It’s time for another episode of Ask ZDNet. In the mail this week: A crash course in TPM technology, the fastest way to get to Inbox Zero, and the best way to move large files from one PC to another.
Do you have a question for us? Send it to email@example.com. Questions can cover just about any work and technology-related topic, including PCs and Macs, mobile devices, security and privacy, social media, home office equipment, consumer electronics, business etiquette, financial advice… well, you get the idea.
Due to the volume of submissions, we cannot guarantee a personal response, but we promise to read every letter and respond here to any that we think will be of interest to other readers. Please include your real email address so we can ask you follow-up questions, if needed. We promise not to use your e-mail address for any other purpose.
I have over 100,000 unread messages in my Gmail inbox. It’s not good, is it?
Sometimes I just look at the number of unread messages in my inbox and wonder how it is even possible to get there. Other times, I feel overwhelmed. How to regain control?
We feel your pain. In fact, we can quantify it. If you were determined to work through a stack of 100,000 inbox messages, processing each one in less than 10 seconds, it would take you over 30 eight-hour days during which you would do no other work. This dreary task would make an assignment look like Lumon Corp. to happiness. (To note: Breakup is a dark, dystopian fantasy, not a career goal.) And, of course, during those days when you were dealing with this huge backlog, you were getting thousands more messages.
The answer is simple: declare bankruptcy by e-mail. You’ll feel so much better when you simply make those unread, unanswered, and mostly irrelevant emails disappear so you can start fresh. On Gmail, this means going to your inbox in a web browser and clicking the Select All checkbox on the far left of the toolbar, just below the Gmail logo; then click the link just above the message that says “Select All nnn conversations in the inbox”, where nnn is the number that makes you feel uneasy. (This last step is crucial; you don’t want to process 50 or 100 messages at once.)
Now click the Archive button, just to the right of the Select All checkbox. It may take a while, but eventually you’ll end up with Inbox Zero.
And now that you’ve reached Inbox Zero, you can start learning how to filter junk messages and teach Gmail to recognize important messages. (That’s what the little yellow flag to the left of a message means. Use it to train Gmail to recognize messages you consider important.) Use the Important view to make sure you respond to high-priority messages from your boss or co-workers or (ahem) editor. Also get into the habit of archiving important messages you’ve already dealt with and deleting unimportant messages after reading them, instead of letting them pile up.
If you use Outlook, you have a similar feature called Focused Inbox, which automatically sorts important messages into the Priority tab and displays less important ones in the Other tab.
For more ideas, we recommend a very entertaining article called “Declare bankruptcy by e-mail and start afresh” by productivity guru Michael Hyatt.
What is a Trusted Platform Module and why does my PC need it?
I have read the Windows 11 specs and know that it requires a TPM. But I have no idea what a TPM is or what it can do for me. Can you explain how it works? Do I need to do anything to set it up?
The simple answer is that a Trusted Platform Module is a secure cryptoprocessor, a dedicated microcontroller designed to handle security-related tasks in a way that minimizes the ability of attackers to break into a system. The full answer is, as with everything in computer security, slightly more complicated.
The TPM architecture is defined by an international standard (formerly known as ISO/IEC 11889) created by the Trusted Computing Group. The standard discusses how various cryptographic operations are implemented, emphasizing “integrity protection, isolation, and confidentiality”.
A TPM can be implemented as a discrete chip soldered onto a computer motherboard, or it can be implemented in the firmware of a PC chipset, as Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm have done. If you are using a virtual machine, you can even integrate a virtual TPM chip into it. The overwhelming majority of PCs built in the last 10 years include TPM technology, and most PCs built in 2015 or later include the TPM 2.0 version required by Windows 11.
The advantage of this technology is to be an ultra-secure location for the processing of cryptographic operations and the storage of private keys that allow strong encryption. The TPM works with the Secure Boot feature, which verifies that only signed and trusted code runs when the computer starts. If someone tries to tamper with the operating system (to add a rootkit, for example), Secure Boot prevents the modified code from running.
The TPM also contains the BitLocker keys that encrypt the contents of a Windows system disk, making it nearly impossible for an attacker to break this encryption and gain unauthorized access to your data. (For a detailed technical explanation, see “How Windows uses the Trusted Platform Module.”)
Windows 10 and Windows 11 initialize and take ownership of the TPM as part of the installation process. You don’t have to do anything special to set up or use a TPM other than making sure it’s enabled for PC use. And it’s not just a Windows feature. Linux PCs and IoT devices can also initialize and use a TPM.
Having that extra level of security applied in tamper-proof hardware is a very good thing.
What’s the best way to transfer large files between my laptop and desktop?
I do a lot of video editing work and often need to move these files from my laptop to my PC and vice versa. They are huge! What is the best way to transfer them from one machine to another?
We at Ask ZDNet are old enough to remember the term sneakernet. For the younger audience, this is how your elders referred to the incredibly tedious process of exchanging files between PCs using floppy disks.
In the modern era, you can do much the same thing, although you have much faster and bigger options. For those huge video files, your best transfer vehicle is an external SSD that uses the Thunderbolt 3 or 4 standard or USB 3.2 Gen 2 (aka USB 3.1). Plug one of these drives into a USB Type-C port and you’ll be amazed at how quickly bits fly from point A to point B. If that’s not an option, an external drive using USB 3.0 or version later will probably be quick enough to get the job done.
If both devices are running the same operating system, you can use the wireless options (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) to transfer the files. On Windows PCs, the feature is called Nearby Sharing; on a Mac, it’s called AirDrop.
The problem with sneakernet, even the wireless version, is that it requires manual work on your part – copying files from one PC and then physically restoring them to the other device. If you make changes on one device and forget to copy it to the other, you may end up with out-of-sync files, where you’ve made changes in two different versions with no easy way to reconcile them.
The best way to avoid this possibility is to store these files using a cloud storage platform (OneDrive, Google Drive, Adobe Creative Cloud, Dropbox, etc.) and leave a software agent on each device to take care of synchronizing them. If your work is mostly asynchronous, meaning you do most of your editing on a single machine and only need to transfer your files when everything is done, this option is ideal.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of submissions, we cannot guarantee a personal response, but we promise to read every letter and respond here to any that we think will be of interest to our readers. Be sure to include a working email address in case we have follow-up questions. We promise not to use it for other purposes.