Five Smart Fixes for Dumb PC Annoyances

Is Windows bugging you about USB devices that aren't even plugged in anymore? Or harassing you with bogus security alerts? Or popping up lots of unnecessary notifications? I have all the fixes--plus a cool, free Clipboard substitute.

Safely Remove External Devices

The Hassle: I disconnected an external USB drive, but I can still see it in Windows Explorer. And every few seconds I get a 'Delayed Write Failed' error message. It's a pain in the neck--and confusing.

The Fix: The case of the phantom flash drive, eh? The Safely Remove Hardware tool (the green arrow in the system tray) is meant to complete any reads or writes and then flush disk buffers on the device. Not using it--and just disconnecting the device--is a game of high-tech Russian roulette that can result in corrupted files.

You probably know the safest way to disconnect such hardware: Click the green arrow icon, highlight the device, and click Stop.

USB Safely Remove, a $20 download, lets you see the device you are disconnecting, so you can avoid accidentally losing your data.
If you're constantly swapping flash drives and other USB external add-ons, you might want some extra help. USB Safely Remove--a handy, $20 program--gives you more ways to handle multiple USB devices. For instance, the tool allows you to stop peripherals via keyboard shortcuts and lets advanced users employ command-line batch files to stop multiple gadgets.

End Windows Security Alert Nags

The Hassle: I update my antivirus program daily, but the red Windows Security Alert still warns that my system is at risk. Why?

The Fix: Windows sometimes wacks out with warnings; the one that you're talking about can appear if you disable a component of your antivirus. As long as you're positive your antivirus program (or firewall, for that matter) is working and updated, zap the Windows alert: Click the pop-up balloon warning to open the Windows Security Center. Choose Recommendations in the Virus Protection panel and check I have an antivirus program that I'll monitor myself.

Stop Yellow Balloon Alerts

The Hassle: When I send anything to my networked printer, Windows XP pops up a yellow confirmation bubble telling me the item printed. How can I turn that annoying option off?

The Fix: In Control Panel, choose Printers and Faxes. Click File, Server Properties, and select the Advanced tab. Near the bottom, uncheck the box for Notify when remote documents are printed. In Vista, follow the same steps, but uncheck Show informational notifications for network printers. (On your network, you may have to right-click the printer involved and click Run as Administrator first.)

Make E-Mail Programs Recognize Web Links

The Hassle: I tried another browser, didn't like it, and uninstalled it. But now that I'm back to using Internet Explorer, none of the links that I click in e-mail or on a Web site work.

The Fix: When you uninstalled the other browser, it didn't restore default rights to Internet Explorer. From the Control Panel, open Internet Options, select Programs, and choose Internet Explorer as the default browser. If the links still don't work, use SetBrowser to reset your browser through brute force.

Note: Despite the warning posted on the creator's site, the SetBrowser program works fine with Firefox.

Quick Tip: Get Your Product Key

One day you might need to retrieve your product key--the CD key--for your Windows installation or for Microsoft Office. Save yourself a headache by running Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder. The utility is free but is supported by donations.

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