Secret Tech Tips From Hassle-Free PC

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Turn on Vista's Hidden Check Boxes Feature

Most tech-savvy users know how to select multiple files: Hold down the Ctrl key while clicking each individual file. Of course, that can get a little tricky if you're working with a long list and/or a lot of files: It's too easy to mis-click and "lose" all your selections. That's why I'm loving an undocumented Windows Vista feature: check boxes. Instead of holding down the Ctrl key, you simply click a check box next to each file you want to select.

To enable this handy option, open any system window (like Computer or Explorer), click the Organize menu, and then choose Folder and Search Options. Next, click the View tab, and then scroll down until you see "Use check boxes to select items." Enable it, then click OK.

Presto! Now, whenever you mouse over a file, a check box should appear in the left column. Select multiple files, then drag 'em wherever you want or do whatever else you need to do. Also, note that you can click the "master" check box next to Name to instantly select all the files (as an alternative to the old standby Ctrl-A).

Turn Any MP3 Into an iPhone Ringtone

Back when I was a Palm Centro owner, I used the excellent freeware app MiniTones to turn Brendan Benson's "Spit It Out" into my ringtone. But when I upgraded to an Apple iPhone, I discovered that iTunes charges 99 cents for ringtones--even if you already own the song.

My cheapskate nature doesn't allow for that. (It's not the money, it's the principle of the thing.) So I decided to "roll my own" iPhone ringtone, which turned out to be a fairly easy process.

  1. Start iTunes and find the song you want to convert. (It must be an MP3.)
  2. Right-click the song and choose Get Info.
  3. Click the Options tab.
  4. Check the Start Time and Stop Time boxes, then enter times for each (no more than 30 seconds apart, the maximum length for a ringtone). I used 0:00 and 0:30, respectively, as "Spit It Out" has a perfect ascending lead-in.
  5. Click OK, then right-click the song again and choose Create AAC Version. You should immediately see a new 30-second version of the song.
  6. Drag that version out of iTunes and into the folder of your choice.
  7. Delete the 30-second version from iTunes and change the Start Time/Stop Time back to the original.
  8. Open the folder containing the 30-second AAC file you dragged out of iTunes, then change the file extension from .m4a to .m4r. Double-click it and it immediately gets added to iTunes' ringtone library.
  9. Finally, sync your iPhone. When it's done, you can head into the settings and select your new ringtone.

Tweak Internet Explorer's Default Search Engine

By default, Internet Explorer 7's search box taps Windows Live Search--not the least bit surprising given that the latter is Microsoft's baby. Unfortunately... hmmm, how to put this politely... Windows Live Search bites.

The good news is, there's an easy to tweak Internet Explorer so it uses the search engine of your choice. Like, say, Google. Here's how:

  1. Start Internet Explorer.
  2. Click Tools, Internet Options.
  3. In the General tab, find the Search section and click Settings.
  4. If Google is listed, click it and then click Set Default. If not, click Find more providers, then click Google and follow the instructions. As you'll see, Google is just one of the available options.

That's it! Now, when you click inside IE's search box and type a query, you'll get results from Google--or whatever search provider you set as the default.

Want to change it back? Click the pull-down menu on the right side of the search box and choose Change Search Defaults.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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