Must-Have Downloads From Hassle-Free PC

Find Product Keys for Installed Software

As part of my recent migration to a new PC, I needed to find the product keys for various programs I was planning to reinstall. Easier said than done. (When, when will I organize this disaster area of a home office?)

Fortunately, I found a sweet utility that saved me hours of rummaging through boxes. Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder quickly and efficiently finds the product keys for installed programs, then lets you print them for safekeeping.

It's compatible with all versions of Windows and can dig up the keys for your operating system, Office apps, and various other programs. On my machine it found keys not just for Windows XP and Office 2003, but also for Command and Conquer: Generals (best RTS game ever, if you want my opinion).

Keyfinder is fast, free, and incredibly handy. It doesn't even require installation. I recommend it not just for those migrating to new PCs, but for anyone who wants to keep a hardcopy of important product keys.

Find and Remove Duplicate Photos

Just as duplicate songs somehow find their way into music libraries, so do duplicate photos seem to crop up in photo collections. I think the most common culprit is human error, like when you forgetfully download the same batch of photos from your camera.

Whatever the cause, duplicates sure are a nuisance. Fortunately, there's a great freeware utility that can find and remove them for you: VisiPics.

Start by selecting one or more drives and/or folders for VisiPics to scan. Then, set the Filter slider to Strict, Basic, Loose, or somewhere in between. That determines how hard the program will look for differences in your photos.

You see, VisiPics doesn't just look for duplicate filenames--it actually examines the contents of each photo and looks for similarities. The results are presented in a column on the left side of the VisiPics window; just mouse over any given photo and its duplicate(s) to see a preview. To mark a duplicate for deletion, click it. (The program can also move duplicates to a separate folder in case you'd rather not delete them.)

I turned VisiPics loose on my My Pictures folder, which contains over 4,000 photos. It took about 40 minutes to complete its scan, but it did an amazing job. I definitely recommend this handy app for anyone with a large photo library.

Remove Duplicate Outlook Records

The longer you use Microsoft Office, the more likely it is that duplicate records will creep into your calendar, contact list, and so on. Who knows why these things happen (I'm looking at you, ActiveSync), but they do.

Fortunately, there's a fairly painless way to purge those copycat records. Outlook Duplicate Items Remover, or ODIR for short, eliminates duplicate contacts, calendar entries, tasks, notes, and e-mail folders.

After installing the free program, fire up Outlook and look for the newly added ODIR menu. Click it, then choose Remove Duplicate Items. Select the folder you want ODIR to scan; it'll find duplicates and relocate them to a subfolder (without actually deleting anything, so you're safe against accidental matches).

I've used this tool many times; it's fast, simple, and effective. ODIR is compatible with Outlook 2000 and later.

Why You Need a Password Manager

Passwords are as much a part of everyday computing as e-mail and word processing. But most people I know are terrible about managing passwords. Either they can't remember them, they make poor choices when choosing them, or they've got so many in circulation, they can't keep them all straight. Sometimes it's a combination of all three.

That's why it's crucial to install and use a password manager. These programs are designed to store all kinds of critical information: passwords, credit cards, Social Security numbers, software registrations, and so on. Once you've entered your data, you need to remember only one password: the one that unlocks the program.

I use my password manager almost daily. When I buy something online, I don't have to run upstairs to find my wallet--I just copy and paste the number out of the password manager. Likewise, if I can't remember the password I chose for, say, a photo-sharing site I signed up for three months ago, I don't have to go through the "forgot password" process--I just fire up the program.

I won't say which password manager I use, because it's years out of date and I'm in the process of migrating to a new one. I will say there are countless commercial programs to choose from and a handful of freebies. In the latter category, KeePass is a popular choice, offering robust features like password generation and auto-fill (it automatically inserts passwords where necessary). It even comes in a portable version for USB drives.

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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