The 6 essential Windows software programs for any PC

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

Freelance journalist (and sometimes humorist) Lincoln Spector has been writing about tech longer than he would care to admit. A passionate cinephile, he also writes the Bayflicks.net movie blog.
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Bruce Johnson asked for “a list of minimum programs and applications needed to…operate my laptop?”

PCWorld senior editor Brad Chacos wrote an excellent story about the best software for a new PC. But if we're talking the barest minimum, anyone with a Windows PC really, absolutely must have a program in each of the categories below.

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

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How to stop autoloading programs in Windows 7 and Windows 8

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

Freelance journalist (and sometimes humorist) Lincoln Spector has been writing about tech longer than he would care to admit. A passionate cinephile, he also writes the Bayflicks.net movie blog.
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After reading my article on killing unwanted processes, Joe Balbona asked how he could keep those processes from loading in the first place.

There’s no direct correlation between the programs that load when you boot and the processes slowing down your PC six hours later. Many autoloaders (programs that automatically load when you boot) do their thing and then close down properly. And some programs you load manually long after the boot leave processes running even after you’ve closed them.

Nevertheless, most Windows PCs load way too many programs at boot time. These definitely slow the boot process. Some remain running and can slow Windows. And some may cause conflicts and instability, although that’s rare.

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How to clean your Windows Temp folder

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

Freelance journalist (and sometimes humorist) Lincoln Spector has been writing about tech longer than he would care to admit. A passionate cinephile, he also writes the Bayflicks.net movie blog.
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Krishna Bam asked about cleaning out his temp folder.

As the name implies, the temp folder contains files that are only needed temporally. Unfortunately, these files don't always get deleted after their job is done, resulting in wasted drive space.

To open the temp folder, click Start or go to the Windows 8 Search charm, type %temp%, and select the folder that appears.

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What to do when your USB device doesn't work

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

Freelance journalist (and sometimes humorist) Lincoln Spector has been writing about tech longer than he would care to admit. A passionate cinephile, he also writes the Bayflicks.net movie blog.
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R. Welling can't get a USB device to work properly in his computer. "What could be wrong?"

Clearly, something is broken. But is it hardware, software, the device or the computer? That's going to take some experimentation.

First, let's get the obvious out of the way: Unplug the device, then plug it again. Did that fix the problem?

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Personalize the Windows 7 Start menu

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

Freelance journalist (and sometimes humorist) Lincoln Spector has been writing about tech longer than he would care to admit. A passionate cinephile, he also writes the Bayflicks.net movie blog.
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Bob Black asked about altering the Windows 7 Start menu to make it fit his preferences and work habits.

You can do a lot with the Windows 7 Start menu. You can put your favorite programs front and center. You can replace big, easy-to-hit icons with smaller ones that take less real estate, and you can control the behavior of clicking on Documents or Music.

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

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A router and an extender: When your laptop doesn't know which to use.

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

Freelance journalist (and sometimes humorist) Lincoln Spector has been writing about tech longer than he would care to admit. A passionate cinephile, he also writes the Bayflicks.net movie blog.
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Lisa Marie Lalonde’s router isn’t powerful enough to cover her entire home, so she installed a range extender. But when she moves from one part of the house to another, her laptop fails to connect to the nearest signal and loses the network.

If you carry a laptop, tablet, or smartphone through a home with multiple access points (such as routers and range extenders), the device should latch onto the access point with the strongest signal—presumably the closest one. Therefore, it should appear to be continually connected as you move from room to room.

But technology doesn’t always behave the way it should.

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Save money by not buying a larger SSD than you need

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

Freelance journalist (and sometimes humorist) Lincoln Spector has been writing about tech longer than he would care to admit. A passionate cinephile, he also writes the Bayflicks.net movie blog.
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George Ratzlaff plans to buy an SSD to speed up his PC. How big a drive does he need?

Before you buy an SSD, decide if it’s going to replace your current hard drive, or if you’ll keep both the old and new drives, letting the SSD supplement the spinning platters. If you’re supplementing, you can get away with a smaller SSD and therefore save money. (As I write this, $60 can buy you a 120GB SSD or a 2TB hard drive.)

But supplementing the drive may not be practical. If you have a spare drive bay in your PC—common in desktops but rare in laptops—you can easily supplement. But if your PC has space for only one hard drive, replacing the drive will likely make more sense.

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