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I'm one of today's best-selling computer book writers, with more than 15 million books in print.

This website keeps you up-to-date on my books, and your computers. Each week, I answer a reader's question on-line.

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Do I need to change my e-mail address to create a Microsoft Account?

MicrosoftAccountQ: If I sign up for a Microsoft account in Windows 8 or 8.1, do I have to change my email address instead of staying with my current e-mail address?

Will I have to pay a monthly fee, and will I have to notify everyone of my new email address?

A: In a word, no. Signing up for a Microsoft account is much more difficult than it should be, probably because Microsoft offers so many ways to create one.

You can create a Microsoft account by creating an entirely new e-mail address, for example, perhaps one from Outlook.com.

However, you can also convert any e-mail address into a Microsoft account, and that’s the best method for people who have used the same e-mail address for years.

So, lets tackle your questions one by one. Click to read more »

Preventing desktop programs from running automatically in Windows 8

The Task Manager's Startup tab lets you stop programs from loading automatically on the Windows 8 desktop.Q: When I enter Windows 8’s Desktop app, some programs start themselves automatically.

In Windows 7, I stopped programs from loading automatically by removing their shortcuts from the Start menu’s Startup folder.

But in Windows 8, I can’t find the Startup folder!

How can I prevent unwanted Windows 8 programs from automatically loading themselves onto the desktop? I don’t want to uninstall them.

A: Like impatient children, some programs don’t wait until they’re called. These eager programs load automatically, jumping onto the desktop as soon as possible.

In Windows 7, they automatically jump onto the desktop each time you turn on your computer. In Windows 8, they wait until you load the Desktop app, then fling themselves onto the screen.

For often-used programs, this is a benefit. But for other programs, it’s simply a nuisance.

Stopping these impatient programs is fairly easy in Windows 7: You  open the Start menu, click All Programs, click the Startup folder, right-click the offending program’s shortcut, and choose Delete.

But Windows 8 no longer includes a Start menu, much less a Start button. What’s the trick? Click to read more »

Creating a Recovery Drive in Windows 8

Blue Screen of DeathQ: My Windows 8 computer crashed with a blue screen, saying it had a problem and need a repair.

Since I couldn’t start my computer, I couldn’t do a Refresh or a Repair, so I had to take the computer to a shop.

How can I avoid this in the future?

A: When Windows is about to die, it doesn’t ask for a last meal. No, for the past 30 years, Windows has used its last breath to toss an error message across a blue screen.

When you see what’s often called the Blue Screen of Death, there’s no going back. Windows has died, taking all your unsaved work along with it.

Sometimes simply restarting your computer fixes the problem. Other times, restarting Windows only brings a repeat of the blue screen. And in Windows 8, that means trouble: You can’t access Windows 8’s built in Refresh and Repair tools.

Your best hope is that you’ve created a Recovery Drive — either a flash drive or CD/DVD — that contains built-in fix-it tools to bring Windows 8 back to life. (I’ve covered Windows 7’s recovery discs and repair discs in another post.)

If you haven’t yet created a Recovery Drive for Windows 8, take the time to follow these steps: Click to read more »

Can I safely delete Adobe programs like Acrobat, Air, Reader, Shockwave Player, and Flash Player?

Which Adobe programs are safe to uninstall?Q: Recently a relative gave me a computer that runs Windows XP.

I’m trying to clean it up, and I discovered several Adobe programs: Acrobat, Air, Shockwave Player, and Flash Player.

Do I need them all, or can they be safely deleted?

A: Since its founding in 1982, Adobe Systems has released many programs, and you’ll find one or two Adobe programs on nearly every PC. But which ones do you need, and which can you safely delete?

The short answer is that you can delete many of them found on older PCs. That’s because the latest versions of Adobe’s most popular and commonly found programs can be downloaded and re-installed for free from Adobe’s download page.

Here are longer answers for the specific programs you found on your particular Windows XP computer: Click to read more »

Taking screenshots on the Surface RT

To take a screenshot in Windows RT, hold down the Windows key while simultaneously pressing the Volume Down rocker along the Surface RT's left side.Q: How do I take a screenshot in my Surface RT tablet?

A: Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet comes with a built-in shortcut for taking screenshots — files containing an image of what you currently see on the screen.

The trick is in how you press the Windows key — the silver Windows logo centered beneath your tablet’s screen.

Each time you press and release the Windows key, three things should happen:

  • You should feel a slight vibration
  • You should hear a little buzz
  • Your Surface RT’s screen should switch to either your Start screen or your last-used application.

If all three things aren’t happening, you won’t be able to take a successful screenshot. Keep tapping the Windows key until it starts making the vibrating buzz as it toggles between the Start screen and your last-used application.

If the Windows key still isn’t working, try removing the snap on keyboard and restarting your tablet. Once the Windows key begins to work, you can snap the keyboard back on.

Once the Windows key begins working the way it should, follow these steps to take a screenshot on your Surface RT: Click to read more »