57 Amazing Things You Didn't Know Your Tech Could Do!
Transform Any XP Netbook Into an E-Book Reader
Among e-readers, the Kindle attracts the most attention due to its connection to Amazon for content and its easy-on-the-eyes E-Ink screen. But if you're already packing an XP-based netbook in a purse or briefcase, you can get much of the same functionality without carrying another device.
You'll need e-books (whose sales are forecast to surge in 2010) and an e-reader application to get started. Amazon's digital titles are readable only on the Kindle and on Apple's iPhone; and at some other stores the types of electronic books can be limited. eBooks.com and the newly launched Shortcovers.com, however, sell many current titles, their selections similar to those you'd find in an actual bookstore or sold digitally on Amazon.
Project Gutenberg lists heaps of free public-domain classics. The titles are distributed in several unprotected formats, including PDF, HTML, and plain text. After you download a book, you can read it in a Web browser, Acrobat Reader, a text editor, or any other reading application you already have.
Now wouldn't it be great if you could thumb through the pages vertically instead of scanning a squat, horizontal screen? You can. If your netbook has the Intel GMA Driver for Mobile Control Panel (most do), click the Display Settings tab, check Enable Rotation, and click the 270° radio button. Click Apply. Depending on your system, you might be able to press Ctrl-Alt-Right Arrow or Ctrl-Alt-Up Arrow to toggle between the normal and rotated orientations.
If your machine doesn't have that video control panel or your key commands aren't working correctly--mine didn't on an Acer Aspire One--download EeeRotate. This free tool lets you easily toggle between the portrait and landscape orientations, using the same key commands noted above.
If you prefer not to hold the hardware while reading, you can have your PC read aloud books, poems, or stories saved as PDF files, via the free Adobe Reader software. Just open a PDF file in Reader and choose the read-aloud function under the View menu. The voice is a bit mechanical and it occasionally stumbles over less common words; you're limited to material in the public domain, too. It's pretty effective, nonetheless.
Run Mac OS X on Your Netbook
The upside is that you get a trendy OS X netbook that's perfect for Web browsing, light e-mail, and other simple, portable tasks. The downside? Certain hardware features might not work, the installation process ranges from annoying to harrowing, and by making the switch you could possibly void your warranty. Plus, you're wading into legal and ethical issues.
Accepting Apple's EULA (end-user license agreement) means that you agree to use OS X only on Mac hardware. You break that agreement as soon as you install Apple's software on a non-Apple netbook.
Additionally, many of the netbook installation methods discussed on the Internet rely on a pirated, hacked version of Apple's OS with updated hardware drivers. It's illegal to download OS X for this project--so don't do it. Also, you should be uncomfortable with the potential for hidden surprises lurking within pirated software. What's to stop a nefarious hacker from inserting code to log your passwords?
Using the Apple disc and a little minor trickery, I was able to get my legally purchased copy of OS X to run on a Dell Mini 9 netbook whose original OS was Ubuntu Linux. The general process of getting OS X to run on a PC (explained in detail at Gizmodo) relies on a bootloader disc or USB drive. The bootloader primes the system to recognize the OS X installer, which runs from an external USB or DVD drive.
Depending on your specific netbook, the setup can be finicky. The Dell Mini 9 was the netbook on which I had the most success with the OS X-disc installation--it does okay as long as it has 8GB of memory--while most other netbooks would work only with the pirated download. Even after a successful installation, Wi-Fi, ethernet, audio-in/-out, sleep, and certain other features might not work properly. (You might want, or need, to replace certain netbook parts to enable those features.) For more details, see this hardware-compatibility issues chart.
All told, the process, not to mention the uncertain results, are un-Mac-like. But the lure of forbidden fruit is hard to ignore.
Protect Your PC With a Hard-Drive Password
A user-account password is important for security, but it's useless if your PC is lost or stolen; a thief could just install your hard drive in another PC instead of trying to boot it up under your name. To block access, add a password to the hard disk.
This process is simpler than encrypting the hard disk, but it can't match encryption's level of security. (Encryption scrambles data so that even if a thief gains access, he probably can't make sense of it.) Think of this action as adding another strong lock.
When prompted at boot, press the key to enter your PC's BIOS (often it's Esc or a function key). Your BIOS menus and names will vary, but the process will be similar. On the Phoenix Technologies BIOS found on many PCs, use the arrow keys to navigate to the Security tab. Press down to highlight HDD Password, and press Enter. Type in the password, being sure to remember it or store it in an encrypted password utility--if you lose the password, recovering the data could cost a lot of money.
Follow the on-screen commands to exit and save your changes. Now whenever you start the PC, you'll see a prompt to enter the HDD Password first. If you want to remove the password later, return to the BIOS. Revisit the HDD Password setting, enter the current password, and leave the new-password field blank.
Next: Networking Tricks
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