Free Online Productivity Tools From Hassle-Free PC

A while back I mentioned a vexing problem I was having with my speedy new HP desktop: Once a week or so, it would slow to a crawl. I spent weeks trying resolve the problem, but nothing worked. Eventually I threw in the towel, at least for a while.

When I revisited the issue a few weeks later, I couldn't remember what troubleshooting steps I'd tried. I was more or less back to square one. Read on for a terrific free service that helped me get organized to track down my problem, plus a Web site that turns PDFs into text, and an online storage service that acts like an extra hard drive on your computer.

Use Evernote to Organize Your Troubleshooting Efforts

Enter Evernote, which I'm rapidly starting to recognize as one of the Web's all-time best services. Though it's really nothing more than a tag-based note manager, it makes capturing and synchronizing those notes a breeze. And that makes it invaluable for all kinds of organization. (I'm not the only one around here who loves it. Check out BizFeed blogger David Coursey's mash note to Evernote.)

The service provides several ways to add a note to one of your notebooks. You can create text in a Web form (or paste text into it from another source). You can "clip" portions of Web pages using the Evernote bookmarklet for Internet Explorer or the Evernote extension for Firefox. You can use the Evernote desktop app. Finally, you can add notes on your Apple iPhone or Windows Mobile smartphone (which also allows you to upload snapshots, a very handy amenity).

You can assign each note to one or more notebooks and apply one or more tags. But the real beauty of Evernote is the way it keeps all your notes in sync between desktop, Web, and mobile device.

Anyway, back to PC troubleshooting. During my second attempt to fix my problem, I used Evernote every step of the way. While browsing user forums, I "clipped" posts that offered potential solutions. When I made a change to my system, I made note of it in a new note. And holy guacamole, did all this make life easier.

Thus, I highly recommend using Evernote the next time you troubleshoot your own problem. Certainly the service can be used for countless other tasks, but I found it invaluable for this one. Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, Evernote is free.

Turn PDFs Into Word Documents

Have you ever wished you could edit a PDF in Microsoft Word? Seems like that should be easy enough, especially when you're dealing with a document that's mostly text. Alas, a PDF is really just a collection of images, meaning you can't edit the contents in their native format.

Of course, there are pricey software utilities that will convert a PDF into Word-friendly text. But there's also PDF to Word, a Web service that accomplishes the same thing absolutely free.

All you do is upload your PDF and choose your desired output format: Word or Rich Text Format. Then you sit tight while the service works its magic, eventually sending you an e-mail with a link to download the converted document.

Best bet: Choose Word over RTF. Word conversions end up looking remarkably similar to your original PDFs. Ultimately, the quality varies from one document to another depending on its content, layout, and so on.

This is one seriously handy tool, and you can't beat the price.

Keep Your Files in the Cloud with ZumoDrive

Not enough space on your iPhone for all your music? Need more storage for your tiny netbook hard drive? ZumoDrive promises to solve conundrums like these by keeping your files in the cloud but making them accessible in real-time, just as though they were local. In other words, it's a virtual hard drive that lives online.

When you install the Windows or Mac client, ZumoDrive adds this virtual drive to your system, complete with prefab folders for music, photos, and documents. Just drag and drop your stuff to one of these folders (or create new ones--remember, the virtual drive works just like a regular drive) to copy it to the ZumoDrive cloud.

From there, you can access those files in any Web browser or on any PC that has the ZumoDrive client installed. There's also a free iPhone app that lets you retrieve documents, photos, and music (which you can stream over 3G, EDGE, or Wi-Fi--a great workaround for memory-crunched devices). An Android version is coming soon.

You can get a free ZumoDrive account that includes 1GB of storage--enough for a smattering of files, but insufficient for most photo and MP3 collections. Plans start at $3 per month for 10GB of storage and range up to $80 monthly for 500GB.

I'm still test-driving ZumoDrive, but so far I really like the service. It's a snap to set up and use, and it does solve the problem of storage-challenged PCs and iPhones.

Of course, if all you want is online storage, you can get 25GB absolutely free from Windows Live SkyDrive. But it doesn't work as a virtual drive, which is the core of ZumoDrive's appeal.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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