Computer Tips & Tricks
Many people will throw out an old computer because they believe it has become too slow and too buggy. However, it may be that the computer is still just fine—only they never did maintenance.
Computer software is like most things: it wears out over time. Operating system software can develop problems: settings can become incorrect, support files can become corrupted, even malware can cause some damage.
You should run maintenance operations on your computer every month or two, with a major cleaning every year or two.
On Mac and Windows, a good cleaning app is CC Cleaner, a free app which frees up disk space by deleting unneeded files associated with applications and the operating system. It does a lot of the tasks which help keep your computer running cleanly.
Because your operating system often will use your storage drive (HDD or SSD) for backing up the RAM, you should leave as much disk space free as you have RAM. If you have 8 GB of RAM, always make sure to leave 8 GB free on the drive.
Especially if you are running a Windows computer, you should make sure you are using antivirus software. This software will always be running in the background, and so it will use up CPU and Memory resources; however, on some computers, it can save you from harm.
Many Windows users feel that they are safe when actually they have no protection! Windows is the most vulnerable operating system for malware (harmful software, including viruses, worms, trojans, rootkits, spyware, adware, etc.). Many Windows users feel protected by the free trial for antivirus when they first buy their computer, and forget that it stops working after a month or two.
On Windows, two free apps include Avast and Microsoft's own MSE (Microsoft Security Essentials). Only use one program. When you first install it, run a full scan of your computer. You may be surprised to find many pieces of malware working!
Antivirus software for Macintosh is not as important, as Mac malware is still rare. However, Macs are not invulnerable; they can be attacked as well. At the very least, get free antivirus software like Avast or Sophos, and do a scan every month or two. If you want to be 100% safe, Avast can leave a guard program running all the time.
Important: most people seem to believe that their computer is clean because it is working properly. They believe that if malware infected their computer, they would know because of some damage or pirate message. This is not the case. Modern hackers try to hide their malware, leaving your computer running as normal. They want you to ignore their malware so you will not erase it. Without knowing it, your computer could even now be quietly used by hackers to send spam email, attack web sites, or commit other wrongs.
If your computer has a habit of slowing down sometimes, you should track your RAM usage. Some computers do not have enough RAM, and when free or "standby" RAM gets close to zero, that can cause the slowdown.
One way to control this is to close apps which you no longer need. Many people just keep apps open all the time, but this can cause problems. You might also want to compare the performance of different apps. For example, the Safari browser is famous for using a lot of RAM memory; if you are running low on RAM, try using a different app, and see how it improves things.
There are free utilities which show you how much RAM is used. On Windows, you can Open the Resource Monitor app; go to the Start Menu and type "Resmon" in the search field to find it. The Resource Monitor will not be visible until you open the app and look in the window, but it will tell you how resources are being used. In Resource Monitor, click on the "Memory" tab and see how much "free" or "standby" RAM you have. If most of the RAM is "In use," that may be your problem.
On a Mac, you can get use the Activity Monitor app, but to keep an eye on RAM usage at all times, you can get FreeMemory for free; it will show you free RAM in the Menu Bar.
If you are always reaching the limits of RAM, you might consider increasing the amount of RAM in your PC. This is not possible with all computers, but most allow an upgrade. Some computers can only use up to 3 or 4 GB of RAM, however.
Sometimes apps will freeze. In the old days, that meant you had to restart the whole computer, and all unsaved work in all the apps would be lost. Today, each app is separate from the others, so you can safely close one and keep on working. (However, when an app crashes, it's always best to save all your work and restart, just to be safe.)
In Windows, use the keyboard shortcut ALT + CTRL + DELETE. From the menu you see, choose Start Task Manager. You will see a window open with a list of all running applications. If one is frozen or crashed, it will show the status of "Not Responding." Click on that task, then click "End Task" and confirm any dialogs.
The Task Manager was the subject for one of my favorite Japanese computer jokes:
On a Mac, you know an app has crashed not only because it stopped working, but you also probably are seeing the "Spinning Rainbow Beachball of Death" cursor. Just use the keyboard shortcut Command + Option + ESC; a "Force Quit Applications" window will open. Find the app which is frozen, click on it, then click "Force Quit." If the Desktop / file & folder windows are stick, the just click on "Finder" in the list, and click "Relaunch."
On both Mac and Windows, if none of this works and you cannot shut down your computer, the solution is to hold down the power button for 5 seconds or more. This will force-shutdown the computer.
Backup & Restore
There are ways to make sure that your data and the computer in general are protected from loss. It is best (and often necessary) to do this on an external hard drive; you can get external hard drives for as cheaply as ¥5000 for 500 GB.
In Windows 7, you should create "system images" or "snapshots"; essentially, these remember what your computer data from a specific point in time. The process is illustrated here.
To make a snapshot, open the Start Menu and type "Backup" in the search box; then open "Backup and Restore" in the results. In the left sidebar, click "Create a System Image." You will see a Wizard which asks you to select the external drive, then which drives you want to back up (in addition to the C: drive). Then you can start the backup.
You may want to do this often, as you create new documents. Or, if you back up your documents separately, just create a snapshot soon after a clean install of the OS, apps, and your basic documents just after you got everything set up, so you can always jump back to a clean and fresh version of your system. Or you can do both, making multiple restore points.
When you want to restore to an earlier snapshot, go to the Start Menu, type "Recovery" into the search box, and open Recovery from the results. Then click on the "Open System Restore" button and follow the directions.
If your computer is trashed and you can't even start up, then just type the "F8" key on startup, and choose the "Repair Your Computer" option. You will be able to return to a past snapshot, and all the recent damage (and any new files created since the snapshot) will be erased.
On a Mac, there is an feature called "Time Machine." Again, you will need an external drive. To set it up, go to the System Preferences and select Time Machine. Turn it on, select an external drive, and let it go. Time Machine will make hourly, weekly, and monthly backups. The larger your external hard drive, the longer you will be able to keep files. The backup will not only remember files you saved, it will remember files you deleted, allowing your to recover trashed files easily.
If you set the Time Machine preference to show Time Machine in the menu bar, you can select "Enter Time Machine" from that menu. You will see a timeline with all the different versions of your computer files. Select the file or folder you want from the timeline, and click "Restore."
If your Mac has become trashed and you can't start the OS, then start the Mac and hold down "Command + R" on the keyboard; alternately, you can use an OS X Install Disc if you have one. Choose the "Restore From Time Machine Backup" utility, and choose when you want to go back to.
A Clean Sweep
As stated above, operating systems can get messed up over time. You might notice that your computer runs more slowly in general. Maybe your programs crash more often. You have problems regularly.
Once every year or two, it is probably best to do a clean erase & restore. In some computers, this is referred to as "reformat hard drive and restore system software to factory condition."
When you do this, all your documents and settings will be erased, so it is important to back up all of your files before reformatting & restoring. If you only have a few documents, then a USB Flash might be big enough. If you have more files than can fit on a USB Flash, then an external drive is best. Make sure all of your files are stored in the drive before you do a restore to your computer.
Also make sure you have all the drivers for your machine if you are restoring Windows. If you are using the OEM disc, or are using the Recovery partition on your hard drive, then you should be OK.
Make sure that you have all of your other install disks and the serial numbers necessary to activate them.
You may also want to take note of your key settings and passwords, which will also be lost. When you first get your computer, it would be a great idea to make a list of all the things you did to set up—how you set up WiFi or your Internet connection, what software you installed, what your main account names and passwords are, etc.
The restore process depends on which computer you bought, which company made your computer, and which operating system you are using. Refer to your instruction manual or the maker's web site for instructions on how to do a full restore.
Once you have done the restore, then re-install all of your other apps, restore your documents, reset your settings and log in to all of your accounts.
This process could take as long as a whole day, but it will probably speed up and stabilize your computer noticeably.
Features in Windows 7 You Want to Know About
Pinned Apps & Jump Lists
Windows 7 has some very useful features. One is called Pinned Applications. In Windows 7, you can attach any application you want to the Taskbar. If you open an application which is not pinned, it will appear anyway, and you can right-click it to keep it there permanently. This will allow you to open these apps very quickly when you want to.
Once an app is in the Taskbar, you can hold the cursor over the icon and a preview of all the open windows will appear; clicking on one will open the window.
Right-clicking on a pinned app will bring up a Jump List. This shows you frequently opened documents for the app, possible actions, and gives you the ability to close all windows in the app at one time. If you hover the cursor over a frequent document, you can "pin it" to the list, so that it never goes away.
Similarly, in the Start Menu, you can "pin the app to the Start Menu," which will put it in the top half of the menu and keep it there (instead of only showing recently used apps). If you hover over the app in the menu, an arrow appears at right; this shows the Jump Menu, which shows the most recently opened documents. You can pin these also.
You can switch applications or windows by clicking on the items in the Taskbar or in the live previews above pinned applications. However, there are other ways as well. An old way is to hold down the ALT key and the tapping the TAB key (ALT + TAB...). This will show the icons for each window; each time you tap the TAB key, it goes to the next icon. Letting go of ALT will take you to the selected window.
There is a cooler way, called "Flip 3D." (This may not work if you have a "Basic" or "Starter" version of Windows.) Hold down the WINDOWS (Start Menu) key, and then tap TAB (WIN + TAB...). This will show a 3D display of all open windows.
For both of these features, holding down the SHIFT key as well will reverse the direction.
If you click on a window's title bar and drag it to the top of the screen, it will expand to maximized size, and fill the screen. Drag the title bar down and it will restore down.
If you drag a window to the left or right edge of the screen, it will change size to fill up that half of the screen. Again, drag back to undo the setting.
If you have many windows open but you want all but one to hide, click on the title bar of one window and then shake it left and right. All other windows should minimize.
Upgrade Internet Explorer
Too many people are using old versions of Internet Explorer. Older versions of IE are especially bad at showing modern web sites. Really, you shouldn't be using IE anyway, it's not the best browser. However, if you really want to use it, at least make sure you update to the latest version.
Add Favorites to Navigation Pane
Are you always visiting certain folders but you have to click through many other folders to get there? Just drag and drop the folder into the "Favorites" list at the top of the nav pane. It will stay there, and will be visible when you use the navigation dialog box also.
Features in Mac OS X You Want to Know About
Most apps on the Mac (sorry, not Microsoft Office) work with the Mac's built-in Oxford American Dictionary. You can open the Dictionary directly by typing "Dict" into the Spotlight search bar at the top right of the menu bar (click on the magnifying glass icon).
The dictionary is not just the Oxford English (American and British) version; there is also an English Thesaurus, a Japanese dictionary, a Japanese-English dictionary (和英辞典) , as well as dictionaries for Chinese, Spanish, French, and German. It can also retrieve Wikipedia articles.
Better yet, you can use the dictionary inside many apps. For example, in the Safari browser, if you want to look up a word, just tap on the word with three fingers; the word will be selected, and the dictionary list will pop up. For more details, click on the dictionary you want in the bubble.
To activate, deactivate, or re-order dictionaries, open the Dictionary app and go into the Preferences. Check a dictionary to turn it on, or click-and-drag up and down the list to change the order it appears.
To switch between apps, just hold down the "Command" key and tap the TAB key (Command + TAB...). You will see a row of large icons appear. Keep hitting the TAB key until you get to the one you want, and then let go of the Command key.
Quit Using Windows
When people use Windows for many years, they bring Windows habits to the Mac. One of the most common habits is to close an app by closing the window. On windows, clicking the red-X "Close" button in the title bar will quit the app.
However, this does not usually work on the Mac! If you close all the windows for an app, it usually stays open. People think it is gone because all the windows have closed, but it is still there—and it is still using CPU and RAM resources.
To quit an app on the Mac, you must either (1) go to the apps menu at the top-right of the screen and select "Quit [App Name]," or (2) more simply, just do the keyboard shortcut "Command + Q."
Another way to quit: use the App Switcher (Command + TAB...). Hold down the Command key, TAB to the app you want... and with the Command key still down, type "Q." The app will quit (unless there are unsaved documents).
The Mac OS comes with a number of ways to view windows and the desktop. These go under the feature name Mission Control (formerly "Exposé").
There can be activated by keyboard shortcuts. Usually, they are:
- F9: Shows all windows in all open apps (unless they are hidden)
- F10: Shows all window in the current application
- F11: Shows the Desktop, making all other windows sweep out of the way
To make all of these go away, just tap the same F-key again. You can also activate them with trackpad gestures:
- Swipe up with 4 fingers: Shows all windows in all open apps (unless they are hidden)
- Swipe down with 4 fingers: Shows all window in the current application
- Spread (pinch-out) with 3 or more fingers: Shows the Desktop, making all other windows sweep out of the way
Showing the Desktop can be very useful, since the Mac OS allows dragging and dropping icons in most places. Want to grab a Desktop icon and open in a specific app? Show the Desktop, then click and drag the app into the Dock icon for the app you want.
Change Keyboard Shortcuts
Mac OS X allows you to change any keyboard shortcut, or even add new ones. You can add shortcuts for any app, or for all apps.
Go to the System Preferences, and select "Keyboard." Click on Keyboard Shortcuts. You will see a list of many built-in shortcuts. Just click on the shortcut for any one of them, and type the new shortcut. If there is a conflict, a yellow triangle will appear.
To create a new shortcut for any app, click on "Application Shortcuts" in the left-side list. Below the right-side area, you will see a "+" and "-" button. Click the "+" button. Choose the application (or leave it at "All Applications" for it to work everywhere); then type the name of the menu item (for example, "Full Screen"), and then type the shortcut you want (for example, Control + Alt + F). You will have to quit and restart any app for the change to work.
Save as PDF
PDFs are universal documents. They allow anyone on any computer to see your document exactly the same way, even if they don't have the right fonts installed. Mac OS X has the PDF format built in, meaning any app can save as a PDF file.
Just begin to print a document, but in the "Print" dialog box, click on the "PDF" button at the bottom left. In the PDF menu, select "Save as PDF..." and then save the document. You will not print anything.
The latest Mac OS X includes a great typing feature: text expansion. This is where you can set a short key combination which will then grow into a full expression.
Let's say you often type your address, "1-20-30 Nakamachi, Naka-ku, Tokyo-to." Instead of typing that all out every single time, you can assign a code, such as "12nk" which will change into the full address when you type it.
To set this, go to the System Preferences, and open the "Language & Text" pane. Click on "Text" in the tabs near the top. A few expansions are already there. To make a new one, click the "+" button at the lower left. Now, when you type the code and then hit the Space bar, the text should expand. Note that this feature does not work in all programs.