Unproductivity Tools

Right now, I'm logging onto AIM, chatting with friends, copying YouTube videos, and visiting Web sites that would set off red flags in Playboy's IT department. I should be writing my column. So why am I admitting anything? Because nobody will catch me. I hope.

Normally, this slacker's soapbox covers games and goofing around that you presumably do when you're off the clock. And this time of year, we've all got plenty to do after hours. In the past week alone, the awesome Gears of War 2 and Mirror's Edge have hit the scene. (Trust me--buy both.) The World of WarCraft gets even bigger with a new expansion. You get the idea. But this week's column is serious business! I found a great way to get away with goofing off during working hours, and I had to share it with you guys. Just don't show your boss--or my boss--this story.

The program that inspired all this unproductivity is my new enabler, ArmorSurf. After a little tinkering with this program, I've got to tell you, I'm digging it--maybe a little too much. It's a secure Web browser. It's a flash video downloader. It's a straight-up devious little program. The best way to sum up its features is to talk about a day in the life. So don't think of this as a formal review; just consider it one man's experiment in how to look busy without doing any actual work.

At the crack of dawn, I secretly install ArmorSurf. Why do I feel dirty? It doesn't show up in the Add/Remove Program option in Windows, so nobody's the wiser as to its presence on my machine. I pick a generic icon and name the install. (It appears as MindYourOwnBiz to IT busybodies.) Once the program fires up, it prompts me for my password. That opens ArmorSurf's main browser window.

Inside the program, I'm surfing without fear (pretty much). No Web browser is bulletproof, but at least ArmorSurf stashes my history, cookies, and autocomplete info from prying eyes. Speaking of which, you can go for a deluxe package that masks your IP address, too. It costs $10 a month or $25 for three months--but I'm not that paranoid.

(And yes, Google Chrome and FireFox users: I know that some of these features are available elsewhere. Maybe you have got a stealth-surfing plug-in. Maybe you run Incognito across the Web. I just happen to like some of the other perks offered here. Keep reading...)

Now that I have the green light, it's time to head over to my fave Web chat client site, Meebo.com (all of my MSN Messenger, AIM, and ICQ info is stashed and accessible through a browser). I prefer using Web chat clients because that way my personal conversations aren't stashed on the PC. Or I might just head off to check out the viral videos du jour at YouTube and Break.com.

When I do get to video streaming sites, ArmorSurf lets me save those video files locally--great for preserving a personal copy of the lyrical stylings of Herve Villechaize to my hard drive. I'm loading up my notebooks with these gems so that I can enjoy an entertainment upgrade on long, boring biz trips.

Want more-portable options? ArmorSurf also lets you burn a DVD composed of the videos you save. Or you can convert video to work on your iPod/MP4 devices. I'm sorry to say that it won't work with video content from places like Hulu--hey, you can't blame a guy for trying. ArmorSurf also functions as a secure video player in case you have your own videos that you'd like to watch when you probably shouldn't be watching them.

Okay, time for lunch. I minimize the program--and in the options menu, it's masked to look like an Excel file (Excel icon and all...) that I've labeled 'Laptop Review - Incoming Data'. Ho-hum. Not that anybody here is gonna nose around my computer while I'm grabbing grub, but still...neat, in an uberparanoid way. About 30 minutes later, I'm back in business--playing flash games over at a great portal games site like Instantaction.com, Newgrounds.com, or Miniclip.com. That's when my editorial partner in crime, senior associate editor Danny Allen, swings over to see what I'm up to. Hit minimize! (Or hit the panic button shortcut key which closes the program in a heartbeat.)

Getting a sly look, he asks me what I'm no longer doing. Busted. All right, reopening the program, I type in my safety password at the prompt: "rutebega." (Hint: C'mon, you really think I'm gonna tell you? But yeah, I strongly endorse multiple-typo passwords.) At which point, a browser opens to PC World's Laptop Information Center. Because that's how I roll. I'm all about work! Speaking of which...wait...it's 5 p.m. already? Time for happy hour!

The full program, ArmorSurf Gold, costs 30 bucks. Unfortunately, the full version is good for only two installs as of press time. I'm not a huge fan of that restriction; maybe it should be tasked to a user account as opposed to a serial key. I mean, what happens if you have more than two computers that you'll be using the program on or if, God forbid, you need to reinstall Windows more than once?

My advice would be to try out the free, gimped version of ArmorSurf so that you get a taste of what it offers. I like it for the most part, despite the limited install lockdown (fix that, STAT), so it still gets my Semi-Slacker Seal of Approvalâ„¢.

Oh, yeah, and...umm...boss? If you're wondering what I'm talking about, this was all done in the name of research--yeah, that's it.

Until next time...keep it on the DL, all right?

Casual Friday columnist and PC World senior writer Darren Gladstone geeks out over gadgets, games, and odd uses for humdrum tech. In other words, he's a nerd--and he's okay with that.

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