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The DIY guide to PC troubleshooting and repair

The next time your computer acts up, drop the mouse, put down the phone, and use this troubleshooting checklist to find and fix the problem.

Whether it’s a slowdown, some strange behavior, or a total crash, a few basic troubleshooting tricks and tools may be all you need to get your PC back to peak performance.

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Save time by creating folders in bunches

Simplify file management by generating new folders from your right-click menu that automatically have the current date in the folder name.

Run a four-line batch file from your context menu that creates whole hierarchies of folders that you name from the Command Prompt.

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Dig deeper to reveal the secrets of Firefox 3

The latest version of the leading IE alternative is fresh off the assembly line, with revved-up performance and handy new features.

Firefox 3’s about:config settings let you fine-tune the browser to the perfect mix of speed and security.

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Free add-ons teach Windows Explorer new tricks

You can choose from dozens of file managers to replace Windows Explorer — some of them are even free — but only the original is so closely integrated into the OS.

Before you give Explorer the boot, check out some first-rate add-ons that turn Windows’ tired file browser into the information manager of the future.

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Outlook Web Access corrupts HTML attachments

The “Safe HTML” filter in Microsoft’s Outlook Web Access for Exchange Server deletes code from HTML attachments without warning.

Microsoft claims the filtering protects users by removing malicious elements, but the deletions can ruin a collaborative project and the “feature” isn’t present in any other Microsoft mail products.

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XP SP3 triggers false positives in security apps

Installing Windows XP Service Pack 3 can cause your anti-malware programs to report the presence of Trojans and keyloggers that aren’t there.

The false positives have blocked important system files in some cases, and in others they have misled users into reinstalling XP.

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Keep XP fresh until Windows 7 arrives

When Windows XP was released, wireless routers were rare, few cell phones supported e-mail, and YouTube was just a gleam in some PayPal employees’ eyes.

But like a fabled perpetual motion machine, XP keeps on going and going — and if you follow some simple guidelines, the OS will keep running in top condition until Vista’s successor is ready in 2010.

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Make your PC difficult to steal, easy to recover

For little or no money, you can lower the chances that your computer will be targeted by thieves.

Take a few simple steps now to make your notebook and desktop PCs easier to recover should they ever be lost.

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Thwart malware attacks by locking out bad sites

Bolster your antivirus, firewall, and antispyware protection by customizing the IP address manager built into Windows.

Redirect ad servers and other undesirable addresses in Windows’ Hosts file and update your unwanted-address list automatically for free with the HostsMan utility.

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Nine must-have freeware apps rise to the top

The “best freeware” lists published by Web sites and magazines frequently trumpet dozens of programs, but the results reflect the subjective opinions of just one or two testers.

To find the best of the best, I compared roundups of “great” freeware conducted recently by four reputable publications to find the programs that were endorsed by at least three of the reviews.

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