To help you get the most out of your laptop and stay secure while on the go, we’ve selected 31 applications and services that are particularly laptop-friendly.
These tools are useful for protecting your laptop, enhancing connectivity, managing files and media, and/or customizing your Windows laptop. And most of them are free. Let’s start with security downloads.
TrueCrypt (free): This open-source program lets you create encrypted volumes on your drive or encrypt the entire disk. It’s an especially important program for laptop users: If your notebook ever gets lost or stolen, you can rest easier knowing that at least your sensitive data is protected.
Prey (free): Speaking of theft, the open-source Prey application may help you locate and recover a stolen laptop (or smartphone). With Prey, you can remotely turn on functions of the missing device that might help you locate it.
Hotspot Shield (free): An ad-supported program, Hotspot Shield claims to encrypt all of your data when you use a public, open hotspot. Pay attention as you install the app, however, to avoid installing unwanted toolbars at the same time.
Shield Exchange (free for 100MB; $12/year for 50GB; $20/year for 100GB; $50/year for 500GB): If you don’t care for Hotspot Shield’s ads or if you have problems with the services, try this service powered by OpenVPN. Shield Exchange encrypts your data when you use a Wi-Fi network, and it blocks malicious content.
LogMeIn Hamachi2 (free): If you’d rather set up your own VPN, you can use the free Hamachi application on your desktop and connect to it securely from your laptop wherever you have Internet access.
Eraser (free): This program securely deletes your files. It’s a convenient utility to have on hand when you’re discarding, recycling, or donating your laptop, or when you just want to make sure that your data on any PC is gone for good.
PdaNet (free; $24 for full version): PdaNet lets you use your Android smartphone or other smartphone as a modem (by tethering it) so you can get Internet access on your laptop.
Connectify (free): Turn to Connectify to transform your laptop or Android phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot that enables other devices to use a hotel’s (or other location’s) ethernet-only connection.
LogMeIn (free): The free version of LogMeIn permits you to access your Windows or Mac home or office computer remotely via a Web browser.
Dropbox (free for up to 2GB): Store files on the cloud with Dropbox Basic and have them automatically synced among all your devices.
SugarSync (free for up to 5GB): This service works the same way that Dropbox does. You can use SugarSync in combination with Dropbox for additional free space.
Windows Live Mesh (free; 5GB offered on SkyDrive): Another syncing program, Windows Live Mesh can work directly between your PC and Mac computers rather than–or in addition to–going through Microsoft’s cloud storage service SkyDrive. With Live Mesh you can also exercise remote control over your PC.
Free Download Manager (free): Free Download Manager speeds up your downloads and can resume paused downloads (helpful when you have a limited amount of Internet access time).
Virtual CloneDrive (free): Virtual CloneDrive allows you to access CDs or DVDs as files on your hard drive–just as if you had loaded the disc into a drive. This arrangement eliminates the need to carry optical discs around with you.
Youtube Downloader HD (free): Save YouTube videos–including versions in high definition–to your laptop with YoutubeDownloader HD, so you can watch them offline when traveling.
Orb (free): Stream your music, photos, or video collection from your home PC to your laptop with Orb (or use your mobile phone, if you buy the $10 app version).
Browser Extensions/Web Apps
Xmarks (free): With Xmarks you can sync your bookmarks and, optionally, your passwords and open tabs across all of your computers, replicating your Web browsing experience on the go.
Read It Later (free): Use Read It Later to save Web pages from your computer or phone to read later or offline (on your commute or in flight, for example, or at times when you don’t have an Internet connection).
Splashtop Remote Touchpad (iPhone/iPod Touch; free): Splashtop Remote Touchpad turns an iPhone or iPod Touch into a wireless touchpad (with multitouch support) and keyboard for your computer. Treat it as an impromptu mouse, or use it to control your laptop’s media player, Web apps, and other features from afar.
Remote Droid (Android; free): The Remote Droid app turns your Android phone into a wireless keyboard and mouse for your laptop.
Remote for PowerPoint (Android; free): Use Remote for PowerPoint for remote control of PowerPoint presentations on your laptop (when it’s connected to a projector, for instance) from your Android phone.
MyPoint PowerPoint Remote (iPhone/iPod touch; free): Use your iOS device to control PowerPoint presentations on your laptop with MyPoint PowerPoint Remote.
Actual Multiple Monitors ($30 after 30-day trial): Connecting your laptop to an external monitor can really boost productivity. Actual Multiple Monitors helps you manage the multiple screens.
Multiplicity ($30 after 15-day trial): This app creates a setup that’s equivalent to using dual monitors. Multiplicity lets you control multiple computers with a single keyboard and mouse so you can seamlessly move files from your laptop to another PC.
BattCursor (free): BattCursor prominently displays your laptop’s remaining battery life under your cursor; it’s customizable as well as being a lightweight download.
BatteryCare (free): Help optimize your laptop’s lithium ion battery by relying on BatteryCare to tell you when to calibrate the battery (instructions provided). The program also provides detailed battery statistics covering parameters such as temperature, current capacity, and wear.
IObit Toolbox (free): IObit Toolbox provides more than 20 tools for diagnosing and fixing PC problems anytime/anywhere. If you are traveling with your laptop and don’t have access to tech support and (or if you just want a handy diagnostic toolbox to take on road trips), this collection is ideal.
Other essential applications–such as antivirus and backup utilities–are suitable for both desktop and laptop users, but the ones on this list stand out for laptop users in particular. For more utilities and top downloads see “112 Best Free Downloads, Sites, and Services.”
And if you have a favorite service, app, or utility I didn’t mention, let me know about it in the Comments.