PC misbehaving? Mike Williams delivers a collection of the best online tech resources
You've mastered the Windows basics, and that's great. To really optimise your PC, keep it secure and quickly troubleshoot problems, you need to go further: learn how Windows works, discover the best free software and fully understand the threat from hackers. Here are 16 essential sites to help you along the way.
Tired of tech sites that just aren't updated frequently enough? MakeUseOf has around 20 experienced contributors, so every day sees several new posts recommending essential new software and websites, along with interesting articles on ways to improve your PC and internet life. The best are compiled into free guides on topics like networking, iTunes, Linux and Photoshop.
Black Hat Briefings are the most substantial security conferences in the computer world, where top researchers deliver fascinating demonstrations on the very latest vulnerabilities. Can't get to one? Don't worry – the site includes an archive where you can download each speaker's presentations and materials, usually within a couple of weeks of each event.
Freewaregenius trawls the freeware world, and regularly comes up with extremely useful programs that similar sites miss. The selections cover a very wide range: Windows extensions, full apps, games, specialist tools for small businesses, web developers and more. There are also regular articles on interesting topics, such as the best free antivirus software.
Security expert Bruce Schneier's site, blog, books and newsletter provide important and highly readable insights on everything from basic techniques you can use to protect your network, to high level discussions on political power and national security. Don't miss the Essays and Op-Eds section of his site, where you'll find articles of his that have appeared in major publications around the world.
The hundreds of straightforward tutorials at VistaX64 will help all Vista and Windows 7 users speed up, customise, troubleshoot and generally get more from their PCs. Each guide is easy to follow, thanks to a step-by-step approach and frequent use of screen grabs. And despite the site name, most of the advice works just as well on 32-bit Windows as its 64-bit big brother.
Even Windows experts get lost occasionally, but the Sysinternals forums will quickly point you back in the right direction. They're packed with helpful people who are happy to cover technical topics beyond Sysinternal's own utilities. They're knowledgeable, too: ask about processor affinity masks, DPCs or paged pool memory and they'll know what you mean and exactly how to help.
Ask the Performance Team
This Microsoft blog regularly posts detailed advice on how to tune your PC, manage memory properly and troubleshoot crashes. And unlike similar sites, the authors don't assume you're a software developer – most of their articles are easily accessible to knowledgeable home users.
Don't be put off by the banner saying this site is for Windows administrators. Its mix of reviews, recommendations on useful free Windows tools and news on the latest security issues will appeal to any knowledgeable PC owner.
There's more to the computing world than Microsoft. This busy news site will keep you up to date with the latest on Mac OS X, Linux, Palm, AmigaOS, the iPhone and more, as well as all of the big Windows, PC and hardware developments.
Learn about the latest bots, keyloggers, trojans and other nasties by paying regular visits to this site. Be careful, though: don't download any malware samples to try out unless you know exactly how to protect yourself.
Engineering Windows 7
A must-read for anyone interested in Windows 7, this Microsoft blog provides regular, detailed and exclusive looks at Vista's successor.
He's an expert programmer and true Windows guru, yet Mark Russinovich's blog on Windows troubleshooting is still accessible to experienced home users. It's an essential read if you want to know more about how Windows works.
Long Zheng's influential tech blog delivers interesting analyses of the latest happenings in the PC world. And these aren't just reprints of other people's work: Zheng's posts often include original research, interviews and other information that isn't available elsewhere.
Have you ever wanted to find your Windows or Office product key? Recover email passwords? List all the Windows shell extensions on your PC, and disable the ones you don't need? The Nirsoft website is packed with compact, useful free tools for carrying out a wide range of PC maintenance functions just like this.
Security consultant Dancho Danchev regularly produces fascinating reports exposing the mechanics of malware and internet scams: what hackers are doing, how they're doing it and who's making money from their efforts. A must-read for anyone interested in security issues beyond their own PC.
Microsoft's Global Escalation Services Support Team blog has invaluable advice on crash analysis and low-level troubleshooting that will soon have your PC running smoothly. Be careful, though: you'll need some expertise to keep up.