The mysterious ~$ files--nothing to worry about

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Lillian Lim noticed strange files appearing and disappearing. The file names always begin with ~$.

If you don't know what's going on, these files can be confusing--and even scary. A file appears in your Documents folder without you intentionally creating it. Aside from the strange punctuation, the file name looks familiar. The icon and, if visible, the extension tell you that you can open the file in a common application. But when you double-click the file, or try to delete it, you get an error message.

Then the file disappears as inexplicitly as it appears. Except for those occasions when it doesn't disappear at all.

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How to open a file with a strange extension

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Red Eye Rose received a file with a strange extension. She doesn't know into what program she should load it. Neither does Windows.

I doubt that anyone knows all of the file extensions used since the pre-DOS days of CP/M. Some of them may not even describe a file type. Before Windows started using them to associate files with an application, people used extensions for all sorts of things.

But that was a long time ago. Chances are that the extension on your mystery file does indeed identify a program. But how do you find what program?

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Understand the limits of a virtual computer

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Amin Inshassi asked the Desktops forum for details about what can and can't be done with a virtual machine.

In a virtual machine (VM), software pretends to be hardware. You can thus load a "computer" into a VM application the way you can load a document into a word processor. It was through a VM that I grabbed this Blue Screen of Death image.

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Actually, you do need to share your passwords

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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No one stays healthy forever. At some point, your loved ones will need access to all of your accounts. You can make that job easier for them.

No reader questions today. Instead, I'm answering a question that someone should ask: In our password-protected digital world, how do you prepare for that inevitable day when you die or otherwise become incapacitated?

This is no small problem. When you're gone, or have otherwise lost the ability to remember or communicate, loved ones will need access to your email, contacts, bank accounts, and more. Without your pre-planned help, this can be quite a challenge.

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What to do if your PC shuts down and automatically reboots

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Norman Barrett's PC is "stuck in a boot loop." When he tries to start it, it continually reboots and starts over.

Something in the boot process is crashing the PC. Then Windows reacts to the crash by rebooting.

You need to do three things: stop the rebooting, figure out what's causing the crash, and fix it.

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How to find out if your RAM is defective

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Kleyou asked the Answer Line forum for advice about a misbehaving computer that likely has memory issues.

Defective RAM can cause all sorts of problems. If you're suffering from frequent crashes, freezes, reboots, or Blue Screens of Death, a bad RAM chip could be the cause of your travails. If these annoyances tend to happen when you're using a memory-intensive application or game, bad RAM is a very likely culprit.

But that doesn't mean it's a sure one. You still need to make sure that the problem is with your RAM, and if it is, you need to identify the bad module.

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Connect your PC to your HDTV, and control it from across the room

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Peter asked me for the best way to connect a PC to an HDTV, and, once connected, how best to use it.

Even in these days of Internet-capable HDTVs and set-top boxes, you still occasionally need to connect a PC to your television. You may have an Internet-capapble smart TV, a connected Blu-ray player or game console, and a dedicated streaming machine like a Roku, Chromecast, or Apple TV. But inevitably, at some point, you're going to want to watch streaming content from a Web site that none of your devices support. And you will want to watch it kicked back in an easy chair or with friends. That calls for a real television.

So eventually, you'l need a way to connect your PC to your HDTV--and a way to control the PC from across the room.

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