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When Windows breaks: How to fix it, piece by piece

Brad Chacos | Nov. 5, 2013
Your browser goes bonkers! Your firewall freaks out! No worries: Windows can repair many problems itself. Here's how.

Reset your Libraries
But wait! What if you wind up turning your Libraries into a cluttered, nigh-unusable mess in the midst of all that File History preparation? Fear not. Simply right-click  the Libraries listing in Windows File Explorer and select Restore default libraries to wipe the slate clean. You can also restore individual Libraries to their pristine states by right-clicking them and selecting Properties, then clicking the Restore defaults button at the bottom of the window. Or, you could just hit the Restore settings button that appears in the Manage tab of Windows 8's Ribbon UI when you're looking at a Library in the File Explorer.

Be warned: Windows doesn't ask if you're sure about your decision when you're rebooting Libraries, so don't click that button unless you're committed to action.

Reset the Ribbon UI
Speaking of the Ribbon UI in Windows 8's File Explorer, it's much more customizable than the traditional file menus found in Windows 7 and earlier. As with many of Windows' forays into flexibility, though, it's almost too easy to wipe the slate clean.

Open Windows File Explorer in the desktop, then browse to the View tab and click the Options button on the right side of the Ribbon menu. Each of the three tabs hidden within the Folder Options window that appears contains its own Restore defaults button, and each does exactly what you'd expect. Once again: There's no turning back once you click that button.

Reset the taskbar and Start menu
The Windows taskbar is a wonderful thing, providing at-a-glance info about your open programs and popping up system notifications as necessary. Windows being Windows, however, you have the option of muting or hiding individual software in the taskbar and system tray to cut down on the cacophony.

If you've decided that you've hidden too much, right-click an empty section of the taskbar and select Properties. Open the Taskbar tab, then click the Customize button. Underneath the scrolling list of options is the blue link you're looking for: Restore default icon behaviors.

And while you're poking around the taskbar properties, you can restore the Start Menu's defaults (assuming, of course, you're using Windows 7 or another version of Windows that still sports the Start Menu). Just open the Start Menu tab—remember, this doesn't apply to Windows 8—and click the Customize button, then press the Use default settings button at the bottom of the "Customize Start Menu" pop-up that appears.

Mr. Microsoft, tear that firewall down!
Firewalls are finicky. If you accidentally block a needed program (or accidentally allow a malicious program) then connectivity havoc can ensue. Microsoft's baked-in Windows Firewall is as user-friendly as firewalls can be, but it, too, has a reset button in case everything goes pear-shaped.


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