Keep a Spare PC at the Ready for Emergencies

Here's one way to give the economy a much-needed kick in the pants: Buy a spare PC. Note that I didn't say a "second" PC--I mean a spare one you keep on hand in case of system emergencies, like the one I experienced yesterday.

The short version: Suddenly, and without warning, my brand new desktop system started running slowly. Really slowly. Like, launch-a-program-and-wait-three-minutes slowly. I've seen that on old, malware-infested XP boxes, but a quad-core Vista machine just 10 days out of the box? Something was definitely amiss.

I never quite pinned down what, despite hours of trying and cursing. Today it's back to its zippy self, but for a good chunk of yesterday, I wasn't sure how I was going to resolve the problem.

I was, however, able to keep working. That's because I keep a spare PC on hand, one that's ready to fill in at a moment's notice. How is this possible? Through the magic of synchronization.

For starters, I use Foxmarks (best...extension...ever) to keep my Firefox bookmarks and passwords in sync between the two systems. It's automatic, effective, and free.

Next, I use Windows Live Sync to synchronize my Word, Excel, and other documents. Also automatic, also effective, also free.

Right there I've covered two very important bases: my browser and my documents. As for e-mail, I route all my personal-domain mail through Gmail IMAP, which effectively keeps my account in sync on multiple PCs (my iPhone, too). Meanwhile, Google Calendar Sync puts my Outlook calendar on the Web. If I need contact data, it's right there on my iPhone.

Get the idea? Thanks to a few simple tools, you can create a failsafe system in case your main machine goes haywire. I know there's a recession on, but isn't it worth a couple hundred bucks (the price of a refurbished or low-end desktop or laptop) to gain this kind of security?

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