It's been a while since I did a Q&A--my last one was back in February, on fixing Windows, tweaking Office, and adding ports--and my mailbox is filling up again with reader pleas for help. This week, advice on dealing with a balky browser, choosing new gear for your PC, and customizing Windows folder icons.
What to Do When Internet Explorer Won't Run
Bill is having a problem with Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 on his Windows XP system: Whenever he runs the browser, it pops open for just a second or two, then immediately closes again.
Now that's what I call a busted browser.
This kind of problem occurs when Internet Explorer gets "corrupted," meaning there's been damage to one or more of the files that make the program work. Microsoft has documented the issue, which apparently occurs with IE7, IE8, and even IE9 (way to make progress, there, Microsoft). The solution is to uninstall and then reinstall the browser.
Unfortunately for Bill, he's already tried that--several times. (I don't know if he's visited Microsoft's Fix It Center; that's worth a try.) That leaves two options. First, consider wiping your system and reinstalling Windows XP or moving up to Windows 7. I know that sounds like overkill for a problem like this, but it's something every user needs to do from time to time--and you'll net a faster, like-new system for your trouble.
Second, give up on Internet Explorer. I've mentioned this option before in response to others who've had problems with their browser. IE doesn't work? Try Firefox. Having trouble with Firefox? Try Chrome. Any replacement browser will allow you to import all your bookmarks, so the transition should be fairly simple (even if you will have to learn a slightly different interface).
I realize this doesn't solve the actual problem with IE, but it does give you a fast, easy, and effective workaround.
Replacing Faulty Components
A reader who goes by the name gib_84_here wrote to ask about replacement computer parts. Specifically, if your keyboard needs to be replaced, is it necessary to "obtain a replacement from your computer's manufacturer, or can any old keyboard work?"
Quick answer: Any old keyboard will work. Keyboards, mice, and even monitors are pretty interchangeable, meaning as long as the replacements have the same kind of connectivity as the originals (USB for mice and keyboards, VGA/DVI/HDMI for monitors), you can swap in virtually any make and model.
That's a good thing, as it gives you the opportunity to replace a dead or defective part with something better. For example, if you used a wired keyboard before, why not try a wireless model this time out? If your mouse goes, consider replacing it with a trackpad. If you suddenly find yourself in the market for a new monitor, go bigger!
Of course, there's one exception to this advice: If the defective part is still under warranty, obviously you'll want to contact the manufacturer about getting a replacement. More often than not it'll be an identical item, though if it's discontinued, the company may send you something comparable--or, if you're lucky, an upgrade.
Another exception: RAM. Although you might look upon a faulty RAM module as a great opportunity to add extra memory to your PC, make sure to obey the rules of RAM upgrades.
Customize Folder Icons When You Don't See a 'Customize' Tab
Lis is a Windows 7 user who likes to use custom icons for folders. This is done, of course, by right-clicking a folder, choosing Properties, clicking the Customize tab, and then clicking the Change Icon button.
Just one problem: Lis says this no longer works. When opening the Properties window for a folder, there's no Customize tab. Where oh where did it go?
Don't feel bad, Lis--you've fallen into a Windows 7 trap that could easily ensnare anybody. What's most likely happening is that you're looking at your folders in Windows 7's Libraries view, rather than in Windows Explorer. When you do that, sure enough, there's no Customize tab. Why? Because Libraries is kind of a folder aggregator. It doesn't actually contain your folders, but merely points to them. I realize that's confusing, but, well, that's the explanation. (Read more about the subject in "Simplify File Organization with Windows 7 Libraries.")
What you need to do is open Windows Explorer, navigate to the folder in question, then change its icon by following the previously outlined steps. That should do the trick!
If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog. My 411: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week .