Fast Fixes for Common PC Problems
Keep Your Kids Safe Online
Tech-savvy teens can probably work their way around parental-control software, so how can you prevent them from visiting inappropriate and/or malicious Web sites? Simple: Route all Internet activity through a "filtered" domain-name server like ScrubIT. This free service promises to block pornographic and harmful sites, and will even fix inadvertently misspelled Web addresses.
Setup requires configuring your router to use ScrubIT's servers rather than those that your ISP supplies. If you're uncomfortable messing with your router's settings, a small Windows 2000/XP configuration utility can get the job done. Vista and Mac users must do it manually.
Once router reconfiguration is complete, ScrubIT will automatically block both adult and potentially malicious sites--over 3 million in all, according to the site. Remember, however, that you will have no control over what sites are blocked, which is the only real drawback to using ScrubIT over, say, content-filtering software. If you decide that you don't like it, an "unscrubit" utility on the site's FAQ page will revert your router to its original DNS settings.
E-Mail Large Files Easily
Big files are a fact of life in these days of 10-megapixel photos and viral videos. But many mail servers haven't kept up: They still put size limits on file attachments, so if you're trying to send something larger than, say, 5MB, it may not go through. What's more, sending huge attachments to people who aren't expecting them is a digital faux pas, as the files choke the recipient's inbox (and pity the poor dial-up or mobile user who tries to download a 5MB e-mail message).
Instead, share big files by way of a service such as Drop.io, GigaSize.com, SendSpace.com, or YouSendIt.com. No software to install: Simply choose the file to send, and then name one or more recipients.
After the file uploads, the service sends the recipients an e-mail containing a link for downloading the file. No clogged mail servers; just an easy, free, and convenient big-file transfer.
Sync Google Docs With Your PC
Google Docs puts documents, spreadsheets, and presentations "in the cloud," meaning that you can work on them from any Internet-connected computer. But what about those times when you're disconnected, such as on an airplane? How can you do any work when your files live online and you're offline?
Answer: Google Gears. This free tool syncs your Google Docs docs to your PC, letting you work with your Web-hosted files even when you're offline. Changes to your documents will sync back to your Docs account the next time you connect to the Net. Just fire up Google Docs, click the Offline link in the upper-right corner, and follow the Gears setup instructions.
Give Gmail a Major Makeover
Gmail may be indispensable, but it's not much to look at. It has a decidedly Web 1.0 appearance--all text and links. Give it an extreme makeover, courtesy of Google Redesigned. A few clicks, and Gmail goes from ugly duckling to sexy starlet (or applet).
To use this free skin (which also transforms Google Calendar--no prize pig itself), you'll need Firefox 3 and the Stylish add-on. Install both, restart Firefox, and then head to the Google Redesigned site and click Install. Don't be alarmed by the stark-looking page of text; just follow the instructions, which essentially boil down to clicking the Stylish icon in the bottom-right corner of Firefox and then clicking Add Style. Finally, fire up Gmail and be prepared to say "Wow." It may be just a skin, but it's like dropping a Ferrari frame over a Ford Focus body.
Too much work? Give Gmail a splash of color with Google's new themes. Just load Gmail, click Settings, Themes, and choose from dozens of nifty designs.