Pure URL simplifies web addresses for safer surfing

If you're concerned about privacy and security, you've already done a lot to avoid online tracking. You probably use an extension like Privacy Badger and have enabled the questionably effective Do Not Track setting in your browser. But what have you done about the URLs in your address bar? Yes, you can be tracked via the URLs in your browser. A new add-on for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox called Pure URL aims to fix that.

You know all those little tidbits, known as optional URL parameters, that you see at the end of a web address, like "ref," "utm_source," and "fb_action"? Yep, those are all tracking mechanisms. Now, to be fair, they are mostly to help the sites you visit understand metrics such as where their traffic is coming from.

But it's not just about tracking. Those URL parameters make a web address much harder to read since they can be dozens of characters long. That by itself can be a security hazard because you have to work harder to find where the non-optional URL ends. Pure URL fixes this by stripping off all the junk, leaving you with just the pure...well, you get the idea.

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How to use Cortana with Netflix, Uber, and other Windows Store apps

It might feel weird to talk to your computer, but that's something you should really get over when it comes to Windows 10. Otherwise you'll miss out on all the ways Cortana, its built-in digital assistant, can help you out: creating reminders, making calendar appointments, sending an SMS (in conjunction with a Windows 10 mobile device or Cortana for Android), and even performing chores in certain third-party apps.

Yes, Cortana can be integrated with third-party apps from the Windows Store, if the feature is enabled by the developer. When it's available, it can be a magical experience that will likely have you wanting more. Here's how it works on Windows 10 for PCs—it works similarly on Windows 10 mobile devices.

The first thing you have to do is identify which of your PC's apps have Cortana integration. To do this, click on the Cortana search bar or icon in the taskbar. Once the Cortana panel pops up, click the help icon (the question mark) in the left-hand navigation panel.

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Try deep linking, a powerful way to customize Windows 10's Start menu

You haven’t customized the bejesus out of Windows 10’s Start menu unless you’ve done deep linking. Sure, you’ve rearranged the left side of Windows 10’s Start menu, gotten your tiles just the way you like them on the right, and even added some website shortcuts to the mix. But with deep linking you can pin specific pages from within a Windows Store app to your Start menu.

Say you’re reading an ebook with the Kindle for Windows 10 app. You can pin the book itself to your Start menu instead of the entire Kindle app. That way you can always jump right back into your book even if the last time you closed the Kindle app you were looking at something else. Pretty cool, right?

Here are a few more examples of how you can use deep linking to practical use.

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Puzzle Bar for Firefox lets you stash your add-on icons where you want

Take the functionality of browser extensions and add-ons one step further by controlling where those icons show up in your browser window. A Firefox add-on called Puzzle Bars lets you place your add-ons and several built-in browser icons nearly anywhere you want. 

The convention is for add-on icons to reside at the right of the address bar, but if you have a lot of them, they won't all be in plain sight. Having control over your add-on icons' location can make it easier to see what's available and to quickly access a particular add-on when you need it—to, say, adjust a setting, reveal information (like with a password manager), or activate a feature (such as saving a web page to Pocket).

Location, location, location

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How to make OneDrive your personal music streaming service with the Groove app

OneDrive has an unsung feature you’d be crazy not to use: Its massive storage space can be harnessed to upload your legacy music collection—old MP3 files, not to mention music trapped on CDs and LPs. Add Microsoft’s new Groove app, and you’ve made your own, personal streaming service to rival Spotify and other competition.

Microsoft’s OneDrive is especially suited for storing music. Windows users tend to have generous storage allotments on OneDrive thanks to Microsoft’s various giveaways, not to mention the ridiculous amount of storage Office 365 subscribers receive. Of all the various cloud storage services you use, OneDrive probably has the most room to spare for your collection.

Here’s how to set it up.

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How to turn Google Chrome into a Microsoft Office-loving browser

Say you’re a Windows user who prefers Google’s Chrome browser—it is, after all, easily one of the best browsers today, and far superior to Internet Explorer. Still, you’ve probably been frustrated at times by Chrome’s built-in Google bias, particularly if you use Microsoft services such as Office Online. A Chrome extension from Microsoft, aptly dubbed Office Online, has you covered.

The Office Online extension imbues Chrome with an Office-first mandate and gives you one-click access to your Office documents.

chromesettingsofficeonline

To add drag-and-drop functionality, click the box to allow access to file URLs.

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How to know if your PC is ready for virtual reality

The virtual reality revolution is fast approaching. Products like the Oculus Rift headset are up for preorder, and the HTC Vive will follow suit at the end of February. These gadgets and others will let you experience computer games and other programs in a 3D space—if your PC is up to the task.

Luckily, there's an easy and free way to know whether your rig is VR-ready. Oculus VR, the company behind the Oculus Rift, recently released a simple software utility that does all the checking for you. HTC hasn’t announced its minimum system requirements for the Vive yet, but it’s assumed they will be similar to the Rift’s.

You don't need to preorder the Rift to try this tool.

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