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Does Vista already have Windows 7’s new kernel?

For those waiting for a faster, better-performing version of Windows, you’ll have to wait at least nine months for Windows 7.

But if you can’t wait, Vista Service Pack 1 may provide a peek into Microsoft’s plans to equip Windows 7 with a dramatically smaller, more agile operating-system kernel.

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Don’t go from XP to Vista unless you go 64-bit

Early indications are that Windows 7 won’t be a major upgrade from Vista.

But the real choice isn’t between Vista and Windows 7; it’s between moving to a 64-bit version of Windows now or later.

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Cloud computing puts your health data at risk

The advent of “in the cloud” medical records services, such as Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health, promises an explosion in the storage of personal health-care information online.

But these services pose sticky privacy questions — unless you know how to protect your personal medical records.

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Don’t let XP Service Pack 3 hose your system

From the moment Microsoft released it, Service Pack 3 for Windows XP has been the subject of almost daily reports of bugs, incompatibilities, and general headaches.

You can install SP3 with confidence — providing you take certain precautions — or, if you prefer, use Windows’ Automatic Update settings to keep the service pack off your system.

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Don’t fall for bogus antivirus downloads

A new virus strain pretends to remove malware but actually does just the opposite: it infects your system.

Fortunately, you can use a few simple steps to tell the difference between these rogue antivirus programs and legitimate security software.

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You’ll get a new Windows Update, like it or not

Microsoft will soon install a new version of Windows Update on your computer, even if you’ve set your PC not to download and install any updates.

With such a potential for confusion, it’s a good idea for you to know what’s going to be done to your machine by this important but often misunderstood tool.

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Free tools deactivate unsafe ActiveX controls

Don’t count on Microsoft to shut down ActiveX vulnerabilities when they arise, as Microsoft Access users learned last Patch Tuesday when the company had no fix to offer for a leaky ActiveX plug-in.

ActiveX security holes appear all the time, so you need these tips and tools to keep your system safe from flawed or malicious Internet Explorer add-ins.

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Don’t get burned by driver-update scams

Although you can find free tools to help keep Windows and your other software up-to-date, you’ll have to pay to get the best tool for scanning your system’s drivers and downloading the updates you need.

I found some good driver updaters but also one full-on scam — Prosoft3D’s Driver Update 5 — that simply points you to Windows’ Device Manager and tells you to do the job yourself.

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Yahoo Mail’s makeover gives it the webmail edge

As free Web-based e-mail services get better and better, you may soon be able to leave your desktop e-mail apps behind.

But which of the Big Three webmail services — Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo Mail — has the features that meet your needs?

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Protect yourself from software-vendor ‘snarketing’

These days, even the software we like often comes with hidden annoyances designed to help the vendor at the expense of us poor customers.

Here are five examples of sneaky marketing — snarketing, as I call it — and what you can do to mitigate the practice’s ill effects.

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