8 incredibly useful tools for road warriors

Being mobile these days means more gear -- and more problems. Here's how to make things a bit easier.

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If it does get away from you, all may not yet be lost.

Computrace LoJack for Laptops

Computrace LoJack for Laptops maker Absolute Software Corp. claims that it recovers three out of four stolen computers that are loaded with its software. Once you install the application, the laptop silently contacts the company's monitoring center whenever it's online.

If you report the laptop stolen, the company's recovery team begins tracking the computer, using information the laptop provides to identify its location. It then gives law enforcement the tracking information and documentation needed for search warrants. At $49.99 for a year of coverage, or three years for $99.99, it's inexpensive for peace of mind.

LoJack for Laptops is available for Windows XP, Vista and Mac OS X 10.3 and up, and you can order it online. (Both Safari and Firefox for Mac work with the Web site. On a PC, you need Internet Explorer 6.0 or later.)

Computrace LoJack for Laptops
LoJack for Laptops

GadgetTrak

If you don't like the idea of a monitoring center tracking your computer's movements, WestinTech Ltd.'s GadgetTrak works similarly to LoJack for Laptops but sends the information it collects directly to you via e-mail. If your system is stolen, you can contact police with the location information gathered by the software.

The Windows version (for NT/2000/2003/XP/Vista) costs $39.95 for a one-year subscription, or $69.95 for three years. The Mac version (requires OS X 10.4 or higher) uses the computer's built-in iSight camera to capture video of whoever has your computer; it comes with a one-time price tag of $39.95.

GadgetTrak PhoneBak
GadgetTrak can trace stolen cell phones

GadgetTrak also offers theft-recovery services for GSM cell phones for a one-time fee of $24.95 per device. It supports BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian users. There's also a GadgetTrak service for USB-connected media devices such as MP3 players, digital cameras and flash drives. Prices range from $12.95 per year for a single device to $64.95 for 20 devices.

(Another good option for tracking your removable media devices is the new ihound service from ihound Software LLC. During its alpha/beta phase, users can track up to three USB-connected devices for free, but the software currently works only with PCs running Windows 2000, XP or Vista.)

Of course, you don't have to lose your computer to lose your computer. A disk crash or similar accident can wipe out all your data, a whole trip's worth of work. And then there are those all-too-human errors where you know you saved the file, but you don't know where. Data backup may be most important when it's least available, when you're on the road and on the run.

But if you've got Web access, you've got backup. It can be really simple, like e-mailing yourself the documents you create -- especially good if you use a Web-based mail service such as Google Inc.'s Gmail. If you work with bigger files or want a more all-encompassing backup, try one of the Web-based backup services.

MozyHome

EMC Corp.'s MozyHome service gets high marks for its features and interface, and better still, you can create a personal account that gives you 2GB of free backup space -- plenty to safeguard what you do while you're traveling.

MozyHome
MozyHome remote backup

The company is obviously hoping you'll like the service enough to sign up for its $4.95-per-month unlimited plan, which really does offer unlimited storage space but not (a word to the wise) unlimited bandwidth -- a full backup of a large laptop drive can take days.

Like most backup applications, Mozy requires a learning curve, so give yourself time to install the MozyHome application and figure out the "expert wizard" and the difference between Mozy's "backup sets" and the file-and-folders structure you're used to working with on your hard drive. There is a manual (download PDF), though it's sort of a well-kept secret. MozyHome works with Windows 2000, XP and Vista as well as Mac OS X 10.4 and later.

Go for it

There you have it: eight great tools for keeping you charged, connected, boosted and protected. Choose the ones that will help you the most, and you're good to go, road warrior.

What's in your travel kit? Share your road warrior gear essentials.

Freelance writer David DeJean began writing about computers after Cobol but before C++. He has worked for newspapers, magazines, trade publications and Web sites.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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