Whether you have Windows 7, Vista, or XP, keeping the operating system in good working order doesn't necessarily mean wasting hours (or even days) digging into obscure settings. Our fast fixes will help you correct common problems and optimize your Windows PC in just a few minutes.

How to stop AutoPlay From Bugging You

2 minutes

These days, you're probably plugging all kinds of devices into your PC--thumb drives, cameras, smartphones, and so on--each of which opens a Windows AutoPlay pop-up. This can get annoying, fast.

To disable AutoPlay for an individual device, first plug the device into your computer and allow any drivers to install completely. The AutoPlay window will pop up for the first time. Simply close it by clicking the red X.

Disconnect the device, and then plug it back in. The AutoPlay window will pop up again. Click View more AutoPlay options in Control Panel. At the bottom of the screen, you will see your newly connected device. Change ‘Choose a default' to Take no action. Click Save. This option will not be available the first time you connect a device, hence the requirement to plug in, disconnect, and reconnect it.

To turn AutoPlay off for all devices, in the ‘View more AutoPlay options' screen, at the top, uncheck Use AutoPlay for all media and devices.

In the Control Panel, you can tell AutoPlay how to handle particular devices and files.

How to kill a stuck program

30 seconds

If a program is not responding, you can terminate it by way of the Windows Task Manager.

Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete; click Start Task Manager. Click the Processes tab.

To more easily find the offending process, click the Memory header to sort by which process is using the most RAM. Chances are, your crashed application will be at or near the top of this list (and likely it will be outlook.exe, firefox.exe, or iexplore.exe). Click the process that has died and click End Process.

How to Uninstall an Application

5 minutes

Cleaning every last trace of an old program can be a pain. Here's how to do it quickly.

Start with the obvious option: Open the ‘Programs and Features' control panel, select the application you no longer want, and click Uninstall. You may need to reboot the system.

If the program has other parts (plug-ins, toolbars, ActiveX components, and so on), uninstall them too, following the above instructions. If an application won't uninstall, don't edit the Registry in an attempt to manually scrub the program away; in all likelihood, you'll accidentally cause more harm than good.

Removing an application in the 'Programs and Features' control panel is simple

If you installed the program recently, you can try rolling back your PC with System Restore to get rid of it. Find this function under Accessories, System Tools.

If that doesn't work, try the $39 Revo Uninstaller. A more-limited free version of Revo Uninstaller is also available.

How to bypass Windows Login

3 minutes

If you're the only one who uses your computer, and you're not worried about it (or your data) falling into someone else's hands, you may not need the protection that the login screen provides. Here's how to turn it off.

Open the User Accounts control panel. Delete any unused accounts that are not your primary, personal account. (Click Manage another account, choose the other accounts, and select Delete the account.) You can ignore the Guest account, which is likely turned off.

At the main User Accounts page, ensure that your primary account is active. Click Change your password. Enter your old password where required and leave your new password blank. Reboot your machine, and it will load Windows directly without presenting the login screen. Just remember that you are compromising your system's security by operating it without a password.

How to remap a Keyboard

3 minutes

Download and install KeyTweak, which works with all Windows versions.

Run the application. Click Full Teach Mode to remap one key to another, pressing the original key and the one you want to assign to it in sequence.

Remember that a laptop's Fn key normally cannot be remapped, so if you want to swap Fn and Ctrl--a common tweak--you'll have to check for the option in the PC's BIOS.

How to compress a Folder

30 seconds

You can dramatically shrink folders that contain uncompressed graphics, large documents, and other file types by compressing them.

All you have to do is right-click on the file or folder, click Send to, and select Compressed (zipped) folder. Files added to the compressed folder will be automatically compressed. Just don't forget to delete the original uncompressed folder.

Disable System Tray Balloon Pop-Ups (Windows 7)

30 seconds

Tired of balloon notifications popping up in the corner of your screen? Type action center in the Start menu search box. Click Change Action Center settings. Uncheck the boxes for the categories to be suppressed. Unchecking everything will suppress all Windows-originated pop-ups.

Turn Off Automatic Reboots

2 minutes

Windows invariably decides to reboot itself only while you've left your computer idling with a big presentation open and unsaved. Reboots typically happen after Windows Update does its thing, often late on Tuesday nights. The easiest way to prevent automatic reboots is to change Windows Update from automatic to manual.

To do so, open the Windows Update control panel, and then click Change settings. From the drop-down menu, select Never check for updates (not recommended). The other options, including ‘Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them', sound good in theory but are not as reliable in suppressing autoreboots--and Windows is prone to making changes to your selections without permission. To keep yourself from forgetting to run Windows Update periodically, set a recurring item in your calendar to check the service every week or two.

You can also address the automatic-reboot problem by way of Windows' Local Group Policy Editor. Open the editor by typing group policy into the Start menu search box. Click Edit group policy. In the left pane of the window, expand the Local Computer Policy, Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, Windows Components, Windows Update tree.

In the right pane, right-click ‘No auto-restart with logged on users for scheduled automatic updates installations' and select Edit. Change the setting to Enabled and click OK. Do the same for ‘Delay Restart for scheduled installations' in the previous pane. You can't turn off automated restart for scheduled installations completely, but you can increase the delay to a maximum of 30 minutes, giving you more time than the standard default of 5 minutes to save your work.

Changing this setting to Enabled will keep Windows Update from surprising you with reboots.

Open an Application in XP Mode

4 minutes

A few very old applications won't run under Windows 7--but you can tweak Windows 7 to act like an older operating system with a few simple clicks.

First, right-click the application in question and click Troubleshoot compatibility. Select Troubleshoot program at the next prompt, and then check I don't see my problem listed (or choose the actual problem if one is a match).

The next screen will ask, ‘Which version of Windows did this program work on before?' Try selecting XP (with Service Pack 3), or venture even farther back to Windows 98 or Windows 95 if you need to. Click I don't see my problem listed or select the best match again. Windows 7 will then emulate the older OS that you selected to run the problematic application. Use the Start the program button to test if the program works, and then click Next. If everything worked, click Yes, save these settings for this program. Otherwise, click No, try again using different settings to give it another shot.

To run older programs, tell Windows 7 to emulate an earlier OS.

10-Second Fixes

1. Boot Into Safe Mode: Repeatedly tap the F8 key while the computer boots up.

2. Convert All-Caps Into Lowercase in Office: Select the text and press Shift-F3.

3. Select a Large Block of Text in a Web Browser: Click normally in front of the first word you wish to select, and then hold down Shift and click at the end of the text you want. Press Ctrl-C to copy the text. This trick works in all major browsers.

4. Quickly Zoom in and out of a Web Page: Hold down the Ctrl key and use your mouse's scrollwheel.

5. Quickly Open a Command Prompt in a Buried Folder: Find the folder in Windows Explorer, and then Shift-right-click it. Select Open command window here.

Windows XP Fixes

1. Fix Everything: Download Tweak UI to access hidden settings, such as window scroll speed. It's part of the PowerToys pack, which has other apps like ClearType Tuner (improve your LCD's clarity) and Image Resizer (right-click a photo in Windows Explorer to change its resolution).

2. Disable System Tray Pop-Ups (Windows XP and Vista): Enter regedit in the Start menu Run box (XP) or search box (Vista). In the Registry Editor, go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced. Create a new DWORD value with the name of EnableBalloonTips and a value of 0. Restart the PC.

3. Rearrange the Taskbar: Normally apps are listed in the order opened, but you can freely move apps around on the taskbar by using Taskbar Shuffle.

4. Turn Off Error Reporting: You have no reason to report errors, since Microsoft isn't fixing XP bugs now. Open the System control panel, click the Advanced tab, and click Error Reporting for disabling options.

5. Get Aero Snap in XP: Like the window-management features of Windows 7, such as Aero Snap? You can fake it in Windows XP with the help of AquaSnap, a free add-on.