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Given the economic drought we're in, it's inevitable that some free software-as-a-service tools would turn to dust. Last week, I mentioned that Jott Networks discontinued its free, basic Jott service. Yahoo plans to shut down its free Briefcase online storage service by March 30. And not long ago, Google announced it was no longer offering Google Notebook, its free Web page clipping tool, to new users.
But there are still plenty of free Web tools available that are particularly useful for mobile professionals. Here are a few I use.
Gmail: Web Mail, Online and Off
Over the past few months, I've transitioned from Microsoft Outlook for e-mail to Gmail, Google's free online e-mail service. Gmail has lots of benefits for people on the go, such as the ability to use and search your messages from any Internet-connected computer or phone. You can also use instant messaging, send and receive SMS text messages, and carry on video chat sessions, all within the same interface.
Frequently, Google engineers add new features to Gmail. Among the latest is Gmail Offline, which downloads a large cache of Gmail messages onto your computer. This makes your Gmail e-mail messages available when you don't have an Internet connection, such as when you're on a plane. You can compose or reply to a message offline; Gmail will send it when you reconnect. (Google added similar offline features to Google Docs last year.) I've tried Gmail Offline and it works as advertised.
Skype: Voice and Video Chat for Two
Skype's free VoIP and video chat service is pretty phenomenal, when you think about it. Want to call a colleague in South Korea from the U.S. for free and talk as long as you want? No problem, as long as it's a Skype-to-Skype call. (You can call cell phones and traditional landline numbers, too, but those calls aren't free.)
Skype's free video chats are limited to two people, but the quality is generally good, especially if you're using a Logitech Webcam that supports high-quality video chats in Skype. Skype recently released an upgrade to its software, version 4.0 for Windows, that reportedly improves the quality of video chats, too, though I've not had the opportunity to test it.
Also, you don't have to be sitting at your computer to make a free Skype call. For example, the free Fring iPhone app lets you make free Skype calls over a Wi-Fi network, though voice quality can be subpar.
TimeBridge: Schedule Meetings With Ease
When you travel for work, it's all that more difficult to make yourself available for meetings or conference calls. Employees who work for mid- or large-sized companies can often use companywide collaboration tools to schedule confabs. But businesspeople who are self-employed or work at small companies need the same capability. For them, there's TimeBridge, which makes it easy to schedule multiple attendees for a meeting. I've been using this free meeting scheduling tool for only two weeks. But so far, I like what I see.
When you propose a meeting, for instance, TimeBridge automatically e-mails the invitees up to five possible meeting times of your choosing. The invitees vote for the times that work best for them.
TimeBridge also lets you set up and conduct free conference calls, though I haven't tested this feature.
FreeConference: Free Confabs, but Toll Calls
I've used FreeConference for years to set up and conduct telephone conference calls. It's easy to use, and it gives you lots of options.
With a free Web-Scheduled Standard conference, attendees dial a toll number to participate. However, you can give attendees a toll-free number with the Web-Scheduled Premium 800 service. The cost is 10 cents per minute, per participant. The Premium service also lets you share your Windows or Mac desktop with others or record your conference calls at no extra charge. You can add either desktop sharing or call recording to the free Web-Scheduled Standard plan for $6.50 per call or $9 per month, each.
Which Freebies Do You Use?
Have you found a free Web-based service or software tool that makes your life on the go easier? If so, please tell me about it.
Keep on Clicking
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Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips
Downloads for Hard Times: Free stuff abounds online. In our roundup of 12 utilities and programs, almost all of which are free, you can manage your budget and debt more effectively, clean the crapware off your computer, and take advantage of free office productivity suites that are surprisingly powerful.
Wireless Data in the Air: British Airways is planning to offer limited in-flight cell phone use. At the moment, you can only send and receive text messages and surf the Web on your phone, on business-class flights from London to New York's JFK. Other international carriers offering use of cell phones in flight currently include Air France, Emirates, and Qantas.
Is Google's GDrive Imminent? Google's long-awaited online storage service, Google Drive, may be available soon. A description of GDrive was uncovered not long ago. As PCW blogger Ian Paul explains, the description says: "GDrive provides reliable storage for all of your files, including photos, music, and documents...GDrive allows you to access your files from anywhere, anytime, and from any device--be it from your desktop, Web browser or cellular phone." Sign me up.
Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.