How Not to Shut Down Your Laptop, and Other Tips

Imagine my horror the other day when I saw an otherwise sharp friend of mine shut down his laptop by holding down the power button until the system turned off. Why is that a really bad idea? I'll explain this week--and I'll also tell you about a Web service that could very well save your life.

How Not to Shut Down Your PC

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!" I cried. "Why'd you do that?"

"What? I was just turning off my PC," he replied innocently.

Sometimes I forget that some of the stuff I take for granted isn't common knowledge. So in case you've been committing this same heinous shutdown crime, allow me to enlighten you.

That is not, repeat, not the proper way to shut down a PC. The proper way is to click Start, Shut down. (I know, it's ridiculous that after all these years Microsoft still forces you to use the Start button to end your computing session.) Alternately, you can press--and immediately release!--the power button, which will either shut down your PC or put it in sleep/hibernate mode, depending on how Windows is configured.

The only time you should press and hold the power button is if your computer is locked up and otherwise unresponsive. A five-second press will usually force a "hard" power-off, after which you should wait another five seconds before turning the machine back on. But if you do this all the time, Windows won't be able to perform its necessary shut-down housekeeping stuff, and ultimately you'll muck up the OS.

Learn Your Laptop's Power Settings

My aunt recently told me about a problem with her new laptop: Whenever she'd step away from it for more than a few minutes, she'd close the lid. Upon returning, she'd open the lid, only to be faced with a blank screen and no response from the mouse or keyboard.

Want to know why? The default lid-closing action for most laptops is to put the system in Sleep mode, and Windows is notoriously bad at waking up properly. That's why I advise most laptop users to use Hibernate mode instead, as it's much more reliable when it comes to waking up.

You see, Sleep (aka Standby) puts your system into a low-power, off-like state, allowing you to pick up where you left off after just a few seconds--in theory, anyway. A PC in Standby mode continues to consume battery power, so it's not uncommon to return to a "sleeping" PC to find that it's just plain dead.

Hibernate, however, saves your machine's current state to a temporary hard-drive file, then shuts down completely. When you start it up again, it loads that file and returns you to where you left off--no booting required.

Both ends of the Hibernate process take a little longer than sleep mode (usually 10-20 seconds, in my experience), but you avoid any of the issues that can arise when Windows suddenly loses power. And as noted, Sleep mode is notoriously flaky. If your system refuses to wake up properly, you'll end up losing whatever documents and/or Web pages you had open. Consequently, I recommend using hibernate most of the time.

Dial2Do: Hands-Free E-Mail, Texting, and More

It's a proven fact: Texting while driving is insanely dangerous. Same goes for reading e-mail, updating your Facebook or Twitter status, and so on. Do yourself--and your fellow drivers--a favor and keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road.

Easier said than done, right? Actually, no: If you use Dial2Do, all the aforementioned activities are easily said and done. This amazing service lets you send text messages, listen to e-mail, add appointments to your calendar, and plenty more, all using just your voice.

Start by signing up for a free trial account. Add the special Dial2Do number to your speed dial, then call it when you want to do something. If that something is, say, send a text message to Bill, wait for the prompt and say, "Send a text message to Bill." Wait for the next prompt, then say what you want to say. When you're done, Dial2Do will transcribe your words into text and send them on their SMS way.

You can do likewise with e-mail, though in addition to composing messages, Dial2Do lets you listen to those you've received. It works with a variety of third-party services: You can dictate Facebook/Twitter updates, add appointments to your Google Calendar, send a note to Evernote, listen to local weather, and on and on. All this happens entirely hands-free. Besides safety, there's another perk: If your phone lacks a keyboard, you'll find that dictating text messages is a lot easier than pecking them out on a numeric keypad.

If you haven't tried Dial2Do, you're missing out. The aforementioned free account limits you to creating personal reminders (which are delivered to you via e-mail), but it comes with a 30-day trial for a Pro account. That's what you'll need for all the really cool stuff. Dial2Do Pro costs $4 per month or $40 if you prepay for a year. I typically prefer free stuff, but this is one service worth paying for.

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

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