installed on your router. Although doing so is an extra few steps, it gives you a lot more control over the process and liberates an extra port on the device. Hook the Wi-Fi router up to the network via one of the LAN ports (later you can switch the cable to the WAN port). Open the administration control panel via web browser on the connected computer. Navigate to the Setup -> Basic Setup tab to get started. In the Basic Setup tab, ensure the following settings are adjusted. The setting changes are not optional and are required to turn the Wi-Fi router into a switch. WAN Connection Type: Disabled Local IP Address: [different than the primary router, e.g. 192.168.1.2] Subnet Mask: [same as the primary router, e.g. 255.255.255.0] DHCP Server: Disable In addition to disabling the DHCP server, also uncheck all the DNSMasq boxes as the bottom of the DHCP sub-menu. If you want to activate the extra port (and why wouldn’t you), in the WAN port section: Assign WAN Port to Switch [X] At this point the router has become a switch and you have access to the WAN port so the LAN ports are all free. Since we’re already in the control panel, however, we might as well flip a few optional toggles that further lock down the switch and prevent something odd from happening. The optional settings are arranged via the menu you find them in. Remember to save your settings with the save button before moving onto a new tab. While still in the Setup -> Basic Setup menu, change the following: Gateway/Local DNS : [IP address of primary router, e.g. 192.168.1.1] NTP Client : Disable The next step is to turn off the radio completely (which not only kills the Wi-Fi but actually powers the physical radio chip off). Navigate to Wireless -> Advanced Settings -> Radio Time Restrictions: Radio Scheduling: Enable Select “Always Off” There’s no need to create a potential security problem by leaving the Wi-Fi radio on, the above toggle turns it completely off. Under Services -> Services: DNSMasq : Disable ttraff Daemon : Disable Under the Security -> Firewall tab, uncheck every box except “Filter Multicast”, as seen in the screenshot above, and then disable SPI Firewall. Once you’re done here save and move on to the Administration tab. Under Administration -> Management:  Info Site Password Protection : Enable Info Site MAC Masking : Disable CRON : Disable 802.1x : Disable Routing : Disable After this final round of tweaks, save and then apply your settings. Your router has now been, strategically, dumbed down enough to plod along as a very dependable little switch. Time to stuff it behind your desk or entertainment center and streamline your cabling.     

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  • No, iCloud Isn’t Backing Them All Up: How to Manage Photos on Your iPhone or iPad

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Are the photos you take with your iPhone or iPad backed up in case you lose your device? If you’re just relying on iCloud to manage your important memories, your photos may not be backed up at all. Apple’s iCloud has a photo-syncing feature in the form of “Photo Stream,” but Photo Stream doesn’t actually perform any long-term backups of your photos. iCloud’s Photo Backup Limitations Assuming you’ve set up iCloud on your iPhone or iPad, your device is using a feature called “Photo Stream” to automatically upload the photos you take to your iCloud storage and sync them across your devices. Unfortunately, there are some big limitations here. 1000 Photos: Photo Stream only backs up the latest 1000 photos. Do you have 1500 photos in your Camera Roll folder on your phone? If so, only the latest 1000 photos are stored in your iCloud account online. If you don’t have those photos backed up elsewhere, you’ll lose them when you lose your phone. If you have 1000 photos and take one more, the oldest photo will be removed from your iCloud Photo Stream. 30 Days: Apple also states that photos in your Photo Stream will be automatically deleted after 30 days “to give your devices plenty of time to connect and download them.” Some people report photos aren’t deleted after 30 days, but it’s clear you shouldn’t rely on iCloud for more than 30 days of storage. iCloud Storage Limits: Apple only gives you 5 GB of iCloud storage space for free, and this is shared between backups, documents, and all other iCloud data. This 5 GB can fill up pretty quickly. If your iCloud storage is full and you haven’t purchased any more storage more from Apple, your photos aren’t being backed up. Videos Aren’t Included: Photo Stream doesn’t include videos, so any videos you take aren’t automatically backed up. It’s clear that iCloud’s Photo Stream isn’t designed as a long-term way to store your photos, just a convenient way to access recent photos on all your devices before you back them up for real. iCloud’s Photo Stream is Designed for Desktop Backups If you have a Mac, you can launch iPhoto and enable the Automatic Import option under Photo Stream in its preferences pane. Assuming your Mac is on and connected to the Internet, iPhoto will automatically download photos from your photo stream and make local backups of them on your hard drive. You’ll then have to back up your photos manually so you don’t lose them if your Mac’s hard drive ever fails. If you have a Windows PC, you can install the iCloud Control Panel, which will create a Photo Stream folder on your PC. Your photos will be automatically downloaded to this folder and stored in it. You’ll want to back up your photos so you don’t lose them if your PC’s hard drive ever fails. Photo Stream is clearly designed to be used along with a desktop application. Photo Stream temporarily backs up your photos to iCloud so iPhoto or iCloud Control Panel can download them to your Mac or PC and make a local backup before they’re deleted. You could also use iTunes to sync your photos from your device to your PC or Mac, but we don’t really recommend it — you should never have to use iTunes. How to Actually Back Up All Your Photos Online So Photo Stream is actually pretty inconvenient — or, at least, it’s just a way to temporarily sync photos between your devices without storing them long-term. But what if you actually want to automatically back up your photos online without them being deleted automatically? The solution here is a third-party app that does this for you, offering the automatic photo uploads with long-term storage. There are several good services with apps in the App Store: Dropbox: Dropbox’s Camera Upload feature allows you to automatically upload the photos — and videos — you take to your Dropbox account. They’ll be easily accessible anywhere there’s a Dropbox app and you can get much more free Dropbox storage than you can iCloud storage. Dropbox will never automatically delete your old photos. Google+: Google+ offers photo and video backups with its Auto Upload feature, too. Photos will be stored in your Google+ Photos — formerly Picasa Web Albums — and will be marked as private by default so no one else can view them. Full-size photos will count against your free 15 GB of Google account storage space, but you can also choose to upload an unlimited amount of photos at a smaller resolution. Flickr: The Flickr app is no longer a mess. Flickr offers an Auto Upload feature for uploading full-size photos you take and free Flickr accounts offer a massive 1 TB of storage for you to store your photos. The massive amount of free storage alone makes Flickr worth a look. Use any of these services and you’ll get an online, automatic photo backup solution you can rely on. You’ll get a good chunk of free space, your photos will never be automatically deleted, and you can easily access them from any device. You won’t have to worry about storing local copies of your photos and backing them up manually. Apple should fix this mess and offer a better solution for long-term photo backup, especially considering the limitations aren’t immediately obvious to users. Until they do, third-party apps are ready to step in and take their place. You can also automatically back up your photos to the web on Android with Google+’s Auto Upload or Dropbox’s Camera Upload. Image Credit: Simon Yeo on Flickr     

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  • 8 Mac System Features You Can Access in Recovery Mode

    - by Chris Hoffman
    A Mac’s Recovery Mode is for more than just reinstalling Mac OS X. You’ll find many other useful troubleshooting utilities here — you can use these even if your Mac can’t boot normally. To access Recovery Mode, restart your Mac and press and hold the Command + R keys during the boot-up process. This is one of several hidden startup options on a Mac. Reinstall Mac OS X Most people know Recovery Mode as the place you go to reinstall OS X on your Mac. Recovery Mode will download the OS X installer files from teh Intenret if you don’t have them locally, so they don’t take up space on your disk and you’ll never have to hunt for an opearign system disc. Better yet, it will download up-to-date installation files so you don’t have to spend hours installing operating system updates later. Microsoft could learn a lot from Apple here. Restore From a Time Machine Backup Instead of reinstalling OS X, you can choose to restore your Mac from a time machine backup. This is like restoring a system image on another operating system. You’ll need an external disk containing a backup image created on the current computer to do this. Browse the Web The Get Help Online link opens the Safari web browser to Apple’s documentation site. It’s not limited to Apple’s website, though — you can navigate to any website you like. This feature allows you to access and use a browser on your Mac even if it isn’t booting properly. It’s ideal for looking up troubleshooting information. Manage Your Disks The Disk Utility option opens the same Disk Utility you can access from within Mac OS X. It allows you to partition disks, format them, scan disks for problems, wipe drives, and set up drives in a RAID configuration. If you need to edit partitions from outside your operating system, you can just boot into the recovery environment — you don’t have to download a special partitioning tool and boot into it. Choose the Default Startup Disk Click the Apple menu on the bar at the top of your screen and select Startup Disk to access the Choose Startup Disk tool. Use this tool to choose your computer’s default startup disk and reboot into another operating system. For example, it’s useful if you have Windows installed alongside Mac OS X with Boot Camp. Add or Remove an EFI Firmware Password You can also add a firmware password to your Mac. This works like a BIOS password or UEFI password on a Windows or Linux PC. Click the Utilities menu on the bar at the top of your screen and select Firmware Password Utility to open this tool. Use the tool to turn on a firmware password, which will prevent your computer from starting up from a different hard disk, CD, DVD, or USB drive without the password you provide. This prevents people form booting up your Mac with an unauthorized operating system. If you’ve already enabled a firmware password, you can remove it from here. Use Network Tools to Troubleshoot Your Connection Select Utilities > Network Utility to open a network diagnostic tool. This utility provides a graphical way to view your network connection information. You can also use the netstat, ping, lookup, traceroute, whois, finger, and port scan utilities from here. These can be helpful to troubleshoot Internet connection problems. For example, the ping command can demonstrate whether you can communicate with a remote host and show you if you’re experiencing packet loss, while the traceroute command can show you where a connection is failing if you can’t connect to a remote server. Open a Terminal If you’d like to get your hands dirty, you can select Utilities > Terminal to open a terminal from here. This terminal allows you to do more advanced troubleshooting. Mac OS X uses the bash shell, just as typical Linux distributions do. Most people will just need to use the Reinstall Mac OS X option here, but there are many other tools you can benefit from. If the Recovery Mode files on your Mac are damaged or unavailable, your Mac will automatically download them from Apple so you can use the full recovery environment.

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  • 8 Backup Tools Explained for Windows 7 and 8

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Backups on Windows can be confusing. Whether you’re using Windows 7 or 8, you have quite a few integrated backup tools to think about. Windows 8 made quite a few changes, too. You can also use third-party backup software, whether you want to back up to an external drive or back up your files to online storage. We won’t cover third-party tools here — just the ones built into Windows. Backup and Restore on Windows 7 Windows 7 has its own Backup and Restore feature that lets you create backups manually or on a schedule. You’ll find it under Backup and Restore in the Control Panel. The original version of Windows 8 still contained this tool, and named it Windows 7 File Recovery. This allowed former Windows 7 users to restore files from those old Windows 7 backups or keep using the familiar backup tool for a little while. Windows 7 File Recovery was removed in Windows 8.1. System Restore System Restore on both Windows 7 and 8 functions as a sort of automatic system backup feature. It creates backup copies of important system and program files on a schedule or when you perform certain tasks, such as installing a hardware driver. If system files become corrupted or your computer’s software becomes unstable, you can use System Restore to restore your system and program files from a System Restore point. This isn’t a way to back up your personal files. It’s more of a troubleshooting feature that uses backups to restore your system to its previous working state. Previous Versions on Windows 7 Windows 7′s Previous Versions feature allows you to restore older versions of files — or deleted files. These files can come from backups created with Windows 7′s Backup and Restore feature, but they can also come from System Restore points. When Windows 7 creates a System Restore point, it will sometimes contain your personal files. Previous Versions allows you to extract these personal files from restore points. This only applies to Windows 7. On Windows 8, System Restore won’t create backup copies of your personal files. The Previous Versions feature was removed on Windows 8. File History Windows 8 replaced Windows 7′s backup tools with File History, although this feature isn’t enabled by default. File History is designed to be a simple, easy way to create backups of your data files on an external drive or network location. File History replaces both Windows 7′s Backup and Previous Versions features. Windows System Restore won’t create copies of personal files on Windows 8. This means you can’t actually recover older versions of files until you enable File History yourself — it isn’t enabled by default. System Image Backups Windows also allows you to create system image backups. These are backup images of your entire operating system, including your system files, installed programs, and personal files. This feature was included in both Windows 7 and Windows 8, but it was hidden in the preview versions of Windows 8.1. After many user complaints, it was restored and is still available in the final version of Windows 8.1 — click System Image Backup on the File History Control Panel. Storage Space Mirroring Windows 8′s Storage Spaces feature allows you to set up RAID-like features in software. For example, you can use Storage Space to set up two hard disks of the same size in a mirroring configuration. They’ll appear as a single drive in Windows. When you write to this virtual drive, the files will be saved to both physical drives. If one drive fails, your files will still be available on the other drive. This isn’t a good long-term backup solution, but it is a way of ensuring you won’t lose important files if a single drive fails. Microsoft Account Settings Backup Windows 8 and 8.1 allow you to back up a variety of system settings — including personalization, desktop, and input settings. If you’re signing in with a Microsoft account, OneDrive settings backup is enabled automatically. This feature can be controlled under OneDrive > Sync settings in the PC settings app. This feature only backs up a few settings. It’s really more of a way to sync settings between devices. OneDrive Cloud Storage Microsoft hasn’t been talking much about File History since Windows 8 was released. That’s because they want people to use OneDrive instead. OneDrive — formerly known as SkyDrive — was added to the Windows desktop in Windows 8.1. Save your files here and they’ll be stored online tied to your Microsoft account. You can then sign in on any other computer, smartphone, tablet, or even via the web and access your files. Microsoft wants typical PC users “backing up” their files with OneDrive so they’ll be available on any device. You don’t have to worry about all these features. Just choose a backup strategy to ensure your files are safe if your computer’s hard disk fails you. Whether it’s an integrated backup tool or a third-party backup application, be sure to back up your files.

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  • What You Need to Know About Windows 8.1

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Windows 8.1 is available to everyone starting today, October 19. The latest version of Windows improves on Windows 8 in every way. It’s a big upgrade, whether you use the desktop or new touch-optimized interface. The latest version of Windows has been dubbed “an apology” by some — it’s definitely more at home on a desktop PC than Windows 8 was. However, it also offers a more fleshed out and mature tablet experience. How to Get Windows 8.1 For Windows 8 users, Windows 8.1 is completely free. It will be available as a download from the Windows Store — that’s the “Store” app in the Modern, tiled interface. Assuming upgrading to the final version will be just like upgrading to the preview version, you’ll likely see a “Get Windows 8.1″ pop-up that will take you to the Windows Store and guide you through the download process. You’ll also be able to download ISO images of Windows 8.1, so can perform a clean install to upgrade. On any new computer, you can just install Windows 8.1 without going through Windows 8. New computers will start to ship with Windows 8.1 and boxed copies of Windows 8 will be replaced by boxed copies of Windows 8.1. If you’re using Windows 7 or a previous version of Windows, the update won’t be free. Getting Windows 8.1 will cost you the same amount as a full copy of Windows 8 — $120 for the standard version. If you’re an average Windows 7 user, you’re likely better off waiting until you buy a new PC with Windows 8.1 included rather than spend this amount of money to upgrade. Improvements for Desktop Users Some have dubbed Windows 8.1 “an apology” from Microsoft, although you certainly won’t see Microsoft referring to it this way. Either way, Steven Sinofsky, who presided over Windows 8′s development, left the company shortly after Windows 8 was released. Coincidentally, Windows 8.1 contains many features that Steven Sinofsky and Microsoft refused to implement. Windows 8.1 offers the following big improvements for desktop users: Boot to Desktop: You can now log in directly to the desktop, skipping the tiled interface entirely. Disable Top-Left and Top-Right Hot Corners: The app switcher and charms bar won’t appear when you move your mouse to the top-left or top-right corners of the screen if you enable this option. No more intrusions into the desktop. The Start Button Returns: Windows 8.1 brings back an always-present Start button on the desktop taskbar, dramatically improving discoverability for new Windows 8 users and providing a bigger mouse target for remote desktops and virtual machines. Crucially, the Start menu isn’t back — clicking this button will open the full-screen Modern interface. Start menu replacements will continue to function on Windows 8.1, offering more traditional Start menus. Show All Apps By Default: Luckily, you can hide the Start screen and its tiles almost entirely. Windows 8.1 can be configured to show a full-screen list of all your installed apps when you click the Start button, with desktop apps prioritized. The only real difference is that the Start menu is now a full-screen interface. Shut Down or Restart From Start Button: You can now right-click the Start button to access Shut down, Restart, and other power options in just as many clicks as you could on Windows 7. Shared Start Screen and Desktop Backgrounds; Windows 8 limited you to just a few Steven Sinofsky-approved background images for your Start screen, but Windows 8.1 allows you to use your desktop background on the Start screen. This can make the transition between the Start screen and desktop much less jarring. The tiles or shortcuts appear to be floating above the desktop rather than off in their own separate universe. Unified Search: Unified search is back, so you can start typing and search your programs, settings, and files all at once — no more awkwardly clicking between different categories when trying to open a Control Panel screen or search for a file. These all add up to a big improvement when using Windows 8.1 on the desktop. Microsoft is being much more flexible — the Start menu is full screen, but Microsoft has relented on so many other things and you’d never have to see a tile if you didn’t want to. For more information, read our guide to optimizing Windows 8.1 for a desktop PC. These are just the improvements specifically for desktop users. Windows 8.1 includes other useful features for everyone, such as deep SkyDrive integration that allows you to store your files in the cloud without installing any additional sync programs. Improvements for Touch Users If you have a Windows 8 or Windows RT tablet or another touch-based device you use the interface formerly known as Metro on, you’ll see many other noticeable improvements. Windows 8′s new interface was half-baked when it launched, but it’s now much more capable and mature. App Updates: Windows 8′s included apps were extremely limited in many cases. For example, Internet Explorer 10 could only display ten tabs at a time and the Mail app was a barren experience devoid of features. In Windows 8.1, some apps — like Xbox Music — have been redesigned from scratch, Internet Explorer allows you to display a tab bar on-screen all the time, while apps like Mail have accumulated quite a few useful features. The Windows Store app has been entirely redesigned and is less awkward to browse. Snap Improvements: Windows 8′s Snap feature was a toy, allowing you to snap one app to a small sidebar at one side of your screen while another app consumed most of your screen. Windows 8.1 allows you to snap two apps side-by-side, seeing each app’s full interface at once. On larger displays, you can even snap three or four apps at once. Windows 8′s ability to use multiple apps at once on a tablet is compelling and unmatched by iPads and Android tablets. You can also snap two of the same apps side-by-side — to view two web pages at once, for example. More Comprehensive PC Settings: Windows 8.1 offers a more comprehensive PC settings app, allowing you to change most system settings in a touch-optimized interface. You shouldn’t have to use the desktop Control Panel on a tablet anymore — or at least not as often. Touch-Optimized File Browsing: Microsoft’s SkyDrive app allows you to browse files on your local PC, finally offering a built-in, touch-optimized way to manage files without using the desktop. Help & Tips: Windows 8.1 includes a Help+Tips app that will help guide new users through its new interface, something Microsoft stubbornly refused to add during development. There’s still no “Modern” version of Microsoft Office apps (aside from OneNote), so you’ll still have to head to use desktop Office apps on tablets. It’s not perfect, but the Modern interface doesn’t feel anywhere near as immature anymore. Read our in-depth look at the ways Microsoft’s Modern interface, formerly known as Metro, is improved in Windows 8.1 for more information. In summary, Windows 8.1 is what Windows 8 should have been. All of these improvements are on top of the many great desktop features, security improvements, and all-around battery life and performance optimizations that appeared in Windows 8. If you’re still using Windows 7 and are happy with it, there’s probably no reason to race out and buy a copy of Windows 8.1 at the rather high price of $120. But, if you’re using Windows 8, it’s a big upgrade no matter what you’re doing. If you buy a new PC and it comes with Windows 8.1, you’re getting a much more flexible and comfortable experience. If you’re holding off on buying a new computer because you don’t want Windows 8, give Windows 8.1 a try — yes, it’s different, but Microsoft has compromised on the desktop while making a lot of improvements to the new interface. You just might find that Windows 8.1 is now a worthwhile upgrade, even if you only want to use the desktop.     

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  • Hey, Google: It’s Time to Add Multi-Window Multitasking To Android

    - by Chris Hoffman
    In 2012, Google’s Dianne Hackborn threatened to revoke CyanogenMod’s access to the Android Market if they moved forward with adding “Cornerstone” multitasking to their custom ROM. Samsung has since created their own multi-window multitasking feature. Dianne Hackborn said this “is something that needs to be done at the mainline platform level” so apps wouldn’t break. She was right — Android needs this as a standard feature and it’s time for Google to provide it. Doesn’t Android Have Multitasking? Android originally stood out from Apple’s iOS with its powerful multitasking. Applications can continue running in the background while you’re using another application. This makes Android powerful — you can even have BitTorrent clients downloading files in the background while using another app. Android still kept the design of a single app on screen at a time. This made a lot of sense when Android only ran on smartphones with small screens. Today, Android runs on everything from smaller smartphones all the way up to huge “phablets” like the Galaxy Note. Android has gone beyond phones and runs on 12-inch tablets, convertibles with keyboard docks, laptops, and even Android desktops. Android isn’t just a phone operating system. Samsung’s Multi-Window Isn’t Good Enough Samsung has tried to add value to Android by adding a multi-window feature. When you’re using a high-end phone like the Galaxy Note or Galaxy S, or a Galaxy tablet, you have the ability to run certain apps side-by-side with each other. There are big problems here. This only works on Samsung devices, and only on specific Samsung devices. To add support for this feature in a way that doesn’t break other apps, Samsung’s multi-window feature also only works with specific apps. You can’t just run any app in multi-window view, only the apps on the Multi Window bar Samsung provides. This prevents third-party apps from breaking, which is what Google was worried about with CyanogenMod’s Cornerstone feature. A feature that only works with a handful of apps on specific devices from a single manufacturer isn’t good enough. This feature needs to work on every Android device — or at least ones with suitably large screens and powerful enough internals. It needs to be an Android platform feature so application developers can ensure their apps will work properly with it on every device. Android developers shouldn’t have to add support for each manufacturer’s own multi-window feature if other manufacturers decide to copy Samsung. Floating Apps Are a Dirty Hack Floating apps also enable real multitasking. Remember that Android allows apps to run in the background while you’re using an app in the foreground. These apps can present interfaces that appear floating above the current app — think of it like using “always on top” to make a window always appear over every other app on a desktop operating system. You can install floating apps to browse the web, take notes, chat, and watch videos while using any app. Only apps specifically designed to run as floating apps will work, so you have to seek them out. Floating apps are also awkward to use because they float over the app you’re using, blocking parts of its interface. Microsoft added floating-window support to Skype for Android. You can have a video conversation and the other person’s face will always appear on your screen, even when you leave the Skype app. Microsoft is using more of Android’s multi-window multitasking power than Google is. Custom ROMs and Root-Only Tweaks Aren’t Acceptable Some custom ROMs are adding this feature to Android. Google threatened to revoke CyanogenMod’s access to the Android Market (now known as Google Play) if they added this feature because it could potentially break third-party apps. Today, other custom ROMs are working on split-screen multitasking. Samsung added their own version to their own devices. You can also get this feature by using a root-only Xposed Framework tweak known as XMultiWindow. If you have root access, you can get multi-window multitasking or any app on your device. This shouldn’t require rooting your device or installing a custom ROM. These third-party solutions often have awkward interfaces and bugs. We need an integrated, supported solution that works the same on every device. Why Multi-Window is Important Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 stands out among tablet operating systems for its powerful multitasking support, allowing you to view several apps side-by-side at the same time. Apple is also reported to be working on adding side-by-side apps to the iPad with iOS 8. On every competitor’s operating system, you’ll be able to view a web page while you write an email, watch a video while you browse the web, or chat with someone while you do anything else. But Android’s still remained frozen in time. Despite all Android’s underlying power — and despite the way Android allows apps to adapt to different screen sizes — Google is resisting adding this feature. Large-screen Android tablets like the Nexus 10 (remember that tablet Google hasn’t updated in over 18 months?) need this feature. So do huge phones, convertibles, laptops, and Android desktops. If tablets are the future of personal computing, we should be able to do more than one thing at a time on our tablets’ big screens. Microsoft, Samsung, and even Apple are realizing this — now it’s Google’s turn. Image Credit: Sergey Galyonkin on Flickr, Karlis Dambrans on Flickr

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  • How to Access a Windows Desktop From Your Tablet or Phone

    - by Chris Hoffman
    iPads and Android tablets can’t run Windows apps locally, but they can access a Windows desktops remotely — even with a physical keyboard. In a pinch, the same tricks can be used to access a Windows desktop from a smartphone. Microsoft recently launched their own official Remote Desktop app for iOS and Android devices. Microsoft’s official apps are primarily useful for businesses — if you’re a typical home user, you’ll want to use a different remote desktop solution. Microsoft’s Remote Desktop App Microsoft now offers official Remote Desktop apps for iPad and iPhone as well as Android tablets and smartphones. The apps use Microsoft’s RDP protocol to connect to remote Windows systems. They’re essentially just new clients for the Remote Desktop feature that has been included in Windows for more than a decade. There are big problems with these apps if you’re an average home user. Microsoft’s Remote Desktop server is not available on standard or Home versions of Windows, only Professional and Enterprise editions. If you do have the appropriate edition of Windows, you’ll have to set up port-forwarding and a dynamic DNS service if you want to access your Windows desktop from outside your local network. You could also set up a VPN — either way you’ll need to do some footwork. This app is a gift to businesses who are already using Remote Desktop and enthusiasts who have the more expensive versions of Windows and don’t mind the configuration process. To set this up, follow our guide to setting up Remote Desktop for Internet access and connect using the Remote Desktop app instead of traditional Remote Desktop clients. TeamViewer If you have the standard edition of Windows or you just don’t want to mess around with port-forwarding and dynamic DNS configuration, you’ll want to skip Remote Desktop and use something else. We like TeamViewer for this. Just as it’s a great way to remotely troubleshoot your relatives’ computers, it’s also a great way to remotely access your own computer. It doesn’t have the same limitations Microsoft’s Remote Desktop system has — it’s completely free for personal use, runs on any edition of Windows, and is easy to set up. There’s no messing around with port-forwarding or dynamic DNS configuration. To get started, just download and run the TeamViewer program on your computer. You can get started with it immediately, but you’ll want to set up unattended access to connect remotely without using the codes displayed on your screen. To connect, just install the TeamViewer mobile app and log in with the details the TeamViewer window displays. TeamViewer also offers software that runs on Mac and Linux, so you can remote-control other types of computers from your tablet. Other Options Microsoft’s Remote Desktop app and TeamViewer aren’t the only options, of course. There are a variety of different apps and services built for this. Splashtop is another fairly popular remote desktop solution that some people report as being faster. Unfortunately, it’s not entirely free — the iPad and iPhone app costs $20 at regular price. To use it over the Internet, you’ll have to purchase an additional “Anywhere Access Pack.” If you’re frustrated with TeamViewer’s speed and you don’t mind spending money, you may want to try Splashtop instead. As always, you could use any VNC server along with a VNC client app. VNC is the do-it-yourself solution — it’s an open protocol. Unlike Microsoft’s RDP protocol, you can install a VNC server of your own, configure it how you like, and use any mobile VNC client app. This is more flexible because you can install a VNC server on any edition of Windows or even non-Windows operating systems, but it otherwise has all the same issues — you have to worry about port-forwarding, setting up dynamic DNS, and securing your VNC server. Keep an eye on Chrome Remote Desktop. Chrome already offers a built-in remote desktop feature that allows you to remotely control your PC from another Windows, Mac, Linux, or Chrome OS device. Google is rumored to be building an Android app for Chrome Remote Desktop, which would allow you to easily access a computer running Chrome from Android tablets. Google’s solution is much more user-friendly for average people than Microsoft’s Remote Desktop solution, which is clearly geared towards businesses. Chrome Remote Desktop just requires signing in with a Google account. Remote desktop solutions like Microsoft’s Remote Desktop app and TeamViewer are also available for Windows tablets. On Windows RT devices like the Surface RT and Surface 2, they allow you to use the full Windows desktop that’s unavailable on your tablet.     

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  • Refreshing Your PC Won’t Help: Why Bloatware is Still a Problem on Windows 8

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Bloatware is still a big problem on new Windows 8 and 8.1 PCs. Some websites will tell you that you can easily get rid of manufacturer-installed bloatware with Windows 8′s Reset feature, but they’re generally wrong. This junk software often turns the process of powering on your new PC from what could be a delightful experience into a tedious slog, forcing you to spend hours cleaning up your new PC before you can enjoy it. Why Refreshing Your PC (Probably) Won’t Help Manufacturers install software along with Windows on their new PCs. In addition to hardware drivers that allow the PC’s hardware to work properly, they install more questionable things like trial antivirus software and other nagware. Much of this software runs at boot, cluttering the system tray and slowing down boot times, often dramatically. Software companies pay computer manufacturers to include this stuff. It’s installed to make the PC manufacturer money at the cost of making the Windows computer worse for actual users. Windows 8 includes “Refresh Your PC” and “Reset Your PC” features that allow Windows users to quickly get their computers back to a fresh state. It’s essentially a quick, streamlined way of reinstalling Windows.  If you install Windows 8 or 8.1 yourself, the Refresh operation will give your PC a clean Windows system without any additional third-party software. However, Microsoft allows computer manufacturers to customize their Refresh images. In other words, most computer manufacturers will build their drivers, bloatware, and other system customizations into the Refresh image. When you Refresh your computer, you’ll just get back to the factory-provided system complete with bloatware. It’s possible that some computer manufacturers aren’t building bloatware into their refresh images in this way. It’s also possible that, when Windows 8 came out, some computer manufacturer didn’t realize they could do this and that refreshing a new PC would strip the bloatware. However, on most Windows 8 and 8.1 PCs, you’ll probably see bloatware come back when you refresh your PC. It’s easy to understand how PC manufacturers do this. You can create your own Refresh images on Windows 8 and 8.1 with just a simple command, replacing Microsoft’s image with a customized one. Manufacturers can install their own refresh images in the same way. Microsoft doesn’t lock down the Refresh feature. Desktop Bloatware is Still Around, Even on Tablets! Not only is typical Windows desktop bloatware not gone, it has tagged along with Windows as it moves to new form factors. Every Windows tablet currently on the market — aside from Microsoft’s own Surface and Surface 2 tablets — runs on a standard Intel x86 chip. This means that every Windows 8 and 8.1 tablet you see in stores has a full desktop with the capability to run desktop software. Even if that tablet doesn’t come with a keyboard, it’s likely that the manufacturer has preinstalled bloatware on the tablet’s desktop. Yes, that means that your Windows tablet will be slower to boot and have less memory because junk and nagging software will be on its desktop and in its system tray. Microsoft considers tablets to be PCs, and PC manufacturers love installing their bloatware. If you pick up a Windows tablet, don’t be surprised if you have to deal with desktop bloatware on it. Microsoft Surfaces and Signature PCs Microsoft is now selling their own Surface PCs that they built themselves — they’re now a “devices and services” company after all, not a software company. One of the nice things about Microsoft’s Surface PCs is that they’re free of the typical bloatware. Microsoft won’t take money from Norton to include nagging software that worsens the experience. If you pick up a Surface device that provides Windows 8.1 and 8 as Microsoft intended it — or install a fresh Windows 8.1 or 8 system — you won’t see any bloatware. Microsoft is also continuing their Signature program. New PCs purchased from Microsoft’s official stores are considered “Signature PCs” and don’t have the typical bloatware. For example, the same laptop could be full of bloatware in a traditional computer store and clean, without the nasty bloatware when purchased from a Microsoft Store. Microsoft will also continue to charge you $99 if you want them to remove your computer’s bloatware for you — that’s the more questionable part of the Signature program. Windows 8 App Bloatware is an Improvement There’s a new type of bloatware on new Windows 8 systems, which is thankfully less harmful. This is bloatware in the form of included “Windows 8-style”, “Store-style”, or “Modern” apps in the new, tiled interface. For example, Amazon may pay a computer manufacturer to include the Amazon Kindle app from the Windows Store. (The manufacturer may also just receive a cut of book sales for including it. We’re not sure how the revenue sharing works — but it’s clear PC manufacturers are getting money from Amazon.) The manufacturer will then install the Amazon Kindle app from the Windows Store by default. This included software is technically some amount of clutter, but it doesn’t cause the problems older types of bloatware does. It won’t automatically load and delay your computer’s startup process, clutter your system tray, or take up memory while you’re using your computer. For this reason, a shift to including new-style apps as bloatware is a definite improvement over older styles of bloatware. Unfortunately, this type of bloatware has not replaced traditional desktop bloatware, and new Windows PCs will generally have both. Windows RT is Immune to Typical Bloatware, But… Microsoft’s Windows RT can’t run Microsoft desktop software, so it’s immune to traditional bloatware. Just as you can’t install your own desktop programs on it, the Windows RT device’s manufacturer can’t install their own desktop bloatware. While Windows RT could be an antidote to bloatware, this advantage comes at the cost of being able to install any type of desktop software at all. Windows RT has also seemingly failed — while a variety of manufacturers came out with their own Windows RT devices when Windows 8 was first released, they’ve all since been withdrawn from the market. Manufacturers who created Windows RT devices have criticized it in the media and stated they have no plans to produce any future Windows RT devices. The only Windows RT devices still on the market are Microsoft’s Surface (originally named Surface RT) and Surface 2. Nokia is also coming out with their own Windows RT tablet, but they’re in the process of being purchased by Microsoft. In other words, Windows RT just isn’t a factor when it comes to bloatware — you wouldn’t get a Windows RT device unless you purchased a Surface, but those wouldn’t come with bloatware anyway. Removing Bloatware or Reinstalling Windows 8.1 While bloatware is still a problem on new Windows systems and the Refresh option probably won’t help you, you can still eliminate bloatware in the traditional way. Bloatware can be uninstalled from the Windows Control Panel or with a dedicated removal tool like PC Decrapifier, which tries to automatically uninstall the junk for you. You can also do what Windows geeks have always tended to do with new computers — reinstall Windows 8 or 8.1 from scratch with installation media from Microsoft. You’ll get a clean Windows system and you can install only the hardware drivers and other software you need. Unfortunately, bloatware is still a big problem for Windows PCs. Windows 8 tries to do some things to address bloatware, but it ultimately comes up short. Most Windows PCs sold in most stores to most people will still have the typical bloatware slowing down the boot process, wasting memory, and adding clutter. Image Credit: LG on Flickr, Intel Free Press on Flickr, Wilson Hui on Flickr, Intel Free Press on Flickr, Vernon Chan on Flickr     

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  • HTG Explains: Why is Printer Ink So Expensive?

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Printer ink is expensive, more expensive per drop than fine champagne or even human blood. If you haven’t gone paperless, you’ll notice that you’re paying a lot for new ink cartridges — more than seems reasonable. Purchasing the cheapest inkjet printer and buying official ink cartridge replacements is the most expensive thing you can do. There are ways to save money on ink if you must continue to print documents. Cheap Printers, Expensive Ink Ink jet printers are often very cheap. That’s because they’re sold at cost, or even at a loss — the manufacturer either makes no profit from the printer itself or loses money. The manufacturer will make most of its money from the printer cartridges you buy later. Even if the company does make a bit of money from each printer sold, it makes a much larger profit margin on ink. Rather than selling you a printer that may be rather expensive, they want to sell you a cheap printer and make money on an ongoing basis by providing expensive printer ink. It’s been compared to the razor model — sell a razor cheaply and mark up the razor blades. Rather than making a one-time profit on the razor, you’ll make continuing profit as the customer keeps buying razor blade replacements — or ink, in this case. Many printer manufacturers go out of their way to make it difficult for you to use unofficial ink cartridges, building microchips into their official ink cartridges. If you use an unofficial cartridge or refill an official cartridge, the printer may refuse to use it. Lexmark once argued in court that unofficial microchips that enable third-party ink cartridges would violate their copyright and Lexmark has argued that creating an unofficial microchip to bypass this restriction on third-party ink would violate Lexmark’s copyright and be illegal under the US DMCA. Luckily, they lost this argument. What Printer Companies Say Printer companies have put forth their own arguments in the past, attempting to justify the high cost of official ink cartridges and microchips that block any competition. In a Computer World story from 2010, HP argued that they spend a billion dollars each year on “ink research and development.” They point out that printer ink “must be formulated to withstand heating to 300 degrees, vaporization, and being squirted at 30 miles per hour, at a rate of 36,000 drops per second, through a nozzle one third the size of a human hair. After all that it must dry almost instantly on the paper.” They also argue that printers have become more efficient and use less ink to print, while third-party cartridges are less reliable. Companies that use microchips in their ink cartridges argue that only the microchip has the ability to enforce an expiration date, preventing consumers from using old ink cartridges. There’s something to all these arguments, sure — but they don’t seem to justify the sky-high cost of printer ink or the restriction on using third-party or refilled cartridges. Saving Money on Printing Ultimately, the price of something is what people are willing to pay and printer companies have found that most consumers are willing to pay this much for ink cartridge replacements. Try not to fall for it: Don’t buy the cheapest inkjet printer. Consider your needs when buying a printer and do some research. You’ll save more money in the long run. Consider these basic tips to save money on printing: Buy Refilled Cartridges: Refilled cartridges from third parties are generally much cheaper. Printer companies warn us away from these, but they often work very well. Refill Your Own Cartridges: You can get do-it-yourself kits for refilling your own printer ink cartridges, but this can be messy. Your printer may refuse to accept a refilled cartridge if the cartridge contains a microchip. Switch to a Laser Printer: Laser printers use toner, not ink cartridges. If you print a lot of black and white documents, a laser printer can be cheaper. Buy XL Cartridges: If you are buying official printer ink cartridges, spend more money each time. The cheapest ink cartridges won’t contain much ink at all, while larger “XL” ink cartridges will contain much more ink for only a bit more money. It’s often cheaper to buy in bulk. Avoid Printers With Tri-Color Ink Cartridges: If you’re printing color documents, you’ll want to get a printer that uses separate ink cartridges for all its colors. For example, let’s say your printer has a “Color” cartridge that contains blue, green, and red ink. If you print a lot of blue documents and use up all your blue ink, the Color cartridge will refuse to function — now all you can do is throw away your cartridge and buy a new one, even if the green and red ink chambers are full. If you had a printer with separate color cartridges, you’d just have to replace the blue cartridge. If you’ll be buying official ink cartridges, be sure to compare the cost of cartridges when buying a printer. The cheapest printer may be more expensive in the long run. Of course, you’ll save the most money if you stop printing entirely and go paperless, keeping digital copies of your documents instead of paper ones. Image Credit: Cliva Darra on Flickr     

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  • How to Sync Any Browser’s Bookmarks With Your iPad or iPhone

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Apple makes it easy to synchronize bookmarks between the Safari browser on a Mac and the Safari browser on iOS, but you don’t have to use Safari — or a Mac — to sync your bookmarks back and forth. You can do this with any browser. Whether you’re using Chrome, Firefox, or even Internet Explorer, there’s a way to sync your browser bookmarks so you can access your same bookmarks on your iPad. Safari on a Mac Apple’s iCloud service is the officially supported way to sync data with your iPad or iPhone. It’s included on Macs, but Apple also offers similar iCloud bookmark syncing features for Windows. On a Mac, this should be enabled by default. To check whether it’s enabled, you can launch the System Preferences panel on your Mac, open the iCloud preferences panel, and ensure the Safari option is checked. If you’re using Safari on Windows — well, you shouldn’t be. Apple is no longer updating Safari for Windows. iCloud allows you to synchronize bookmarks between other browsers on your Windows system and Safari on your iOS device, so Safari isn’t necessary. Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome via iCloud To get started, download Apple’s iCloud Control Panel application for Windows and install it. Launch the iCloud Control Panel and log in with the same iCloud account (Apple ID) you use on your iPad or iPhone. You’ll be able to enable Bookmark syncing with Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome. Click the Options button to select the browser you want to synchronize bookmarks with. (Note that bookmarks are called “favorites” in Internet Explorer.) You’ll be able to access your synced bookmarks in the Safari browser on your iPad or iPhone, and they’ll sync back and forth automatically over the Internet. Google Chrome Sync Google Chrome also has its own built-in sync feature and Google provides an official Chrome app for iPad and iPhone. If you’re a Chrome user, you can set up Chrome Sync on your desktop version of Chrome — you should already have this enabled if you have logged into your Chrome browser. You can check if this Chrome Sync is enabled by opening Chrome’s settings screen and seeing whether you’re signed in. Click the Advanced sync settings button and ensure bookmark syncing is enabled. Once you have Chrome Sync set up, you can install the Chrome app from the App Store and sign in with the same Google account. Your bookmarks, as well as other data like your open browser tabs, will automatically sync. This can be a better solution because the Chrome browser is available for so many platforms and you gain the ability to synchronize other browser data, such as your open browser tabs, between your devices. Unfortunately, the Chrome browser is slower than Apple’s own Safari browser on iPad and iPhone because of the way Apple limits third-party browsers, so using it involves a trade-off. Manual Bookmark Sync in iTunes iTunes also allows you to sync bookmarks between your computer and your iPad or iPhone. It does this the old-fashioned way, by initiating a manual sync when your device is plugged in via USB. To access this option, connect your device to your computer, select the device in iTunes, and click the Info tab. This is the more outdated way of synchronizing your bookmarks. This feature may be useful if you want to create a one-time copy of your bookmarks from your PC, but it’s nowhere near ideal for regular syncing. You don’t have to use this feature, just as you really don’t have to use iTunes anymore. In fact, this option is unavailable if you’ve set up iCloud syncing in iTunes. After you set up bookmark syncing via iCloud or Chrome Sync, bookmarks will sync immediately after you save, remove, or edit them.     

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  • 6 Reasons Why You Can’t Move Your Cell Phone To Any Carrier You Want

    - by Chris Hoffman
    You can buy a laptop or Wi-Fi tablet and use it on Wi-Fi anywhere in the world, so why are cell phones and devices with mobile data not portable between different cellular networks in the same country? Unlike with Wi-Fi, there are many different competing cellular network standards — both around the world and within countries. Cellular carriers also like locking you to their specific network and making it difficult to move. That’s what contracts are for. Phone Locking Many phones are sold locked to a specific network. When you buy a phone from a cellular carrier, they often lock that phone to their network so you can’t take it to a competitor’s network. That’s why you’ll often need to unlock a phone before you can move it to a different cellular provider or take it to a different country and use it on a local provider instead of roaming. Cellular carriers will generally unlock your phone for you as long as you’re no longer in a contract with them. However, unlocking a cell phone you’ve paid for without your carrier’s permission is currently a crime in the USA. GSM vs. CDMA Some cellular networks use the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) standard, while some use CDMA (Code-division multiple access). Worldwide, most cellular networks use GSM. In the USA, both GSM and CDMA are popular. Verizon, Sprint, and other carriers that use their networks use CDMA. AT&T, T-Mobile, and other carriers that use their networks are use GSM. These are two competing standards and are not interoperable. This means you can’t simply take a phone from Verizon to T-Mobile, or from AT&T to Sprint. These carriers have incompatible phones. CDMA Restrictions CDMA is more restricted than GSM. GSM phones have SIM cards. Simply open the phone, pop out the SIM card, and pop in a new SIM card to switch carriers. (In reality, it’s more complicated thanks to phone locking and other factors here.) CDMA phones don’t have removable modules like this. All CDMA phones ship locked to a specific network and you’d have to get both your old carrier and your new carrier to cooperate to switch phones between them. In reality, many people just consider CDMA phones eternally locked to a specific carrier. Frequencies Different cellular networks throughout the USA and the rest of the world use different frequencies. These radio frequencies have to be supported by your phone’s hardware or your phone simply can’t work on a network using those frequencies. Many GSM phones support three or four bands of frequencies — 900/1800/1900 MHz, 850/1800/1900 MHz, or 850/900/1800/1900 MHz. These are sometimes called “world phones” because they allow easier roaming. This allows the manufacturer to produce a phone that will support all GSM networks in the world and allows their customers to travel with those phones. If your phone doesn’t support the appropriate frequencies, it won’t work on certain networks. LTE Bands When it comes to newer, faster LTE networks, different frequencies are still a concern. LTE frequencies are generally known as “LTE bands.” To use a smartphone on a certain LTE network, that smartphone will have to support that LTE network’s frequency. Different models of phones are often created to work on different LTE networks around the world. However, phones are generally supporting more and more LTE networks and becoming more and more interoperable over time. SIM Card Sizes The SIM cards used in GSM phones come in different sizes. Newer phones use smaller SIM cards to save space and be more compact. This isn’t a big obstacle, as the different sizes of SIM cards — full-size SIM, mini-SIM, micro-SIM, and nano-SIM are actually compatible. The only difference between them is the size of the plastic card surrounding the SIM’s chip. The actual chip is the same size between all the SIM cards. This means you can take an old SIM card and cut the plastic off until it becomes a smaller-size SIM card that fits in a modern phone. Or, you can take a smaller-size SIM card and insert it into a tray so that it becomes a larger-size SIM card that fits in an older phone. Be aware that it’s very possible to damage your SIM card and make it not work properly by cutting it to the wrong dimensions. Your cellular carrier will often be able to cut your SIM card for you or give you a new one if you want to use an old SIM card in a new phone. Hopefully they won’t overcharge you for this service, too. Be sure to check what types of networks, frequencies, and LTE bands your phone supports before trying to move it between networks. You may have to buy a new phone when moving between certain cellular carriers. Image Credit: Morgan on Flickr, 22n on Flickr

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  • Not All “Viruses” Are Viruses: 10 Malware Terms Explained

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Most people seem to call every type of malware a “virus”, but that isn’t technically accurate. You’ve probably heard of many more terms beyond virus: malware, worm, Trojan, rootkit, keylogger, spyware, and more. But what do all these terms mean? These terms aren’t just used by geeks. They make their way into even mainstream news stories about the latest web security problems and tech scares. Understanding them will help you understand the dangers your\ hear about. Malware The word “malware” is short for “malicious software.” Many people use the word “virus” to indicate any type of harmful software, but a virus is actually just a specific type of malware. The word “malware” encompasses all harmful software, including all the ones listed below. Virus Let’s start with viruses. A virus is a type of malware that copies itself by infecting other files,  just as viruses in the real world infect biological cells and use those biological cells to reproduce copies of themselves. A virus can do many different things — watch in the background and steal your passwords, display advertisements, or just crash your computer — but the key thing that makes it a virus is how it spreads. When you run a virus, it will infect programs on your computer. When you run the program on another computer, the virus will infect programs on that computer, and so on. For example, a virus might infect program files on a USB stick. When the programs on that USB stick are run on another computer, the virus runs on the other computer and infects more program files. The virus will continue to spread in this way. Worm A worm is similar to a virus, but it spreads a different way. Rather than infecting files and relying on human activity to move those files around and run them on different systems, a worm spreads over computer networks on its own accord. For example, the Blaster and Sasser worms spread very quickly in the days of Windows XP because Windows XP did not come properly secured and exposed system services to the Internet. The worm accessed these system services over the Internet, exploited a vulnerability, and infected the computer. The worm then used the new infected computer to continue replicating itself. Such worms are less common now that Windows is properly firewalled by default, but worms can also spread in other ways — for example, by mass-emailing themselves to every email address in an effected user’s address book. Like a virus, a worm can do any number of other harmful things once it infects a computer. The key thing that makes it a worm is simply how it spreads copies of itself. Trojan (or Trojan Horse) A Trojan horse, or Trojan, is a type of malware that disguises itself as a legitimate file. When you download and run the program, the Trojan horse will run in the background, allowing third-parties to access your computer. Trojans can do this for any number of reasons — to monitor activity on your computer, to join your computer to a botnet. Trojans may also be used to open the floodgates and download many other types of malware onto your computer. The key thing that makes this type of malware a Trojan is how it arrives. It pretends to be a useful program and, when run, it hides in the background and gives malicious people access to your computer. It isn’t obsessed with copying itself into other files or spreading over the network, as viruses and worms are. For example, a piece of pirated software on an unscrupulous website may actually contain a Trojan. Spyware Spyware is a type of malicious software that spies on you without your knowledge. It collects a variety of different types of data, depending on the piece of spyware. Different types of malware can function as spyware — there may be malicious spyware included in Trojans that spies on your keystrokes to steal financial data, for example. More “legitimate” spyware may be bundled along with free software and simply monitor your web browsing habits, uploading this data to advertising servers so the software’s creator can make money from selling their knowledge of your activities. Adware Adware often comes along with spyware. It’s any type of software that displays advertising on your computer. Programs that display advertisements inside the program itself aren’t generally classified as malware. The kind of “adware” that’s particularly malicious is the kind that abuses its access to your system to display ads when it shouldn’t. For example, a piece of harmful adware may cause pop-up advertisements to appear on your computer when you’re not doing anything else. Or, adware may inject additional advertising into other web pages as you browse the web. Adware is often combined with spyware — a piece of malware may monitor your browsing habits and use them to serve you more targeted ads. Adware is more “socially acceptable” than other types of malware on Windows and you may see adware bundled with legitimate programs. For example, some people consider the Ask Toolbar included with Oracle’s Java software adware. Keylogger A keylogger is a type of malware that runs in the background, recording every key stroke you make. These keystrokes can include usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data. The keylogger then, most likely, uploads these keystrokes to a malicious server, where it can be analyzed and people can pick out the useful passwords and credit card numbers. Other types of malware can act as keyloggers. A virus, worm, or Trojan may function as a keylogger, for example. Keyloggers may also be installed for monitoring purposes by businesses or even jealous spouses. Botnet, Bot A botnet is a large network of computers that are under the botnet creator’s control. Each computer functions as a “bot” because it’s infected with a specific piece of malware. Once the bot software infects the computer, ir will connect to some sort of control server and wait for instructions from the botnet’s creator. For example, a botnet may be used to initiate a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack. Every computer in the botnet will be told to bombard a specific website or server with requests at once, and such millions or requests can cause a server to become unresponsive or crash. Botnet creators may sell access to their botnets, allowing other malicious individuals to use large botnets to do their dirty work. Rootkit A rootkit is a type of malware designed to burrow deep into your computer, avoiding detection by security programs and users. For example, a rootkit might load before most of Windows, burying itself deep into the system and modifying system functions so that security programs can’t detect it. A rootkit might hide itself completely, preventing itself from showing up in the Windows task manager. The key thing that makes a type of malware a rootkit is that it’s stealthy and focused on hiding itself once it arrives. Ransomware Ransomware is a fairly new type of malware. It holds your computer or files hostage and demands a ransom payment. Some ransomware may simply pop up a box asking for money before you can continue using your computer. Such prompts are easily defeated with antivirus software. More harmful malware like CryptoLocker literally encrypts your files and demands a payment before you can access them. Such types of malware are dangerous, especially if you don’t have backups. Most malware these days is produced for profit, and ransomware is a good example of that. Ransomware doesn’t want to crash your computer and delete your files just to cause you trouble. It wants to take something hostage and get a quick payment from you. So why is it called “antivirus software,” anyway? Well, most people continue to consider the word “virus” synonymous with malware as a whole. Antivirus software doesn’t just protect against viruses, but against all types of malware. It may be more accurately referred to as “antimalware” or “security” software. Image Credit: Marcelo Alves on Flickr, Tama Leaver on Flickr, Szilard Mihaly on Flickr     

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  • Amazon’s New Kindle Fire Tablet: the How-To Geek Review

    - by The Geek
    We got our Kindle Fire a few days ago, and since then we’ve been poking, prodding, and generally trying to figure out how to break it. Before you go out and buy your own, check out our in-depth review. Note: This review is extremely long, so we’ve split it up between multiple pages. You can use the navigation links or buttons at the bottom to flip between pages. Amazon’s New Kindle Fire Tablet: the How-To Geek Review HTG Explains: How Hackers Take Over Web Sites with SQL Injection / DDoS Use Your Android Phone to Comparison Shop: 4 Scanner Apps Reviewed

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  • 10 Great Free Icon Packs To Theme Your Android Phone

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Android allows you to customize your home screen, adding widgets, arranging shortcuts and folders, choosing a background, and even replacing the included launcher entirely. You can install icon packs to theme your app icons, too. Third-party launchers use standard app icons by default, but they don’t have to. You can install icon packs that third-party launchers will use in place of standard app icons. How to Use Icon Packs To use icon packs, you’ll need to use a third-party launcher that supports them, such as Nova, Apex, ADW, Go Launcher, Holo Launcher, or Action Launcher Pro. Once you’re using a third-party launcher, you can install an icon pack and go into your launcher’s settings. You’ll find an option that allows you to choose between the icon packs you’ve installed. Many of these icon packs also include wallpapers, which you can set in the normal way. MIUI 5 Icons This icon pack offers over 1900 free icons that are similar to the icons used by the MIUi ROM developed by China’s Xiaomi Tech. The large list of icons is a big plus — this pack will give the majority of your app icons a very slick, consistent look. DCikonZ Theme DCikonZ is a free icon theme that includes a whopping 4000+ icons with a consistent look. This icon theme stands out not just because it’s huge, but also for offering for going in its own direction and avoiding the super-simple, flat look many icon packs use. Holo Icons Holo Icons replaces many app icons with simple, consistent-looking that match Google’s Holo style. If you’re a fan of Android’s Holo look, give it a try. It even tweaks many of the icons from Google’s own apps to make them look more consistent. Square Icon Pack Square Icon Pack turns your icons into simple squares. Even Google Chrome becomes an orb instead of a square. This makes every icon a consistent size and offers a unique look. The icons here almost look a bit like the small-size tiles available on Windows Phone and Windows 8.1. The free version doesn’t offer as many icons as the paid version, but it does offer icons for many popular apps. Rounded Want rounded icons instead? Try the Rounded icon theme, which offers simple rounded icons. The developer says they’re inspired by the consistently round icons used on Mozilla’s Firefox OS. Crumbled Icon Pack Crumbled Icon Pack applies an effect that makes icons look as if they’r crumbling. Rather than theming individual icons, Crumbled Icon Pack adds an effect to every app icon on your device. This means that all your app icons will be themed and consistent. Dainty Icon Pack Is your Android home screen too colorful? Dainty Icon Pack offers simple, gray-on-white icons for over 1200 apps. It’d be ideal over a simple background. The contrast may be a bit low here with the gray-on-white, but it’s otherwise very slick. Simplex Icons Simplex Icons offers more contrast, with black-on-gray icons. This icon pack could simplify busy home screens, allowing photographic wallpapers to come through. Min Icon Set Min attempts to go as minimal as possible, offering simple white icons for over 570 apps. It would be ideal over a simple wallpaper with app names hidden in your launcher, offering a calming, minimal home screen. For apps it doesn’t recognize, it will enclose part of the app’s icon in a white circle. Elegance Elegance goes in another direction entirely, offering icons that incorporate more details and gradients rather than going for minimalism. Its over 1200 icons offer another good option for people who aren’t into the minimal, flat look. Icon pack designers generally have to create and include their own icons to replace icons associated with specific apps, so you’ll probably find a few of your app icons aren’t replaced with most of these themes. Of course, a standard Android phone without an icon pack doesn’t have consistent icons, either. Even if all the icons in your app drawer aren’t themed, the few app icons you have on your home screen will be if you use widely used apps.     

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  • HTG Explains: Understanding Routers, Switches, and Network Hardware

    - by Jason Fitzpatrick
    Today we’re taking a look at the home networking hardware: what the individual pieces do, when you need them, and how best to deploy them. Read on to get a clearer picture of what you need to optimize your home network. When do you need a switch? A hub? What exactly does a router do? Do you need a router if you have a single computer? Network technology can be quite an arcane area of study but armed with the right terms and a general overview of how devices function on your home network you can deploy your network with confidence. HTG Explains: Understanding Routers, Switches, and Network Hardware How to Use Offline Files in Windows to Cache Your Networked Files Offline How to See What Web Sites Your Computer is Secretly Connecting To

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  • Windows 8.1 Will Start Encrypting Hard Drives By Default: Everything You Need to Know

    - by Chris Hoffman
    Windows 8.1 will automatically encrypt the storage on modern Windows PCs. This will help protect your files in case someone steals your laptop and tries to get at them, but it has important ramifications for data recovery. Previously, “BitLocker” was available on Professional and Enterprise editions of Windows, while “Device Encryption” was available on Windows RT and Windows Phone. Device encryption is included with all editions of Windows 8.1 — and it’s on by default. When Your Hard Drive Will Be Encrypted Windows 8.1 includes “Pervasive Device Encryption.” This works a bit differently from the standard BitLocker feature that has been included in Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions of Windows for the past few versions. Before Windows 8.1 automatically enables Device Encryption, the following must be true: The Windows device “must support connected standby and meet the Windows Hardware Certification Kit (HCK) requirements for TPM and SecureBoot on ConnectedStandby systems.”  (Source) Older Windows PCs won’t support this feature, while new Windows 8.1 devices you pick up will have this feature enabled by default. When Windows 8.1 installs cleanly and the computer is prepared, device encryption is “initialized” on the system drive and other internal drives. Windows uses a clear key at this point, which is removed later when the recovery key is successfully backed up. The PC’s user must log in with a Microsoft account with administrator privileges or join the PC to a domain. If a Microsoft account is used, a recovery key will be backed up to Microsoft’s servers and encryption will be enabled. If a domain account is used, a recovery key will be backed up to Active Directory Domain Services and encryption will be enabled. If you have an older Windows computer that you’ve upgraded to Windows 8.1, it may not support Device Encryption. If you log in with a local user account, Device Encryption won’t be enabled. If you upgrade your Windows 8 device to Windows 8.1, you’ll need to enable device encryption, as it’s off by default when upgrading. Recovering An Encrypted Hard Drive Device encryption means that a thief can’t just pick up your laptop, insert a Linux live CD or Windows installer disc, and boot the alternate operating system to view your files without knowing your Windows password. It means that no one can just pull the hard drive from your device, connect the hard drive to another computer, and view the files. We’ve previously explained that your Windows password doesn’t actually secure your files. With Windows 8.1, average Windows users will finally be protected with encryption by default. However, there’s a problem — if you forget your password and are unable to log in, you’d also be unable to recover your files. This is likely why encryption is only enabled when a user logs in with a Microsoft account (or connects to a domain). Microsoft holds a recovery key, so you can gain access to your files by going through a recovery process. As long as you’re able to authenticate using your Microsoft account credentials — for example, by receiving an SMS message on the cell phone number connected to your Microsoft account — you’ll be able to recover your encrypted data. With Windows 8.1, it’s more important than ever to configure your Microsoft account’s security settings and recovery methods so you’ll be able to recover your files if you ever get locked out of your Microsoft account. Microsoft does hold the recovery key and would be capable of providing it to law enforcement if it was requested, which is certainly a legitimate concern in the age of PRISM. However, this encryption still provides protection from thieves picking up your hard drive and digging through your personal or business files. If you’re worried about a government or a determined thief who’s capable of gaining access to your Microsoft account, you’ll want to encrypt your hard drive with software that doesn’t upload a copy of your recovery key to the Internet, such as TrueCrypt. How to Disable Device Encryption There should be no real reason to disable device encryption. If nothing else, it’s a useful feature that will hopefully protect sensitive data in the real world where people — and even businesses — don’t enable encryption on their own. As encryption is only enabled on devices with the appropriate hardware and will be enabled by default, Microsoft has hopefully ensured that users won’t see noticeable slow-downs in performance. Encryption adds some overhead, but the overhead can hopefully be handled by dedicated hardware. If you’d like to enable a different encryption solution or just disable encryption entirely, you can control this yourself. To do so, open the PC settings app — swipe in from the right edge of the screen or press Windows Key + C, click the Settings icon, and select Change PC settings. Navigate to PC and devices -> PC info. At the bottom of the PC info pane, you’ll see a Device Encryption section. Select Turn Off if you want to disable device encryption, or select Turn On if you want to enable it — users upgrading from Windows 8 will have to enable it manually in this way. Note that Device Encryption can’t be disabled on Windows RT devices, such as Microsoft’s Surface RT and Surface 2. If you don’t see the Device Encryption section in this window, you’re likely using an older device that doesn’t meet the requirements and thus doesn’t support Device Encryption. For example, our Windows 8.1 virtual machine doesn’t offer Device Encryption configuration options. This is the new normal for Windows PCs, tablets, and devices in general. Where files on typical PCs were once ripe for easy access by thieves, Windows PCs are now encrypted by default and recovery keys are sent to Microsoft’s servers for safe keeping. This last part may be a bit creepy, but it’s easy to imagine average users forgetting their passwords — they’d be very upset if they lost all their files because they had to reset their passwords. It’s also an improvement over Windows PCs being completely unprotected by default.     

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  • HTG Explains: Are You Using IPv6 Yet? Should You Even Care?

    - by Chris Hoffman
    IPv6 is extremely important for the long-term health of the Internet. But is your Internet service provider providing IPv6 connectivity yet? Does your home network support it? Should you even care if you’re using IPv6 yet? Switching from IPv4 to IPv6 will give the Internet a much larger pool of IP addresses. It should also allow every device to have its own public IP address, rather than be hidden behind a NAT router. IPv6 is Important Long-Term IPv6 is very important for the long-term health of the Internet. There are only about 3.7 billion public IPv4 addresses. This may sound like a lot, but it isn’t even one IP address for each person on the planet. Considering people have more and more Internet-connected devices — everything from light bulbs to thermostats are starting to become network-connected — the lack of IP addresses is already proving to be a serious problem. This may not affect those of us in well-off developed countries just yet, but developing countries are already running out of IPv4 addresses. So, if you work at an Internet service provider, manage Internet-connected servers, or develop software or hardware — yes, you should care about IPv6! You should be deploying it and ensuring your software and hardware works properly with it. It’s important to prepare for the future before the current IPv4 situation becomes completely unworkable. But, if you’re just typical user or even a typical geek with a home Internet connection and a home network, should you really care about your home network just yet? Probably not. What You Need to Use IPv6 To use IPv6, you’ll need three things: An IPv6-Compatible Operating System: Your operating system’s software must be capable of using IPv6. All modern desktop operating systems should be compatible — Windows Vista and newer versions of Windows, as well as modern versions of Mac OS X and Linux. Windows XP doesn’t have IPv6 support installed by default, but you shouldn’t be using Windows XP anymore, anyway. A Router With IPv6 Support: Many — maybe even most — consumer routers in the wild don’t support IPv6. Check your router’s specifications details to see if it supports IPv6 if you’re curious. If you’re going to buy a new router, you’ll probably want to get one with IPv6 support to future-proof yourself. If you don’t have an IPv6-enabled router yet, you don’t need to buy a new one just to get it. An ISP With IPv6 Enabled:  Your Internet service provider must also have IPv6 set up on their end. Even if you have modern software and hardware on your end, your ISP has to provide an IPv6 connection for you to use it. IPv6 is rolling out steadily, but slowly — there’s a good chance your ISP hasn’t enabled it for you yet. How to Tell If You’re Using IPv6 The easiest way to tell if you have IPv6 connectivity is to visit a website like testmyipv6.com. This website allows you to connect to it in different ways — click the links near the top to see if you can connect to the website via different types of connections. If you can’t connect via IPv6, it’s either because your operating system is too old (unlikely), your router doesn’t support IPv6 (very possible), or because your ISP hasn’t enabled it for you yet (very likely). Now What? If you can connect to the test website above via IPv6, congratulations! Everything is working as it should. Your ISP is doing a good job of rolling out IPv6 rather than dragging its feet. There’s a good chance you won’t have IPv6 working properly, however. So what should you do about this — should you head to Amazon and buy a new IPv6-enabled router or switch to an ISP that offers IPv6? Should you use a “tunnel broker,” as the test site recommends, to tunnel into IPv6 via your IPv4 connection? Well, probably not. Typical users shouldn’t have to worry about this yet. Connecting to the Internet via IPv6 shouldn’t be perceptibly faster, for example. It’s important for operating system vendors, hardware companies, and Internet service providers to prepare for the future and get IPv6 working, but you don’t need to worry about this on your home network. IPv6 is all about future-proofing. You shouldn’t be racing to implement this at home yet or worrying about it too much — but, when you need to buy a new router, try to buy one that supports IPv6. Image Credit: Adobe of Chaos on Flickr, hisperati on Flickr, Vox Efx on Flickr     

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