Variety is the spice of life, and that’s true for your PC too. If you’re stuck in a rut with Windows, increasingly bored with the endless routine of system maintenance, word processing and web browsing, we’ve got just the tonic to inject some spice back into your computing. Over the next eight pages we’re going to reveal ten things you should look to do over the coming 12 months.
We’ll open with a quick reminder to ensure that Windows is in the peak of health, and then plunge into the fun stuff. We’ll set you on the path to researching your family history, reveal how to make better use of those hundreds of digital photos cluttering up your hard drive, plus give your brain a good workout with the right games. We’ll also reveal the free apps available to help you learn a musical instrument – or simply pick up where you left off some years ago.
There’s space to put your personal finances in order plus organise favourite collections so you can keep track of what you have (and who’s borrowed them). We’ll reveal the perfect tools to help you become a storyteller and full-blown published author before looking at the best streaming services out there. Frustrated by what’s on offer? Then why not complete your computing reawakening by building your own, on-demand and always available streaming service instead? Come on, let’s get refreshed.
Put your PC in good order
Make sure your PC is fighting fit and running smoothly before diving into new pursuits
Before embarking on your quest to explore new fun and productive ways to use your PC, start by giving your PC the once-over. Begin by checking your backups are working as they should – the box below reveals all you need to know. Once that’s done, run a few system checks to verify there are no underlying problems that might catch you out later. The quickest and easiest way to access these is Tweaking. com’s Windows Repair Tool – go to www.tweaking.com to download, install and run the latest version.
Start by focusing on the ‘Pre-Repair Steps’ tab where you can run through a series of standard Windows checks: a pre-scan for missing files and links, a disk check and finally a system file check. Windows Repair steps you through all of these – reboots may be required, in which case simply reopen the program when done and carry on. The checks have repair capabilities built-in, but if you find you’re suffering from a specific problem check out the ‘Repairs – Main’ tab to perform additional fixes.
You can also instruct Windows to run its own troubleshooters: open Settings and navigate to ‘Update & Security > Troubleshooting’ where Windows will provide a list of recommended options based on your PC’s recent behaviour. You can also scroll down the page to reveal a list of all available troubleshooters, allowing you to run them even if Windows doesn’t detect a problem.
Consolidate disk space
With Windows checked, your next step should be to clear out redundant files to free up disk space. There’s no need to install any third-party apps – navigate to ‘Settings > System > Storage’ where you’ll find an option to switch on Storage Sense, Windows’ own clean-up tool to keep your hard drives free from junk. It provides a handy overview of what types of files are taking up most space, plus by clicking on the relevant section (such as Apps & features, Temporary files or Other) will whisk you to the right part of Settings to review its findings in more detail and free up more space manually if required. You can also configure Storage Sense to run automatically – either on a daily, weekly or monthly schedule, or whenever your drive runs low on free space. Choosing the latter option should ensure you don’t run it unnecessarily.
Review your backup regimen
It’s easy to take the ‘set it and forget it’ mantra of backup literally and assume everything is proceeding smoothly in the background. As part of your maintenance regimen, take the time to open your backup tool(s) and check everything is running as it should. Look for any alerts that indicate one or more backups have failed; also verify your backup jobs. Are they running often enough? Is there an option to automatically verify your backup (to ensure it’ll work when you need it to) – if not, can you at least verify the backup manually? Now is a good time to consider alternating your backup between two separate locations – say a USB drive and a network drive – to add an extra layer of redundancy in case one backup device fails.
No backup at all? Navigate to ‘Settings > Update & Security > Backup’ to configure File History for backing up important documents, photos and other personal files, and install Macrium Reflect Free (www.macrium. com/reflectfree.aspx) to take a failsafe image of your entire hard drive – including Windows installation.
Research your family history
Reconnect with your past in this exciting and revealing pursuit that was tailor-made for your PC
There’s something to be said for connecting with your family history – the thrill of rediscovering your ancestors cannot be matched as you piece together their lives through documents, digging out old family photos and even making contact with distant cousins to share and uncover more insights.
These days, most of that research can be done online, and if you know where to look you can make major inroads into developing and expanding your tree without spending hundreds of pounds on expensive subscriptions. The place to start is www.familysearch.org – this doesn’t simply provide a giant, shared tree of human existence, but it’s also a repository of information, including documents, photos and useful resources for further research via its wiki (www.familysearch.org/wiki/).
You’ll need somewhere to store all this information, and there are plenty of programs out there to lend a helping hand. If you do choose a paid-for subscription site like Ancestry, then it pays to choose a program designed to make it easy to extract information and digitised images of documents directly from the site into your research file.
One free program that supports FamilySearch is RootsMagic Essentials, which you can download and install for free from http://rootsmagic.com/ essentials/ – it’s a cut-down version of the main program (£19.95 from www. rootsmagic.co.uk), but all FamilySearch functionality is completely free.
Link to FamilySearch
The program is relatively simple to use and will be familiar to anyone who’s previously dabbled in genealogy – when creating a new document, leave ‘Begin typing my information’ selected before clicking OK. A blank tree will appear – click the button to add a person and enter your own information as the home person. From here you can add additional facts, attach photos and other information as we outlined in detail in our September 2019 issue.
When it comes to linking in information from FamilySearch, select ‘Tools > File Options’. Select FamilySearch, tick ‘Enable FamilySearch support’ and ‘Match person to FamilySearch when hints found’ and enter your login details. Now follow the step-by-step guide to link individuals to FamilySearch and download information from them into your tree in just a few clicks.
Find family records online
1 Find and link
After linking FamilySearch to RootsMagic, look for a FamilySearch icon next to people in your tree. Click it and – if asked – sign into your FamilySearch account again. If you spot an ancestor in the list of possible matches, tick the box and click ‘Match with FamilySearch’.
2 View online data
Switch to the ‘Share data’ tab to compare your entry (left) with the entry on FamilySearch (right). To add a fact from FamilySearch to your research, click its tick box in the right-hand pane. Review the fact and if you’re happy with it, click OK to merge it.
3 Find more facts
Log into your Family Search account online (www.familysearch.org) to find your ancestor on there. You can then search for information to add to the online record – once it’s been added here, the new information will appear in RootsMagic to merge into your file.
Do more with your photos
Show off the best of your photos with a digital slideshow or beautifully printed photo album
You’ve finally got your photos in some kind of order. But what’s the point of having them buried away in folders if you’ve no means of showing the best of them off? You could invest in a digital photo frame for your front room, run a slideshow as your desktop backdrop in Windows (head over to ‘Settings > Personalisation > Background’ to set it up) or create a photos slideshow running as a screen saver (type ‘screen saver’ into the Search box to find the tool, then choose Photos from the ‘Screen saver’ drop-down menu).
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