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12/18/2006
05:55 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Tools For Getting The Most From Two PCs

I recently joined the ranks of, well, probably most of the computer-using adult world: I now have two computers that I use on a regular basis, one that I use primarily for work, one primarily for leisure activities. That leaves me with the need to find easy ways of getting information from one to the other, including browser settings, e-mail, and the occasional document. Here's what I've found works best.

I recently joined the ranks of, well, probably most of the computer-using adult world: I now have two computers that I use on a regular basis, one that I use primarily for work, one primarily for leisure activities. That leaves me with the need to find easy ways of getting information from one to the other, including browser settings, e-mail, and the occasional document. Here's what I've found works best.

The browser settings are most important; Computer #2 is mainly a Set 'n Surf machine: I use it for settin' on the couch and surfin' the Web, reading my friends' blogs, posting to my personal blog, watching those wacky YouTube videos, and otherwise chillin'. That means I want to synchronize bookmarks between both machines, as well as browser settings.

Bookmarks: For bookmarks, I use del.icio.us and the recently released del.icio.us Firefox extension. Del.icio.us is a "social bookmarking" service, but, to tell the truth, I'm not really all that interested in sharing my bookmarks; I just find del.icio.us to be the best way to keep track of my bookmarks. The Firefox extension integrates del.icio.us with your browser bookmarks; I reviewed it here..

Alternatives: There's a whole mess of web-based social bookmarking services on the Web: Yahoo has two of them; it owns del.icio.us and offers a service similar to del.icio.us, but with a prettier interface, called My Web. Other examples: Spurl, Furl, and del.irio.us -- sounds like the name of a law firm for Santa's elves, doesn't it? You can set Gmail to use as an online bookmarking service. And AOL-owned Xdrive, which is primarily an online data-storage service, includes a feature for online bookmarking.

E-mail: The e-mail account I'm primarily interested in accessing from both machines is my personal account -- like I said, the second machine is specifically one I use primarily for not-work activities.

I switched my e-mail to Google Apps for Your Domain Nov. 9, and I'm very happy with it. As the name implies, GAfYD lets you have Gmail and a bunch of other applications at your domain, rather than Google's. What that means is that I can use Gmail, but still keep the e-mail address I've had -- and that my friends and family use to contact me -- for several years.

I had a bit of a problem getting started, but I think that the situation was weird and idiosyncratic and the overwhelming majority of people aren't going to run into it and Google was very good about getting the whole thing straightened out.

The Gmail interface gives you access to your e-mail from any web-enabled device and, more than that, it's the best mail client available for Windows.

As for work e-mail: We use Lotus Notes, and on the occasion where I want to access work mail from my leisure machine, I just use the Web interface. It isn't great, but it's good enough.

Data sharing: There's plenty of ways to move data between PCs. My current favorite: AOL-owned Xdrive,. You can get a free account which lets you store up to 5 GB online, and either share it with the general public, or just limit access to yourself.

Other solutions: You can just e-mail files to yourself, but most e-mail providers have data limits of a few megabytes. Yahoo Briefcase offers up to 20 Mbytes of free online storage, but that's not a lot nowadays. Also: Gigasize, Localhostr, and about a million more.

Microsoft-owned FolderShare simplifies things -- it synchronizes an entire folder, so if you want to transfer documents between machines, you just drop it into the appropriate folder and forget about it.

Most of these services have permission systems you can set up to share files with friends and family.

If you're worried about security, encrypt the files when they're on the server, using encryption software like BestCrypt ($59.95) or the free, open-source TrueCrypt.

You can also use a hardware solution, like a thumb drive, but that means you have a hardware thingie that you have to remember to carry with you. What if you're sitting on your living room recliner and the thumb drive is all the way on the other side of the room? That's just too much work.

News aggregator: I do most of my Web consuming through RSS feeds nowadays. The free Google Reader isn't just Web-based, so it can be accessed from any machine, it's the best Windows-based news aggregator out there. (Although only by a nose -- FeedDemon is also a great choice.

And One More Thing: Sometimes I want to make notes to myself, and transfer those over to my primary, work machine. I've set myself up a personalized page on Google and installed two gadgets that help with that process: To-Do List lets you easily write small notes to yourself.

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