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Q: When I try to turn my laptop off, I am instructed to leave it on while new security updates are downloaded. It goes through all the motions and eventually shuts down, but the downloads don’t take and this process repeats every time I try to shut down. I have a Dell laptop with Windows 7.

— Bill Hathaway

A: The most common reasons updates don’t succeed are a lack of sufficient free space on the hard drive and an interrupted Internet connection.

If you’re installing over a wireless connection, interruptions are not uncommon. It’s also possible that some application is preventing your update from completing.

If you’ve got enough free space on your drive and you’re sure of your Internet connection, go to Windows Update by clicking on the Start button, click on All Programs and then select Windows Update. Click on View Update History and see if there are any error messages reported for failed updates.

If you see any error codes, you can then search online for help.

Q: Is there a digital file shredding program that you can recommend? I used Norton’s file shredder on an old desktop PC years ago, but have since upgraded and can’t find Norton’s or another reputable digital file shredder. Thoughts?

— Kevin Stark

A: I haven’t recently done a product comparison on this, so I can’t vouch for it still being the best solution, but I use a free utility called File Shredder. The interface is intuitive, making it easy to find the files you want to shred and wipe them securely off your hard drive.

And did I mention that it’s free?

Q: For years I have used Excel for personal financial work, copied my work to a CD and then erased it from the hard disk. To update my Excel data, I load the CD onto the computer, update it and repeat the process above.

Now, for the first time, all Excel work has become read-only and I can’t copy it to a CD. I can modify and rename it, but it remains read-only. All new blank work sheets have a red mark indicating read-only. What happened?

— John Maloof

A: When you burn any files to a CD or DVD, they are set to be read-only. If that property doesn’t change when you copy the file back to your hard drive, you’ll have to manually change it.

To do so, locate the files using Windows Explorer and right-click on one of the files. From the menu that appears, select Properties and then click on the General tab. At the bottom of the window, uncheck the Read-only attribute.

If that doesn’t solve the problem, I’d suspect the file is corrupt or you have a virus.

Q: I read your column often and now I find that you may be the only recourse for an answer. I have a Dell 8300 XPS purchased in January 2012. It has Windows 7.

All worked well until last week when the New Folder button ceased to work and also ceased to exist as an option in the drop-down menu when I right-click on an empty portion of the desktop or other part of the screen. It just disappeared as a function, as if some poltergeist jumped into the software.

When I open an old folder, the button still exists on the top bar but it won’t produce a new folder when it is clicked.

I Googled the problem and found that others have experienced the very same issue, but no one had an answer. I do need folders as a very important part of my filing system.

Any answer that a very non-savvy person can do to restore the Folder option on my Windows 7?

— Rich Brothers

A: The only times I’ve seen this problem is when the Windows registry has been changed or damaged.

To solve the problem without reinstalling Windows, you’ll need to edit the registry. Before doing that you’ll want to make a copy of the file so that if you make a mistake you can replace the file.

To edit the Windows registry, click on the Start button, and type regedit in the search field. The Regedit utility should appear in the program list. Launch it.

When Regedit is loaded, find the following subkey and select it: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\Background\shellex\ContextMenuHandlers\New\. Make sure the value for (Default) is {D969A300-E7FF-11d0-A93B-00A0C90F2719}. Exit the Regedit utility and you should be in business.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to or, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at