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Ten awesome Windows tips & tricks


It certainly looks sweet, but we'll see what Microsoft's radically redesigned Windows 8 operating system will offer computer users later this year.
Until then, there's still a lot to learn about your existing Windows PC.
Yes, even if you've been tapping and clicking away on it for years, you've probably only scratched the surface of what it can do. Like our brains, it's estimated we only use about 10 percent of what our tech toys are capable of.
To help bridge the gap, here we offer a number of assorted tips and tricks, shortcuts and other little-known features built into your Windows machine. Some are tied specifically to Windows 7, where indicated, but most are applicable for all versions of Windows released over the past decade.
Get to know shortcuts
If the extent of your shortcuts is CTRL+C for copy and CTRL+V for paste, you're not taking advantage of all Windows has to offer. There are many, many dozens of handy shortcuts to master, including one of my favorites: Windows key + left or right arrow button, which snaps the window to the left or right, so you can see two open windows equally — perfect for multitasking. As a journalist who uses a word processor every day, I've also grown reliant upon "undo" (CTRL+Z) and "redo" (CTRL+Y). By the way, you can even create your own shortcuts to get more done in less time.
Pin those apps
See that taskbar at the bottom of the screen? In Windows 7, you can pin any application, website, file or folder you use a lot, so you can easily click to open it — regardless of what program you might be in. That is, if you use the calculator a lot, simply right mouse click on the app and choose "Pin to Taskbar" and move it wherever you like. This is much faster than clicking on the Start button, selecting All Programs, then Accessories and finally Calculator. For files, such as a Word or PDF document, simply drag to the taskbar and let go. If you have a lot of pins on your taskbar, you can press the Windows key (beside Alt) and a number (e.g. 1 or 2) and the corresponding app will launch from your taskbar.
Jump around
Speaking of those pinned apps on your taskbar, Windows 7 can take advantage of "jumplists" by simply right mouse-clicking on the pinned app and selecting from one of the options. For example, if Internet Explorer is one of your pinned apps, right click to select your most visited websites. If you've got Windows Media Player you can listen to recently played songs. Not all pinned apps offer jumplists, of course, but those that do let you get more done in less time. Experiment to see what's available. Watch this short video to get you started, too.
Need more time?
This is one of my favorites. If you're using Windows or Microsoft Office and you'd like to extend the activation period to the maximum 120 days instead of the usual 30-day period, it's possible if you use Windows Vista and Windows 7 and you're the administrator of the PC. Simply click on the Start button and in the search window, type in cmd and you'll see the Command Prompt at the top of the page. Don't press Enter yet — instead, right-mouse click on the shortcut and select Run as Administrator. Now, after the Command Prompt loads up, type this: slmgr.vbs -rearm and the hit Enter and reboot. That's it.
Stop YELLING at people
Have you ever written an email to someone and when you look up at the screen you realize you accidentally tapped the Caps Lock key? Now it seems like you're YELLING AT SOMEONE IN THE EMAIL? It's happened to most of us — especially those who look at their keyboard while typing instead of the monitor. If you're nodding right now, chances are you've manually deleted everything you wrote in uppercase and wrote it all over again in lowercase. That's a waste of time when you can simply highlight the text in question, hold down the Shift button on the keyboard and tap F3. Doing so will immediately change the case from lower to upper (or vice-versa). Yes, really. Tap a third time to change the highlighted text to Title case, Where The First Letter Of Every Word Is Capitalized. This little-known SHIFT + F3 shortcut will save you time — and frustration — and works in OutlookWordand other Microsoft programs.
Shake it up
Ever glance at your computer monitor and see a cluttered mess of open windows, such as a browser, media player, IM window and word processor? A quick way to close it all and focus on one application is to click and hold your mouse on top of an open pane and give your mouse a shake. Doing this will minimize all your open windows, except for the one you're in. Give your wrist a shake again and they all reappear. Windows calls this "Aero Shake" and it can be a fast way to get rid of the clutter in a snap. Give it a shot. If your version of Windows doesn't have it, you can download it for free here.
Batch rename
Photo takers should get to know the "batch rename" feature in Windows Explorer. Instead of all your images having arbitrary names like IMG_0339.jpg or DSC01121.jpg, you can highlight all your photos in a folder, right mouse-click and select Rename; now type in something relevant to the photos, like Spring Break 2012. And hit Enter. Now, all of those files will be renamed with a number at the end, such as Spring Break 2012 (1).jpg, plus you can quickly see what's inside the photo file by changing from "list" view to "large icons." This batch rename tip can also be used for documents and other media.
Encrypt it
If you share your Windows computer with someone and have a folder or files you want to password-protect, there's an easy way to do it with a built-in encryption tool. First select the folder or file you wish to encrypt, right-click on it and choose Properties. Now click the Advanced button and add a check beside "Encrypt contents to secure data" option. Click Apply and then Ok. To access this file you'll type in your Windows password used to log into your account. If your version of Windows doesn't offer this feature, there's always the free TrueCrypt software.
Get a boost
If you own Windows Vista or Windows 7, a little-known feature called ReadyBoost can give your PC a boost — without having to add more RAM (system memory). Instead, ReadyBoost lets you use a USB flash drive or SD memory card -- which you might already have in your desk drawer -- to improve performance without having to install purchased memory. The flash memory you connect externally serves as an additional memory cache -- meaning the computer can access data quicker on this than on the hard drive. You can choose to allocate part of a USB drive's memory to speed up performance and use the remainder to store files. More information on ReadyBoost is here.
Search me
It might be an obvious one but be sure to use the search window to find what you're looking for — be it a program or file. Simply click the Start button and you'll see a universal search window at the bottom of the pop-up window. Start typing a few letters and Windows will try to guess what you're looking for by showing you matching apps or files near the top of the window (such as typing C and U, and immediately seeing Cute FTP Professional as a selectable option). This simplifies the search process that used to take a while on older versions of Windows.