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Utilities

About two months ago I made a major change in my living room. For several years I had used a home theater computer (HTPC) to access all of our ripped DVD’s, music and digital photos. I did not use Windows Media Center for its primary focus, which is watching and recording live TV, so when the PC aged and began to slow down I decided to replace it with a cheaper alternative.

Instead of building a new HTPC I opted for a Google TV box. I got the same functionality I had been using Windows Media Center for thanks to the Plex server and app. However, many of our discs had been ripped as ISO files — a format that Google TV, even using Flex, can not handle. I needed to convert the files and options included MKV, MP4 and AVI. All would work, but I opted for MKV.

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There is no end to the amount of utilities that proclaim to “help” you out with your computer, by scanning files, cleaning things up and grabbing system information. Its an area of software that is fraught with danger, though. Many are unreputable and some even pop up messages warning you of danger to your system in an effort to prompt you to purchase them. Others simply either do not work or work a little too well, giving unknowledgeable users the opportunity to harm their own system by removing a file that Windows finds essential to run.

If you are careful, however, you can find some good utilities. Pay attention to reviews and what experts have to say and, when in doubt, simply avoid the software.

One of the better apps for gathering information about what is going on with your computer is called PC Hunter, which was recently updated to version 1.0.0.2.

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Like its predecessors, Windows 8 makes customization of the computer mostly easy and, where it lacks, third-party software makers have stepped up and filled in. There are multiple free and paid ways of adding the lost Start button and menu and making numerous other tweaks like adding tabs to Explorer and more. 

As for the desktop and lock screen, customers can use built-in functionality to change the background to any image they wish to use, but the Start screen has a limited number of options — users can only change the color and choose from a limited number of design options.

Enter Stardock. The company makes numerous affordable apps that customers can try and buy to make tweaks to almost every aspect of the Windows 8 operating system.

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In today’s world of internet and downloadable content we all have some need for file conversion, be it music or video or even documents. We also all love free when we can possibly get it. There are a number of free video converters available and even some web apps that can handle the task, though for file sizes equal to TV shows and movies those services become useless.

FreeMake has what I consider perhaps one of the best and most comprehensive solutions on the market, plus it has that wonderful price tag of zero.

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I have had enough of talking about video, TV and Media Center-type stuff for the moment. It is time to move to the other side of the spectrum — music. It seems like, for many of us, our music library is in a more or less constant state of disarray. If you are, like me, always looking for a solution to organize it, and prefer free, then there are several options available out there.

However, my favorite over the past few years has proven to be MP3Tag. Over the time I have used this, it has proven to be the simplest, but also the best, solution of the many I have tested and thrown away, some of them I even paid before and then hated!

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These things seem to go in cycles. I spent four posts looking at ways you could cut the cord and, while this is not a series, it is still my second post about getting your music library organized. Perhaps it is simply because mine is such a total mess. Regardless of my personal procrastination with music libraries I do sometimes try and fix it up and I have an array of apps I have found over the years to aid me in my quest to accomplish this hopeless task.

The last time around, I talked about MP3Tag (my favorite app by the way), but this time around I wanted to show you an app I found even before that — MP3 Renamer. In fact, this was one of the first ones to become a staple in my armory to combat that dreaded, bloated pile of music that I both love and hate.

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The process of transferring files inside of Windows isn’t exactly intuitive. Many users complain about the lack of configuration and speed inside of the Windows Explorer file transfer utility. While this process has been steadily improving over the last few versions of Windows, I would not consider it to be up to par with what the average user requires just yet.

For many years, I have been an avid user of an application known as TeraCopy, a free file transfer utility that is more sophisticated than the Windows Explorer file transfer utility in almost every aspect; Notably, it utilizes technology that will speed up the heretofore painful process of large file transfers.

Is it right for you? Let’s take a look and find out!

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Programs that start automatically with Windows can be useful – it saves you from having to manually launch apps you want to use straight away such as a chat client, for example – but there can also be a darker side.

Install a large number of apps on your computer and the number of startup programs can reach a level that means performance starts to be compromised. There is also the possibility that viruses and malware can install themselves a startup item, so it’s important that you monitor which program are in your list of automatic runners.

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Microsoft made some major changes to Windows Explorer with the release of Windows 8. They finally brought the once hated, but now popular, ribbon interface to the built-in Explorer app. The ribbon toolbar was almost universally panned when it debuted in Office 2007, but by the time Office 2010 rolled around customers had become familiar with it and actually began to at least accept it if not flat out like it.

That is a good thing because the interface isn’t going anywhere — we already know it is included in Office 2013 and Microsoft has also added it to the Windows 8 Explorer app as well.

However, one thing that the Redmond, Washington-based company failed to add was a tab feature. Ironically that seems to be almost universally considered the number one most requested feature by Windows users, thanks to familiarity with web browser interfaces.

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So you have finally decided to trade in your old desktop or notebook PC for a new model. But before you resell or recycle it, you need to ensure that none of the personal data stored on your PC gets into the hands of whoever uses it next.

The quick way, of course, is to just format your hard drive. But if you are reselling the device, deleting Windows 7 or any older version of the OS will diminish its value; after all, your buyer wants a fully functional PC too.

Don’t worry, you can get rid of all your data with the help of a few apps.

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