If you take your laptop to destinations beyond your couch, you expose it to intermittent connectivity, greater theft risk, always-depleting batteries, and many other variables. Prepare your laptop for productivity on the go with these apps and utilities.
Photo by jimmyroq.
10. Auto-pause iTunes when you remove headphones
Sure, it's a niche kind of download, but how neat is it to never have to worry about revealing your playlist pleasures to the room at large? With the Breakaway app/preference pane installed in OS X, your iTunes playlist automatically pauses when headphones are removed, and resumes, with a fade-in, when plugged back in. That's it, but that's pretty handy. (Original post)
9. Make it dual-monitor friendly
If your laptop is your main computing workhorse, it's often easy to attach to a larger monitor for a two-screen setup. With different resolutions, sizes, and sometimes-primary-sometimes-not setups, though, manually managing the two to your liking can be a headache. Using an all-in-one utility like DisplayFusion or UltraMon to manage your Windows monitors, or any of Gina's downloads and tips on making the most of your dual monitors, is the aspirin for sometimes-mobile, sometimes-home setups.
8. Use a better Wi-Fi finder
You system's own Wi-Fi connection manager can tell you what hotspots are nearby, and maybe what kind of security, but that's about it. With an app like NetStumbler or WeFi for Windows, or iStumbler for Macs, you can get far more detail about the security, signal/noise ratio, and other data on what's available wherever you're at. In the case of WeFi, you can even harness the hive mind of fellow travelers to find a free, open spot nearby. For more on finding decent Wi-Fi with the help of software, web sites, and coffee purchases, check out Gina's definitive guide to finding free Wi-Fi.
7. Tether your phone to your laptop
Even really fast 3G service doesn't feel that fast on a laptop, where you're probably used to the web being a speed-of-thought experience. Still, when you just need to grab some email, or a few important files, your phone's mobile net access can be a vital lifeline for a Wi-Fi-less laptop — assuming you have a tethering option and your carrier is happy with it.
6. Save battery power (and power out gracefully)
If you work away from a power cord often enough to make battery life a serious concern, a few downloads can make your machine smarter about how it uses power, and how it acts when it's almost out. Windows 7 and Vista machines can grab Aerofoil, a neat little automator that turns things like Windows' 3-D effects and background switching on or off depending on battery power. Vista users also have Vista Battery Saver as an option-packed alternative. We haven't really found a similar program for Macs while they're running, but SmartSleep is a real time and battery saver for those who frequently close the lid on their machines and expect a somewhat snappy startup upon returning.
5. Get friendly with Thunderbird 3
There are those who might tell you that Thunderbird, and desktop email in general, is dying out. Mozilla's desktop email client is, however, very close to a new release, and it still makes for the best means of accessing Gmail when its web site is down, accessing email, online or off, with IMAP, and syncing with a Google Calendar on any platform, or even off a thumb drive. Even if it's not your primary means of reading and sending mail, getting to know Thunderbird, especially its much-refined third edition, is a great way of ensuring email accessibility on a plane or anywhere else your laptop goes.
4. Get "Back" to your Mac or PC
A lot of companies are selling remote desktop software these days, with names like GoToMyPC and Back to My Mac. We're sure they work fine, but they're really selling a boutique experience of software tools you can otherwise get free. Adam detailed how to get Back to Your Mac without paying for it, along with some tips on building a similar system for a PC, which could then connect to either a PC or Mac. Either way, you're never detached from your home or work computer and its files, assuming you keep it on.
3. Make it secure and track-able
There are many free and wonderful applications for Windows and Mac computers that prevent thieves and snoopers from getting at your data, along with tracking and identifying a thief. Too many to list in one Top 10 item, really—luckily, Adam already rounded up the majority of them in a post on thief-proofing your laptop. We'd add two items to that list, however—Prey, an all-in-one tool for tracking down a stolen laptop and capturing images of its captor, and FireFound, a Firefox add-on that reports its location when Firefox is running—so, really more helpful if your thief or stolen goods buyer doesn't happen to be an Internet Explorer or Safari fan. (Original posts: FireFound, Prey)
2. Turn it into a hotspot
Hotel rooms with cable-only internet, Wi-Fi cafes with purchase or password requirements—these are annoying, but not insurmountable obstacles for smartphones and friends needing connectivity. Connectify, a free Windows 7 download (while in beta), makes the process dead simple. If your running OS X, XP, or Vista, you can get pointers on opening up your laptop's Wi-Fi with CNET's video guide.
1. Keep your files synced
There's enough physical stuff to remember when you're running out the door. Skip worrying about where your work files are by setting up a universal synchronisation system with a free app like Dropbox, SugarSync, or SpiderOak, which can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, and, in the case of Dropbox and SugarSync, mobile platforms, too. Rather than worrying about whether that file got transferred between your desktop and laptop, these apps let you work out of one universal folder that updates itself for every system you own. Go further with Dropbox and similar tools with the How-To Geek's tips for doing more than just file syncing.
Which apps and utilities make your laptop into a formidable, productive road warrior? Share the links and tips in the comments.