Tame Firefox, Control Gmail Downloads, Stream Windows Media Center Files to iPhone

This week, instead of answering reader questions about computing annoyances, I'm tackling my own hassles. I'll tell you how I dealt with Mozilla Firefox opening on the wrong monitor, Gmail downloading thousands of emails, and Windows Media Center streaming issues.

Stop Firefox from Opening on the Wrong Monitor

I'm a big fan of using multiple monitors. From a productivity standpoint alone, you can't beat keeping your browser open on one monitor and your e-mail client on another. Or your spreadsheet here and your word processor there. You get the idea.

Most Windows programs are smart enough to remember their last location. In other words, if you move Microsoft Word to monitor #2, that's where it'll appear the next time you run it.

Recently, however, Firefox fell in love with my second monitor and decided to stay there, even though I wanted it on monitor #1 and moved it there repeatedly. (For the record, I'm running Firefox 4 in Windows 7. I'm not sure if the same bug exists with other versions of either.)

Thankfully, there's an easy fix, albeit a strange one. Here's what to do:

  1. Run Firefox.
  2. Click and drag the top edge of the browser down a bit so Firefox becomes "windowed" (as opposed to full-screen).
  3. Move the Firefox window to the monitor where you want it to roost.
  4. Close Firefox.
  5. Run it again. It should appear, windowed, right where you left it.
  6. Now maximize Firefox so it's running full-screen.

That's it! From here on out, the browser should run on your desired monitor.

Stop Gmail From Downloading Too Many Messages to Your E-Mail Client

Recently I helped a family member set up a new PC, which included installing Windows Live Mail 2011 and configuring it for use with her Gmail account. Just one problem: she has something like 75,000 messages in this account, and Live Mail insisted on downloading them all. Needless to say, the program choked on that much mail; it was barely operable.

This is one of the wrinkles associated with using Gmail's otherwise awesome IMAP feature, which effectively turns your mail client into an extension of the mail server. (You can learn more about this in an old Hassle-Free PC, "Use Gmail IMAP with Your Desktop E-Mail Client.") Unfortunately, Live Mail lacks any kind of setting for limiting the number of messages it downloads; with IMAP, it's all or nothing.

Fortunately, Gmail offers a way to close the spigot, so to speak. All it takes is a quick trip to the control panel:

  1. Open your browser and connect to your Gmail account.
  2. Click the little gear icon in the top-right corner, then click Mail settings.
  3. Click the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab, the scroll down to Folder Size Limits.
  4. Enable this setting: "Limit IMAP folders to contain no more than this many messages."
  5. Choose a number of messages: 1000, 2000, 5000, or 10,000. (My advice: Start with 2000 and see if that's not enough. You can always increase it later.)

Once I did this on my cousin's PC (I set hers to 5000), Windows Live Mail had a much easier time grappling with her Gmail account. If she needs to search back more than 5000 messages' worth, she can always fire up Gmail proper.

Gmail IMAP is a wonderful thing, but if you're not good about keeping your inbox neatly pruned, don't be surprised if your mail client can't handle it.

Stream Video from Windows Media Center to Your iPhone or iPad

One of the limitations of using Windows Media Center as my DVR is that there's no easy way to watch recorded TV shows and movies on my mobile devices. Specifically, Microsoft's WTV files (the format used for said recordings) aren't compatible with my iPhone, iPod, or iPad. And anyway, they consume too much space to be practical for mobile viewing.

So how can I watch my recorded shows on the go? By streaming them with Remote Potato, which combines a desktop utility with apps for iPhone and iPad. I spent some time testing the software with the latter, and came away impressed--but at the same time vexed by complicated setup and buggy operation.

Indeed, let me stop you right here: If you're a novice user, you'll probably want to steer clear of Remote Potato. The server program that runs in Windows (and makes remote connections possible) requires you to set up port-forwarding in your router and manually enter IP addresses in your Web browser and/or iOS app. The entire setup is not what I would call user-friendly.

That said, once you have everything up and running, you're sure to like what Remote Potato can do. Even without Windows Media Center, it can stream music, photos, and videos from your PC to just about any device with a Web browser. With WMC, you can access your electronic program guide (EPG), schedule recordings, and view recorded shows. In other words, it effectively turns your media center into a Slingbox--but without the box (and without the support for live TV).

The Remote Potato server software is free, and the iOS apps are reasonably priced at $7. I must note, however, that on my iPad, the app frequently crashed or became unresponsive for several seconds. When it works, it's a thing of beauty, but I'd like to see the developer do a little more work on stability.

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog. My 411: hasslefree@pcworld.com. You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week .

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