Interoperability, information synchronization, information backup, complicated user experience, endless ever-going computer setup, those are among the most frequent user complaints I hear about from people seeking my computing help.

In this short article I’ll give a few tips for tools I frequently use that make my life a little simpler in regard to those issues.

Bookmarking

You’re using a few computers, maybe one at home and a few others at work, and you want to keep having your web bookmarks/favorites flowing between them. Maybe you just have a few web browsers in one computer that you’re tired of synchronizing between. A few web services will help you synchronize between all those platforms and since they’re stored on the web, they will also make sure that they won’t get lost if your computer crashes.
Although the free Del.icio.us service was meant for something bigger, termed “Social Bookmarking”, it also allows people to save their bookmarks to the service’s database in a “Do not share” mode and to access their bookmarks wherever they are, in what ever platform of web browser they’re using.
I use Del.icio.us for many things, yet the simple uses are allowing access to my bookmarks from both Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer, from both my laptop and from home in an easy way. Several plugins, in all platforms, allow to replace the “Bookmarks”/”Favorites” tabs with your Del.icio.us bookmarks. For example – the Foxylicious plugin for Firefox.

Contacts management

Got the same issue, only with contacts, appointments and tasks? Are you using both Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird in both your home and at your work? Afraid it will get lost if your computer crashes?
Plaxo allows you to sync between all that. Download the Plaxo plugin for the environment you’re using and it will automatically sync between your computer and its database on the web. When you move to your other platform or workspace, all your contacts, appointments and tasks will move along with you.
As long as you’re not looking for anything too fancy, the service is completely free, and there’s the additional feature that allows getting updated information for the contacts that you have, through searching within the database if Plaxo already has that user. To those who are concerned about privacy, as some people I know are, most services could be changed or disabled.

File hosting

Everybody’s afraid of losing their files, who wouldn’t? But unless the files are really sensitive, there really isn’t any reasons to store your files in your computer. If you store your files in a remote file hosting solution then you can be pretty much certain that those files are backed up regularly and are safe from loss.
Consider, for example, the Spymac service, that gives away a free 1 giga file storage for you to do with as you please. The Webdav interface makes it look like it’s just a folder sitting on your desktop and if you need to work offline a lot, there are plenty of sync application supporting Webdav folders. If you’re concerned about privacy, you could always encrypt your files, either by using the inherent file encryption, like Office’s and Acrobat’s “Password protect” (better to use the higher key lengths and the AES algorithm) and the archive compression in WinRar and WinZip, or use one of the endless tools on the web to encrypt a folder and point that to your webfolder. Just make sure you don’t lose that password.

Password handling

You use so many webservices that you can’t keep track. If keeping track of the services you use isn’t hard enough, there are also the endless passwords that keep haunting you endlessly. Most people I know either use the “Email me my password” options daily or use the same simple password for all their services as no average person can remember so many passwords.
There are a few advanced security solutions, but the simplest solution for the average user is the RoboForm software. Roboform will protect all your passwords with one master-password, so you wouldn’t have to remember them all. You’ll be able to have different passwords for different services, but you wouldn’t have to remember them. Further, it will sync between your Internet Explorer and Firefox Logins and will perform the whole form field s filling for you so you wouldn’t have to punch down the user name and password. If you use this service, just make sure you have the Options set up securely, like marking Autologoff and Password-Protect everything, and that your master-password is good enough.
Right now, on my list, there are over 60 logins (/passcards) saved. There is no way in the world I would be able to manage that otherwise.

Instant Messaging

Most of my international friends use MSN messenger, most of the friends I met in Asia use Yahoo Messenger, most Israelis love ICQ and some prefer to use Skype. And that’s even without going into people using Google Talk, AOL or My Space Chat.
I just want to be able to talk with all of those without having 2-8 pieces of software open and running all the time. Best way is to use a multi-protocol Instant Messaging program.
Aside from some small issues I enjoy Trillian a lot, as it supports all the platforms I need. With the pro version, it even supports Video conferences and the Skype plugin. Memory and CPU consumption is unbelievable low, even when comparing to MSN messenger or Yahoo Messenger alone.

Please note that there are privacy issues you should consider before signing up to those services or using those tools. I’m not taking responsability for how you use those tips.

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