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Keep Your Wi-Fi Secure, Quick Windows Tips

Learn how to keep your wi-fi network safe, switch quickly between windows, and use a shortcut to get fast access to folders.

For many years, I didn't bother protecting my home network--even though PCWorld colleagues like Nick Mediati have some great tips on doing just that (see "How to Secure Your Home Wi-Fi Network"). Call me crazy, but I didn't see the need.

All my neighbors have their own networks--all of them password-protected, of course. So why would I deal with the hassles of WPA2 passkeys and all that? Not long ago, my router died, and when I set up the replacement, I figured it was time for me to get smart and set up some encryption--just in case some cheapskate neighbor decided to start freeloading off my pricey cable Internet service. And you know what? Hassle city. I'm tired of entering a lengthy password every time I add a new device to the network (which is often). Plus, I have a couple wireless printers causing me major grief with the new WPA2 setup.

So I'm about ready to ditch it and go back to my unprotected ways. And when I do, I'm going to follow the clever advice I gleaned over at Digital Inspiration: I'm going to give my network a scary name.

Specifically, by choosing an unappealing or intimidating SSID (network name), I may well discourage non-tech-savvy neighbors (which, no offense, folks, is most of them) to steer clear. The author's example: c:\virus.exe. I like that, but what about something vaguely threatening like FBI-Watchdog? Or thievesbeware? Actually, think I'll go with this: iwillhackyou. That should be enough to keep the pilferers at bay.

Okay, maybe this is a bit silly. The smarter move is simply to not broadcast the SSID at all, meaning your network will stay invisible to outsiders while remaining available to you--as Nick suggested in his article. That's the route I'm planning to take--but I still like the idea of a scary name for my network.

A Better Way to Switch Between Open Windows

There are several ways to switch between open windows. Many users reach for the mouse, point to the Taskbar, and then click the button for the window they want to bring to the foreground. That's about the slowest, least convenient method.

If you're a fan of keyboard shortcuts, like I am, you probably use Alt-Tab to cycle between open windows. That's a better method, but Windows uses such tiny thumbnails, I often find myself squinting to see if the selected window is the one I'm after--and sometimes I actually end up with the wrong one.

Windows Vista and 7 users can also press Win-Tab to engage Flip View, a kind of Rolodex-style window selector. This should be the best option, as it uses much larger, easier-to-view thumbnails (a term that really doesn't apply here). But for whatever reason, I don't like it.

No, for my money, the fastest and most effective way to cycle between open windows is by tapping Alt-Esc. Doing so instantly switches you to the next open window, then the next after that, and so on. There's no interim step, no thumbnail view to squint at or cycle through. Tap once and bam: the next window appears. Not the one you want? Tap again and bam: next window.

(If you're a total newbie when it comes to keyboard shortcuts, make sure you hold down the Alt key, then tap Esc again and again until you land on the window you want. Then you can release Alt.)

This works especially well if you have just two windows open; Alt-Esc functions like a toggle switch, instantly hopping back and forth between them.

Create a Keyboard Shortcut for Your Favorite Folder

Reader Jim has a documents folder that he uses regularly, and wants to know if there's a way to pin it to the Taskbar for fast and easy access. (He also notes that he loves Hassle-Free PC, indicating he's an especially smart individual.)

Alas, while Windows 7 lets you pin programs and individual files to the Taskbar, it doesn't let you pin folders. However, there's another lightning-fast way to access a favorite folder, and that's by setting up a keyboard shortcut. Here's how:

Open Windows Explorer and navigate to the folder in question. Let's say it's called "Client Files" (which is exactly the name of the folder Jim's after). Right-click the folder and choose Send to, Desktop (create shortcut). Now minimize all open windows and find the newly created shortcut icon on your desktop. It'll be labeled Client Files - Shortcut. Right-click that shortcut and choose Properties. Within the Shortcut tab, click inside the Shortcut key field. Now you have to decide what keyboard shortcut you want. It could be something like Ctrl-Shift-F or Ctrl-Alt-Q. I recommend using some combination of Ctrl-Shift, Ctrl-Alt, or Shift-Alt, just to avoid conflicts with other programs (which are more likely to use just one of those keys). For sake of argument, let's go with Ctrl-Shift-F. Press that combination, and you'll see it appear in the Shortcut key field. Click OK to complete the process.

Now, whenever you press Ctrl-Shift-F, even when you're using another program, your Client Files folder will magically appear. By the way, you can use this method to quick-launch favorite apps as well; just right-click a desktop shortcut and repeat the process.

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog. My 411: [email protected]. You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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