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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+.

Updating your operating system and software is important. On the other hand, we have previously covered why you shouldn’t generally update your hardware drivers, although gamers will definitely want to update their graphics drivers. But what about BIOS updates?

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If Internet Explorer is crashing and burning, your problem likely lies with a buggy browser add-on. However, Internet Explorer crashes can have a variety of other causes, including incompatibilities with hardware rendering and possible malware.

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Install Microsoft Office 2013 and you may see a grayed out “SkyDrive Pro” option in your context menu. This option appears whenever you right-click a file or folder, but it’s useless if you don’t use SharePoint.

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Laptop manufacturers have a choice – they can include onboard graphics for better battery life or discrete graphics hardware for better gaming performance. But wouldn’t it be great if a laptop could have both and intelligently switch between them?

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Most of our browser data isn’t too important – cookies expire and histories are cleared. However, bookmarks are different, which is why browsers allow you to import and export your bookmarks – ideal for creating backups and migrating between browsers.

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Windows has the built-in ability to function as VPN server, although this option is hidden. This trick works on both Windows 7 and Windows 8. The server uses the point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP.)

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Windows 8 shows desktop application shortcuts on its Start screen, but these shortcuts look out of place in the new, tile-based interface. However, there is a way to spruce up your Start screen with detailed tile icons for your desktop applications.

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A graphics driver is the software that allow your operating system and programs to use your computer’s graphics hardware. If you play PC games, you should keep your computer’s graphics drivers updated to get the best performance out of your hardware.

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Compared to a PC, phones and tablets are fairly locked-down devices. Jailbreaking, rooting, and unlocking are all ways of bypassing their limitations, and doing things that manufacturers and carriers don’t want you to do.

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Email viruses are real, but computers aren’t infected just by opening emails anymore. Just opening an email to view it is safe – although attachments can still be dangerous to open.

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Believe it or not, there are antivirus programs targeted at desktop Linux users. If you have just switched to Linux and started looking for an antivirus solution, don’t bother – you do not need an antivirus program on Linux.

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If you are regularly seeing the “Whoa! Google Chrome has crashed” message, there is likely a problem on your system. An occasional crash can happen, but regular crashes are probably caused by something you can fix.

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Firefox can crash for a variety of reasons, but you can quickly fix most crashes with Firefox’s Safe Mode and Reset features. However, even these tricks won’t fix every crash.

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Previously, we have covered what VPNs are and how you can easily connect to them in Windows. Android also supports VPNs – if you have an Android phone or tablet, you can easily connect it to a VPN.

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Windows 8’s lock screen is very at home on a tablet, but it can also be used on laptops and desktops.  The lock screen is not just a background image – it contains widgets that display quick notifications.

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Hard drives use S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) to gauge their own reliability and determine if they’re failing.  You can view your hard drive’s S.M.A.R.T. data and see if it has started to develop problems.

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If Windows won’t boot, recovering your files can be a headache.  You do not have to pull the hard drive or use a Linux live CD – you can use a Windows installer disc to quickly back up your files.

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Windows Live Messenger – formerly MSN Messenger – is set to shut down on March 15, 2013.  Microsoft is replacing it with Skype and migrating Windows Live IDs (now known as Microsoft accounts) to Skype.

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Windows 8’s lock screen is at home on a tablet, but it just adds an additional key press to the login process on a desktop or laptop.  You can disable the lock screen with a quick registry hack.

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For years, Java has been the top source of browser exploits. Even after a recent emergency patch, Java is still vulnerable. To protect ourselves, we should assume that Java is always going to be vulnerable.

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Windows 8 encourages you to set up a separate user account for everyone who uses the computer. However, you might want to buy an app – such as Angry Birds – and allow other people to use it.

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Google’s Chrome Web Store offers a variety of themes for Chrome, which include background images for your new tab page and custom colors. Even better — you can create your own theme in just a few minutes.

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Traceroute is a command-line tool included with Windows and other operating systems. Along with the ping command, it’s an important tool for understanding Internet connection problems, including packet loss and high latency.

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Modern-style apps in Windows 8 need a screen resolution of at least 1024×768. Unfortunately, many netbooks have a 1024×600 resolution. If you have a netbook, there’s a chance you can bypass this limitation and run modern apps anyway.

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We’ve covered virtual private networks and when you might want to use them before. Connecting to a VPN is easy, as Windows and most other operating systems offer built-in VPN support.

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