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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+.

You’ve probably heard of people “rooting” their Android phones. If you’ve ever wondered how to do that yourself – or wondered why people would bother – you’re in luck. You can root your Android in just a few minutes.

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If you’re a Linux user, you’ve probably heard that you don’t need to defragment your Linux file systems. You’ll also notice that Linux distributions don’t come with disk-defragmenting utilities. But why is that?

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Ubuntu includes its own firewall, known as ufw – short for “uncomplicated firewall.” Ufw is an easier-to-use frontend for the standard Linux iptables commands. You can even control ufw from a graphical interface.

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Vi is a powerful text editor included on most Linux systems. Many people swear by vi and find it faster than any other editor once they’ve learned its key bindings. You can even use vi key bindings in Bash.

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Ubuntu and Linux Mint are two of the most popular desktop Linux distributions at the moment. If you’re looking to take the dive into Linux – or you’ve already used Ubuntu or Mint – you wonder how they’re different.

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Your browser sends its user agent to every website you connect to. We’ve written about changing your browser’s user agent before – but what exactly is a user agent, anyway?

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Ubuntu and many other Linux distributions use the GRUB2 boot loader. If GRUB2 breaks — for example, if you install Windows after installing Ubuntu or overwrite your MBR — you won’t be able to boot into Ubuntu.

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SSH offers more than just a secure, remote terminal environment. You can use SSH to tunnel your traffic, transfer files, mount remote file systems, and more. These tips and tricks will help you take advantage of your SSH server.

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Tiling window managers make your life easier by automatically arranging windows on the screen for you. Xmonad is a minimal one that’s easy to get started with — all you have to do is learn a few keyboard shortcuts.

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Android apps install to the internal storage by default, but you can also set the SD card as your default install location. This trick allows you to move almost any app to the SD card – no root access required.

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We’ve written about using GNU Screen to multitask in the Linux terminal in the past. GNU Screen is the granddaddy of these programs, but tmux and dvtm+dtach are other solutions you may prefer.

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Each major web browser shares a large number of keyboard shortcuts in common. Whether you’re using Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, or Opera – these keyboard shortcuts will work in your browser.

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Whether you want to shrink your Ubuntu partition, enlarge it, or split it up into several partitions, you can’t do this while it’s in use. You’ll need a Ubuntu live CD or USB drive to edit your partitions.

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All browsers support keywords, which you can type into your address bar to quickly search or visit websites. Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Internet Explorer all have their own methods of setting keywords, some more hidden than others.

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Charms are an important new feature in Windows 8. Some of the charms are context-sensitive, while some aren’t. Some are important on the desktop, while some only work in Metro apps.

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From ultrabooks to netbooks, computers are shedding their optical drives. If you still use an occasional CD or DVD, you don’t have to buy an external optical drive –  you can share another computer’s optical drive over the network.

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Web browsers include predefined lists of search engines, but you can easily add your own favorites. Even search engines that don’t offer search plugins can be added with a few tricks, whether you’re using Firefox, Google Chrome, or Internet Explorer.

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Ubuntu 12.04 doesn’t ship with any screen savers, just a black screen that appears when your system is idle. If you’d rather have screensavers, you can swap gnome-screensaver for XScreenSaver.

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Everything you do online can be traced back to your IP address. Even if you’re accessing encrypted websites, networks can see the websites you’re accessing – and the websites themselves know your IP address. Use the Tor network to browse with anonymity.

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If you’ve just updated to Ubuntu 12.04, you may notice an option missing in its system menu. The Hibernate option is now hidden by default, but you can get it back if you prefer to hibernate your system.

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Ubuntu’s sound menu contains Rhythmbox by default. Any other media players you install will also appear in the menu, assuming they support the MPRIS2 specification. You can hide media players in the menu or add any application you like.

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Computers are supposed to automate repetitive tasks – if you find yourself submitting forms over and over or repeatedly navigating a website by hand, try iMacros. It’s easy-to-use – all you have to do is perform an action once.

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To become a Gmail power user, you’ll need to master Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts allow you to speed through your mail faster than you can click. Gmail even lets you create custom keyboard shortcuts.

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The Windows Firewall is powerful, but it doesn’t offer an easy-to-use interface for its advanced features. Windows Firewall Notifier fills the holes in the built-in Windows Firewall, offering easy management of outbound connections and a console that displays network activity.

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Google, Bing, Yahoo – all the major search engines track your search history and build profiles on you, serving different results based on your search history. Try one of these alternative search engines if you’re tired of being tracked.

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