Q: I travel a lot and sometimes take my laptop with me. However, the place I am travelling to already has a computer I can use. What is the best way to stay connected with my business while I’m on the road without lugging my laptop? Alison S. - Florence
A: Road warriors can easily shed a few pounds of computer equipment and still have constant access to all their email, calendar and contact information, by using a Microsoft Exchange service. An Exchange account allows you to synchronize all your Microsoft Outlook data between your office, home, portable and handheld devices so that you always have ready access to all your contacts, email and calendar tasks no matter what device you happen to be using at the moment. Ask if your company provides an Exchange service. If they don’t, one popular Exchange provider is www.Mailstreet.com.
There are a whole slew of free applications available from www.PortableApps.com that allow you to “take your office with you” without lugging a notebook computer. Most of these applications are scaled-down versions of full-featured software that have been re-designed to fit on a portable storage devices such as a USB Flash drive or iPod. These applications don’t have to be “installed” on a computer. You run them directly from the storage device on any computer. When you disconnect the device, you disconnect your entire office leaving absolutely no personal information on the host computer.
For instance, I have a portable version of Thunderbird installed on my USB thumb drive that I can use to check my email accounts from any internet-enabled computer. This is not a new thing if you are used to accessing your email via a web interface but I have 8 different email accounts. Logging into each of them through a web interface is quite cumbersome. Thunderbird Portable allows me to check all eight of those accounts from one piece of software then store the messages on my USB drive for viewing or responding later.
You can use the portable version of OpenOffice to work on Word, Excel or PowerPoint projects. Open Office is nearly 100% compatible with Microsoft Office so you can work on your spreadsheet stored on your flash drive even if the computer you are using does not have Microsoft Office installed.
www.MeeBo.com is a great tool for accessing all your instant messaging accounts while on the road. MeeBo is 100% web-based so you don’t have to install any software to access your AIM, Yahoo, Google or MSN instant messaging accounts from any computer.
Finally, you may wish to take a look at www.LogMeIn.com. LogMeIn allows you to remotely control your office computer from thousands of miles away. I am happy with their free version but you can pay extra for some advanced features such as file transfer.