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Net Gains

Seven things you're not doing on the Internet (but should be)
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Greg Raymer, Sept/Oct 2004

No doubt you've mastered the basics of life in the Internet age—e-mailing, banking online, Googling favorite actresses, and so on. But many of the most useful online opportunities don't reveal themselves through casual browsing—you have to stumble on them accidentally, delve into the thorny underbrush of computer magazines, or pick the brains of tech-crazed guys like me. Here, then, are the leads you need to get more from your Internet experience—all completely legal, some free, others inexpensive and none demanding fluency in geekspeak.

Back Up Your Files Online
Electronic hiccups have harried computer users from the beginning, and most of us have learned to back up files as a means of damage control. While backup media, from floppy disks to recordable CDs to today's inexpensive, portable, external hard drives, have gotten better and easier to use, they are no help if some catastrophic event—a robbery, a fire, a meteor strike, whatever—wipes out your office computer and the backup drive. As a matter of reasonable paranoia, I want backup copies of mission-critical files—including my address book, financial records, a novel-in-progress—stored somewhere else. Now I can accomplish this important task, conveniently and for free, by periodically saving copies online. Having backup copies of important documents available on the Web has an important side benefit: those files are available for downloading anywhere you have an Internet connection. What happens if you're traveling to a crucial meeting with a vital PowerPoint presentation on your laptop, and the laptop "walks away" in transit? A borrowed computer, a quick download of your backup copy, and the meeting can proceed without a hitch.

Yahoo! offers free accounts that include a host of valuable features, including an e-mail address (very useful for responding to online offers without giving up your regular e-mail information to potential spammers) and a Yahoo! Briefcase, with 30 megabytes of online storage at no charge. How big is 30 megabytes? Well, the entire text of A Tale of Two Cities fits in less than one megabyte. As for backing up large photo and video files, see below.

Site Seeing
Yahoo! Briefcase

Control Your Computer From Anywhere
A few months back I traveled to Tokyo on a business trip. One evening I picked up my accumulated phone messages and learned that one of my editors needed a revision to a story I'd submitted two weeks earlier. A revision based on research stored on my desktop computer, 12 time zones away.

In the old days, this would have required a marriage-threatening long-distance maneuver in which I send my noncomputer-using wife to my office and try guiding her by phone through the process of finding the required file and e-mailing it to me. This time out, though, I had everything I needed to solve the problem on hand: a laptop computer, a high-speed Internet connection in my hotel room, and a subscription to the GoToMyPC service. A few well-placed mouse clicks and two passwords later, the screen of my home computer appeared as if by magic on my laptop. What's more, I had complete control over the home system, just as if I were sitting in my office and moving the mouse myself. This, my friends, is powerful tech mojo.

There are other ways you can remote-control your computer over the Internet, but GoToMyPC has three features that make it indispensable. It works right through the Web browser of any Internet-connected computer running Microsoft Windows. It's very easy to use. And it's secure—the firewall software I use to keep hackers out of my system stays up while GoToMyPC lets me through. For a single user and a single PC, the service costs $20 a month or $179.40 a year, and corporate plans are also available.

Site Seeing

Get an Earful
You like the idea of accessing music online, but you don't relish having the FBI burst in on you as if you were a felonious teenage girl just because you shared files, nor do you like getting popped for 99 cents every time you want to hear a tune. Then consider another online music concept, one that flopped when introduced but offers intriguing listening alternatives today.

I'm talking about online music subscription services. While each service varies somewhat in the specifics, the underlying idea remains the same. For a set monthly fee you can listen to an extensive array of songs right over the Internet. You don't download them to your machine—they're piped to your computer (a process known as streaming) when you ask for them. Listening to as many tunes as you like while exploring new artists and discovering new songs is a compelling proposition in an era when broadcast radio plays a tiny group of artists over and over ad nauseam.

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