How To Connect A Microsoft Account To Windows 10

Of the many new tricks that are available in the Anniversary Update, one of the more noteworthy improvements is the ability to tie your Windows license to a Microsoft account instead of tying it to your hardware.

That way if you ever decide to upgrade your PC motherboard, for example, you won’t have to deal with Microsoft customer support to reactivate your license. This hassle could also happen if you upgrade other PC components.

Of course this requires that you create and use a Microsoft account when logging into Windows 10. Here’s how to set that up.

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Launch the Settings app and navigate to Account > Your info. In the right panel, you should see your account information including whether or not you’re using a local account or a Microsoft account (indicated by an email address, in which case you’re already done).

Click on Sign in with a Microsoft account instead. This will prompt you to either sign in with an existing Microsoft account or create a new one. Valid Microsoft accounts are any that exist on the Outlook.com, Live.com, Hotmail.com, or MSN.com domains.

Once switched, your local files and data will be migrated over.

Note that this does NOT mean your Windows 10 license is now connected to your Microsoft account. That requires using the new Activation Troubleshooter tool that was made available in the Anniversary Update.

Do you use a Microsoft account with Windows 10 or do you use a local account instead? Tell us why in the comments below!

Change Dns Presets On The Fly With Chrispc Dns Switch

DNS servers are the intermediate agents that resolve human-readable URLs to IP addresses. By using alternate DNS servers that are geographically closer, or that use more efficient caching methods, you can significantly speed up your browsing. DNS Tunnelling, on the other hand, is a great way to access region-blocked content.

If you’re using Windows as your operating system, there’s just one catch. Changing your DNS settings is a needlessly convoluted task. Configuring it once is worse enough, but switching between different DNS profiles frequently is almost out of the question. Luckily, third-party tools like ChrisPC DNS Switch are able to introduce much-needed flexibility.

ChrisPC DNS Switch

ChirsPC DNS Switch is a free Windows utility that greatly facilitates DNS changes. It’s a full-featured package that not only introduces extensive DNS profiles, but makes even the simplest changes to your DNS settings a lot faster and user-friendly.

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The application is free, but ad-supported. You’ll find a text advertisement at the bottom of the main application window and a single advertisement when you exit the settings. This is less intrusive than it sounds; you will want to use the [[APPLICATION TRAY]] for most program interactions, so these are only seen sporadically. With the time ChrisPC DNS Switch saves you, and the headaches it protects you from, it’s a great package deal.

DNS Presets

You can change the DNS settings for each separate network adapter on your computer, e.g. your WiFi vs. your LAN connection. With a network adapter selected, pick a DNS preset and press Change DNS to reprogram it. Alternatively, you can use the selected preset to reprogram all your network adapters at once.

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ChrisPC DNS Switcher comes with a sizeable collection of alternative DNS presets available out of the box. These are ordered by categories, like Regular, Secure and Custom. For a better overview, you can filter DNS presets by category when you’re reprogramming a network adapter in the application settings.

DNS Database & Custom Presets

The Custom category of DNS presets is empty when you first launch the application. You can probably guess why: it’s the category reserved for DNS servers entered by the user.

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Select DNS Database in the left sidebar of the main application window to view all existing DNS presets and to add your own. You can also play with the default collection of DNS presets. For example, once you’ve set your mind on the set of DNS presets you’re going to use, you can delete the other presets to clean up the list.

Tip: Run Installation File To Restore Default DNS Presets

If you ever want to get back (some of) the deleted default DNS presets, just run the installation file again. This adds the default collection back to the DNS Database and (in the current application version) also keeps your custom DNS presets intact.

Notification Area Controls

If you minimise the settings window or press the Hide Settings button, the application icon remains visible in the notification area. The notification area is by far the easiest way to interact with ChrisPC DNS Switch on the fly.

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Right-clicking on the application icon gives you a context menu through which you can access all DNS presets. Alas, there’s no filtering by category, so you can easily get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options. Again, it’s a good idea to delete DNS presets that you know for sure you won’t be using, to give you a better overview in these menus.

Tip: Keep ISP Default as Preset

Your DNS server, unless changed manually, is automatically assigned by your Internet service provider (ISP). Using custom DNS servers can be useful, but there are times you’ll want to go back to your ISP’s defaults.

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In particular, some ISP-specific services are only accessible if you’re using that ISP’s DNS servers. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to enter those DNS servers as a custom DNS preset. Instead of restoring your DNS settings in the ChrisPC DNS Switch settings, you can then just switch to your ISP preset.

Have you been tinkering with your DNS configuration? What have you been using it for? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below the article!

3 Small Windows Tools To Delay Any Programs At Startup

The issue of delaying application launches on startup, for me, directly relates to the security and safety of my computer. On startup, my computer connects to the Internet before the firewall can kick in. That small delay in the startup of my protection software gives a small window to viruses and malware.

The solution is a registry hack or software that can delay a program (ex. my broadband network connection) at startup.

Delaying a service has many uses – from improving boot efficiency to troubleshooting. Windows has several manual options for specifying the sequence of startup programs and a delay between them. You can use a batch file and place it in the startup folder or get into the registry and add entries under a registry key.

But for absolute ease of use there are a few software launcher options too. Let’s look into three of them.

Startup Delayer

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Startup Delayer (v2.5.138) is a 980KB free download. The latest version is more than a year old, but it works just fine on Windows 2000/XP/XP64/Vista systems. The app lists all the applications that load with Windows. You can double click on each application and edit its Launch Type and set the Delay.

Alternatively, you can drag “˜n drop the application onto the Time Chart that’s below the application list. Then, you can then drag and drop it around the Time Chart to rearrange the apps and change the delay. You can delete selected programs from the list and in case you change your mind, simply start over. The delay information is displayed on the status bar.

LaunchLater

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LaunchLater (v1.3) Beta does the same job of delaying the startup time of applications. The 1.145MB freeware does require that you have .NET Framework (ver.4.0) installed.

LaunchLater is very simple: you add the applications you want to delay and specify the delay in seconds. But the simplicity also entails a bit of work, because you have to manually browse to the executable of the application you want to delay the launch for.

WinPatrol

Startup program delay is just one of the roles of this well rounded security app, WinPatrol (ver.18.1). WinPatrol’s overall role is to monitor your computer for any changes and issue alerts. Scotty, the system watchdog, sits on the taskbar and watches out for threats. Malicious software, harmful ActiveX controls, suspected key loggers, spyware etc can be kept at bay using WinPatrol. WinPatrol does not scan but takes a system snapshot as the basis for its heuristic monitoring of the system.

WinPatrol has a startup monitor that lists all the programs that load with Windows. You can simply right click on the program(s) and move it to the Delayed Start list.

how to delay a program at startup

Next, on the Delayed Start list, you can right click on the program and set the delay time for the program.

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WinPatrol (Free) is a 1MB download and is supported on all Windows OS including Windows 7.

If you are looking for a startup delayer with some extra functionality to boot, WinPatrol is well reviewed and a good choice.  Mark reviewed it back in 2007 as well as taking a look at its portable version in 2009.

You can also go and checkout how to use Soluto to improve your Windows boot up time. Soluto also has an option that lets you delay programs and improve Windows responsiveness.

You can create your own free delay device using a simple batch file and placing it in the startup folder. Googling for it throws up quite a few samples. Windows Vista and 7 (also Windows Server 2008) have an Automatic (Delayed Start) option that ensures that selected services start shortly after a boot. You can access it from the Services Control Panel applet under Administrative Tools.

Do you use a manual option or a software to delay selected programs at startup? Let us know.

Image Credit : Shutterstock

How To Change, Reset, And Picturize Your Windows 8 Password

Windows 8 brings quite a few password-related changes. It uses Microsoft accounts by default, which means that your log in password is the same as the password for your Microsoft account online. You can reset this password online if you ever forget it. Windows 8 also allows you to create picture passwords, an ideal feature for touchscreen tablets.

The new version of Windows also has many of the features built into previous versions of Windows, such as the hidden ability to log on automatically. Features such as picture passwords can be used by any type of user account, but you’ll have to reset your Windows password the old-fashioned way if you’re using a local user account and forget its password.

Automatically Log Into Windows

Passwords are an important security feature, but you may not want to bother with them. If you have a desktop computer in a secure location, you can choose to skip the password prompt entirely and have Windows log in automatically.

To do so, press Windows Key + R to open the Run dialog. Type netplwiz into the dialog box and press Enter.

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Uncheck the “Users must enter a username and password to use this computer” checkbox and click OK.

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You’ll be asked to enter your password. Windows will remember this password and use it to sign you in automatically.

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Change Your Password

To change your password, open the Settings charm (press Windows Key + I to quickly open the Settings charm) and select Change PC settings.

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Select the Users category and click the Change your password button. You’ll be asked to provide your current password and a new password.

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Note that you can’t change a Microsoft account’s password from the desktop version of the Control Panel. You’ll just see a link taking you to the PC settings application. IF you’re using a local user account instead of a Microsoft account, you can change the password from the Control Panel normally.

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Reset a Microsoft Account Password

If you’re using a Microsoft Account instead of a local user account, you can reset your password online if you forget it. To do so, visit the Reset Your Password page on Microsoft’s website. Enter your account’s email address and enter the CAPTCHA code to confirm you’re a human being, not a robot.

There are a number of ways to receive a reset link, including via email to the address associated with your account, a code sent via SMS message to a phone you’ve associated with your account, and a PC you’ve trusted to access your Microsoft account.

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Reset a Local Account Password

If you’re using a local user account, you’ll have to use the traditional methods to gain access if you forget your password.

Like Windows 7, Windows 8 includes a tool that allows you to create a password reset disk. If you create a password reset disk ahead of time, you can use it in the future if you ever forget your password. To open the tool, press the Windows key to access the Start screen, type password reset disk, and tap the Settings category. Open the Create a password reset disk tool.

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If you didn’t create a password reset disk ahead of time, you’ll have to use a tool like Ophcrack to crack your WIndows password or a password-reset tool like the Offline NT Password Disk.

Of course, you can always reinstall Windows 8 and create a new local user account to regain access to your computer.

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Create a Picture Password

Windows 8 also allows you to log in with a picture password. Like a lot of things on Windows 8, this feature is designed for a touch screen, It’s easier to log into a touch-based Windows system with a few gestures on a picture instead of tapping away on a virtual keyboard. However, bear in mind that these aren’t as secure as real passwords. It’s often possible to see where you’ve touched a touch screen by the residue your fingers leave behind.

Picture passwords don’t replace your current password. They’re an alternative method you can use to log in. You’ll still be able to log in with your current password.

To create a picture password, click or tap the Create a picture password button in the Users section of the PC settings application. (You can also choose to create a PIN from here. The PIN will allow you to unlock a tablet by tapping a few numbers instead of entering a password, but it’s obviously less secure than a proper password that can incorporate more than just numbers.)

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You’ll have to enter your current password before creating a picture password. After you do, you’ll be able to choose your own picture.

The picture password will incorporate a number of circles, straight lines, and taps at locations you choose on the picture. Windows remembers the size, position, and direction of the gestures. For example, a simple picture password could be a family photo where you tap people’s faces in a certain order. However, that would be rather obvious. Try to create a less obvious one incorporating other elements, such as circles or lines.

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For more information about Windows 8, download our free guide to Windows 8.

Do you have any other password-related tips for Windows 8? Leave a comment and share them!

When Is The Best Time To Buy A New Windows Computer?

Computers can be expensive and we all love a bargain. It makes sense that you’d want to buy a new machine when you can get it for the cheapest price. But is there a best time to buy a new computer?

There are times when it’ll be more likely you can get a new computer for cheaper than the rest of the year, but there’s never a guarantee. And it might be that you’ll end up waiting for a price drop that never comes. We’ll assess if there’s a prime buying time and whether you should wait until Windows 10 to hand over your cash.

Be sure to head to the comments afterwards to let us know what you think, especially if you have any local tips that might not apply globally.

The Best Time to Buy

Right off the bat, something needs to be said: there’s never going to be a perfect date for buying a new computer. Prices are subject to change all the time – they could go up and down without warning. These are recommendations based on the past, not guarantees.

Remember that you could always be waiting for a price drop that never comes. You’ll need to weigh up the opportunity cost; if you need the computer sooner rather than later, it’s better to buy it while you can, if you can afford to do so. Otherwise you could be stuck waiting and buying older hardware when you could have been utilising it months earlier.

Seasonal Sales

The build up to Christmas is an obvious sales season for every retailer and the same applies to those selling computers. While computers are usually too expensive to be a common holiday gift, retailers will be looking to take advantage of the general flowing holiday money and will apply discounts to systems in order to attract and sell off stock before the year end.

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These discounts can also come in the form of discount codes. For example, Dell Outlet were dishing out vouchers for 30% off their desktops last year and often some juicy deals can be achieved through code stacking. Retailers will often engage in one day only deals round the holiday season, so be sure to constantly check their websites around the time and keep your eyes peeled for any sudden discounting.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are sales days that originated in America, but in recent years they’ve become a more worldwide phenomenon. With prices often slashed across the board, usually only for a limited amount of time or on a set quantity of stock, real bargains can be snapped up on these two days providing you’re quick off the mark.

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A word of caution, however: retailers will often use the fever around these days to flog outdated systems at not-so-great prices. Make sure you always do your research before buying and don’t get drawn in by a seemingly appealing price tag – you might end up overpaying for something you would have got cheaper outside of the sale.

Back to School

Typically run during the summer period of August to September (although it can begin earlier), the Back to School period is a perfect time for retailers to target parents and students who are in the market for a new system to deal with their educational needs. Deals on laptops are especially prevalent during this period as they make for great college and university purchases.

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Many retailers, like Microsoft, Apple, and Sony, to name a few, will also give exclusive discounts to actual students. These deals are usually available on presentation of a student ID or a valid academic email address. For example, in the past HP have given students $200 off desktops and laptops. Apple are even generous enough to extend their educational pricing to teachers and parents buying for their students.

New Hardware Releases

If retailers are expecting to get new hardware in then you’ll usually find that they’ll begin discounting their current stock in order to make way for the new. There’s no set date for when this will be since different manufacturers will operate on different cycles, but keep your eye on the upcoming big hardware releases and you’ll likely find retailers discounting accordingly.

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If you’re not after the latest flashy piece of kit then this will be a perfect time for you to jump in. While the system may be classed as old, simply because technology moves so quickly and there’s always new things being pushed to market, if you’re just needing a computer for general tasks rather than high fidelity gaming, then this is a great time for you to buy.

Waiting for Windows 10

The latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, Windows 10, is due for release later this year. Some may be tempted to hold off buying a new computer until then, but that’s probably not advisable. While it might be that retailers discount Windows 8 machines nearer the time, it’s equally possible that they could charge big bucks for those running the new and shinier 10.

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Besides, Windows 10 is going to be a free upgrade during its first year of existence for everyone running 7 and above, so you’re not going to be missing out, if you buy a system with an existing operating system. On the flip side, you will ensure that you can get your hands on those operating systems while you can if you don’t intend to upgrade.

If you want to take full advantage of Windows 10, then be sure to buy a computer with up-to-date hardware that is going to be capable of supporting DirectX 12, since the latest version will ship with the new operating system. Broadly speaking for GPUs, Nvidia cards running Fermi and later, Intel cards running Haswell and later, and AMD cards using GCN chips should all support DirectX 12.

To Buy or Not to Buy?

Hopefully these tips have provided useful in offering periods that might be the best time for you to buy your new computer. If you’re in the market for a purchase, the best thing you can do is always keep your eye out for new deals because you never know when a retailer might begin discounting.

Just remember not to wait too long. If you see a good deal and wait in hope of a better one turning up, then you may end up disappointed and losing out on the original offer.

When do you think the best time to buy a new computer is? Are there some specific local tips you want to share?

Image Credits: desk calendar Via Shutterstock

The 6 Best Pdf Readers For Windows

Did you think twice before you installed Adobe Reader? Probably not because it’s the gold standard. Except that it’s not the only option, let go the best one.

If you look around, you’ll find several high-quality, free PDF viewers for Windows. We’ve done that research for you, so you don’t have to.

The alternative PDF readers presented here run the gamut from minimal, lightweight applications built for nothing more than viewing PDFs to more full-featured applications that include annotations and highlighting. Some applications even include features you won’t find in Adobe Acrobat Reader, such as basic PDF-editing tools.

1. Your Browser

Whether you’re using Google Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge, your browser already has a built-in PDF reader. It won’t have all the features, but using your browser as a PDF reader is a quick way to read PDF documents and it will save you lots of system resources.

The small footprint and easy access comes at a cost. In-browser PDF readers aren’t always compatible with all types of PDF. Furthermore, browser-based PDF readers lack advanced features, like form filling, document signing, or annotation. It’s a compromise, but for the average user it’s a small one.

Microsoft Edge

In Windows 10, Microsoft Edge is both the default browser and the default PDF Reader.

PDF files open in an Edge browser tab. The only thing that distinguishes them from a regular web page is the PDF toolbar at the top. You can search the document, adjust the zoom level, print, and save the file.

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You can also share the document or add it to your Favorites or Reading List. Unfortunately, Edge’s unique Web Notes feature is not available in PDFs.

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Note: Microsoft Edge suffered from a PDF exploit back in 2016. This vulnerability has since been patched, but issues such as this are the reason why you should always install security updates.

To change your default PDF Reader in Windows 10, go to Start > Settings. Within the Settings app head to Apps > Default apps, click on Choose default apps by file type, and change the app association of the PDF file extension with an application of your choice. This can be another browser or a third party PDF Reader.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Windows 10 Choose Default PDF Reader

Google Chrome

Chrome’s PDF interface is similar to Edge. You’ll find the controls for the zoom level in the bottom right. In addition to everything Edge does, you can rotate the document, which is essential on a Windows 2-in-1 or tablet.

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If Chrome is your default browser, but you’d rather not have it open PDFs for you, you can disable its built-in PDF reader. Open chrome://settings/content, scroll to the bottom of the content settings windows, and under PDF Documents check Open PDF files in the default PDF viewer application. Make sure you have selected a default Windows PDF viewer.

Mozilla Firefox

Among the in-browser PDF readers, Firefox offers the most comprehensive package. In addition to standard features offered in Chrome and Edge, you can expand a sidebar, rotate in both directions, and toggle the hand tool.

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To disable the Firefox PDF viewer, go to Menu > Options > Applications. Next to the Content Type Portable Document Format (PDF), select your preferred Action.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Firefox Change Default PDF Viewer

While in-browser PDF readers and system default apps are great, sometimes you need more than that. Hence, the market for dedicated PDF readers remains highly competitive. Here are some more alternatives with advanced features.

2. Sumatra PDF

Highlight: Most lightweight PDF reader, also available as a portable app.

Sumatra PDF is the best alternative to using your browser as a PDF reader because it’s easy on system resources. It’s also open source. If you want something even more minimalistic than that, you could download its portable app instead of the desktop version.

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Sumatra PDF doesn’t have any editing options or other advanced features – it’s just a window that loads extremely fast and displays PDFs. It does, however, support tabs and it’s packed with keyboard shortcuts, making it even more ideal for rapidly reading PDFs. Furthermore, Sumatra supports other types of files, including eBooks in ePub and Mobi format and comic books in CBZ and CBR formats.

Download: Sumatra PDF

3. Nitro PDF Reader

Highlight: Blends into Microsoft Office applications and offers extensive features.

When one company looks like they have an exit strategy, it’s Nitro. The interface was lifted straight from Microsoft Office. And like the market leading office suite, this PDF reader is rich in features.

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Unlike many other free PDF readers, with Nitro you can fill in forms and sign your documents using your digital ID. You can also add notes to and extract images or convert a PDF to a plain text document.

While the resemblance to Microsoft’s ribbon interface is somewhat charming, it may not be your cup of tea.

Download: Nitro Reader 5

4. Foxit Reader

Highlight: The most feature-complete free PDF reader.

Foxit Reader was one of the first mainstream Adobe Reader alternatives. It remains a great option because — among the free PDF readers — it offers the most features.

You’ll notice that the interface is dominated by an extensive number of editing tabs. They cover a range of advanced options, including text markup, a typewriter option, form handling, digital signatures, managing reviews and tracking changes, and connected PDFs.

One of Foxit Reader’s best features is that you can add your own shortcuts to the Quick Action Toolbar in the top left.

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Like Nitro, Foxit was heavily inspired by Microsoft’s ribbon interface. Moreover, the feature richness comes at a cost: your system resources. You can, however download a portable version of Foxit Reader.

Download: Foxit Reader

5. STDU Viewer

Highlight: One viewer to replace them all, great for navigating multiple documents.

This document viewer wants to be the only application you use for all your technical documentations, books, and other readings. STDU Viewer supports TXT, Comic Book Archive, PDF, DjVu, MOBI, EPub, several image files, and many more document formats.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows STDU Viewer 670x480

STDU Viewer’s strong suite is managing multiple different documents at once. Not only can you open documents in tabs and expand a navigation panel, you can also create and navigate bookmarks and highlights, view thumbnails of your open documents, and split windows to compare different pages within the same document. Another neat feature is that you can invert colors, such as from black on white to white on black, which can reduce eyestrain.

While STDU Viewer doesn’t have all the features of Nitro and Foxit Reader, it is a great alternative for those who have to read or refer to a lot of digital documents.

Download: STDU Viewer

6. Adobe Reader

Highlight: Simple interface and minimal features.

Adobe’s PDF reader remains the de-facto standard. At 105 MB, sans optional offers, it’s definitely the heavyweight champion among the readers featured here.

On the bright side, Adobe Reader maintains a pleasing interface and isn’t overloaded with features. You can comment, fill & sign, and convert to PDF or other formats (export). If you ever run into issues opening a PDF file or filling a form using an alternative PDF tool, you won’t suffer too much when you have to fall back onto Adobe Reader.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Adobe Reader 670x480

While you will find options to edit and combine PDF files listed under Tools, these are actually pro features that will set you back at least USD 15 per month.

Download: Adobe Acrobat Reader DC

All Your PDF Needs Covered

We showed you six different PDF viewers and hopefully one of these is perfect for you.

Do you need to edit PDFs or do more with your PDF documents? We’ve got you covered!

What’s your favorite PDF viewer? And can you recommend any other PDF tools? The comments are open for your contribution!

Originally published by Chris Hoffman on 29 June 2012.

Iobit Advanced Systemcare 7: An Excellent All-in-one Utility

Keeping your computer up to date and free of errors can be a real pain in the butt. In fact, if you don’t devote a few hours to the purpose every month, it may well be impossible. That’s where an all-in-one system utility comes in handy.

One of the top choices has always been IObit Advanced SystemCare 7, a free program with paid versions that can manage many aspects of your PC. This latest edition is the most comprehensive yet – but can it really handle all computer maintenance needs?

Installation And Setup

The file you download for Advanced SystemCare 7 is the full executable, rather than a download utility for the full program, so setup is straightforward and extremely quick. However, the installer does have two annoying habits. First, it asks to install some additional toolbars during installation, and second, it opens an advertisement for the full version of Advanced SystemCare 7 in a web browser after installation is complete. Neither move is harmful, or even unusual for free software, but both can be an annoyance.

Less annoying is the tutorial that begins when the program is first started. Though it’s not particularly deep, it does provide a good, broad overview of the features available in the software. At the end, you have the choice of two different skins – traditional “Classic” or “Metro,” which is inspired by Windows 8.

A Summary Of Features

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IOBit Advanced SystemCare 7 has been around for some time now, as the “7” in the title indicates. Many features have been added over the years, and the latest version is no exception.

Besides a general interface update that throws in the Metro skin and re-arranges some options, the program includes new surfing and homepage protection tools that can guard against malicious websites and help parents lock down content they don’t want their kids to see. There’s also a new duplicate file removal tool, improved disk explorer, and a new feature that lets you remove User Account Control from specific programs.

And that’s just what’s new. There are too many features to list here, but highlights include a registry cleaner, a disk cleaner, an uninstall utility, two types of de-fragmentation utilities, a disk repair utility and even folder encryption. Pay for the ultimate version and you’ll even receive a built-in antivirus. In short, this is a one-stop shop for almost anything you can imagine.

The Scan Button

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All of the choices can cause a bit of confusion, even for advanced users. To combat this, IObit simplifies a significant number of the repair utilities into one big, far “scan” button located prominently on the program’s main menu. This button looks for scans for malware, registry errors, junk files, broken shortcuts and several other potential problems.

Embarrassingly, even on my system (which I try to maintain fairly well), the program managed to find a very large number of errors to fix. One of these was a browser toolbar that had somehow lodged itself into Firefox, a problem I’d ignored because I use Chrome. The app also tossed out some junk files and fixed a number of broken shortcuts that I didn’t even know existed.

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I was also happy to see that the scan process, though it is extensive, is not slow. In fact, scanning on my computer took less than thirty seconds. It should be noted that I use a solid state drive, so readers who own a computer with a mechanical drive should expect a slower scan time. But, even so, Advanced SystemCare 7’s performance surpasses any system utility I’ve used before.

Opening The Toolbox

While the Scan button is quick and useful, it only manages utilities that can automatically return results. Many other features of Advanced SystemCare 7 require some users input, and that’s where the Toolbox menu comes in.

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The number of features accessible here is staggering, and IObit has leveraged many of its utilities to add more functionality to the software. Features like Uninstaller, Protected Folder, and Game Booster are actually separate programs that you could install independently, if you so desired.

This approach helps the program offer its staggering array of features, but it also leads to a somewhat disjointed interface. Features which launch as separate apps usually have an interface that looks different from Advanced SystemCare 7 itself. On the upside, however, it’s possible to pin these sub-programs to your taskbar, a trait some users might prefer.

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Functions that are part of the program itself use a fairly basic Windows interface that isn’t attractive, yet easy to use. The options available for each feature are presented in a straightforward manner and easy to understand. Even the most complicated features, like Disk Explorer, do a good job of presenting information and work quickly; scanning my main hard drive only took seconds, which is even quicker than the tool I usually use for the same job (TuneUp Utilities 2011).

Conclusion

IObit’s Advanced SystemCare is an impressive utility that has come a long way over the past few years. What started at a respectable, but not class-leading utility has gradually become one of the best in the business. The program is now so good, it may dislodge me from using what I have for the last two years, which is saying a lot.

Now let’s talk about price. The Free version, which was used for this review, is quite powerful given its lack of price tag. You can scan your system for errors and repair them without paying a cent, and many of the features found in the Toolbox work, as well.

If you plunk down $19.99 for the Pro version, however, you’ll enjoy a number of benefits. The automatic scanning is improved with six added features that don’t run while scanning with the free version, malware protection is beefed up, and the safe-surf parental control features become available. Paying $29.99 for the ultimate version adds more real-time protection features to the anti-malware tools and adds automatic scanning of downloads to proactively block threats. In addition, both paid versions come with free 24/7 technical support.

Have you had a chance to use Advanced SystemCare 7? Let us known your thoughts on it in the comments!

8 Surprising Windows Notepad Tricks You Must Know

We can all agree that the Windows Notepad is basic and usually gets shunted out in favor of feature-filled alternatives. But Notepad is more powerful than it looks and we’ll introduce you to some of its hidden tricks. Soon, you’ll want to keep this ancient Windows program handy at all times by turning Notepad into a sticky note.

Note: These tricks have been around from the time of Windows 7. I have tested all of them on Windows 10 as well. They still work!

1. Use Notepad as a Journal

Did you know that you can program Notepad to add a timestamp? This makes it perfect for adding journal entries when you have a few minutes to spare during the day.

To get an automatic timestamp, create a new text document, type in .LOG, and save the file. The next time you open the file, you should see the current date and time appear within it. Hit Enter, start recording your thoughts, and save them. As expected, every time you open the file, a fresh timestamp appears.

notepad-journal

If you want to add a quick timestamp on the fly, you could take a shortcut and hit F5 instead. This corresponds to the Time/Date item hidden in the Edit menu.

2. Get Line Count

You’d like to view the number of lines in a Notepad document and you know that you’ll have to display the status bar for that. But a quick peek at the View menu shows you that the Status Bar option is grayed out, if you’re not on Windows 10 that is. What do you do now? It’s simple — head to the Format menu and turn off Word Wrap. Now you should be able to display the status bar from the View menu, and once you do, you can see the line count as well.

To jump to a specific line, hit CTRL + G to bring up the Go To Line dialog, type in the line number you’d like to jump to, and hit Enter. This works even if you haven’t displayed the line count, because Notepad’s numbering system is active at all times.

notepad-line-count

If you’d like to keep the status bar active all the time, i.e. with or without the Word Wrap option disabled, you’ll need to delve into the Windows registry and edit a specific key value. At this point we should warn you that if you tweak the wrong registry setting, it could mess up your Windows installation. To know what you’re getting into, read our guide on how to use the Windows registry and how not to accidentally mess up the registry.

Ready to proceed? Great! Enter regedit into Windows search and hit Enter to open the Registry Editor. Next, look for the following key using the sidebar navigation: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Notepad. Once you have it selected in the sidebar, double-click on StatusBar in the right-side panel. Done? Now in the dialog box that has popped up, change the DWORD value from 0 to 1.

persistent-status-bar

3. Add a Header and a Footer

If you want to insert a header and/or a footer into a Notepad document, go to File > Page Setup…. In the dialog box that opens up, look for the Header: and Footer: fields and type in the content that you want to display in the header and footer.

notepad-header-footer

Can’t see the header and footer in the document itself? Don’t worry — that’s how it’s meant to be. Those elements will show up when you print the file.

Since there’s no way to save the header/footer content from the Page Setup dialog, you’ll have to add it manually every time you print the file. Also, you can’t set up different headers and footers in Notepad like you can in Microsoft Word and other word processors.

What’s cool about this Notepad feature is that using a few special commands, you can insert the filename, a timestamp, and page numbers in the header/footer and even align its contents left, right, or center. Here’s a snapshot of the commands you get to use:

header-footer-commands

For example, if you want to display the current date (&d) and time (&t) on the left (&l) and the file name (&f) on the right (&r) in the header, this is the text that you’ll need to paste into the Header: field: &l&d&t&r&f

4. Find the Windows Product Key

The easiest way to retrieve your Windows product key is by looking it up on the printed sticker that you’ll find on some part of your laptop or desktop, usually on the base or at the back. If that sticker is worn out or inaccessible, that’s not a problem. You can still retrieve the key from the Windows registry, as long as you haven’t formatted the hard drive, of course.

To view the product key on your computer screen, you can use a third-party program like Belarc Advisor or even a Visual Basic (VB) script that retrieves the key from the registry. We’ll show you how to create such a script. First, open up a fresh Notepad document and paste in the following bit of code:

Set WshShell = CreateObject("WScript.Shell")
MsgBox ConvertToKey(WshShell.RegRead("HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\DigitalProductId"))

Function ConvertToKey(Key)
Const KeyOffset = 52
i = 28
Chars = “BCDFGHJKMPQRTVWXY2346789”
Do
Cur = 0
x = 14
Do
Cur = Cur * 256
Cur = Key(x + KeyOffset) + Cur
Key(x + KeyOffset) = (Cur \ 24) And 255
Cur = Cur Mod 24
x = x -1
Loop While x >= 0
i = i -1
KeyOutput = Mid(Chars, Cur + 1, 1) & KeyOutput
If (((29 – i) Mod 6) = 0) And (i <> -1) Then
i = i -1
KeyOutput = “-” & KeyOutput
End If
Loop While i >= 0
ConvertToKey = KeyOutput
End Function

Now save the file using the extension .vbs (instead of .txt). And that’s the VB script that will give you the product key when you run it! To run the script, double-click on the .vbs file that you just created and saved. You’ll then see a popup window with your product key. Hit CTRL + C if you’d like to copy the key.

windows-product-key

5. Test Your Antivirus Software

Want to find out if your computer’s antivirus program is working okay? You can use what is known as the EICAR test file to do the checking for you. Don’t worry, that’s not a virus-laden file we’re unleashing on your computer. It’s a simple text file that you’ll be creating in Notepad, with the following piece of harmless code saved to it:

X5O!P%@AP[4\PZX54(P^)7CC)7}$EICAR-STANDARD-ANTIVIRUS-TEST-FILE!$H+H*

Your virus scanner should pick this file up as a virus and deal with it accordingly. If it does, it’s a sign that the antivirus program is working as expected. Of course, this does not guarantee that you’re protected from all viruses.

eicar-test

6. Create a Password-protected Folder

With this trick, the idea is to create a deceptive file that you can use to unlock and reveal a secret folder as and when you need it.

To begin with, create a new Notepad document and paste this code into it:

cls
@ECHO OFF
title Folder Private
if EXIST "Control Panel.{21EC2020-3AEA-1069-A2DD-08002B30309D}" goto UNLOCK
if NOT EXIST Private goto MDLOCKER
:CONFIRM
echo Are you sure you want to lock the folder(Y/N)
set/p "cho=>"
if %cho%==Y goto LOCK
if %cho%==y goto LOCK
if %cho%==n goto END
if %cho%==N goto END
echo Invalid choice.
goto CONFIRM
:LOCK
ren Private "Control Panel.{21EC2020-3AEA-1069-A2DD-08002B30309D}"
attrib +h +s "Control Panel.{21EC2020-3AEA-1069-A2DD-08002B30309D}"
echo Folder locked
goto End
:UNLOCK
echo Enter password to unlock folder
set/p "pass=>"
if NOT %pass%== your_password goto FAIL
attrib -h -s "Control Panel.{21EC2020-3AEA-1069-A2DD-08002B30309D}"
ren "Control Panel.{21EC2020-3AEA-1069-A2DD-08002B30309D}" Private
echo Folder Unlocked successfully
goto End
:FAIL
echo Invalid password
goto end
:MDLOCKER
md Private
echo Private created successfully
goto End
:End

Replace your_password in the code above with a password of your choice and save the file as a Batch file named locker.bat. I’ll digress a bit here to point out that you can automate various repetitive tasks with Batch files.

When you run the locker.bat file (by double-clicking on it) for the first time, it creates a folder named Private in the same location as the .bat file. This folder is where you can stash away any files and folders that you’d like to keep to yourself.

Now run the locker.bat file again. This asks you whether you want to lock the file. Hit Y, followed by Enter to confirm. You’ll see that the Private folder is no longer visible.

folder-locker

To access the folder again, run locker.bat and when prompted, enter your password (the one you added to the code while saving the .bat file). If you have forgotten the password, drag and drop the locker.bat file into Notepad to view the password.

This trick is fun, but it’s not foolproof — anyone who knows where to look and what to tweak can find the secret folder with ease. To display the secret folder yourself without running locker.bat, go to Folder Options > View and…

  • …uncheck the box next to Hide protected operating system files,
  • check the radio button for Show hidden files, folders, and drives.

The folder might show up with the name Control Panel.{21EC2020-3AEA-1069-A2DD-08002B30309D} instead of Private.

7. Remove Formatting from Text Snippets

Copy-pasting text snippets from one app to another comes with the problem of messed-up formatting. It’s better to paste in unformatted text and then format it using styles from the app that you’re pasting into.

To do so, you’ll first need to strip the formatting from the copied text. The quickest way to do that? Use CTRL + SHIFT + V to paste unformatted text directly or, you could first paste the text into Notepad, which supports only plain text, and copy-paste it from there.

Of course, that’s just one way to strip formatting when you copy-paste text.

8. Make Your Computer Speak

You can get your computer to read a piece of text to you with a simple VB script that we’ll create using Notepad. Begin with a new document and paste in the code given below:

Dim message, sapi
message=InputBox("Repeat after me")
Set sapi=CreateObject("sapi.spvoice")
sapi.Speak message

Use the File > Save As command to save the file with the extension .vbs. Now when you open the saved file, you’ll get a dialog box with a blank text field. Type in something for your computer to read aloud and hit OK. You’ll also want to take a look at these five other ways to get your Windows computer to read to you.

In the code above, you can replace the text Repeat after me with a message of your choice and that is what you’ll see as a prompt in the dialog box when you run the script.

text-to-speech

Notepad Magic

Who knew Notepad was capable of all these tricks? It has stayed more or less the same over the years, but it has turned out to be cooler than we thought.

Do you have a Notepad trick or two up your sleeve? Share it with us!

Image Credits: Renars 2013/Shutterstock

10 Tools To Make A Bootable Usb From An Iso File

Installations from a USB flash drive have become one of the easiest ways to update your computer with a new operating system. A USB installation is quick, extremely portable, and has the added bonus of reverting back to a storage device following the install. I cannot tell you how many discs I ruined over the years by messing up the write process, but I have a lot of very shiny drink-coasters in my living room.

You’ll find a fair few ISO to USB tools out there, and they feature a range of tools for beginners and advanced users. To keep this test fair, I’m going to use each tool to burn a copy of Windows 10 Insider Preview 10130 x64 to an 8GB Integral drive, formatted each time. Let’s take a look at the burn time, and the resources available to each software. For science!

By the way, we’ve previously covered how to legally download Windows ISO files.

A Mini-Glossary

Before we plough into the testing phase there are a handful of acronyms I’d like to spell out, and a few other bits of ISO to USB jargon we’ll clear up.

  • Bootloader Options: the bootloader loads the operating system. Some ISO burners allow you to choose the Bootloader you’ll need for your desired operating system installation.
  • grub4dos: a bootloader package designed to allow users to select between multiple operating systems installed on a single system.
  • syslinux: a lightweight bootloader package designed to allow users to select between multiple Linux or Unix installations.
  • QEMU Emulator: short for Quick Emulator, is a hardware virtualization tool. In this context, it allows users to test their USB before proceeding with the burn process.
  • Cluster Size: defines the smallest available space for storing data. Instead of assigning individual disk sectors, the file system assigns contiguous groups of sectors, called clusters.
  • File System: controls how data is accessed and stored. Without it, your data would lump together with no beginning or end. A file system offers definition for easy access. There are different file systems available, though your burning tool should be discern your requirements via the ISO you use.
  • Bad Sector: Some ISO to USB tools allow you to perform a bad sector check. Before the burn commences, your USB will be scanned, fixing any irregularities to ensure your installation is smooth. Somewhat similar to defragmenting your desktop, but on a much smaller scale.

1: Rufus

Features: Partition schemes, file systems, mode of bootable, bad sector check

First up, Rufus. Rufus comes as a very small executable with minimal options for tinkering, aside from partition scheme, file systems, cluster size, and the type of bootable you’ll be creating. Once you’ve selected the bootable disk type and the ISO image you’ll be burning, you can happily hit Start and wait for the process to finish.

Rufus ISO to USB

Rufus clocked in with a 16m55s according to my phone, but also has its own timer, which showed 17.02, though the built in timer did fluctuate throughout the process. At one point, it was over 10s behind my phone, but closed the gap to a mere 7s at the finishing line. Obviously, I am right, but it is still a good time.

Rufus Timing

2: Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool

Features: None

Such an eloquent name. You select your ISO. You select your media type; USB or DVD. You click Begin Copying, and off it goes. In what is the most basic of basic GUIs, and with only two options, the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool is almost sublimely simple, comparable only to ISO to USB.

Windows_7_USBDVD_Download_Tool_2015-08-22_16-10-21

Timing-wise, it clocked in with 16m53s, leaving it sitting pretty. A definite winner for those wanting a serious no-frills burning tool.

Windows 7 USBDVD Timing

3: RMPrepUSB

Features: Bootloader options, file systems and overrides, grub4dos, syslinux, QEMU Emulator

RMPrepUSB is one of the most complete ISO to USB packages on this list. Aside from the above mentioned features, it comes packed with a host of other BootLoaders, DiskDoctor, Speed Tests, and individual user configurations for those drives you constantly prepare.

RMPrepUSB_v.2.1.728

With a time of 22m36s RMPrepUSB isn’t the fastest of the bunch, but certainly makes up for it in customization. Bonus points for the centralized tooltip, constantly updating as you scroll over menu items.

ISO to USB Timing

4: WinSetupFromUSB

Features: Bootloader options, three formatting tools including RMPrepUSB, QEMU Emulator

WinSetupFromUSB offers a mid-range of features. It isn’t quite RMPrePUSB, but it has so much more to offer than the other basic burners we have already covered, particularly the inclusion of FBinst Tool, Bootice, and RMPrepUSB. Each of these additional tools come with popup instructions detailing their use alongside WinSetupFromUSB, but can all be used with their original functions i.e. RMPrepUSB opens in its own dialogue with the customizable ISO/USB interface mentioned above.

WinSetupFromUSB ISO Tool

As for speed, 23m29s represents one of the slower tools on the list, but is included due to the wealth of customization available to users.

WinSetupUSB Timing

5: UltraISO

Features: Write method, Hide boot partition

You can use the UltraISO trial version an ISO to USB tool. Whilst the trial version restricts the size of ISOs created, it does nothing of the sort if you’re burning something created elsewhere. On opening UltraISO, browse to your ISO location in the bottom half of the file explorer. Once located, double click. This loads the ISO image for burning. Then head to Bootable > Write Disk Image. Be sure to use the USB-HDD+ option for best results, unless advised otherwise. Hit Write and off you go!

UltraISO

UltraISO clocked in with a 20m24s, sitting nicely in the middle of the pack, and made the cut against the very similarly timed WiNToBootic through its additional features such as image mounting and ISO creation.

UltraISO Timing

6: YUMI

Features: Multiboot, inbuilt download selector

YUMI, or Your Universal Multiboot Installer, is another multiboot installer with settings for a massive range of ISOs. Unlike Xboot, YUMI asks if you’d like to add another ISO or Distro to your USB following a successful burn, so don’t worry if you cannot find the multiboot builder.

YUMI_2.0.1.8_Setup

It clocked in with a stupendously fast 14m50s and takes the crown by just over two minutes, plus it has the best name on the list, so obviously another massive point for that.

YUMI Timing

The ISO to USB Winner Is…

YUMI! If we are talking time, plus the bonus of being able to create a multiboot USB packed with everything you might ever need.

ISO USB Timing Table

However, let’s not discount those more advanced ISO to USB tools, RMPrepUSB and WinSetupFromUSB. While their speed performance couldn’t match YUMI, the massive range of tools and customizable settings more than make up for it.

Finally, I’ve been using the ISO to USB tool for its ridiculously simple interface and fairly reasonable burn time, but even that has been bested by Rufus, so now I don’t know what to do, other than switch to something faster.

Other Tools We Tested…

I tested a full 10 different ISO tools, as you can see from the above table, noting their speed. But speed isn’t only variable we look for in a burner. Here are the fallen few:

  • XBoot is another multiboot tool featuring an inbuilt downloader, but timed in over 24 minutes. YUMI blew it away!
  • WiNToBootic fits into the basic features category, alongside the Windows 7 USB/DVD Tool and Rufus, but clocked a slower 20m14s.
  • Passcape ISO Burner is a multifunction burning tool, but it wouldn’t work for me. I have read other positive reviews, so it could be worth a look for other individuals.
  • ISO to USB is another very basic burner, and one I’ve used extensively. However, it didn’t make the cut through a slow time and lack of features.

Hopefully you’ll have a clearer picture of the USB to ISO offerings available to you as more and more of us switch to a world without optical disk drives.

What’s your tool of choice? Did I miss anything you would have nailed on? Let us know what you think below!

Is Office 2013 For You?

office 2013I’ve been running the Microsoft Office 2013 trial on my new Windows 8 tablet lately, in order to get a good look at the finished product and decide whether to upgrade from Office 2010.

While researching the paid options, however, I noticed that there is a bit of a disparity between the various paid options and the free software offered as part of Microsoft Office Web Apps. In short, there is a good chance that many users could be suckered into purchasing a copy of Microsoft Office 2013 (or worse, an annual license to Office 365) when the features they need are available for free.

Yes, Microsoft already provides different options for different budgets, but do you need to spend money on a full suite when you’re only using Word for day-to-day word processing and Excel to manage your accounts? In short, no.

What You Can Expect From Office 2013

Microsoft Office 2013 ships with four core applications, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. These are available across all of the versions (see below). If you want to learn more about it in detail, don’t forget to check out our Office 2013 guide.

In addition, other applications are included depending upon your budget and versions. For instance, Outlook 2013 comes with the Office Home & Business release and Office Professional 2013, while the latter also includes Publisher and Access.

Only Office 365 offers Outlook, Publisher, Access and SkyDrive and Skype, along with the streamed version of the suite, Office on Demand. The expectation from Microsoft is that businesses will be using tools such as their own localised online versions of Office 365 and collaboration tools which is why these features are missing from the more expensive versions of the suite.

Different Versions For Different Budgets

Four versions of Microsoft Office 2013 are available:

  • Office 365 – $99.99 (5 PCs or Macs, annual licence)
  • Office Home & Student 2013 ($139.99, 1 PC for home use)
  • Office Home & Business 2013 ($219.99, 1 PC for home or business use)
  • Office Professional 2013 ($399.99, 1 PC for home or business use)

As you can see, these are all expensive options.

office 2013

Don’t forget, of course, that Microsoft offer individual versions of their office applications. For instance, Microsoft Word 2013 can be purchased for $109.99.

Further details on Microsoft Office 2013 and the new features can be found in our guide, Microsoft Office 2013: Unofficial Guide.

But Hold On – Do I Need To Spend Money?

The $99 option might be ideal for a home or small business, but remember that this is an annual subscription; over the course of the product’s lifespan you’ll be paying around the same (or more) than for a copy of Office Professional 2013.

microsoft office 2013

But then, do you even need to spend money to use Microsoft Office 2013?

To begin with, there are various free office applications around, from OpenOffice/LibreOffice to Google Docs. These are all excellent alternatives, but if you prefer to stick with Microsoft you can thanks to various free options that the company offers.

Microsoft’s Free Office Tools

You must, for instance, be familiar with Hotmail.com. Over the past few months this has morphed into a Gmail-like service called Outlook.com, and as its name suggests it is an online version of the Outlook mail app. Complete with calendar and contacts, Outlook.com is available to anyone with a Microsoft login (for instance, for Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger, Zune, Xbox Live).

office 2013

Windows 8 users will also find that they can get a version of OneNote for free, optimized for use on tablet devices. Capable of matching most of the functions of the main OneNote 2013, OneNote for Windows 8 is available from the app store and can easily manage word processing and basic tables.

For a more complete Microsoft Office experience, meanwhile, you can rely on the various components of Microsoft Office Web Apps. Word, Excel and PowerPoint are all available free online in your browser (just as Google Docs is) and again these can be accessed with a Microsoft account. You’ll be able to save your documents to SkyDrive, or open them in a desktop version of the appropriate app.

Conclusion

Microsoft are promoting their new office suite as the ultimate answer to productivity, and for larger businesses and students of particular subjects this might be the case. However, Microsoft Office 2013’s cheaper options are not as cheap or comprehensive as you might expect.

It’s a simple task to compose a document in an online Office application and then tidy it up with a free application such as LibreOffice without spending a penny.

For most users, the free options provided by Microsoft should allow you to do whatever you need.