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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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Flash ads bearing malware plague popular sites

A Flash-based advertisement that appeared last week on the USA Today site downloaded malicious code to users’ computers, generating erroneous warnings of a malware infestation and offering a phony solution.

The Flash vulnerability is so widespread that such “malvertisements” may be present on thousands of sites, but there are measures you can take to reduce your exposure.

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Outages cast doubts on MS online services

With the recent public betas of Office Live Workspace and Microsoft Online Services, the Redmond company is ratcheting up its efforts to deliver the power of MS Office — or at least a portion of it — to the Internet.

But Microsoft’s ability to offer software as a service (SaaS) has come under fire due to server outages and bugs that have plagued the company’s online services in the last several months.

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It’s official: upgrade hack included in Vista SP1

The new Service Pack 1 version of Windows Vista allows end users to purchase the “upgrade edition” and install it on any PC — with no need to purchase the more expensive “full edition.”

The same behavior was present when Vista was originally released, but the fact that the trick wasn’t removed from SP1 suggests that Microsoft executives approved the back door as a way to make the price of Vista more appealing to sophisticated buyers.

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XP virtual computing avoids dual-boot complexity

It’s possible to have Vista and chow down on your XP cake, too, if you apply a free — for now — virtual machine.

If you’re stuck with a Vista PC, but you really prefer using XP, I’ll show you how to set up XP as a virtual machine on Vista, plus some tricks you can use to get the most out of this setup.

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Carry an entire operating system in your pocket

Running applications from a USB flash drive on a public computer is convenient but exposes you to malware and other limitations of the host PC.

By installing a Windows-like version of Linux on a flash drive, you can take a complete operating system wherever you go and work in a safe, secure environment, even in an Internet café.

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How to fix that gizmo you dropped in the loo

It happens to everyone: one moment, you’re talking on your cell or dialing up a tune on your MP3 player, and the next, you’re staring down at your gadget in a toilet, a puddle, or worse.

If your portable electronic device gets dropped or submerged, is there anything you can do? Fortunately, the answer is yes.

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