Windows toolkit: 50 super software secrets

From obscure options to esoteric shortcuts and arcane add-ons, these hidden gems will help you master the programs you use every day.

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Web browser tricks and scripts

Like the exploding ballpoint pen and powerful laser watch that James Bond found so handy in GoldenEye, your browser can do more than meets the eye. Whether you are Firefox friendly or an Internet Explorer devotee, plenty of great add-ons are available for customizing and controlling your Web browsing experience.

Take advantage of the tips in this section, and you'll never again have to endure a lost comment or forum post, spend precious time stripping unwanted formatting out of blocks of copied and pasted text, or waste sheets of paper every time you print out a copy of a Web page. Besides being easy on your processor, these practical add-ons are free, so load up on them.

Note that many of the best Web browser add-ons cited in this article are user-created scripts originally written for Greasemonkey, a Firefox add-on that lets you write JavaScript plug-ins that may radically change the way you use your favorite Websites. Most scripts are hosted on the Userscripts.org site. If you're not using Firefox, read "Use Greasemonkey Scripts In IE, Chrome, and Safari" for tips on how to get these scripts to work.

Firefox fans only

Make Gmail better: Grab Better Gmail 2, a suite of scripts and add-ons designed to fix some of Gmail's niggling annoyances. With Better Gmail 2, your mouse will highlight the e-mail message that you hover it over, the Unread count in the Gmail window will ap­­pear first (so that it won't get cut off if it's located in a tab), and attachments will show up from the list view, among other useful improvements. Meanwhile, the first version of Better Gmail has become available to users as a Chrome extension.

Never lose another forum post: Use the Lazarus Firefox add-on to save everything you type in a form, just in case your PC crashes at an inopportune moment. Your blood pressure will thank you.

Deep-six the links: Copy Plain Text is another convenient Firefox add-on. It strips all of the nasty, unpredictable formatting out of text that you copy and paste.

Tips for any browser

Save eight keystrokes from every URL: You no longer need to type "www." or ".com" in most URLs. Instead, merely type the unique part of the domain name that you want to visit -- say, pcworld -- into your browser's navigation bar, and press Ctrl-Enter. Your browser will automatically fill in the "www." and ".com" parts of the address.

Middle-click to open a link in a new tab: Middle-clicking a link (that is, clicking it with the scrollwheel) will cause it to open in a new tab. Middle-clicking a folder containing multiple bookmarks will cause all of them to open in new tabs.

Improve a site's printer friendliness: At most Websites, the "printer-friendly" versions of the content are pretty awful. So head over to PrintWhatYouLike.com, and pick exactly which page elements you want to keep in your hard copy.

Must-have add-ons

Capture a full-page screenshot: Ever need to snag a screenshot of an entire Web page? Three utilities designed for specific browsers -- Screengrab for Firefox, IE Screenshot, and Talon for Google Chrome -- are perfectly suited to the task.

Try IE-in-a-tab: Even if you typically don't use Internet Explorer, you should have a copy of it handy for special situations. You might need to see how your site works in IE, for instance, or a site you use might not support other browsers. For maximum convenience, IE Tab for Firefox and IE Tab for Chrome let you keep the Microsoft browser in a tab so you don't have to juggle multiple browsers at once.

Bring back the bookmark: If you got out of the habit of using the humble bookmark because synchronizing different sets of bookmarks was too much of a hassle, install Xmarks. It lets you sync your bookmarks across different PCs and across different browsers.

Verify sites' trustworthiness: The Internet can be a dangerous place, but the Web of Trust browser add-on promises to make your excursions there a little safer by telling you how the sites you visit rate in terms of privacy policy, vendor reliability, and child safety.

Chrome and Google Apps

Keep up on your Gmail: Are you a convert to Gmail who misses the way Outlook used to notify you of new messages? Google Mail Checker Plus chimes when you receive new messages, lets you view the subject, and opens a new Gmail message window when you click a mailto: link.

Check your Google Calendar: If you frequently need to take quick peeks at your Google Calendar, pick up DayHiker and you'll be able to access it without opening a new tab or moving away from your current page.

Perform instant YouTube searches: Never type "www.youtube.com" again. Instead use Fast YouTube Search to jump-start your search for YouTube videos from the comfort of your main browser window.

Easily add RSS feeds to Google Reader: If you use Google Reader to track your RSS feeds, you'll appreciate RSS Subscription Extension, which displays an RSS icon in the address bar whenever you are on a page that in­­cludes an RSS feed. Just click the icon, and you can add the feed to your subscription list without any hassle.

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