It’s also worth checking out independent reviews of ISPs. For flexibility, a business package from an established, highly rated ISP such as Nildram or Zen Internet is a smart move. Home broadband with solid customer service doesn’t come much better than that offered by O2 and Plusnet. These two rated the highest in PC Advisor’s most recent annual home broadband survey.
For art students or those keen to show off the fruits of their learning, displaying their work online makes a lot of sense. Both Wix.com and Vimeo can help here. Wix is a photo gallery for products you sell or photos and objects in your portfolio, while Vimeo is an ideal showcase for digital animations and video show reels. As with the Tin Robot Records site, you can easily link your Wix site to a Blogger or WordPress blog.
Rather than direct clients or potential sponsors to your site, you can share a screen with them using the free LogMeIn Join.me service and talk them through the merits of what’s on offer. Join.me can also be used for collaborating on projects. Alternatively, if you’re a Microsoft Office user, you can work together via SharePoint or OneNote, using the Windows Live elements to store, share, message and blog.
Email is likely to be your primary communication method. Outlook offers plenty of features, but the software has more than a few foibles and it probably isn’t worth shelling out for the standalone product. We like Outlook’s ability to deliver RSS feeds and its solid search credentials, but the likes of Mozilla Thunderbird and Zimbra Desktop have served us just as well.
Zimbra Desktop is a free open-source email client that comes in versions for Windows, Mac and Linux. It has contacts, calendaring and a social networks feed, and is geared up for online file storage and synching. It doesn’t support SMTP servers, however, so Zimbra won’t work with an existing corporate email account.
Thunderbird also offers a strong feature set, including support for split panes, in-depth email previews and tabbed messaging.
More communication tools
When you get an email message that you need to act on but don’t have to deal with immediately, Nudgemail serves as a smart snooze button. Forward the message to, say, [email protected] or [email protected], and the email will reappear in your inbox when you need it.
Social networks and the multiple means of communication with which we are expected to keep pace are the enemy of productivity. If you refuse to lose that Twitter habit and are a constant email checker, one of the following free aggregators will help tame your twitchiness.
If you can’t remember the social networks you’ve joined, Nomee integrates up to 120 of them into one manageable interface.
For one-stop tracking of your email and your social stream, sign up for a Nimble account (nimble.com). This powerful free tool assembles your email, Twitter and Facebook accounts in one place, so you can stop switching between windows to keep in touch with the outside world.
Microsoft’s free Security Essentials is ideal for personal users, combining antivirus, antispyware and firewall protection. It provides a solid layer of protection against the most common threats, without hobbling your PC or nagging you with annoying update reminders. Free versions of other security programs exist – Avira and AVG are two of the best-known examples. However, what impresses us about Microsoft’s offering is that it just works and, since it’s not affiliated for a more feature-laden paid-for version, there’s no tiresome nagging about upgrading.
You also need to consider what happens to the sensitive data you delete. When you delete files from your PC via the Recycle Bin, Windows marks them as erased and hides them from view; eventually, it fills the drive space they occupied with new content. To get rid of data right away, use Eraser, a free utility that repeatedly overwrites data until it’s unrecoverable.