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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+.

Google can do more than display lists of websites – Google will give you quick answers to many special searches. While Google isn’t quite as advanced as Wolfram Alpha, it has quite a few tricks up its sleeve.

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The Windows Task Scheduler can automatically send email at a specific time or in response to a specific event, but its integrated email feature won’t work very well for most users.

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On Linux, the Root user is equivalent to the Administrator user on Windows. However, while Windows has long had a culture of average users logging in as Administrator, you shouldn’t log in as root on Linux.

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VNC allows you to remotely access a computer and use its desktop, either over the Internet or from another room in your house. Windows includes a Remote Desktop feature, but it’s only available in Professional editions of Windows.

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Virtual machines are demanding beasts, providing virtual hardware and running multiple operating systems on your computer at once. Upgrading your hardware (particularly your RAM and CPU) will always help speed up virtual machines, but there’s more you can do.

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User Account Control is an important security feature in the latest versions of Windows. While we’ve explained how to disable UAC in the past, you shouldn’t disable it – it helps keep your computer secure.

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Have you ever wanted to create a custom Google search engine that searches only specific websites? You can easily do this with Google’s Custom Search Engine tool. You can bookmark your search engine and even share it with other people.

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Many new laptops come with NVIDIA’s Optimus technology – the laptop includes both a discrete NVIDIA GPU for gaming power and an onboard Intel GPU for power savings. The notebook switches between the two when necessary.

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When you create a virtual hard disk in VirtualBox or VMware, you specify a maximum disk size. If you want more space on your virtual machine’s hard disk later, you’ll have to enlarge the virtual hard disk and partition.

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VirtualBox’s experimental 3D acceleration allows you to use Windows 7’s Aero interface in a virtual machine. You can also run older 3D games in a virtual machine – newer ones probably won’t run very well.

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Do you want to save time when installing Windows 7? You can create a customized installation disc and have it perform an installation without asking you questions, integrate updates and drivers, tweak Windows, and remove Windows components.

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Have you ever wanted to monitor who’s logging into your computer and when? On Professional editions of Windows, you can enable logon auditing to have Windows track which user accounts log in and when.

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Some of the most powerful Windows features are only available in Professional or Enterprise editions of Windows. However, you don’t have to upgrade to Windows Professional to use these powerful features – use these free alternatives instead.

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The Windows Task Manager is often used for troubleshooting – perhaps closing an application that isn’t working properly or monitoring system resource usage. However, there’s a lot more you can do with Windows 7’s Task Manager.

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Do you still launch programs on Windows by hunting down a desktop shortcut and double-clicking it? There are better ways – Windows has several built-in tricks for quickly launching applications.

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Want to allow a standard user account to run an application as administrator without a UAC or password prompt? You can easily create a shortcut that uses the runas command with the /savecred switch, which saves the password.

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Windows 8 includes a SmartScreen filter that prevents unknown and malicious programs from running. SmartScreen is part of Internet Explorer 8 and 9 – with Windows 8, it’s now integrated into the operating system.

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Connect a USB stick to a Windows computer – even on Windows 8 – and Windows will ask if you want to speed up your system using ReadyBoost. But what exactly is ReadyBoost, and will it actually speed up your computer?

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Windows 8 contains a completely revamped backup system. Windows 8’s File History replaces Windows 7’s Windows Backup – if you use Windows Backup and update to Windows 8, you’ll find quite a few differences.

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The Windows Event Viewer shows a log of application and system messages – errors, information messages, and warnings. Scammers have used the Event Viewer to deceive people – event a properly functioning system will have error messages here.

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Do you have a computer that you don’t want other people accessing – perhaps a server? You can have Windows email you whenever someone logs into your computer (assuming it’s connected to the Internet), giving you peace of mind.

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While you can use the Windows Task Scheduler to schedule your own automatic tasks, Windows also uses it behind the scenes to perform many system tasks – defragmenting your hard disks when you’re not using your computer, for example.

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Do you want your computer to automatically run a program, remind you about something, or even automatically send emails? Use the Task Scheduler included with Windows – its interface can be a bit intimidating, but it’s easy to use.

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If you’ve ever purchased a computer with a hard disk capacity of 500 GB and opened Windows Explorer only to find that its capacity looked more like 440 GB, you may be wondering where all those gigabytes went.

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If you find your Windows computer waking from sleep for no apparent reason, your computer is either being woken up by a hardware device – such as your mouse — or scheduled task set to wake your computer.

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