What you need to know about the cloud

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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Peter Mwanyama asked for a better understanding of the cloud.

The cloud is the Internet, when used for chores that are traditionally handled by local hardware and software. For instance, if you back up your files to an external hard drive, that’s local. But if you use an online service such as Mozy or Carbonite, you’re using cloud-based backup.

Another example: If you use the installed Outlook program to read email, you’re using the Internet, but not the cloud. But if you read your email on the Outlook.com webpage, you’re reading it in the cloud.

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Windows 8 and Windows 7 Safe Modes: How to enter and when to use them

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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No reader question today. Instead, I want to discuss Safe Mode, Windows’ stripped-down, minimum-driver environment. For years now, there’s been one quick way to enter Safe Mode—pressing F8. But that  trick doesn’t work for all Windows 8 PCs.

And even in older versions, it’s not always the easiest form of entry.

Safe Mode gives you a low-resolution, visually ugly, feature-limited Windows environment useful for diagnostic and repair purposes. You wouldn’t want to create a PowerPoint demonstration there, but if things are misbehaving, it can be a fruitful place to visit. For instance, if a program’s uninstall routine keeps failing, it just might uninstall properly in Safe Mode.

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When to image a hard drive, and when to clone it

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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Robert Spann asked how best to copy everything on his internal drive. Should he image the drive, or clone it?

Cloning copies the complete contents of one drive—the files, the partition tables and the master boot record—to another: a simple, direct duplicate. Imaging copies all of that to a single, very large file on another drive. You can then restore the image back onto the existing drive or onto a new one.

Typically, people use these techniques to back up the drive, or when upgrading to a larger or faster drive. Both techniques will work for each of these chores. But imaging usually makes more sense for a backup, while cloning is the easiest choice for drive upgrades.

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Personalize the Windows Explorer Navigation Bar

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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Windows Explorer (AKA File Explorer) offers a Navigation Bar on the left to help you select folders. Mary Hall asked how to customize it.

The Explorer Navigation Bar provides a map to the drives and folders on or accessible to your computer. Two of the sections, Favorites and Libraries, are easily configurable. The other sections are not configurable for a good reason. If you want to add a drive to the Navigation Bar, you need to add that drive from your PC (which adds it to the Navigation Bar automatically).

A quick note on the name: Microsoft has called its file manager Windows Explorer since Windows 95. With Windows 8, they renamed it File Explorer—a good change in my opinion. For this article, I’ll just call it Explorer.

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If Windows virtual memory is too low, you can increase it, but there are trade-offs

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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Dspenc40229’s PC occasionally complains that it’s running low on virtual memory. “How do I get more?”

Virtual memory, also known as the swap file, uses part of your hard drive to effectively expand your RAM, allowing you to run more programs than it could otherwise handle. But a hard drive is much slower than RAM, so it can really hurt performance. (I discuss SSDs below.)

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

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Here's what to do when your touchscreen won'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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Miguel owns a Windows 8 laptop, upgraded to 8.1. But "the touch screen…began to fail sometimes, until it failed completely."

First things first: If you haven't done so already, reboot. Yes, it's obvious, but so many people don't think about it, and it fixes so much.

But it doesn't fix everything. So if the problem remains, follow the suggestions below. I'm assuming your PC is running Windows 8 or 8.1.

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BadUSB: What you can do about undetectable malware on a flash drive

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 about BadUSB, Barbara asked if it was safe to share files through a flash drive. “Would we be safer using a cloud service?”

A cloud service might be safer than a flash drive, although that has its own dangers—especially with privacy. BadUSB shows us that malware can infect and reside in a flash drive’s firmware, which your antivirus program can’t scan the way it can scan the drive’s main storage. It’s like having the malware in your motherboard’s BIOS—except that this motherboard will likely get plugged into multiple computers.

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

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