15 Things Every PC User Should Know

Think you know tech? If you don't have a handle on every single one of these 15 tech facts, habits, and efficiency tricks, you're not living up to your potential.

1. Don't double-click everything. Windows 101: Double-clicking is how you open items in Windows. It's not how you open links in your Web browser, click buttons in dialog boxes, or do pretty much anything else--and if you reflexively double-click, you might accidentally zip right past something important or submit a form twice. If you don't need this reminder yourself, chances are you know someone who does.

2. Use slashes and backslashes in the appropriate situations. Let's get it straight: / is a slash (or forward slash, if you must), and \ is a backslash. Backslashes are conventionally used for Windows file paths (C:\Program Files\Whatever), while slashes are used for Internet addresses (http://www.pcworld.com/howto.html).

3. Record the exact error message. When your PC crashes, it'll usually try to tell you why it is doing so--albeit with a string of numbers and letters that you won't understand. Write the message down in its entirety (or take a screenshot, if possible) so you can later plug it into Google or give it to your tech support agent. If your PC didn't provide an error message, go to Action Center (in the Control Panel) and see if it shows up under 'View archived messages' or 'View problems to report'.

4. Bring deleted files back from the dead. When you delete a file from your PC or memory card, you're not wiping it off the actual hard drive. Instead, you're simply removing the index information that tells your PC where the file is, at which point the PC is free to treat the part of your disk that contain that file as empty space that it can write something else to. If you've accidentally deleted something, undelete utilities such as Recuva can help you find those files again as long as you haven't already written over that file with something new.

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5. Wipe your hard drive before getting rid of it. Because your PC doesn't immediately get rid of the files you delete, you can't just reformat your hard drive before recycling or selling your old computer--because someone might be able to use an undelete app to recover your sensitive data. We have all kinds of tips for completely erasing an old drive, but the short version is: grab Darik's Boot and Nuke.

Want a totally worthless toolbar added to your browser? No? Then uncheck the box for that option before you install updates.
6. Uncheck the boxes before you install. Lots of helpful apps out there give you the option of installing search toolbars and other add-ons--and some of them are so pushy about being helpful that their installers are configured to install the uninvited extras unless you check a box saying you don't want them. Not only is each add-on another thing that your PC needs to load, but you have no idea what kind of data it could be sending out. They come bundled with the app because they make money for the app developer, not because they're particularly useful. So take a close look at what you're installing before you click Install--and in return, the installer won't change your search engine or install apps you don't need.

7. Beware of viruses living in Office docs. Experienced Microsoft Office users can take advantage of its built-in Visual Basic for Applications support to automate complex tasks with macros. However, malicious coders can use those same tools to design viruses that may interfere with your work and that of your colleagues. By default, Office is set to disable all macros and notify you when a doc you're reading contains them (to toggle this setting, in Word, select Word Options, Trust Center, Trust Center Settings, Macro Settings), so you should already be safe on this score.

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