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Biggest ever PC tips guide

Tips and tricks for getting more from your PC, laptop, tablet, phone, printer, camera and more


Keyboard conflicts

Your Windows keyboard will almost certainly be set up for UK English, but third-party apps sometimes change this. When we installed Apple’s iCloud software to synchronise the contents of an iPhone, for example, some keys started displaying anomalous behaviour. To change the keyboard back, click on the Keyboard icon in your laptop’s System Tray and change the option to UK Extended.

Symbolic gestures

Add frequently used symbols to your custom keyboard with the shortcut key assignment tools in Word. Go to the Insert menu and click on those you need most often.

Fool the format tool

Formatting in Microsoft Word and other Office applications is often too clever by half. To paste an item into a text document without changing the formatting, use the Paste Special command at the top left. If you are pasting in items from multiple sources, you can ensure consistency under Paste Options by clicking on the Default button.

Image-embedding options

Image files also have their own paste options: choose Device Independent Bitmap if you need to precisely reproduce an image.

Instant replacement

Ctrl, H to find and replace is ideal for all sorts of things: you can make universal changes to the format or spellings, and can also override imported character symbols you don’t like. A common bugbear is that text pasted from the web uses clunky ‘straight quotes’ rather than more sophisticated ‘curly’ ones. Enter the before and after choice in the upper and lower fields to amend the lot.

Shortcut key drill

Keyboard shortcuts require less effort than using a mouse. Ctrl, N for a new document, Ctrl, X to cut, Ctrl, S to save, Ctrl, H to find and replace, and Ctrl, Z to undo are useful.

Fast undo and redo

Among the most useful shortcuts are Ctrl, Z (or Apple, Z on a Mac) to undo any errors you may have made, and Ctrl, Y to redo something you’ve accidentally deleted. Depending on the program you can use both commands multiple times to go back and forth through your document history or edits.

Down tools faster

Finished work for the day? In Windows 7 or Vista there’s no need to close all your open applications individually. Shut them all in one fell swoop with a click of the ‘Close All Windows’ icon.

Get more screen space

Move the Windows Taskbar and get more vertical onscreen space to view documents and web pages. Right-click an empty area of the Taskbar and clear the option next to Lock the Taskbar. Now drag it somewhere unobtrusive, such as one side of the screen.

Taskbar tweak

7 Taskbar Tweaker (rammichael.com) is a free application that gives you more control over items such as Windows Jump Lists. Our favourite tweak allows the middle mouse button to narrow what’s onscreen, rather than obliterating it with a new blank window.

Locked-file fix

Files that you should be able to open but can’t, and those that are falsely reported ?as being ‘open by another user’, can be ?prised open by a couple of helpful utilities. Unlocker 1.8.9 is a respected option, while iObit now offers Unlocker 1.0. Grab it from ?our Downloads site at tinyurl.com/dybdnf4.

Templates work

Don’t spend hours tinkering with logo placement and font choices when creating stationery and other standard documents. Microsoft Word has masses of templates built in, while extras can be downloaded from the internet. If you really want a distinctive look, Moo.com offers custom business cards. Similarly, WordPress and other preformatted website templates will serve you very well until you can afford a bespoke design. Devote your energy to the business plan and marketing your products instead.

Protected view and editing ?and printing docs

When you try to open a Word document that’s sent by email, it displays in Protected View. It takes several extra clicks in order to make it editable or for you to even be able ?to print it. Go to the File, Options menu to ?tell Windows this isn’t necessary.

Preview Gmail messages

There’s no split-pane preview option in Gmail. If, however, you click the gear icon at the top right of your account, choose Mail settings, Labs and then scroll down to ‘Message Sneak Peek’ and click Enable, you’ll be able to see an approximation.

View only unread Gmails

Gmail’s almost limitless inbox is great for archiving lots of messages. But if you want ?to filter out those you’ve already seen, and head straight for only unread messages, enter is:unread in the Search Mail field at ?the top of your inbox.

Don’t depend on Gmail

Having a seemingly limitless email archive to draw upon is great news; having a multi-gigabyte archive go missing isn’t. Having experienced just such an outage in early 2011, we quickly looked into ways to prevent it from happening again. Google Backup can save and store your mail box, and download it if required. See tinyurl.com/cfmywo6 for in-depth details.

Get a Hotmail address

Hotmail may sound like a throwback email client, but we can’t argue with the free 25GB of online storage that Microsoft offers in return for creating a Microsoft ID and using its SkyDrive (skydrive.live.com).

The SkyDrive’s the limit

Better yet, you can use an existing email address to log in at windowslive.co.uk/skydrive and still claim that 25GB of free storage space.

Zimbra Desktop ?email management

If you favour Hotmail or Yahoo Mail over Gmail, you can back up emails for free using Zimbra Desktop (zimbra.com).

Read-receipt wrangle

If you need to use Outlook email, but are forever being bugged for unnecessary receipt acknowledgements, head to Options, Mail, Tracking menu and choose either ‘Always send a read receipt’ or ‘Never send a read receipt’, rather than continuing to be prompted each time.

Outlook file fail-safe

We often get asked how to export or back up .pst files for Microsoft Outlook. Since these sometimes get corrupted, preventing the program from running, it’s useful to know. Note that you may first need to ‘unhide’ the file. The Outlook/.pst file is a hidden file within a hidden folder. Go to Folder Options and select ‘Show hidden files and folders’. To export the file, go to the File, Import and Export menu in Outlook 2003 or File, Data File Management in Outlook 2007. Save it to an external device for safekeeping.

Email massive missives

It’s considered bad form to email huge attachments of your children and grandchildren to blameless relatives. If your ‘outlaws’ haven’t yet heard of it, introduce them to YouSendIt – a free email delivery service that lets the recipient pull down the photos to their hard drive at their leisure.

iPod touch talk

There’s much to admire about Apple’s iPod touch, but one of its best features is that even though it’s not tied to a phone contract it can still be used for web chat. As an iOS device with full access to the App Store’s gems, the likes of Truphone, Vonage and Skype can all be used for Wi-Fi calls.

Find My iPhone

Siri may be all chat, but you’ll surely have plenty to say if your iPhone ever goes walkabout. Enable ‘Find My Phone’ in its Settings menu and you’ll be able to track its latest whereabouts (clue: under the cushion on the sofa).

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