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Access Your Data From Anywhere

Reach out and touch files on your PC from any browser via the free Avvenu remote access service.
Reach out and touch files on your PC from any browser via the free Avvenu remote access service.
So it's the day of your big presentation, but you suddenly realize that you left the presentation file behind on your PC. Rather than dashing back to retrieve the file, you can simply go to any nearby computer and quickly download the presentation from your home or office system--as long as you've planned ahead by setting up remote access to your files.

The first way to accomplish this is to install a remote control application. Programs like TightVNC (free) and PC Anywhere ($95) or services like GoToMyPC ($20 a month) and Laplink Everywhere ($9 a month) allow you to access your home computer easily from the office (and vice versa), or even from a cybercafé--ideal if you can't remember where you saved the file or if you need to look up figures in a spreadsheet. Becky Waring's "PC in a Browser" feature from last August's issue covers these and other options.

The second method is to use a free remote access service like Avvenu or FolderShare, both of which let you access files on your PC from any other system. You need to install a small client program on your home or office system that communicates with the service; and you must tell it which folders to share before you go traveling. For more remote file access alternatives, click here.

Another option is to take your data with you, either on a USB flash drive that fits onto your key ring or via an online storage service. USB drives come in capacities of 128MB to 4GB, and drives such as the $55 SanDisk Cruzer Profile include fingerprint scanners for extra security. The drives are also a great backup idea if you travel with a laptop: Copy your important files to the USB flash drive once a day, so if you're in Honolulu but your laptop got shipped to Helsinki, you'll still have your files.

Online services such as Xdrive and Acpana Data Deposit Box use software that copies your files to their servers, either on request or in a scheduled backup. These services can also provide remote access to your files: Both allow you to access your files via their Web sites from any PC with Internet access.

Trim Your Phone Bill

You can take landline calls for free, but making them will cost you with Gizmo.
You can take landline calls for free, but making them will cost you with Gizmo.
Have a big family? Need to call coworkers a continent away? Then you probably have a big phone bill. But it doesn't have to be that way: Voice-over-IP services such as Skype and Gizmo use your broadband connection to bring you in touch by phone with your family, colleagues, and friends for free.

After you download the service's software and set up an account, you can dial other people with service accounts to your heart's content. Skype's optional SkypeOut and Gizmo's Call Out services let you call people with landlines, but only if you pay a fee. For the best sound quality, use a headset instead of a microphone and speakers. The $40 DSP-400 headset from Plantronics sounds terrific, and is a good investment if you plan to make lots of VoIP calls on your PC. It plugs into a USB port and works independently of your sound card. To use it in Skype, go to Tools, Options, select Sound devices, and pick the headset from the list for Audio In and Audio Out. In Gizmo, go to Edit, Options, Audio and select the headset as both the input and output device.

Rather than bugging your friends to test the service, make sure that everything is working by calling the service's test server: Enter username echo123 for Skype, and username echo for Gizmo. After a brief introduction, the server will record what you say and play it back--a great way to ensure you are set up correctly. Once you are connected at both ends, you can make a call and talk all you want without racking up a huge phone bill.

Add a Remote Control to Your PC

Keyspan's remote puts you in control.
Keyspan's remote puts you in control.
If you use your PC for playing music and video, a remote control can be a big help. The $50 Keyspan Express Remote gives your media a new lease on life: You can skip tracks, adjust the volume, and stop and start your music or video without using the keyboard or mouse. You can set the matchbook-size remote's 17 buttons to emulate any key on your keyboard, so you can easily program it to work with your favorite media player or other application (it comes with preprogrammed settings for 30 programs). It also emulates the mouse, enabling you to navigate your desktop and software from a distance.

The Express Remote also controls iTunes even if the program runs in the background, so you can change tracks while you listen to music without having to leave the program you're working in.

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