Every day at work I use tools that save me time, keystrokes and secure my data. In this article, I will share some of my favorite cool tools. You will find them easy to use and big efficiency boosters. The best part is most of them are free or cost very little and are free of spyware.
Launchy is a tool that you probably wish was built into Microsoft Windows, but was not. If you have more than four or five programs installed on your system, then you have to wade through a long list or cascading menus to launch the desired program. How much easier would it be to simply press a key, type in the program name and find the program? This is exactly what Launchy does, and does it quickly.
If I had to choose one tool that makes my online life easier, it would be RoboForm. RoboForm is a portable password manager, form filler and encrypted password-generator program. For all the website logins and personal information that you want to store, nothing beats its versatility. RoboForm can remember all your personal contact information, credit card numbers and multiple addresses and makes any repetitive form filling as easy as selecting a profile from a list you create. The pro version is available for about $30, and the free version remembers up to 10 passwords. Visit http://www.roboform.com.
Windows Live Sync
If you own or work with more than one PC, you inevitably find yourself shuttling or emailing files or folders from one PC to another. Sooner or later you’re going to find yourself faced with the possibility of a failed hard drive or loss of data. Windows Live Sync (formerly known as FolderShare) is a tool that allows near instantaneous synchronization of files and folders across one or more PCs (via the web). It also lets you remotely access your PCs. Once you create a Windows Live account, install the applet on each PC, log in, and select the folders you want to synchronize. Each time a file in the folder selected is changed, it is immediately replicated on the remote PC or PCs.
Windows Live Sync is a free service provided by Microsoft. The advantage (and disadvantage) of Live Sync is that no data is stored on any third-party server. This is an advantage for those who would rather not have a third party storing their data, but a disadvantage for those who want their data backed up.
Sign up for a free Windows Live Sync account at https://sync.live.com. When you sign up for a Live Account, you get 25GB of free online storage with Windows SkyDrive. If you already have a Windows Live (Hotmail) account, you can use that to sign up for the Live services, as well.
This is a truly useful and essential piece of technology for advisors. With the proliferation of USB thumb drives and notebook computers, protection of personal and client data is mandatory. Encryption software has been available for years, but it’s long been expensive and complicated to use. Both these issues have been addressed with TrueCrypt, an open-source tool that is free. Encryption protects data by scrambling the underlying characters to the point of being unrecognizable unless the password to encrypt the data is entered.
TrueCrypt can be used to encrypt an entire USB, hard disk, or single files and folders. Although it’s easy to use, you will need to take a short tutorial to fully understand how to properly use it. It’s a worthwhile exercise. If you lose the thumb drive or laptop, you won’t have to make embarrassing phone calls to your clients to let them know that their personal information may have been compromised if it’s encrypted. Visit http://www.truecrypt.org.
Hussien “Sam” Fawaz, CFP, CPA, works with Y.D. Financial Services & Solutions in Canton, Mich., and Franklin, Tenn. He has been helping clients with technology solutions for more than 20 years. He has been writing about tax, financial process and technology solutions for more than 12 years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 734-447-5305. You can follow Sam on his Twitter microblog at http://twitter.com/themoneygeek.