How to Backup Your Android Phone

The modern world has grown a second brain and keeps it in
their pocket. We have so much of ourselves and our lives on our phones that the
thought of losing it and starting a new phone empty can be alarming. It doesn’t
have to be, with just a couple clicks.

According to DeviceAtlas, you get a new phone every 18 months to 2 years on average. We probably spend about 6 months of that just getting our phone back to where we like it with our apps, contacts, and settings.

Two phone changes and you’ve just wasted a year on tuning your phone. Let’s see how we can cut that down to minutes. The phone we’re using today is a Samsung A5, but it’s pretty much the same for any Android phone.

Google’s Phone Backup

Make sure you’re doing this over a WiFi connection. If not,
it could use a lot of your cellular data and possibly a lot of money.

You’ll also need a Google account and a connection to your Google Drive. If you don’t, go get a Google account now and then continue.

Find and tap the Settings icon.

Once in the Settings screen, find and tap Google – Google Settings.

In Google Settings, tap on Backup.

In the Backup screen, check to make sure that your Google account is connected.

Now make sure the Back up to Google Drive button is in the on position.

Finally, tap on the Back up now button. You’ll see a progress bar near the top of the screen.

There is no major notification that the backup is done. You’ll be able to tell by the Back up now button no longer being grayed out and the last backup times will say 0 minutes ago.

Restoring from Google Backup will usually only be necessary if
your phone is wiped, or you get a new phone.

  1. Log in to your Google account on the phone.
  2. Google will automatically restore your contacts,
    calendar, and other data.
  3. Open the Google app related to the data you
    backed up, and you’ll see it start to restore, or it may be already restored.
  4. Check your Google Contacts, Google Photos,
    Google Drive and other Google apps just to make sure.

Samsung’s Phone Backup

Samsung isn’t the only Android phone maker. According to AppBrain.com though, Samsung has around 45% market share in smartphones. So, there’s almost a 50/50 chance your phone is a Samsung.

Again, make sure you’re doing this over WiFi to avoid
cellular data charges, and you will need to have an account with Samsung.

 Find and tap the Settings icon.

Once in the Settings screen, find and tap Cloud and Accounts.

In the Cloud and Accounts screen, tap Samsung Cloud.

Now, scroll down to the Backup and Restore area of this screen. Tap Backup this phone.

You’re on the Back Up Data screen now. Here you can select what you want to back up. Phone, Messages, Contacts, Calendar, Clock, Settings, Home Screen, Apps, Documents, Voice Recorder, and Music are your options.

NOTE: It will only backup what is in the Samsung versions of those apps. For example, backing up Music means it will only backup what is in the Samsung Music app. It will not backup anything in your Spotify.

Once you’ve made your selections, tap the BACK UP button at the bottom of the screen. It will turn into a STOP button. You’ll start to see the back up progress of the different selections you made, as well as an overall percentage of back up completed at the top of the screen. This will show until it is completed. It could take several minutes.

Once your phone is backed up, you can restore it from your
Samsung account by doing the following

  1. Go to the Backup and Restore screen.
  2. Tap Restore data, and it will ask you
    which device to restore.
  3. Select the device you want to restore.
  4. Select the data you would like restored.
  5. Tap the Restore button to finish the
    process.

All Backed Up

That’s all there is to making sure your Android phone is
backed up to either Google or to Samsung’s cloud services. If you have a
different make of Android phone, like an LG, Huawei, or something else, they
may also have a cloud service and a backup process. Look around in the settings
on your phone to see, or check the support pages for your phone’s maker.

How to Automatically Update Free Software with Chocolatey

You’ve got apps on your computer like Spotify, Adobe Reader, Chrome, Firefox, 7-Zip, VLC Media Player…the list goes on and they’re all free. What would we do without freeware? Yet, these apps require frequent updates to fix security holes and introduce new and useful features. Updates never happen at a convenient time.

That’s where Chocolatey comes into play. Use the free app Chocolatey to keep your software up to date. It’s easy, fast, simple, and did we mention free? Seems too good to be true, yet it is. But what is Chocolatey?

What is Chocolatey?

If you haven’t done things in the Windows command line, PowerShell, or Linux command line, the concept of Chocolatey can be a bit weird. Chocolatey is a machine-level program that helps you manage software.

Machine-level meaning that there isn’t a graphical user interface that helps you do things. All the commands must be typed. Don’t let that scare you away! If you can write words, you can master this.

How do I Install Chocolatey?

There are a couple things Chocolatey needs to work. When a
program needs other programs of Windows features to work, those needed programs
are referred to as dependencies. Chocolatey’s dependencies are you must be
using at least:

  • Windows 7 or newer
  • PowerShell version 2 or newer
  • .NET Framework 4 or newer
  • Plus, you must have administrator access on your computer

If you’ve got Windows 7 or newer, you’ve already got
PowerShell version 2 or newer. If you aren’t sure if you have .NET Framework 4,
don’t worry. When installing Chocolatey, if you don’t have .NET 4, Chocolatey
will install it for you.

Open PowerShell by typing in the Start Menu’s search
box PowerShell. You should see a result come up named Windows PowerShell App.

Right-click on that and select Run as Administrator.
Doing this is known as running PowerShell in an elevated instance. It’s
elevated to the Administrator’s privileges. The PowerShell window will open.

In the PowerShell window, type or copy and paste the command:

Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process -Force; iex
((New-Object
System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString(‘https://chocolatey.org/install.ps1’))

The Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process -Force
part tells PowerShell that you don’t want to enforce the restricted execution
policy for just this next thing. PowerShell, by default, will only allow signed
processes to run. It’s the highest security setting. But we need to run this
unsigned process of installing Chocolatey.

The iex ((New-Object
System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString(‘https://chocolatey.org/install.ps1’))

part of the command tells PowerShell to go to the Chocolatey website, download
the install.ps1 script, and run it. That’s the part that really installs
Chocolatey.

You’ll see a bunch of text fly by. Feel free to go back and
read it so you know what just happened. At the end, it suggests that you run
the command choco /? to see a list of functions. That’s a good way to
make sure your install worked. Go ahead and run that command.

Another pile of text will fly by, which is also good to read
and understand. At the end, if your install of Chocolatey worked, you’ll see something
like the following, where the green part lists what version you’ve just
installed.

Installing Software with Chocolatey

Let’s have a quick look at installing software with
Chocolatey before we get to updating software with it.

Go to the page https://chocolatey.org/packages to browse through the software that is available via Chocolatey. You’ll see that they are referred to as packages.

Find a package that you’d like to install. For this example, we’ll use Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. It’s always good to have Malwarebytes on your computer.

In an elevated instance of PowerShell, use the command choco
install malwarebytes
. That’s it. The install will begin. It will stop with
the following text:

If you’re comfortable allowing Chocolatey to manage your
software, then when this install is done, we should use the choco feature
enable -n allowGlobalConfirmation
command so we can automate installations
and updates in the future. For now, let’s just use A to complete the
installation.

You’ll see that Malwarebytes is downloading and then starts installing.

In about a minute, Malwarebytes will be downloaded and installed without any further work for you.

Update Software with Chocolatey

Now that we’ve got some software installed, we can try updating it with Chocolatey. Again, you need PowerShell open as Administrator. Then you can run the command choco upgrade malwarebytes.

That will make Chocolatey go out and see if there’s an update and then update it. We just installed Malwarebytes, so it will show that zero out one packages were updated. That’s okay.

If you’ve installed several packages with Chocolatey, you
can update them all with a one-line command: choco upgrade all -y.

That’s as hard as it gets. Now what we must do to
automatically update software with Chocolatey is to somehow make that command run
on a schedule.

Automatically Update Software with Chocolatey

The next step you can do using wither Notepad or PowerShell
ISE (Integrated Scripting Environment). We’ll do this example using Notepad as
not all Windows versions have the PowerShell ISE.

Open Notepad. Copy the command choco upgrade all -y into
Notepad.

Save that as PowerShell script by naming it something like upgrade-ChocoPackages.ps1. The .ps1 extension tells Windows that this is a   PowerShell script.

Change the file type from Text Documents (*.txt) to All Files (*.*). If you don’t, Windows will make it upgrade-ChocoPackages.ps1.txt and think it’s just a Notepad file.

Windows comes with a great feature called Task Scheduler.
The average home user probably doesn’t know about it, but Task Scheduler is the
feature that already makes a lot of things run on a regular basis.

In Start Menu search on Task Scheduler. Click on it when it
comes up as a result.

When Task Scheduler opens, click on Task Scheduler Library in the top-left area of the window. This will show you all the scheduled tasks currently set up on your computer.

In the Actions pane in the top-right area, click on Create Task…. Create Basic Task isn’t suitable for this situation, as we’ll be using argument statements later.

In the window that opens, in the General tab, give the task a name like Choco Upgrade All and then a Description like Updates all software installed by Chocolatey. If your current user account is not an administrator account on your computer, use the Change User or Group button to select the Administrator account.

You’ll also need to know the Administrator account’s password. Make sure Run whether the user is logged on or not is selected. This will allow the script to run even if you’re not on your computer and it will have all the privileges it needs to do the job.

The Triggers tab is where you tell the task when you want it to run. For this, once a week should be plenty. In our example, it’s set to run every Sunday at 1:00 a.m. Pick a time when you’re not likely to be using your computer, for best performance.

It’s recommended to also check Stop the task if it runs longer than: and change the duration to 2 hours. You can adjust that as you’d like. To allow the trigger to apply, you must check the Enabled box at the bottom.

Over to the Actions tab, and we’ll tell the task what
we want it to do. The Action will be defaulted to Start a program.
That is what we want so just leave that. In the Program/script field,
type powershell.exe. This lets Windows know you’re going to be running a
PowerShell script.

In the Add arguments field, enter the following
arguments.

-noprofile – This prevents PowerShell profile scripts
from running and tells it to just run the script that you want.

-ExecutionPolicy Bypass – If you’re not sure if
script execution was enabled, it’s good to have this in the arguments. It will
ensure the script runs.

-file – This is the argument that tells Task
Scheduler that whatever follows next is the path to the file that we want
PowerShell to run. In our example, the script was saved to C:\Scripts\upgrade-ChocoPackages.ps1.
It may be different on your computer, so adjust accordingly. If the path to
your file has any names with spaces in them, you’ll need to put the entire path
inside of quotes.

The full argument will look like -noprofile
-executionpolicy bypass -file C:\Scripts\upgrade-ChocoPackages.ps1

On the Conditions tab, there are more options we can set on how the script is to run. Look at them to see which ones you’d like to apply. For this example, it is set to Start the task only if the computer is on AC power and Stop if the computer switches to battery power to ensure we’re not running down the battery.

Wake the computer to run this task is selected to ensure the task runs, whether the computer is in sleep mode or not.

In the Settings tab, it’s recommended to check the Allow
task to be run on demand
box, so that we can manually test the task when
we’re done. The default selections for the remainder are fine.

Click OK to finish creating the scheduled task. A
window should pop up with the name of the user you selected back on the General
tab. You must enter the password for the user and click OK. This tells
Windows that you do, indeed, have the authority to run the task.

Now you’re back to the main Task Scheduler window. Find your
new task. Right-click on the task and select Run to test it.

You won’t see anything significant happen, except the status
of the task will change to Running. In a minute or so, you should see
the Last Run Time also change to the timestamp when you started running
the task.

If you didn’t get any error messages, the task should be
fine. Close the Task Scheduler window and don’t worry about having to manually
update any of the software you installed with Chocolatey again.

All Done!

It may seem like a lot of work to set this up. Consider this: it took you somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes to set this up. If you’re using this to update 10 programs, and each program takes about 6 minutes to go through the updating process every month, you’ve saved yourself between 30 and 50 minutes.

You’re already ahead in time saved. Over the course of a year, that could be 6 to 10 hours of time saved. That’s not including the time saved by knowing how to use Chocolatey to install programs in a minute or two instead of 10 or 15 minutes.

How To Extract Files From a Dead Hard Drive

What scares you more than losing everything that’s on your
computer right now? If your hard disk drive (HDD) died right now, this second,
would your heart sink into your stomach or launch it straight up into your
throat?

You’ve been making sure your files are backed up to a cloud
service or that your cherished photos are backed up to an external HDD. So,
it’s no big deal…right? Even still, if your drive crashed, you’d potentially
lose some files.

Don’t panic, we’re here to help. There’s a good chance you
can recover the files yourself, if the HDD isn’t physically damaged.

How Do I Know if My HDD is Physically Damaged?

There are a few clues to knowing if your HDD is physically damaged. Sound is a great indicator. If you hear a repetitive clicking sound coming from your computer just before it dies, or on startup, your drive is likely physically damaged.

That’s the sound of the read/write head trying to return to its home position and failing. Turn your computer off immediately. We’ll talk about why in a minute.

If you hear even the mildest of scraping or grinding sounds,
your drive is physically damaged. That’s the sound of the read/write head
shaving off the surface of the disks in the drive. Turn off your computer now.
Right now.

Why do you need to turn off your computer when you hear
these sounds? Because every second that you’re hearing those sounds, the disks
in the HDD are being damaged beyond repair. Every tiny bit of the disks that
gets damaged means files, folders, pictures, or videos are being lost forever.

You can still recover some of the files, but it will require finding a data recovery specialist and spending at least $1000 dollars. Data recovery specialists have very expensive equipment and training and sterile, dust free environments.

This allows them to delicately take apart your HDD and use their special electronics and tools to slowly, carefully, recover as much as they can. There are no guarantees though. They won’t know how damaged the drive is before they take it apart.

If it does have symptoms of internal damage, but you simply
don’t have the cash for professional recovery, you could still give it a shot.
At this point, you’re already counting the files as gone, so roll the dice,
play the lottery, and try to learn something. You might get lucky and recover
your grandparent’s wedding photo, or nephew’s first birthday

My HDD Sounds Fine, How Can I Recover Files Myself?

If your HDD has zero indication of damage, the odds of
recovering files are pretty good. Let’s look at the options.

Use a LiveCD or LiveUSB and an External Hard Drive

We’ve already done an in-depth how-to about this in How to Retrieve Windows Files Using a Linux Live CD. The idea is to make a bootable USB drive with a Linux distribution on it like Hiren’s Boot CD or Ultimate Boot CD.

Use the LiveUSB to boot the computer with the dead drive. It
will boot into the operating system on your LiveUSB instead of your computer’s
operating system. Plug in your other USB HDD so you have some place to save the
files.

The LiveUSB will have some sort of file explorer, like
Windows Explorer. Open that and see if you can access your HDD with it. If you
can find your files, you should be able to copy them to your external hard
drive.

Remove the HDD and Connect to Another Computer

This may seem a little extreme, but it can work well. It is
easier to do with desktop computers than laptops, but if you’re willing to try
you can do this.

First, make sure the computer is unplugged and has no power going
to it. If it’s a laptop, you’ll want to remove the battery as well.

Remove the cover from the computer case, or laptop, and find
the hard drive. Disconnect any cables that are attached to it. When you pull
out the cables, pull them by the hard end of the cable, not by pulling on the
cables themselves. That can damage them.

There may be some screws to undo to allow you to remove the
hard drive. Try to not touch any of the pins or circuitry that may be exposed
on the hard drive. Also, do not drop the hard drive. Either could cause damage
that would prevent you from being able to use the hard drive.

Now, you can either connect it to another computer by
installing it in a PC or attaching it as an external hard drive. Let’s look at
installing it in another PC first.

Install the Hard Drive in Another PC

If you took the HDD out of a PC, you can likely install it
in another PC. Most PCs are built with the capability to have two or more HDD
installed.

Open the PC and see if it has an empty HDD bay and empty
cable connections to use. If it does, install the HDD, then connect the cables.
Turn on this PC and go into Windows Explorer to see if your drive is visible.
If it is, copy off the files you want to save.

Once you have the files off the drive, you may be able
format it and use it as a secondary drive if there is no physical damage to it.

Connect the Hard Drive to Another PC via USB

This option is easier as it doesn’t require taking another
computer apart. If you removed the HDD from a laptop, this is probably the way
to go. Even with this method, there are a few ways you can do this.

One method is to get an external USB HDD enclosure. You can
buy these online for as little as $20 dollars. You open the enclosure and
install your HDD. Then you plug it into the USB port of your working computer,
and you’ve got access to your files. Plus, you now have an external HDD with
great capacity.

Once you rescue your files, you may want to perform a full
format on the external HDD. This will help mark the damaged sections as
unusable in the file system. Because your drive will no longer write to those
sectors, you may get several months, even years, of service out of it.

Another method is to get a USB HDD adapter or a USB HDD
docking station. The adapter is a set of cables that you attach to the HDD and
sometimes a power source. Then you plug it in to a USB port and your computer
should pick it up like it is an external USB HDD.

It’s a bit sloppy because you’ll have two or three cables
strewn across the desk and the HDD just sitting exposed. But it does work. These
adapters sell for around $20.

The HDD docking station looks a little like a toaster. You insert
the HDD into it and then you plug it in for power and plug the USB port into
your computer. It should show up as an external USB HDD as well. Docks sell for
about $40.

Having used both, we recommend the HDD dock, especially if
you’re the unofficial IT person for friends and family. A good one can even be
used to clone hard drives while not connected to any computer.

What About Dead Solid State Drives?

Solid state drives (SSD) are, by nature, not easy to recover
files from. Typically, if the SSD doesn’t appear to be working, it won’t ever
work. Be prepared for that. Yet there is one thing you can try that might work.
It’s a slim chance, but still a chance. This method will only work if the
failure is due to power loss from a power outage in your area or something
similar.

Remove the data transfer cable from the SSD but leave the
power cable connected. If the cable to your SSD has the power and data
integrated, you’ll need to get a SATA power cable.

It might be possible to do with an external USB drive
enclosure if it has separate power and data cables. Connect the SATA power
cable to the appropriate spot on the SSD and to the host PCs power connection. Follow
the cable that’s was already connected to the SSD to find it where it should go.

Next, power the computer on and just let it sit for 20
minutes. Don’t do anything with the computer, just let it be.

Turn the computer completely off and disconnect the drive
for 30 seconds.

Connect the drive again, power on the computer again, and
wait another 20 minutes. Power off the computer and disconnect the power from
the SSD.

Reconnect the SSD with both the power and data cables just
like it was before we started this. Power on your computer. If all went well,
it should be working. If it is working, also update the firmware on your SSD to
make sure it’s working and not corrupted by the power outage.

If that doesn’t work, the only reliable way to get data from
a dead SSD is to contact a data recovery specialist and get out your wallet.

An Ounce of Prevention…

If you’re just reading this to learn something, the thing to
learn is backup, backup, backup. And then backup some more. With the pervasiveness
and relative affordability of cloud storage, and affordable external drives,
you should have all your files backed up to at least one, if not two, different
storage methods. Then you’ll never have to worry about going through this mess
of trying to recover data from a dead hard drive.

Is it Dangerous to Tether to a Cellphone for Internet Access?

We’ve gone from the philosophical concept of everything
being connected to the physical reality that almost everything is connected. But
there are those times where you can’t be connected to your home or work network,
or a public WiFi hotspot. That’s where mobile hotspot tethering comes into
play.

What is Mobile Hotspot Tethering?

Most phones or devices that can connect to the cellular
network to access the Internet can share that connection. It can share it with
devices in a very small area via WiFi or Bluetooth connection.

The part where you connect your device to a phone is the
tethering part. Technically, anytime you connect two devices, wirelessly or
with a wire like a USB cable, you’re tethering them.

The part where you set up the device connecting to the
cellular network and share that connection is the mobile hotspot part. There
will be a setting somewhere on your device that you can tell it to share its
Internet connection. It’ll allow you to name the connection and set a password
that you can give to other people so they can connect their devices.

How Can That be Dangerous?

There are a few ways that can cause a problem for you.

Your Cellular Data Bill Could Shoot Up Drastically

Did you ever share your WiFi password with a friend, only to
find by the end of the night your Internet speed has slowed down to a crawl?
Then you get on your router and you see half the apartment building is on your
network? Sorry, but that’s human nature.

You give the password to one person. You ask them not to
give it to anyone else. Then they’re talking with a friend of theirs and think,
“Well, it’s only one more person. It won’t be a big deal. They won’t give the
password to anyone else.” And that chain just continues.

Imagine that happening to your cell phone. Imagine that
you’ve only got 5 GB of data, but 5 people are streaming Netflix. An hour later
and you’re paying hundreds of dollars for someone to watch The Hills Have Eyes
3.

Your Information Could be Intercepted

Anytime you start sending information through the air, it
becomes more vulnerable than if it’s travelling through the air. There are
several ways that this could be done, such as a man-in-the-middle attack or
intercepting the transmission via packet sniffing.

When someone tethers to your phone, you are creating a
two-way street. If you’re the one providing access, you may be open to attack
from your guest. If you’re the guest, you may be providing a way for the host
to frolic through your phone.

Confidential Data Could be Leaked

If you’re a business owner, it might mean you losing data
from your office. Picture this: a worker wants to access unauthorized sites at
work, so they connect their laptop to their cellphone to circumvent your
network. What’s to stop them from sending your client list or pricing strategy
to someone else? You wouldn’t know and you couldn’t stop it.

Your Phone Battery Will Drain Much Quicker

Ok, so this isn’t dangerous, but if you are reliant on your phone for contacting family and friends this could be a problem. Your phone already uses a fair amount of power just to check and see if there’s a cell tower nearby, every now and again.

Then you make your phone into WiFi router and it takes more power to serve out access to whatever is tethered to it and is constantly talking to the cell tower. Where your phone battery might last a few days on standby, don’t expect it to last more than a few hours when you tether to it.

Something you will also notice is when your battery drains
fast, it gets unusually hot. Like, too hot to put in your pocket. So that could
be dangerous, especially if you leave it on a soft surface like a couch or bed.

How to Tether to Your Mobile Device Safely

Let’s do away with the notion of complete safety. That’s an
illusion. The best you can hope for in life is a reasonable degree of security.
That is, you’re satisfied that the bad things are much less likely to happen
than the good things.

  • Only use tethering when necessary. If you’re good at separating need from want, you’ll probably find that it’s almost never necessary.
  • Only allow people to tether that you trust implicitly. For most people, that’s a short list. I’m talking about people you would trust with your bank card and PIN. Which you should never do either.
  • Limit the amount of time that you allow tethering. If you need to tether to submit a report to your boss, get on the tether, e-mail the report, then shut off tethering.
  • If your phone supports it, limit access to allowed devices only.
  • If you allow tethering for any longer than necessary, keep an eye on what devices are connected. If you don’t recognize them, or there’s too many, shut of your mobile hotspot immediately.
  • Don’t use the same password for tethering more than once. If you’ve allowed a friend to tether once, and they see that your phone is hotspot again, they’re likely to jump on. Or, if the connection is saved, their phone might connect even without them knowing it. Now you’re downloading updates for their sports apps on your dime. Phones will often generate a password or PIN number for you. Some phones do this from a limited number of words or default PINs making it easier for someone to brute force a connection to your phone.
  • Consider using a virtual private network when tethered to someone’s mobile hotspot. Really, you should use a VPN when connected to anyone else’s network, period.
  • Make sure that you have somewhere to charge your phone. You’re going to drain it quickly and if it’s your only lifeline you must be able to charge it up quickly.
  • If you’re a business owner and you don’t have Mobile Device Management (MDM) system and a strong computer and phone use policy in place, you’re going to pay sooner or later. Decide to pay a known amount for the MDM or decide to potentially lose your business by betting against the odds. Your call.

The Reality of Safe Mobile Hotspot Tethering

Now you know what could possibly happen. Also keep in mind
that new ways to hack things are being developed every day, by the bad guys and
the good guys.

Is it likely that you’re going to get hacked through
tethering? There aren’t any statistics on that, but no one thinks they’ll get
in a car accident either. The sad fact is that almost everyone gets in a car
accident of some sort. If they’re lucky, it’s a paint chip. If they aren’t,
it’s a life altering event. So, we all get insurance.

In the same mindset, be your own insurance against getting
hacked through mobile hotspot tethering. Follow the advice above and keep an
eye on your phone. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky few that never has, or
causes, an accident.

What Are the F (Function) Keys For?

Across the top of almost every keyboard lies a series of
keys beginning with F. F1 through F12 and they are known as function keys. Can
you believe that they’ve been around since 1965? They were introduced as keys
that could be changed to do whatever you want. Keys that can be programmed are
also known as soft keys.

They’re still soft keys today. Operating systems (OS) and
programs can tie into them so that the keys will initiate specific
functions.  Over the years, though, software
developers have unofficially standardized them. Because of this, the functions
keys will often do the same thing, regardless of what operating system or
program you are using. Not always, but often.

Let’s look at what each function key does in Windows.

The F1 Key – Help is on the Way

Anytime you have a question or a problem with the program
you’re in, your first step should be to press the F1 key. It is universally the
key that will bring up the help menu or open the support website for the OS or
program you are using.

In some cases, the F1 key will get you context-sensitive
help. That is, help that is very specific to what you are doing at the time. Let’s
say you were working with an image in a program and trying to change the color.
If the program has context-sensitive help, it would show you information about
color changing when you pressed F1.

On some computers, the F1 key can be used to access the BIOS
(Basic Input/Output System) set-up when starting a computer, but before the OS
loads.

The F2 Key – The Name Changer

For most items in Windows, like files, folders, or desktop
icons, pressing the F2 key allows you to rename the item. Simple click-once on
the item to select it, tap F2 and you’ll see the name becomes editable, edit
the name and tap Enter to commit the change. This method is blindingly faster
than trying to right-click on the item with your mouse, selecting Rename, and
renaming it.

In Microsoft Office Excel, tapping F2 allows you to edit the
active cell more easily than going the mouse-click route.

In Microsoft Word, using the Ctrl and the F2 key together
(Ctrl + F2) will display the print preview window.

F2 can also be used to access the BIOS when restarting your
computer on some makes and models.

The F3 Key – The Searcher

In most programs, tapping the F3 key will bring up that
programs search window. Try it in a web browser, and then you can search for
text on the page you’re viewing.

Once you’ve searched for something, often tapping the F3 key
again will find you the next instance of the search term. To find the next
place it occurs, tap F3. To find the next place after that, tap F3, and so on.

The F4 Key – Address and Closer

If you’re using Windows Explorer or Internet Explorer, you
can tap F4 to open or close the address bar. That can be useful for quickly
going to recently accessed locations. The bar will open a drop-down showing you
the most recently accessed items. Use your up and down arrow keys to select a
location and tap enter to go there. No mouse necessary.

Alt + F4 is the quickest way to close a window or program. This can be handy when you need to shut down your computer quickly but safely.

The F5 Key – Refreshing

In web browsers, Windows Explorer, and a host of other
programs and utilities, you can tap the F5 button to refresh the screen. In a
web browser, that means it will reload the page.

Why would you want to refresh the screen in Windows Explorer
or other programs? What’s on the screen and what the computer is doing don’t
always match. By tapping F5 to refresh, you force the program you’re in to get
and display the newest information. Systems Administrators might use this while
monitoring server activity for example.

Most Microsoft Office apps will display the Go To dialog
when F5 is tapped. This can help you navigate through your work quickly. Power
Point is the exception, where F5 can be used to start the slideshow.

The F6 Key – Cycle Around

In any program, there are places that you can select with
the cursor. By tapping the F6 key, you can quickly move the cursor through all
the places that it can select. For example, in the Chrome browser, tapping F6
will move the cursor focus to the address bar. Tapping it again moves it to the
first tab. Tapping it one more time moves it to the first bookmark in your
bookmark bar.

Again, this is where moving around the screen with a
keystroke is far easier and quicker than reaching for the mouse.

The F7 Key – Check Yourself

Microsoft Office and other text-editing programs are where
the F7 key shines. In Microsoft Word, tap F7 and you’ll open the program’s
spelling and grammar checker. Use Shift+F7 and you’ll open the thesaurus. In
Word, the thesaurus will show you alternatives for whatever word you have
selected.

 Outside of that, most
programs don’t do anything when you tap the F7 key.

The F8 Key – Be Safe

In older versions of Windows, tapping F8 when starting your
computer will allow you to boot in to Safe Mode. That’s a mode of Windows that
runs only the most necessary Windows services, making troubleshooting problems
easier.

In Microsoft Word, tapping F8 extends your text selection.
Tap it once to select the whole word. Tap it again to select the whole
sentence. Once more selects the whole paragraph, and a final tap will select
the whole document.

The F9 Key – Clear and Calculating

If you have a Microsoft Word document with fillable fields,
or tables with formulas, tapping F9 will update the field. Using Ctrl+A then
tapping F9 will update all the fields.

In Microsoft Excel, F9 will convert cell references into
plain values. Shift+F9 will force a recalculation of the worksheet you’re
using. Ctrl+Alt+F9 will force a recalculation of all open workbooks. You might
not want to use that too often as it can really bog down your computer.

The F10 Key – Ribbons and Menus

In the Microsoft Office, tapping F10 manipulates the ribbon.
The ribbon being the place where all the tools like selecting fonts or
inserting images live. Tapping F10 can activate access keys for ribbon items.
If you work with the ribbon hidden, F10 will reveal the ribbon and activate access
keys.

The F11 Key – See it All

Used mostly in web browsers and video players, the F11 key
will put the program into full screen mode. This is most useful when watching
videos in VLC or on YouTube. Tap F11 again and it will bring the program out of
full screen.

The F12 Key – Save As

F12, the final function key, is used mostly in Microsoft
Office. If you want to save your document, workbook, or slideshow with a
different name or to a different location, tap F12 to bring up the Save As
dialog.

Ctrl+F12 will start the Open File dialog. So, if you’re
working along and decide you need to open another workbook or document, use
Ctrl+F12 to quickly get it.

Shift+F12 will save the document you’re currently working
on. You’re likely already used to using Ctrl+S to do that, though.

All the Functions

Since the function keys can be programmed to do just about
anything, this isn’t an exhaustive list of what they can do. If you use
specialized software like Adobe’s Creative Suite or an enterprise resource
planning (ERP) application at work, investigate the help files to see what
function keys might help you with. Who knows? It might just make your life a
bit easier.