Quick Fixes and Troubleshooting Tips From Hassle-Free PC

Troubleshoot PC Performance With ProcessScanner

Try this: Press Ctrl-Alt-Del (and then click Task Manager, if you're running Windows Vista), then click the Processes tab. Ever wonder what all those items are? You should, especially if you're trying to troubleshoot a slow or malware-infested system. The list represents every single process that's currently running--good, bad, and potentially dangerous. Of course, you'll be hard-processed to figure out just what all those processes actually are. Enter ProcessScanner, a free utility that scans your PC and gives you a detailed report about each process: how much memory it's using, whether it's a security threat, and so on.

The program pairs with ProcessLibrary.com (where you can type the name of any individual process and get an instant description), tapping the latter's database to present detailed scan results in a browser window.

Upon reviewing the report, you may find apps you want to uninstall to improve performance or even malware that needs to be eradicated. This is definitely a worthwhile tool for any diligent Windows user. I just made it a permanent addition to my utilities arsenal.

A Quick Fix for Slow Internet Access

This morning a neighbor asked me if my Internet access was really, really slow the last couple days. (We subscribe to the same ISP.) I said no, it's been just fine. Then I offered him the same suggestion I offer most folks who complain about connectivity problems: power-cycle your modem and router.

In other words, disconnect the power cords from both, wait about 10 seconds, and then plug them back in. In a minute or two, your network will be up and running again, and your Internet access might be its good old speedy self. I say "might be" because there are loads of other possible culprits for pokey Internet connections.

For example, you might have a spyware problem. Windows' Internet settings might be FUBAR (or at least less than optimal). If you're connecting via a wireless router, there could be range issues (see "How to Troubleshoot Your Home Network" for help with that one).

In most cases, however, it's probably just a router and/or modem in need of rebooting. For the record, my neighbor told me the power-cycling trick worked like a charm. Hmm, maybe I should send him a bill?

Open .docx Files Even if You Don't Have Office 2007

Another version of Microsoft Office, another set of file-compatibility hassles. (No, really, thanks a ton, Microsoft.) Office 2007 brought with it the Docx format, which can't easily be opened by anyone who doesn't also have Office 2007.

Option #1: Install the succinctly named Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for 2007 Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint File Format. It enables older versions of Office to open Office 2007 documents, and it does all the necessary conversion behind the scenes: no input required from you. (Just make sure you've installed the latest service pack for your version of Office, otherwise the Compatibility Pack won't work.)

Option #2: If you're a Firefox user, install the OpenXML Viewer extension, which lets you open Word 2007 files right in your browser with all the formatting and layout preserved. You can't edit the document, but at least you'll be able to view it.

Option #3: Upload the file to Docx Converter. In short order you'll receive an e-mail with a link to converted version of the file.

Boot Faster With Startup Delayer

Think about what would happen at the airport if every plane tried to take off at the same time. Chaos, that's what. And yet that's the situation when a Windows PC boots: Every installed program tries to run itself at virtually the same time. As a result, your once-peppy machine can take 5 or 10 agonizing minutes to start up. What you need is a little air-traffic--make that software-traffic--control.

Enter Startup Delayer, which does exactly what its name suggests: delays startup programs so they don't run until later. The end result: Your PC boots much more quickly.

The utility presents you with a list of all the programs that start when your system does. To set a delay for any of them, just drag it to the white bar at the bottom of the window. You'll see a line representing the program; drag it left or right to decrease or increase the delay. Repeat this for other programs you want to postpone.

For example, if you have iTunes installed, you'll see a startup program called iTunesHelper.exe. Unless you plan to connect your iPod or run iTunes the moment your PC boots, why not delay this applet for four or five minutes? Same goes for things like LightScribe Control Panel and Google Update. Delay those for, say, seven minutes and eight minutes, respectively. Don't mess with programs you don't recognize, which might be integral to system operation, but the devils you know can easily be put off till later.

Startup Delayer is a freebie, and it's the best way I know of to speed up a slow-booting PC. It's a must-have for anyone who installs a lot of software.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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