Why finding a better ISP is harder than it should be

Sandra isn't satisfied with her ISP. "For 4+ years I have gotten a mixture of good, slow & no service."

The United States doesn't have the world's worst Internet access by a long shot. But the country that invented the Internet has fallen well behind other wealthy democracies in online access. According to one report, a resident of Washington D.C. will get only 26.42Mbps of download speed for $50 a month. In London, that same price brings 78.70Mbps. In Hong Kong, 302.61.

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

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Tell Windows that your browser mail is your default mail

James Henry switched from the application Outlook to Outlook.com. Now when he clicks on an email address, his browser-based mail client doesn’t come up.

Windows knows, or should know, what program you use for reading and writing email. That way, when you click on an mailto link in a webpage, or tell an application such as LibreOffice to email a document, Windows takes you where you want to go.

This usually works just fine with a local email client—a mail program that came with Windows or that you installed onto your PC. But if you use a web-based email service, such as Gmail or Outlook.com, Windows won’t know where to send you when you need to send a message.

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Why you should turn off your PC, laptop, modem, router, and other tech routinely

Rick Klemann bought a new modem/router, and wants to know “whether I will shorten it’s lifespan if I keep it on. My son-in-law turns his off every night and I’m wondering if I should do that.” My answer covers more than networking gear.

I have yet to see evidence that leaving an electronic device on 24/7 wears it out faster than turning it off at night. On the other hand, I haven’t seen any evidence that turning it off at night hurts it, either.

Nevertheless, I vote for turning things off whenever practical.

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Windows taskbar icons: How to clean up the clutter

Lis has a taskbar “running over with icons,” and needs to clean things up a bit.

If you keep a lot of programs running at the same time, or if you have pinned a lot of them to the taskbar, that row of icons at the bottom of the screen will overflow. You won’t be able to see all of them.

One obvious solution is to close some of those programs. This will clear the taskbar and improve performance. Shutting down your PC in the evening and booting fresh in the morning will help.

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How to use Microsoft Word's Styles to automate formatting of large blocks of text

Peter S. Chamberlain asked for a way, in Microsoft Word, to automatically manage the formatting of “a lot of text.”

The Styles feature in Microsoft Word is one of a handful of tools that keep me from moving to the free LibreOffice suite. When you assign a paragraph or a sentence to a particular style, the text takes on the formatting defined in the style—font, margins, bold, italic, paragraph breaks, and so on.

If you change a bit of text already assigned to the style, you get the style’s formatting, plus the additional changes. But if you change the formatting for the style itself, you change the formatting of everything assigned to that style.

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9 ways to keep your Windows computer safe

Monu Adaa asked for advice on staying safe in today’s crime-filled cyberworld.

For today’s criminals, the Internet’s where the action is. Compared to traditional muggers and burglars, cybercrooks make more money with less risk.

And that means that us honest folk have to be extra cautious. Protecting yourself in cyberspace is more complex than locking your door or keeping a hand on your bag.

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Windows' thumbs.db files: What they are, and what to do when they get in your way

Evan asked me about thumbs.db files. “Every time I find one on the network, they become an issue to delete as they read as system files.”

Windows will occasionally create a thumbs.db file for a given folder as a way to quickly display thumbnail images. You won’t see thumbs.db files unless you set Windows/File Explorer to show hidden files, but they’re there. On a modern PC, they’re pretty much harmless…and useless. But they can cause problems.

A thumbs.db file may occasionally keep Windows from letting you delete a folder, simply because Windows is keeping the thumbs.db file open. On a network, where multiple computers are accessing the same folders, this can become a major problem.

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