How to fix 5 persistent Windows irritations

These problems bug me in Windows, and they probably bug you too. Here's how to handle them

You know how it is: A big problem gets your immediate attention, and you deal with it right then and there. But some problems, though annoying, aren't sufficiently irritating to divert me from my priorities. They linger until I finally have time to handle them.

For these five Windows desktop and server irritations, now is that time. It turns out they're bugging other people, too; I found these fixes on the Web, shared by folks who were irritated enough to solve them. In that spirit, here are the solutions to five Windows nuisances that have been bugging me for a while. Now, they won't annoy you any more, either.

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Windows irritation No. 1: Turning off Google ads and tracking

For months I've been going to Web pages and seeing the same ad from Google over and over again. The first time, it made me think, "Wow, I like that company; in fact, I was just on its site." But after the bajillionth time that same ad showed up on and practically every other site I visited, I began to feel harassed and stalked.

I wanted to turn off those Google ads. But how? A little research led me to Firefox add-ons such as Adblock and CustomizeGoogle, which kill the ads. Internet Explorer users can go with tools such as AdSubtract or Webwasher. But I found a better, much cooler way to fix it: Simply edit the hosts file on your PC.

The hosts file is (typically) located in your Windows\System32\drivers\etc folder; open it with Notepad. You may have some difficulty saving it the first time; to get around that, make sure you adjust its permissions (using the Windows properties controls) to allow you to edit the file.

Next, add the following: (You may get an alert from your anti-spyware software, but go ahead and approve the change.) This code blocks the Google ad server from being reached by redirecting it to your localhost address rather than Google's IP address. I tested it out -- and no more ads! A Web search will lead you to downloadable hosts files preconfigured to block a bunch of advertising servers, malicious sites, and more.

Windows irritation No. 2: Blocking websites from sharing your personal information

Along the same lines, when you visit a website that contains content from another provider, information about you is sometimes sent automatically to that provider. That's why some websites surface personal information that you didn't provide, such as marketing text that says, "Buy shoes in <insert your town>." To block such sharing of information across sites, turn on Internet Explorer's InPrivate Filtering feature, found in the Safety options. You can have InPrivate Filtering automatically block all such sharing or ask for your approval each time.

Windows irritation No. 3: Circumventing Windows Server's constant security warnings

On a different note, it frustrates me when I'm working on Windows Server 2008 and open up a Web page that serves up one security warning after another. For months, I put up with it. Then somebody asked, "Why not just turn off the security for IE?"

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