Technology is there to make our lives easier. But it doesn't always work that way, especially when you've got to spend over an hour sifting through the hundreds of emails that have landed in your inbox after just two days holiday or your hard-drive has crashed right in the middle of a crucial task.

However there are a number of tops tips, downloads and apps that can prevent disasters from happening, or in some cases ensure that it's not the end of the world if your worst tech nightmare starts to come true. We've rounded up the 20 most useful apps that are guaranteed to improve your tech life.

1. Telecommute by remotely controlling your office computer

You can work from home but still use the computer in your office through remote control software such as LogMeIn or GotomyPC. You can view the remote computer full screen, launch and close programs, read email, copy and paste text between PCs, and access any files you left behind. Save money on petrol, claim home equipment on your taxes, and convince your boss that you'll be more productive without leaving your house. Even the iPhone has some VNC clients, such as Mocha VNC and Teleport.

If you don't need full remote control but you do require access to your office or home files, set up Microsoft's free file-syncing tool, FolderShare. Your files will always be up-to-date, no matter where you're working or where you last updated them.

2. Schedule automatic hard-drive backups, locally and remotely

Backing up your critical files is as exciting as purchasing home insurance, but just as important, too. Don't risk losing your irreplaceable digital photos by making empty promises to yourself to burn a couple of DVDs every few months. Instead, set up software and services to do the job for you while you concentrate on more-exciting projects. First, save yourself from an 'OMG my hard drive crashed!' catastrophe with a top backup program. Or get started now with a free copy of SyncBackSE, and schedule regular backup jobs to your external FireWire drive, thumb drive, or network drive. (If you have FTP-server access, SyncBack can back up to that as well.)

Of course, local backup isn't enough. To protect your data against fire, theft, or other disasters, you want to back up your data to a remote server over the internet. Both Carbonite and Mozy Home offer affordable unlimited server space and utilities that quietly back up your data in the background while you work.

NEXT PAGE: Loose your mouse and get fit online

  1. Tricks and downloads to prevent a tech nightmare
  2. Lose your mouse and get fit online
  3. Getting rid of messy cables and implementing a to-do list
  4. Use your camera phone as your digital photographic memory
  5. Passwords and encrypting your files
  6. Firefox keywords
  7. Master search techniques to pinpoint files or websites


We've rounded up 20 of the best tips and downloads that will stop a tech meltdown or at least ensure that if a tech nightmare happens, it is salvageable.

3. Work faster and more efficiently without a mouse

Streamline your computer work by teaching yourself keyboard shortcuts for your common actions, such as Ctrl-S to save, Ctrl-T to open a new tab in Firefox, and Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V to copy and paste. Then, become a keyboard master with the help of a keyboard launcher such as the free Launchy. You can start programs, open documents, and even do advanced actions such as resizing images and moving files without moving your hands from the keyboard.

You can also assign key combinations that automatically type out common phrases - such as user names, passwords, addresses, and email signatures - with utilities like TypeItIn. Please go ahead and let it do half your typing!.

4. Lose weight, get fit, save money and increase your mileage online

A new crop of social self-improvement sites help you monitor how much you've eaten, exercised, and spent, to motivate you and keep you on track. Web services such as Weight Watchers log and guide your diet and fitness regime.

If Quicken or Microsoft Money has become too complicated to update, you can track your spending, balance your chequebook, and run charts on expenditures versus income at personal-finance sites Mint.com and Wesabe, although currently these only work for those based in the US.

Squeeze he last bit of mileage out of every expensive tank of petrol with a miles-per-litre tracker like Fuelly or MyMileMarker. Entering your information into such sites gets you personalised suggestions, comparisons, and a community of like-minded people who can offer support and suggestions.

5. Clear out your inbox every day

Beat email overload once and for all by emptying your inbox completely - and keeping it that way. The 'Inbox Zero' philosophy says that email messages are just calls to action - not clutter that we need to hang on to. Create three folders or labels in your email client: Action, Later, and Archive. Each day when you check your email, make a decision and do something with every new message you've received until you've moved them all out of your inbox and reduced your message count down to zero.

Ruthlessly delete the messages you don't need, on the spot. Respond to the ones that will take under two minutes. File messages that you want to keep for future reference in the Archive folder, those that will take longer than two minutes to reply to in Action (and add those to-do items to your list), and messages you need to follow up on at a subsequent date in Later. Then breathe a sigh of relief when you see that glorious declaration: 'You have no new mail'.

NEXT PAGE: Getting rid of messy cables and implementing a to-do list

  1. Tricks and downloads to prevent a tech nightmare
  2. Lose your mouse and get fit online
  3. Getting rid of messy cables and implementing a to-do list
  4. Use your camera phone as your digital photographic memory
  5. Passwords and encrypting your files
  6. Firefox keywords
  7. Master search techniques to pinpoint files or websites



We've rounded up 20 of the best apps that will stop a tech meltdown or at least ensure that if a tech nightmare happens, it is salvageable.

6. Get your cables under control

When you have a tangled mess of dust-coated cords knotted into a bundle under your desk, disconnecting a laptop or setting up a new printer can be impossible. The cords for power, USB, speakers and FireWire all look the same. Simple labels can help you avoid accidentally killing your entire rig by pulling one wrong plug. Print out your own with a label maker, or buy a pack of specially-designed labels to stick on your home-office or living-room plugs. When the cat knocks one out or it's time to rearrange, you'll be glad you did.

Then, get cords up off the dusty floor with an under-the-desk cable tray. To keep gadget and laptop cords from falling off the back of your desk when they're not plugged in, affix a simple cable catcher (or a binder clip) to the edge of your desk to hold them. Finally, plug your workstation and your collection of peripherals into a single power strip or UPS to shut down the energy hogs with a single switch when you're not using them.

7. Stay on task with the right to-do list

The key to staying on track with the stuff you need to get done is writing it down and checking it off - whether you do so online, on your desktop, on your smartphone, or in a plain text file. Our favourite is Remember the Milk (RTM). It provides all the bells and whistles you'll ever need in a to-do list online, on your desktop, and on your phone.

RTM offers task categories (such as Work and Home), file attachments, notes, priorities, tags, due dates, and even ‘honey do' items (you can send tasks to other RTM users, such as your spouse or assistant). RTM also offers a Firefox extension that integrates the service with your Gmail inbox, so you can turn email into tasks.

Of course, no matter how good your software is, nothing can replace the satisfaction of crossing off a line on your paper to-do list with the stroke of a regular old ballpoint pen.

8. Replace your laptop with a thumb drive or iPod

Instead of lugging a laptop on your next trip, save your aching back by taking your computer's desktop with you on a thumb drive or iPod. Portable Windows software offerings such as MojoPac put a full desktop on your USB thumb drive (or disk-use-enabled iPod), letting you run applications like Microsoft Outlook and save documents all on that drive.

All you need is a host computer: You can plug the MojoPac drive into your in-laws' PC or a coffee-shop workstation, for instance, to access your documents and applications without leaving a trace behind. Alternatively, you can save and run free portable applications - such as the Firefox browser, Pidgin IM and Sumatra PDF reader - from your thumb drive.

NEXT PAGE: Use your camera phone as your digital photographic memory

  1. Tricks and downloads to prevent a tech nightmare
  2. Lose your mouse and get fit online
  3. Getting rid of messy cables and implementing a to-do list
  4. Use your camera phone as your digital photographic memory
  5. Passwords and encrypting your files
  6. Firefox keywords
  7. Master search techniques to pinpoint files or websites



We've rounded up 20 of the best apps that will stop a tech meltdown or at least ensure that if a tech nightmare happens, it is salvageable.

9. Use your camera phone as your digital photographic memory

Almost every mobile phone model now includes a built-in camera, and they're good for more than just snapping pics of your friends shenanigans to blackmail them with later. Use your phone's camera and memory card to capture the spot where you parked, the label on a bottle of wine your spouse loved, the price on a new gadget to look up online, or an amazing meal you'd like to try to cook at home.

A new crop of web services can turn digital photos of whiteboards and documents into searchable PDF documents, too. Email your camera-phone shot of a whiteboard or document to Qipit, and the service will recognise the text and email you the resulting searchable PDF.

10. Create your own price-protection system

Deal search engines such as Pricegrabber are great at finding the best prices before you buy, but in the US, sites such as PriceProtectr.com also save people money after they've bought a product by monitoring over 130 stores that have price-protection policies. If the price goes down after your purchase, that store might owe you money, but knowing whether the price went down is the trick.

11. Consolidate multiple email addresses with Gmail

You have more email addresses than you do pairs of socks - so it makes sense to keep them all in one drawer. If you have mail coming to your ISP account, your work address, your school address, and your throwaway Yahoo account from 1998, and you're having difficulty juggling everything, it's time to consolidate all those messages into one inbox.

Google's free Gmail service is both an email host and an email client. Use Gmail's built-in Mail Fetcher to retrieve messages from up to five external email accounts using the POP3 standard. In Gmail's Settings area, visit the Accounts tab to set up your external email addresses, and you'll then receive all your mail in one roomy inbox. You can even send mail from your non-Gmail addresses via Gmail's Compose screen, too.

12. Never forget a birthday, dentist appointment or oil change again

When you're tired of scrambling to send your mother flowers at the last minute every year, set up a scheduled email reminder for her birthday, and for any other long-term recurring tasks.

Google Calender can send upcoming-event alerts via SMS (Pick up the dry cleaning at 3pm today) or email ('Schedule a hair appointment; it's been six weeks!'). Most web-based calendars (like Google Calendar) and task managers (like Remember the Milk), as well as websites such as HassleMe and Sandy, support email alerts.

NEXT PAGE: Passwords and encrypting your files

  1. Tricks and downloads to prevent a tech nightmare
  2. Lose your mouse and get fit online
  3. Getting rid of messy cables and implementing a to-do list
  4. Use your camera phone as your digital photographic memory
  5. Passwords and encrypting your files
  6. Firefox keywords
  7. Master search techniques to pinpoint files or websites



We've rounded up 20 of the best apps that will stop a tech meltdown or at least ensure that if a tech nightmare happens, it is salvageable.

13. Never forget a password again

Your web browser can save your user name and password for sites you log in to often, but you still have lots of other passwords to remember,Wi-Fi network names and passwords, computer log-ins, PINs and passphrases, even security questions and answers.

Instead of writing everything down on a sticky note tacked onto your computer monitor, lock up your store of sensitive passwords in a secure, encrypted password database. The free KeePass works in Windows, Mac, and Linux, and assigns one master password to your database. Park your passwords, PINs, and software serial numbers in your personal secure database, and save yourself the hassle of having to call the IT department the umpteenth time to reset your password.

14. Encrypt your private files

Everyone has a folder or two of private files that thieves, children, competitors, coworkers, or casual passersby should never see. Whether you want to secure your stealth startup's business plan or some personal photos, the free, cross-platform TrueCrypt encryption software is ideal for storing sensitive files in a password-protected virtual container. Only someone with the master password can open that container and read or write the files within; to everyone else, it's a nondescript single file full of jumbled-up junk. TrueCrypt can secure a single folder on your hard drive, or an entire disk - it's great for a thumb drive carrying precious data that could be exposed if the drive is lost or stolen.

15. Stream content from your PC to PS3, Xbox 360 or Wii

You don't need yet another box under your TV in the living room to enjoy your digital music and videos. If you own a games console, you're ready to start streaming media from your PC today no set-top media box needed.

16. Get your TV and music fix online

Forget basic cable or satellite - there's plenty of free TV available to watch online. If you don't want to catch your favourite shows at the channels' own websites, hit up sites such as Hulu, Joost and Comcast's Fancast to get your full-episode TV fix. Also: Stream music for free to your computer from Last.fm, Deezer or Slacker.

NEXT PAGE: Firefox keywords

  1. Tricks and downloads to prevent a tech nightmare
  2. Lose your mouse and get fit online
  3. Getting rid of messy cables and implementing a to-do list
  4. Use your camera phone as your digital photographic memory
  5. Passwords and encrypting your files
  6. Firefox keywords
  7. Master search techniques to pinpoint files or websites



We've rounded up 20 of the best apps that will stop a tech meltdown or at least ensure that if a tech nightmare happens, it is salvageable.

17. Reach favourite sites and searches faster with Firefox keywords

You probably hit the same websites and search engines several times a day. Why not get to those pages as quickly as possible? Instead of typing out long URLs by hand or hunting down the right search box, use Firefox keyword bookmarks to navigate to your favourite web haunts instantly.

To search Wikipedia for George Washington, for example, you could key up to Firefox's address bar (Ctrl-L), type 'George Washington', and press Enter to go directly to that topic page. You can use the same technique for webpages that don't involve searches, too - for example, try setting the compose keyword to open a new Gmail message. To associate a keyword to a bookmark, enter a short, easy-to-remember keyword in the bookmark's Properties dialog box. Once you've set up a few keywords, you can use your Firefox address bar as a powerful, customised command line.

Bonus tip: Sync your Firefox bookmarks from home to the office to the laptop using the Foxmarks extension; it will keep your keyword vocabulary up-to-date wherever you're working.

18. Tweak, monitor and extend your Wi-Fi network with a firmware upgrade (or aluminum foil)

Extend your router's signal, throttle your bandwidth, review usage charts and more with an open-source router-firmware upgrade. The free DD-WRT and Tomato firmware each offer advanced features for managing your wireless network, including bandwidth monitors, quality-of-service graphs, and even router overclocking to extend your signal.

Want to make your Wi-Fi router's signal reach the attic and the basement the low-tech way? Some sites say they've achieved gains by fashioning a foil 'windsurfer' parabola and attaching it to the router antenna.

NEXT PAGE: Master search techniques to pinpoint files or websites

  1. Tricks and downloads to prevent a tech nightmare
  2. Lose your mouse and get fit online
  3. Getting rid of messy cables and implementing a to-do list
  4. Use your camera phone as your digital photographic memory
  5. Passwords and encrypting your files
  6. Firefox keywords
  7. Master search techniques to pinpoint files or websites



We've rounded up 20 of the best apps that will stop a tech meltdown or at least ensure that if a tech nightmare happens, it is salvageable.

19. Master search techniques to pinpoint files or websites

Drill down through millions of search results for popular Google search terms by mastering advanced search operators. Enclose phrases and proper names in quotes (as in 'Michael Phelps') to get exact-phrase matches. Use the + and - signs to specify meaning, especially for words that have more than one definition, and use the filetype: operator to find certain kinds of documents (as in budget filetype:xls).

You can even search for all the ingredients in your fridge with the word recipe to figure out what to have for dinner tonight.
Then, take your search chops to your desktop, where organising files in an elaborate folder scheme is no longer necessary. Use Windows Vista's Saved Search folders to build a dynamic store of all the files that contain the term 'NYC' for instance, or all the digital photos taken on your birthday.

Gmail's built-in email search capabilities are also killer. Use the from:, to:, and subject: operators to find specific messages, as in from: Bill Gates subject: dinner date.

20. Print smart to reduce costs

You've already paid an arm and a leg to refill your home printer, so get into some smart printing habits to save money on ink and paper. Wherever possible, preview your document before you print, and shrink the selection down to fewer pages, or print only the pages you need in the document. Set your printer to the lowest quality (draft mode) when possible, and opt for double-sided printing or print several pages per physical page (when you're printing out PowerPoint slides, for example).

When you're printing webpages, use the Aardvark Firefox add-on to delete big colourful advertisements and other unwanted elements before you print. When you don't really need a hard copy, opt to print to a PDF document instead. Mac users can do this by default; Windows users can download the free CutePDF to print any document to PDF.

  1. Tricks and downloads to prevent a tech nightmare
  2. Lose your mouse and get fit online
  3. Getting rid of messy cables and implementing a to-do list
  4. Use your camera phone as your digital photographic memory
  5. Passwords and encrypting your files
  6. Firefox keywords
  7. Master search techniques to pinpoint files or websites