Here's to a Trouble-Free PC

Keeping your PC out of trouble isn't an easy task. There are so many things trying to get to it--spyware, malware, and viruses, as well as poorly written applications and drivers that knock other drivers out of action.

I wrote "Four Steps to a Trouble-Free PC" recently; in it I cover a few ways to prevent grief. But I didn't have enough room in that column to cover everything I wanted to, so here are some leftover tips.

Inspect Your PC

Secunia is a cool site with lots of ways to examine your system's applications. For one thing, the Secunia Software Inspector digs into your system and takes a look at dozens of programs, including Microsoft updates.

Secunia recently released the beta of the Personal Software Inspector, a hefty package that downloads and runs on your PC. PSI covers in excess of 4000 applications (the Web-based product covers a little over 40).

While the new version appears to find more end-of-life and outdated programs, it also loads when the system boots and runs in my system tray. That's not a great idea. The program is valuable, but I can run it on my own every week or so. I still have it on my system, but I used WinPatrol to stop it from loading on boot.

In my ongoing effort to prevent trouble, every six months I unplug my PC's power cord, crawl under the desk, and check to see if any cables are loose. If I have the time, I also pop the cover and make sure the boards, memory, and internal cables are secure. See "Top Tips for a Cleaner, Faster Computer" for more ideas.

Dig This: Need to look busy? Download the Fake Progress Bar and create a realistic-looking progress bar to plaster on your screen. With any luck, the guy in the cube next to you will believe your PC's tied up.

Get Your Product Key

One day you're going to need to retrieve your product key for any one of a number of Windows programs--say, XP or Vista, or any one of the Microsoft Office suites. The easiest way to save yourself a headache is to grab the latest version of the Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder. The product's free, but it's supported by donations.

Just Delete That Folder

If anyone (like me) suggests you delete a folder, but you're not sure if you should--don't. Instead, rename it or move it to a new folder (mine's cleverly called "Dunno"). If after a week or two everything's still hunky-dory, blow away the folder.

Dig This: My buddy Brad from Atlanta warned me that I could spend hours trying to act like a cargo plane pilot over a drop zone. This game definitely takes dexterity--and more time than I should be spending on this kind of thing.

System Restore Reverts

Windows' System Restore feature isn't perfect, but I find it useful. If I have trouble, I just restore my system to a previous iteration. If that doesn't do any good, or even makes things worse, I can use the "Undo my last restoration" option (most people don't know it's there).

Dig This: Don't go there! That was enough of a warning to ensure I'd ignore Brint K.'s advice and spend an hour with DesktopTD. It's not easy, for sure, but it's great for exercising your synapses. Fair warning, this isn't a shoot-'em-up. You'll have to spend some time reading the instructions and warming up to the strategies.

Internet Connection's Gone Awry

It happens to the best of PCs--something snags the Windows sockets and wrestles them to the ground. There are lots of fixes, some of them covered in a PC World video called "How to Reset Your Net Connection."

My first attack, though, is with WinSock XP Fix, a not-very-elegant tool that restores the necessary Registry entries.

Get Yourself Some Culture

Leo and Lisa: Watch an original play starring Kevin Spacey, made just for the Internet. It's brilliant. (Make sure to click the 2X in the right corner of the frame.)

Women in Art: This is a video you'll watch twice. Afterwards, visit a site that identifies the artworks used in the video. My buddy Doug L. said, "I looked through the list a bit and found there were several sequences on the video by the same artist. Notably four Picassos at the end, three Dalis also near the end, and six Renoirs at 1:40 minutes from the beginning." [Thanks, Doug.]

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.
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