Busting the Biggest PC Myths

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Cookies track everything you do on the Internet.

When cookies first appeared, some Web users got bent out of shape because they thought cookies would track their every move online. Wrong.

Sure, cookies can perform limited tracking when you're browsing Web pages. And some persistent cookies can trace your movements from site to site. For instance, cookies from DoubleClick, a company that feeds targeted Web ads to users, track your surfing to any DoubleClick-enabled site to make sure that you don't see the same advertisement over and over.

Disable cookies in your browser.
Disable cookies in your browser.
But most cookies are far less intrusive. A cookie used by Amazon.com, for example, to personalize the Web site for you doesn't pay any attention to what you do when you head to another shopping site such as Barnes and Noble.

If you're worried about cookies, turn them off in your browser (although doing so will render many sites virtually unsurfable). In IE, choose Tools, Internet Options, click the Privacy tab, and click Advanced to override automatic cookie handling. Also, consider opting out of DoubleClick's site-to-site cookie tracking.

Windows' Japanese edition uses haiku error messages.

We have a yen for this legend, which claims that rather than offering the cryptic error messages Windows displays for English readers, Japanese editions use calming haiku poems, such as this one (our favorite):

Yesterday it worked.
Today it is not working.
Windows is like that.

Sadly, such messages are fictional. The list of haiku messages circulating on the Internet is culled from a 1998 contest organized by Salon, an online magazine, which challenged readers to come up with error messages in haiku form. Salon received more than 200 entries from which it picked two winners:

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

and

Everything is gone;
Your life's work has been destroyed.
Squeeze trigger (yes/no)?

Terrible things happen if you turn off your PC without shutting down Windows.

Don't touch that switch! According to Microsoft, if you turn off your PC without first shutting down Windows, your hard drive could become more fragmented, files could become corrupted, and you could lose data.

Maybe Microsoft's warning holds some water, but we wouldn't worry about straining the system or harming Windows. We ran 30 iterations of an informal test, turning off a pair of systems running Windows XP without first shutting down Windows. Each time we left documents open in Word, Outlook, and Quicken. And we left our Internet connection up and running.

After we turned each PC back on, we ran Symantec's Norton Disk Doctor and the Windows disk checker to see if the hard drive had suffered any ill effects. We reopened the applications that we had left running and reconnected to the Internet.

Problems? Disk Doctor found no disk errors, and our files were intact--at least up to the last time they were saved, but not always to the point of the last edit made. Outlook recovered without a glitch, and so did Quicken. (We didn't check disk fragmentation because some hard-drive experts told us that defragging today's faster, bigger drives has little to no effect on performance.)

If you're uneasy about just switching off the PC, change the Power Options settings. From the Control Panel, open Power Options, click the Advanced tab, and under 'Power buttons' select Hibernate. Now whenever you push the power button, Windows will save itself in its current state. Turn the computer on later, and Windows will pop up, just as you left it, in a lot less time than the system would take to boot.

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