You're an on-the-go worker, and the one thing you always carry with you? Your trusty laptop, of course. Sure, you've reached a point where you're pretty good at getting things done away from your desk, but you still haven't reached laptop zen—that point at which your laptop does gymnastics for you and is a seamless extension of your productivity. Today we're taking a look at some of the best laptop hacks for notebook enthusiasts, from getting internet access anywhere and keeping your files in sync to adding an anti-theft layer of security to your laptop.
Get Internet Access Anywhere You've Got Your Cell Phone
If you've got a mobile phone with a decent data plan, there's no reason you should ever be without an internet connection on your laptop. Whether you need to access your email or get your daily internet fix, tethering your phone's data plan to your laptop normally costs no more than the price of your data plan.
The process varies depending on the kind of phone you're using, but chances are we've covered your phone or a phone like it before. The absolute simplest method works with Windows Mobile phones, and it's an application called WMWifiRouter. In a nutshell, all you have to do is install this app on your Windows Mobile phone and run it whenever you want to connect to the internet. It'll set up a Wi-Fi network you can connect to through your laptop's Wi-Fi, so there's basically zero configuration. (Read more)
If you're not using a Windows Mobile phone, you can still use many mobiles as a modem. Lastly, if you've got an iPhone, here's how to use your iPhone's internet connection on your laptop.
Turn Your Laptop into an Anti-Theft Device
First of all, let's assume that you're already taking basic precautions with your data, meaning you've set a strong password on your user account (and you've verified that it's not super-easy to crack) and maybe you're even encrypting your data. Fact is, no matter how secure your data is in the digital world, your laptop is disturbingly simple to pick up and walk off with.
If you've got a Windows laptop, freeware application Laptop Alarm locks your computer and sets an alarm whenever anyone tries to unplug the computer, move your mouse, or shutdown/suspend your computer. (Read more) The latest version can even send you a text message as soon as the alarm goes off, so if you're in the bathroom at the library and your laptop sends you this emergency SMS, you'd better zip up fast and see what's up. Then again, let's say someone's already nabbed your computer. You can use LaptopLock to do a number of things when you report your computer stolen, like encrypt files, run applications, or send messages to the thief. It even provides you with the IP address of your computer.
Mac users have the enviable iAlertU (see video above), a freeware application that integrates with the MacBook's motion sensor, iSight camera, and Apple remote to work as a sort of armable security system along the lines of what you use on a car (the remote works like your key fob). I showed you how to turn your iSight into an FTP-backed up security camera using iAlertU, but since then iAlertU has added the option to automatically send the thief's picture to your email address. Handy.
Of course, not all thieves are out to steal your computer—some just want your data. To catch those ruffians, here's how you can take iSight pictures of every invalid login on your computer.
Keep Files in Sync No Matter Where You Are
One of the biggest difficulties for anyone who uses both a laptop and desktop computers is synchronisation. Sure, you can always put files on a thumb drive to use back and forth between computers, but it's still easy to run into problems with conflicting versions of a file or lose track of files. There are a lot of tools that can sync files between computers, but none stand out for their ease-of-use like the freeware, cross-platform FolderShare. It's actually a Microsoft-owned project, but it works with both your Windows and Mac computers, syncing files in real time between selected folders as soon as the files change. (Read more)
Extend Your Battery Life
Tips for extending your battery life have been around since the birth of the laptop, and the most effective ones—like dimming your display, cutting out unnecessary programs, and turning off hardware you're not using (like Bluetooth antennas, for example)—are pretty widely known. But less obvious tips worth looking into on your laptop include adding more RAM (which means your computer will need your hard drive less) or cutting down the graphics-intensive use can also go a long way toward getting those crucial extra minutes from your laptop. Beyond that, these 15 battery tips offer a few more lesser-known battery extenders. (Read more)
To that end, Windows Vista users looking to get the absolute most from their battery between charges should check out the Vista Battery Saver, a freeware application that turns off Aero animations and the Vista Sidebar whenever you unplug your laptop.
Make Your Computer Respond When You Leave and Return
Been dreaming of the days when your computer would keep track of where you are and say, "Hi" when you sit down to work? Freeware applications Home Zone and Home and Away can keep track of your Bluetooth phone or the network you're connected to (respectively) and mount networked drives, set default printers, adjust your volume, pause/play iTunes or set your IM status based on, for example, how close you (and your phone) are to your computer. Home Zone, in particular, offers tons of great options. Unfortunately there aren't really any similar freeware options available for Windows, but for the still-useful-but-less-fun network-detection features offered by Home and Away, the freeware Net Profiles could do the trick.
We love a good DIY around these parts, so to round things off let's take a look at some of our favourite laptop DIYs.
First, the laptop stand can be a real neck-saver when you've brought along a separate hardware keyboard and want to prop that laptop up to eye level. You could shell out $45 for the Elevator laptop stand (which, frankly, is a great stand), but why do that when there are so many cheap DIY options available? Turns out you can make a good laptop stand from pretty much anything, from a paper towel holder and shelving to PVC pipe and corks.
Alternately, there's the always important laptop case (after all, you are toting this equipment with you everywhere). We've heard all your favorite laptop cases, but like stands, in the DIY realm you can use just about anything, like duct tape, T-shirts, cardboard, or even a FedEx sleeve to keep your laptop stylishly at your side.
Finally, if you're serious about going DIY with your laptop and you prefer to compute on your back, check out the floating laptop dock.
I tried to avoid covering the same old list of laptop tips, meaning I haven't come close to exhausting tips for the laptop power-user. If you've got your own favourite laptop hacks, let's hear what tips or tools make you into the laptop guru you are in the comments.