The art of Windows file search

Arnoldas Zdanevicius needed help finding a file. Luckily, Windows’ built-in search tool can be a powerful ally—if you know its tricks.

At first glance, Windows’ search tool seems simple but underpowered. You open up Windows Explorer (File Explorer in Windows 8), type a word in the search field, and files containing that word appear. But there’s really much more to it than that.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

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How to bypass Windows AutoPlay when you plug in an external drive, and go straight to Explorer

When you plug in a flash drive or external hard drive, Windows brings up the AutoPlay menu, which offers all sorts of options. Deborah Armstrong asked how to make Windows simply open the drive so she can get to the files.

When I plug in a flash drive, all I want is access to files inside. But instead of giving me access, Windows used to pop the AutoPlay menu, forcing me to scroll down and select Open folder to view files.

Then I learned the trick. Or perhaps I should say tricks. The directions differ slightly between Windows 7 and 8.

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How to clean a touchscreen: All you need is a simple cleaner and a special cloth

Barbie asked how to clean an oily “serum” off her laptop’s touchscreen.

Do you always wash your hands before using your laptop, tablet, or smartphone? Neither do I. And the result isn’t pretty. A chemist could probably take samples from my iPad’s screen right now and tell you what I had for breakfast.

Touchscreens need to be cleaned often. They get dirty quicker than non-touch screens, and the dirt interferes with both the visual experience and touch sensitivity.

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Dropbox vs. Carbonite: The difference between cloud-based storage and backup

John asked if Dropbox effectively works as a backup program, and if using Dropbox and Carbonite together gives him two backups. My answer includes other, similar cloud-based services.

These online services exist for very different purposes. Sync and storage services, such as Dropbox and Google Drive, make selected files available to other PCs and devices, and sync those files between the devices. When you open a document on your PC, it will automatically have the changes you made on your iPad. Cloud-based backup services, such as Mozy and Carbonite, protect all of your data files from possible disaster.

There’s a lot of overlap in what they actually do. Both types of services upload your files to another location, effectively protecting them. Both make files accessible anywhere, on any device, as long as you have an Internet connection and your account password.

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How to install two or more operating systems on one PC

Chidi Okwara asked "Can one run several operating systems in one computer?"

Not only can you do it, but it's reasonably easy. Of course, all of the operating systems must be compatible with your hardware. Assuming your PC is less than five years old, it should be able to take Windows 7 and 8, along with almost any type of Linux. Just remember that you'll need paid-for licenses for each version of Windows you install (not an issue with free Linux).

I'll walk you through installing Windows 8 onto a Windows 7 PC. With minor differences, this should work with other operating systems, as well.

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Maximize your SSD's lifespan with the right maintenance

Phillip Mitchell replaced his hard drive with a high-capacity SSD. He asked how best to keep it healthy.

Flash RAM--the storage technology within SSDs--is immune to the violent disasters and wear-and-tear that can crash a hard drive. But SSDs have their own problems. Every time you write to flash RAM, you bring it a step closer to the day it fails.

Fortunately, those steps are very tiny. If you avoid unnecessary writing, your SSD will probably last until you want to replace it with something better. But it's still a good idea to avoid unnecessary writing. You can do that by turning off these four Windows settings.

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Free up space on your SSD or hard drive

Frank Yao asked how to free up space on his local, internal drive.

I've already discussed how to free up space in Windows itself and in your various installed programs. This time, I'm concentrating on libraries and data files. If you're like most people, these take up most of your space and most of your waste.

But there are limits to my advice. I can't tell you exactly what to remove; that's a decision you'll have to make for yourself. All I can do is suggest some techniques and free tools that can make the job easier.

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