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Chris Hoffman

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

Programs that automatically start with Windows can slow down your computer’s boot time, making you wait to get a useful desktop while icon after icon loads into your system tray. Fortunately, it’s possible to prevent these programs from automatically starting.

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Two-factor authentication secures your accounts with an additional authentication method, often a time-limited code generated by a mobile app. But what happens if you lose or reset your phone and can’t generate the codes?

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Microsoft Security Essentials (Windows Defender on Windows 8) was once on top. Over the years, it’s slid in the test results, but Microsoft argued the tests weren’t meaningful. Now, Microsoft is advising Windows users to use a third-party antivirus instead.

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There’s a good chance you already use the VLC media player. But VLC isn’t just a media player — it’s a complete Swiss Army Knife for digital videos and music, filled with useful and fun features you haven’t found yet.

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Android is open source, so developers can take its code, add features, and build their own operating system images for Android phones and tablets. Many Android geeks install such custom ROMs — but why?

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Uh-oh, your computer isn’t booting anymore. Maybe it’s a problem with Windows, or maybe the computer’s hardware is fried. If you have important files trapped inside your malfunctioning computer, this guide will help you recover them.

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Most cell phones sold in North America¬† — especially on contract — are “locked” to a particular cellular carrier. They can only be used on that carrier’s network, so you can’t switch to another carrier without “unlocking” it first.

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Netbooks are terrible, as most people now agree. They seemed like a good idea at the time, offering a cheap laptop experience in a small package. But they were ultimately too slow, too small, and too poorly built.

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Windows 8 may be lighter than Windows Vista, but it’s nowhere near as lightweight as these free Linux distributions. If you have an old Windows XP PC or a netbook, you can revive it with a lightweight Linux system.

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Windows is complicated and needs many different system utilities and security tools to run well — or does it? We recently covered the many types of system tools you don’t need. Here are the few utilities you actually do need.

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Windows users see advertisements for all sorts of system tools and optimization utilities. It’s easy for companies to tell you that you absolutely have to run these tools, but you don’t need most of the junk on offer.

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These days, it seems like every Windows user has heard about CCleaner. It’s widely recommended, online and offline. But what exactly does CCleaner do, should you use it — and how often?

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Computers normally run an operating system installed on their hard drives, whether it’s Windows, OS X, or Linux. But they can also boot from removable media devices, allowing you to boot a Linux desktop from a USB drive or CD.

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Windows is all about backwards compatibility, allowing people — especially businesses — to keep using their important applications on new versions of Windows. But there are limits. The older a program is, the more likely it will break.

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On a PC, you can still play old games — which isn’t true for consoles. You may even find yourself actively buying these old games as they show up on great sales on Steam and elsewhere.

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When moving to a new Windows system, either after getting a new computer or reinstalling Windows, you may be tempted to copy a program’s folder to your new system just like you’d copy your files. But this normally won’t work.

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Official replacement batteries can be expensive. Whether you’re looking at a laptop or smartphone battery, you may be tempted to take the cheap route and buy an aftermarket battery. But this decision could blow up in your face — literally.

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Windows normally installs itself to a single partition on your hard drive. However, you can split your hard drive into several different partitions and store your data files separately from your system files.

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Install a new hard drive and all Windows will do is give you an empty drive letter. If you have a small solid-state drive and a larger mechanical hard drive — or just two large drives — these tips will help you put that additional drive to use.

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Most people don’t spend much time customizing their taskbar, even though it’s something every Windows user uses every day. It seems almost set in stone — but it isn’t. The Windows taskbar is actually very customizable.

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No matter how well you treat your laptop’s battery, it will eventually die. If you’re lucky, it will be time to replace your laptop by the time its battery dies. If you’re not, you’ll need to replace the battery.

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Windows has a built-in firewall that blocks inbound connections. If a program wants to act as a server, Windows will prompt you. Some geeks don’t like the built-in firewall because it doesn’t offer the same prompts for outgoing connections.

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So you’re using your laptop and, all of the sudden, it dies. There was no battery warning from Windows — in fact, you recently checked and Windows said you had 30% battery power left. What’s going on?

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Windows XP won’t be officially supported for much longer. Sure, you could keep using it — it won’t just stop working one day. It will just become more insecure over time as Microsoft and everyone else stops supporting it.

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Malware, adware, and pushy software installers all love changing your browser settings, giving you new home pages, default search engines, and obnoxious toolbars. It’s easy to forget to uncheck these options while installing software.

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