Enterprise Mode is a new feature in Internet Explorer that allows businesses to use old web applications in modern versions of IE. This feature is designed to help businesses who still need Internet Explorer 8 for some reason to upgrade to a more modern, secure browser.

This feature is arriving in Internet Explorer 11 as part of Windows 8.1 Update 1, and will also be available as an update to IE 11 on Windows 7.

How It Works

Internet Explorer’s Enterprise Mode is a special compatibility mode in Internet Explorer 11. A website that loads in Enterprise Mode renders like it did in Internet Explorer 8. Some businesses have standardized on older versions of Internet Explorer and may use internal web applications that just don’t function with modern versions of Internet Explorer. Rather than stick with Internet Explorer 8 on Windows XP, which is reaching the end of its long life, Microsoft wants to encourage these businesses to upgrade to a modern version of Windows and Internet Explorer.

Websites can’t ask to be rendered in this mode, and it won’t appear in the normal menus as an option for typical users. Microsoft wants businesses to provide their own list of websites that will be automatically loaded in Enterprise Mode. It’s also available as a menu option that can be toggled on and off, but this menu option is hidden by default and must be enabled in the group policy editor.

If all your web applications work fine in modern versions of Internet Explorer, this feature isn’t for you. However, if you’re stuck with Internet Explorer 8 and can’t let it go, this feature is designed so you can upgrade.

Enable Enterprise Mode with Group Policy

If you need Enterprise Mode, there’s a good chance you’re using a Professional or Enterprise version of Windows and will have access to the group policy editor. You can’t enable Enterprise Mode on standard versions of Windows 8.1 or Home versions of Windows 7.

To launch the local group policy editor, press Windows Key + R, type gpedit.msc into the Run dialog, and press Enter.

Navigate to User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Internet Explorer.

Scroll down and locate the Let users turn on and use Enterprise Mode from the Tools menu option. Double-click it, set it to Enabled, and users will be able to enable Enterprise Mode manually.

System administrators can also enable the Use the Enterprise Mode IE website list option. You’ll need to create a list of websites you want rendered in Enterprise Mode and save it to a file — either on the local computer or on a website — and enter the address of that file here. Internet Explorer will load the list, read it, and render all the websites on it in Enterprise Mode.

Some reports indicate that there are various registry entries that you can modify to enable this feature on Home or standard versions of Windows. However, it appears these options have been removed on the final version of Windows 8.1 Update 1. When we monitored the Group Policy Editor to see what registry entry it was changing, it was changing a Group Policy-only entry and not a standard registry entry you could change by hand.

Activate Enterprise Mode

With Enterprise Mode enabled, using it is as simple as tapping the Alt key in Internet Explorer, clicking the Tools menu, and selecting Enterprise Mode to toggle Enterprise Mode for the current website. If you’ve set up a list of websites that will be automatically opened in Enterprise Mode, you don’t even need to do this — it will all happen automatically.

If you just enabled the group policy setting, you’ll have to close and re-open Internet Explorer before this option will appear in the Tools menu.

It’s no surprise that this feature requires a Professional or Enterprise version of Windows. It’s named Enterprise Mode and intended for businesses with out-of-date websites, not typical home users.


Microsoft won’t be releasing new security patches for Windows XP come April 8th, 2014, and they’re making sure all Windows XP users know it. You’re on your own after this point — no more security updates for Windows XP!

The Windows XP End of Support pop-up will appear once per month, starting March 8. This pop-up is designed to ensure every Windows XP user knows they’re on their own and Microsoft is no longer protecting them.

What Does End of Support Mean?

Microsoft has supported Windows XP with security updates for 13 years. Whenever a critical security bug is found, Microsoft patches it and releases the fix to you via Windows Update. This helps ensure your computer is as secure as possible.

After the end of support date, Microsoft will no longer be patching security holes in Windows XP. When an attacker finds a security hole in the Windows XP operating system, they’ll be able to keep exploiting that hole until the last Windows XP PC disconnects from the Internet. Over time, Windows XP systems will become more and more insecure, with more and more known and unpatched security holes. Antivirus software will help a bit, but no antivirus software is perfect. It’s important to use a security strategy containing multiple layers of protection — antivirus is one, but using patched, secure software is another.

Over time, third-party software developers will stop supporting Windows XP with their own software, too. For the moment, most software developers will continue to support Windows XP. However, just like you can’t use modern Windows software on Windows 98, you’ll one day be unable to use modern Windows software on Windows XP. Windows XP had a good run, but modern versions of Windows are better and more secure.


What Can I Upgrade To?

End of support means it’s time to upgrade from Windows XP. If you don’t like the look of Windows 8, you don’t have to upgrade to Microsoft’s latest “touch-first” version of Windows. You can still buy copies of Windows 7 and upgrade your Windows XP PC to Windows 7. Windows 7 is considered a worthy successor to Windows XP after the stumble of Windows Vista, and Windows 7 will be supported with security fixes until January 14, 2020. If you’re upgrading to Windows 8, Windows 8 will be supported with security fixes until January 10, 2023! This information is available on Microsoft’s Windows lifecycle fact sheet page.


Of course, Windows licenses are so expensive to buy that you may want to consider buying a new computer rather than paying $100 for a new copy of Windows and installing it on an old, slow computer.

Paying for Windows isn’t the only option, either. You may want to consider installing Ubuntu or a lightweight version of Ubuntu like Lubuntu. These Linux-based desktop operating systems are completely free to use and will provide you with security updates for years to come. If you just use that old Windows XP computer to browse the web and don’t need any Windows-specific software, Ubuntu is a good, free alternative.

But I Still Need Windows XP!

Some people will still need Windows XP for those old business applications that don’t work on modern versions of Windows. If you still need Windows XP for some reason or another, you should try to make it as secure as possible:

•  Disconnect It:

If you need a Windows XP desktop application that doesn’t require Internet access, disconnect your Windows XP PC from the network and use it entirely offline.

•    Run XP in a Virtual Machine:

You can run Windows XP in a virtual machine on a modern version of Windows, such as Windows 7 or 8. Professional editions of Windows 7 even include Windows XP Mode, which allows you to set up a Windows XP virtual machine without having to buy a separate Windows XP license. Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP Mode or Windows XP in virtual machines either after April 8, 2014, but it’s more secure to confine Windows XP to a virtual machine than to use it as your main operating system.

•   Use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome:

Both of these browsers will continue to be supported with security fixes on Windows XP into at least 2015. Internet Explorer 8, however, will be unsupported. If you need Internet Explorer 8 for a specific website, you should use IE only for that website and use the other browsers for everything on the web.

•    Install an Antivirus:

An antivirus won’t protect you completely, but it’s a lot better than using an insecure operating system with no protection. Be sure your antivirus is currently receiving updates — you don’t want to use an old, expired copy of a paid antivirus program.

Following standard computer security best practices will help, too. For example, you should uninstall the terrible, insecure Java browser plug-in if it’s on your Windows XP system.


Yes, it’s time to upgrade from Windows XP. It’s been 13 years and Microsoft has even extended support for Windows XP in the past. If Microsoft continued extending support, many customers would never upgrade.


Geeks have had their own “money” for some time, but typically it is within the context of online gaming. While this digital currency does possess intrinsic value, the market for it is usually limited to other gamers. However, 2009 gave rise to another form of digital currency, bitcoin, which has demonstrated some global demand as a medium for exchange.

Image credit: Zack Copley

I want to make it very clear right up front that we are not recommending that you invest in Bitcoins. It’s very likely that you will lose money.

How it Works

In its essence, bitcoin is a crypto-currency implemented entirely with open source specifications and software which relies entirely on a peer-to-peer network for both transaction processing and validation. We will briefly cover how this works (for more technical details, you can see the links at the end of the article), but we are primarily going to focus on the bitcoin economy itself.

A bitcoin is simply an SHA-256 hash (which is an extremely large number) in hexadecimal format. A person’s bitcoins are stored in a special file called a wallet, which also holds each address the user sends and receives bitcoins from as well as password/private key known only to the user, which is required before the bitcoins can be spent.

A bitcoin is spend/exchanged by initiating a transfer request from an address in the wallet of the payer to an address of the payee. A bitcoin address can be thought of as an email address (with bitcoin addresses being hashes instead of “readable” strings). A group of transactions (called a block) are broadcast to the bitcoin peer-to-peer to network for validation, which is tentatively completed once a single node generates a random SHA-256 hash with certain properties (starts with a specific number of 0 bits). Because an SHA-256 number is huge, the “search” for a suitable number requires an enormous amount of computing power – which is what the bitcoin peer-to-peer network provides.

When a suitable block hash is found, it is coupled with a nonce (a one-time number) and then broadcast to the peer-to-peer network. This resulting hash is then combined with the previous completed block hash along with the bitcoin(s) being exchanged, which creates a chain. This chain forms the “trust” of each bitcoin transaction, as each new transaction block is generated based on the unique hash of the previous. In fact, the entire history of every bitcoin transaction can be traced back through a single link chain.

As a reward for the node which generated the suitable hash, new bitcoins are created and/or any transactional fees are credited to the node’s address. The process of attempting to generate validation hashes is called mining, and it is the only way new bitcoins enter the economy.

Again, we want to be clear that this is a very simplified overview of how the bitcoin exchange works, but this gives a foundation for the topics we are covering in this article.

Transactional Security and Trust


By design, each bitcoin transaction is anonymous in the sense that only bitcoin addresses (hashes) are exposed. For additional anonymity, a bitcoin wallet can generate a new address for receiving future exchanges, hence making it very difficult, if not impossible, to trace every transaction performed by a particular individual.

As an additional security feature, the bitcoin transactional chain prevents bitcoins from being double spent. In order for a transaction to be undone, first the link in the chain which defines the target transaction would have to have a new hash generated, as well as every link after the target (as each transaction hash depends on the previous). Because the bitcoin network trusts the longest continuous chain and each suitable SHA-256 hash takes approximately 10 minutes to generate (more on this in a bit), an attack would require more computational power than all honest nodes… or an unheard of amount of luck. To ensure neither are feasible, a transaction block is not considered final until it is 6 links deep (which takes about 1 hour).

Bitcoin Mining

One very import aspect is the controlled rate at which block hashes are generated, which is called mining. By design this is, on average, every 10 minutes. However, because computing power in the peer-to-peer network can fluctuate as new nodes enter/leave the network and/or computational power of those nodes increase due to hardware improvements, the difficulty of the validation hash has to adjust accordingly.

To accomplish this, the bitcoin network adjusts the requirements for a “suitable” block validation hash. As we stated above, a block validation hash must have a specific number of leading zero bits, so in order to adjust the time on average it takes to generate a valid value, the number of leading zeroes required adjusts accordingly. As more computing power is added to the processing network, the number of leading zeroes increases (making it more difficult to find a value). Alternately, if the computing power decreases, the number of leading zeroes required decreases as well (making it easier to find a value).

Quite simply, the more nodes (or more specifically, the number crunching available) in the system, the harder a hash is to generate. Considering the SHA-256 hashes are generated via brute force, the mining process consumes an enormous amount of processing power. Additionally, there is no guarantee that any particular mining node will ever generate a suitable hash (and, hence, collect the newly generated bitcoins and/or transaction fees) as it is simply “luck” that a particular node finds a suitable value first.

The rate at which bitcoins are rewarded is controlled as well. The system has a hard limit of ~21 million bitcoins. This limit will be reached around 2140. At this time, when miners are no longer rewarded with the creation of new bitcoins, the incentive will move solely to transaction fees.

It should be noted that mining is an extreme computational process that will quickly run up your electricity bill. So much so that current mining software doesn’t even run on CPUs because they are too inefficient. Rather, it uses GPU’s (down to a science) or specially designed chips. There are even custom-designed mining boxes. Mining is treated as big business and, unlike distributed computing networks, isn’t something you can simply repurpose your spare machine for.


An example of a custom built bitcoin miner. (Image by: Mirko Tobias Schaefer)

Bitcoin Strengths

Anonymity and privacy

Perhaps the biggest strength of bitcoin is that it is virtually anonymous. Because bitcoin transactions are sent from hash address to hash address (which, recall, can be changed from transaction to transaction), it is possible for the two parties involved to be completely unknown to each other. For a somewhat comparable analogy, think of it as sending cash in the mail to a PO box where the return address is another PO box. Due to this aspect of bitcoins, it is very very difficult to build a profile of any single user. In many ways, with regards to privacy, it is better than cash.

Additionally, because there is no central processing authority (as the peer-to-peer network handles this), it is impossible to lock anyone out of the system.

No required transaction fees (for most transactions)

Unlike when you use a credit card where the processor (e.g. Visa, Mastercard, etc.) charges a transaction fee which the merchant has to pay, bitcoin currently has no such required fees on most transactions. Because transactions are processed by the peer-to-peer network, which is rewarded by the system with the creation of new bitcoins, a reward for the processors (miners) is built-in.

So why would you choose to pay a transaction fee? Currently, the only practical reason would be to prioritize the block the transaction is included in. As stated above, a transaction is not considered “official” until it is 6 blocks deep, and when a transaction is being considered for inclusion in a block, a heavily considered factor is the transaction fee associated with it. Because mining (processing) is motivated by earning bitcoins, including a transaction fee is a sure way to bump up the priority of a particular transaction.


No governing authority (hence, not subject to easy taxation)

Quite simply, bitcoin is currently not recognized as an official form of money by any government, therefore any “payments” or “income” in the form of bitcoins are not taxable. You can think of it as a barter system where you don’t “pay” for something with bitcoins, rather you “trade” bitcoins for it. In the same sense that if you were to trade 3 apples for 3 oranges, the oranges you received are not taxed (practically speaking).

Admittedly, this is a very simplistic explanation (and the same could be said for cash transactions), but bitcoin has an advantage of not being recognized as actual money when it comes to taxation.

However, an important point to keep in mind is that if/when bitcoins are converted to actual currency (for example US Dollars), then the resulting income could be subject to taxation.

Bitcoin Weaknesses

Possible Government Interference

Any time something new comes around and challenges the status quo, the government is going to get involved to make sure that things remain the way they are supposed to be. The fact is that the US government, and other governments, are looking into BitCoin for a variety of reasons, including some legitimate reasons like money laundering and terrorist funding.

Just in the last few days, the US government has started seizing some accounts from the biggest BitCoin exchange. More is likely to come in the future.

No monetary sovereignty

Perhaps the biggest weakness of bitcoin is that it is not a “recognized” sovereign currency, that is, it is not backed by the full faith of any governing body. While this could be seen as strength, the fact that bitcoin is a fiat currency which is accepted only on the perceived value of other bitcoin users makes it highly vulnerable to destabilization. Simply put, if one day a large number of merchants who accept bitcoin as a form of payment stop doing so, then the value of bitcoin would fall drastically.

Deflationary by design

A knock on the bitcoin design from an economic perspective is due to the fact that the number of bitcoins which will be generated has a hard limit of ~21 million. Inherently, this means the economy is deflationary by design, which can make it an ideal target for speculators and hoarders.

Although bitcoins can be spent in increments of .00000001 (meaning a single bitcoin is made up of one million “cents”), an economy where the supply of money cannot keep pace with the demand is very susceptible to recessions and depressions. For example, if speculators held a large percentage of bitcoins solely for the purpose of investment, those bitcoins are not cycling through transactions which mean less money is available to change hands. When there is a demand for bitcoin transactions, but not enough currency in circulation to fill that demand, a recession occurs. Eventually, as more bitcoins end up in the hands of speculators, the economy will grind to a halt as no new bitcoins are able to enter the system (a depression). While this is not a foregone conclusion, is it certainly quite possible (and some economists may argue virtually inevitable).

Lack of recourse

The bitcoin network has no built-in protection mechanisms when it comes to accidental loss or theft. For instance, if you lose your bitcoin wallet file (think corruption or drive failure with no backup), the bitcoins held in that wallet are lost forever to the entire economy. Interestingly, this is an aspect which further exacerbates the limited supply of bitcoins.

Additionally, if your wallet file is stolen or compromised and the bitcoins contained within it are spent by the thief before the rightful owner, the double spending protection mechanism built into the network means the rightful owner has no recourse. Unlike if, for example, your credit card is stolen, you can call the bank and cancel the card, and bitcoin has no such authority. The bitcoin network only knows that the bitcoins in the compromised wallet file are valid and processes them accordingly. In fact, there is already malware out there which is designed specifically to steal bitcoins.

Black market appeal

A central principle to the design of the bitcoin system is that there is no single transactional processing authority – rather this is handled by the peer-to-peer network as a whole. As a result, no single address or, more specifically, user can be locked out of the system. Combine this with the inherent anonymity of transactions and you have an ideal medium of exchange for nefarious purposes.

While this is not exactly a weakness in bitcoin, the unintended consequence of its usage for dubious purposes could be considered one. In fact, the US Treasury Department recently applied money laundering rules to bitcoin exchanges, no doubted, for this precise reason.

Subjects of Debate/Controversy

Here we are going to indulge a bit of controversy surrounding bitcoin. While these topics of conversation are interesting, most everything in this section is conjecture and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Enigmatic developer

The primary designer of the bitcoin specification is a “person” named Satoshi Nakamoto. Person is put in quotes here because it is currently unknown who this is. Satoshi Nakamoto could be an actual person, an internet handle, or a group of people, but nobody actually knows. Once their work of designing the bitcoin network as well as contributing to most of the open source software which drives it was complete, they essentially disappeared.

Extreme financial advantage for early adopters

As mentioned above, new bitcoins are generated on an average of every 10 minutes, which gives a decided financial advantage to early adopters who participated in the mining process. Because the difficulty of finding a suitable block hash scales with the amount of computing power, the fewer the number of miners there are, the better chance they have of being the recipient of new bitcoins. From here, simple deductive reasoning immediately leads to the conclusion that these early adopters (developers) could accumulate bitcoins at an extremely rapid pace which would be practically impossible once the bitcoin network garnered significant public attention.

“Pump and dump” scheme

Bitcoin has gathered enough attention to warrant an exchange between bitcoins and actual currency. During the course of the several years it has been in existence, like any traded commodity, the “price” of a bitcoin has fluctuated. However, bitcoin does seem to be quite susceptible to high peaks followed by almost an immediate drop (which you can see if you look at the price history over the course of a year).

Of course, this is not indicative that bitcoin is designed as a “pump and dump” scheme – as, again, any traded commodity could be subject to this – however, the pattern has certainly appeared many times over the relatively brief lifespan of bitcoin.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that bitcoin is an intriguing concept which has actually gathered some internet merchant acceptance. Interestingly, one person is willing to accept bitcoin as payment for their home. Whether or not bitcoin can stand the test of time remains to be seen, but the more attention it gets, the better it seems to catch on.

If you have any personal experience with bitcoin, please tell us about it in the comments.

Links to Additional Information

Bitcoin Software

Bitcoin Wiki – Protocol and Technical Details

Bitcoin on Wikipedia

If you have multiple contacts stored in a single .vcf file, and you try to import that file into Outlook, only the first contact will be imported. There is a way around this limitation that allows you to import all contacts from a single .vcf file.

First, you must convert the .vcf file to a .csv file that can be imported into Outlook. This can be done using the Windows Contacts folder that has been available since Windows Vista. You can import the .vcf file into the Contacts folder and then export the contacts into a .csv file.

Once you have your .csv file, open Outlook and click the File tab.

On the Account Information screen, click Open & Export in the list of options on the left.

On the Open screen, click Import/Export.

On the Import and Export Wizard, select Import from another program or file from the Choose an action to perform list. Click Next.

On the Import a File dialog box, select Comma Separated Values from the Select file type to import from list and click Next.

On the next screen, click Browse.

On the Browse dialog box, navigate to the folder containing the .csv file you want to import. Select the file and click OK.

Select an option to indicate what to do when duplicate entries are encountered and click Next.

Select Contacts from the Select destination folder tree to specify where to put the imported contacts. Click Next.

A summary screen displays telling you what actions will be performed. Use the Change Destination button to change the location in Outlook to which the contacts will be saved.

NOTE: The Map Custom Fields button opens a dialog box that allows you to specify which fields in the .csv file correspond to which fields in Outlook. The default mapping is usually sufficient to import the information.

Once you’ve imported the contacts, click the People icon on the navigation bar at the bottom of the Outlook window.

You’ll see the contacts listed in the Contacts folder. You can select a different view, such as Business Card, in the Current View section of the Home tab.

If you’re using Outlook 2010, you can import contacts directly from the Windows Contacts folder without exporting them to a .csv file first.

If you are working on an Excel worksheet with a lot of formulas in it, it may become difficult to follow and keep track of all your formulas. Excel provides a simple way of displaying formulas in the cells in addition to the formula bar.

This feature also displays the dependencies for each formula in the cells (when selected), so you can track the data being used in each calculation. Displaying formulas in cells helps you to find cells containing formulas and to quickly read through all your formulas and check for errors. You can also print the spreadsheet with the formulas in the cells to help check your work.

To display formulas in cells containing them, press the Ctrl + ` (the grave accent key). The formulas in each cell display as shown in the image above. The cells involved in the calculation are bordered in colors that match the cell references in the formula to help you track the data.

You can also click Show Formulas in the Formula Auditing section of the Formulas tab to display formulas in the cells.

Even if you don’t show formulas in the cells, when you click on a cell containing a formula, the formula displays in the formula bar. If you don’t want the formulas visible to users of your spreadsheet, you can hide them and protect the sheet. To do this, select the cells whose formulas you want to hide.

In the Cells section of the Home tab, click Format and select Format Cells from the drop-down menu.

The Format Cells dialog box displays. On the Protection tab, select the Hidden check box. Click OK.

To finish hiding the formulas, you must protect the sheet. Click Format in the Cells section of the Home tab again. This time, select Protect Sheet from the drop-down menu.

On the Protect Sheet dialog box, make sure the Protect worksheet and contents of locked cells check box is selected. Enter a password in the Password to unprotect sheet edit box that will allow you to unprotect the sheet and show the formulas again. In the Allow all users of this worksheet to list box, select the check boxes for the tasks you want to allow the users to perform. Click OK.

Enter your password again in the Reenter password to proceed edit box on the Confirm Password dialog box and click OK.

Now, you’ll notice that when you select a cell containing a formula, the formula bar is empty.

To show the formulas in the formula bar again, click Format in the Cells section of the Home tab and select Unprotect Sheet from the drop-down menu.

Enter your password on the Unprotect Sheet dialog box and click OK.

All your formulas will be visible again when those cells are selected in the worksheet.

64-Bit editions of Windows require digitally signed drivers. The problem is that many devices ship with unsigned drivers. Today, we’ll show you how to install them regardless.

Digitally signed drivers include an electronic fingerprint that indicates which company the driver was produced by as well as an indication as to whether the driver has been modified since the company released it. This increases security, as a signed driver that has been modified will no longer have an intact signature. Drivers are signed using code signing certificates.

How to Disable Driver Signature Verification on 64-Bit Windows 8.1

Press the Win + C keyboard combination to bring up the Charms Bar, then click on the Settings Charm.

We need to head into the Modern Control Panel, so go ahead and click on the Change PC settings link.

When the Control Panel opens, switch over to the “Update & recovery” section.

Then click on the Recovery option on the left hand side.

Once selected, you will see an advanced startup section appear on the right hand side. You will need to click on the “Restart now” button.

Once your Computer has rebooted you will need to choose the Troubleshoot option.

Then head into Advanced options.

Then Startup Settings.

Since we are modifying boot time configuration settings, you will need to restart your Computer one last time.

Finally, you will be given a list of startup settings that you can change. The one we are looking for is “Disable driver signature enforcement”. To choose the setting, you will need to press the F7 key.

That’s all there is to it. Your PC will then reboot and you will be able to install unsigned drivers without any error message.

You’ve probably heard that you always need to use the Safely Remove Hardware icon before unplugging a USB device. However, there’s also a good chance that you’ve unplugged a USB device without using this option and everything worked fine.

Windows itself tells you that you don’t need to use the Safely Remove Hardware option if you use certain settings – the default settings – but the advice Windows provides is misleading.

Quick Removal vs. Better Performance

Windows allows you to optimize your USB device for quick removal or improved performance. By default, Windows optimizes USB devices for quick removal. You can access this setting from the device manager – open the Start menu, type Device Manager, and press Enter to launch it.

Expand the Disk drives section in the Device Manager, right-click your device, and select Properties.

Select the Policies tab in the Properties window. You’ll notice that Windows says you can disconnect your USB device safely without using the Safely Remove Hardware notification icon, so this means you can unplug your USB device without ever safely removing it, right? Not so fast.

Data Corruption Danger

The Windows dialog shown above is misleading. If you unplug your USB device while data is being written to it – for example, while you’re moving files to it or while you’re saving a file to it – this can result in data corruption. No matter which option you use, you should ensure that your USB device isn’t in-use before unplugging it – some USB sticks may have lights on them that blink while they’re being used.

However, even if the USB device doesn’t appear to be in-use, it may still be in-use. A program in the background may be writing to the drive – so data corruption could result if you unplugged the drive. If your USB stick doesn’t appear to be in-use, you can probably unplug it without any data corruption occurring – however, to be safe, it’s still a good idea to use the Safely Remove Hardware option. When you eject a device, Windows will tell you when it’s safe to remove – ensuring all programs are done with it.

Write Caching

If you select the Better Performance option, Windows will cache data instead of writing it to the USB device immediately. This will improve your device’s performance – however, data corruption is much more likely to occur if you unplug the USB device without using the Safely Remove Hardware option. If caching is enabled, Windows won’t write the data to your USB device immediately – even if the data appears to have been written to the device and all file progress dialogs are closed, the data may just be cached on your system.

When you eject a device, Windows will flush the write cache to the disk, ensuring all necessary changes are made before notifying you when it’s safe to remove the drive.

While the Quick Removal option decreases USB performance, it’s the default to minimize the chances of data corruption in day-to-day use – many people may forget to use – or never use – the Safely Remove Hardware option when unplugging USB devices.

Safely Removing Hardware

Ultimately, no matter which option you use, you should use the Safely Remove Hardware icon and eject your device before unplugging it. You can also right-click it in the Computer window and select Eject. Windows will tell you when it’s safe to remove the device, eliminating any changes of data corruption.

This advice doesn’t just apply to Windows – if you’re using Linux, you should use the Eject option in your file manager before unplugging a USB device, too. The same goes for Mac OS X.