25 products we can't live without

'I could never go back to the regular way of watching TV'

It's a nice life. PC World staffers and contributors are continually deluged with the latest technology products, so as you can imagine, we set a high bar on the hardware, software and Web sites that we choose to use ourselves. What are they? To answer that question, we compiled the following list of the top 25 products that we don't just like, but that we absolutely, positively can't live without.

TiVo

Because of my TiVo recorder, I could never go back to the regular way of watching TV. TiVo lets me skip all the commercials and watch an hour show in 45 minutes. If I want to record all programs and movies with a particular actor, TiVo will do it automatically. I can keep up with series such as Heroes, 24 or Lost and still be able to leave the house. And since I got my second TiVo, I don't even have to worry about two shows airing simultaneously. I have the units connected to TVs in different rooms and transfer shows between them. (Newer models have dual-tuners so you can record two shows with just one machine.) I can also move recordings from a TiVo to my PC, where I can convert them for playback on portable devices. And TiVo can download video from the Internet so I can watch it on my TV. But the simplest features, such as pausing a show when you need to get up and do something, are the most important.

-- Elliott Kirschling, Test Center analyst

Belkin N1 Vision

Sure, the Belkin N1 Vision is the fastest, most reliable wireless router I've ever used, with Gigabit Ethernet ports and three antennas juicing a draft-n Wi-Fi radio. The real fun comes when you start reading the LCD status screen on the front of the router. Dials, gauges and graphs show you how fast your downloads are running, exactly what's connected to your network and how much data each computer is sucking down. For geeks, it's a guilty pleasure akin to pushing a performance car past the redline -- all without having to get up from your chair. For additional information, read our review, which found the N1 Vision less than perfect because of its lack of an 802.11n-only mode at the time.

-- Christopher Null, contributor

Skype

The ability of Skype to make cheap and free calls over the Internet is a gift that keeps on giving, shaving thousands of dollars off my AT&T phone bills over the past five years. As a journalist covering international issues, I make phone calls to various countries almost every day to connect with sources for stories. Skype provides prices (and in some cases, voice quality) that conventional phones cannot. Though the service suffers from some stability and lag-time issues, the cost savings it offers makes it critical, especially in my line of work.

-- Agam Shah, Digital Gear columnist

Microsoft FolderShare Beta

Though Microsoft acquired FolderShare in 2005, this Windows Live service is still listed as a beta. I use it to keep folders synced on multiple PCs. That sounds simple to do without help, but in my experience it really is not. Since I work at home about 60% of the time, I find myself constantly moving documents from my home PC to my work notebook and back. With FolderShare, I set up a designated folder on both computers where I want the documents automatically synced. As long as both machines have an Internet connection, synchronization is nearly instantaneous.

-- Tom Mainelli, GeekTech columnist

Mark/Space's The Missing Sync

My laptop is an Apple MacBook; my cell phone is an HTC model (similar to AT&T's Tilt) that runs Windows Mobile 6. In theory, that's a problem, since Microsoft's synchronization software is for Windows only. But Macs actually work with Windows Mobile better than Windows Vista machines do, thanks to Mark/Space's The Missing Sync for Windows Mobile. Of course, I use this $40 utility to shuttle calendar and contact information between Pocket Outlook and OS X's iCal and Address Book apps. I'm most smitten, though, with The Missing Sync's iTunes integration, which makes getting playlists of podcasts and unprotected music onto a Windows Mobile device as painless as it is with an iPod.

-- Harry McCracken, editor in chief

Fujitsu LifeBook P7010D

Ever since I began using the Fujitsu LifeBook P7010D -- a 10.6-in. widescreen ultraportable laptop -- about two years ago, I knew I'd found something I couldn't live without. This was the first time I could do everything I wanted to do -- play DVDs, take notes, edit high-resolution photos, copy files from SD Card and CompactFlash media (without an external card reader) -- all on a notebook that weighs about three pounds. Its lightweight makes going through airport security a breeze, and I've yet to see the back of an economy-class airplane seat that will crunch into the P7010D's display.

-- Melissa J. Perenson, senior products editor

Intuit Quicken Premier 2008

Intuit's Quicken Premier 2008 personal finance software, even though its straight-out-of-1998 interface frustrates the heck out of me, gives me comfort that I won't be living in a refrigerator box five years after I retire. I love that it can download transactions automatically; I hate that it can't download transactions from many organizations or for many types of accounts (for example, 403b plans and 529 plans). But once I've entered all those tiny transactions, I really know how much I've got -- and how far I still have to go. For more, read our review of Quicken Home & Business 2008, which is similar to the Premier version but also adds business tracking tools.

-- Alan Stafford, executive editor

Siber Systems RoboForm

Hands down, Siber Systems' $30 RoboForm (I use Version 6.9.3) is the best tool for storing usernames, passwords and other contact data for Web sites. Here's why: You provide RoboForm with all the vitals you might need to complete a site's form -- name, address, phone numbers and even credit card numbers. When you click the Fill Forms button, the program does just that. Click a Web site from the RoboForm Passcard screen, and RoboForm transports your Web browser to the site, logging you in if necessary. Need an industrial-strength password? RoboForm will generate one for you. And don't worry about security: RoboForm is itself password-protected.

-- Steve Bass, Hassle-Free PC and Tips & Tweaks columnist

OKBridge

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