Burney's Gadgets for Legal Pros - Reviews: Treo 700w; Free Personal Firewall; WiFi Security; Free Backup Program

Brett Burney is the Legal Technology Support Coordinator at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, Ohio. He regularly reviews products for Law.com's Automated Lawyer and Law Office Computing Magazine. Feel free to e-mail Brett with your legal technology questions.

This Ain't No Tip-Toein' Treo

I've been a big fan of the Treo form factor since the original 600, so I was definitely excited to check out the new 700w (currently only available from Verizon Wireless). I liked the Treo's size, weight, and heft; and I've always enjoyed using the Windows Mobile/Pocket PC/CE operating system. So when I witnessed the universe fold in upon itself when Palm and Microsoft teamed up together to birth the Treo 700w, I was just a tad bit curious to see how it was going to go.

The bottom line - I am thrilled with the 700w, but I can ONLY recommend it over a Treo 650 if a) you prefer the Windows Mobile operating system over the Palm OS, and b) you MUST have high-speed EV-DO (otherwise known as 3G or "third generation" cellular data services). I agree with other reviewers that the 700w just doesn't offer quite enough to push a 650 user over the edge. If you have a 650 and are happy with it, then there is no immediate need to move up to the 700w.

While I am happy to be back in Windows Mobile land, I've noticed that it takes a few more clicks to get around in Windows Mobile 5.0 than it did on my old 650 running the Palm OS. Sure I could program buttons, but I like to have the dedicated "Start Menu" and "Ok" buttons (which are both totally unnecessary on Palm-based Treos).

The EV-DO is simply delicious. Instead of using a techie acronym, Verizon calls it "BroadbandAccess." While I would not quite call it broadband speeds in the context of a cable or DSL connection, my Web pages do come up quickly and I can run through my Bloglines subscriptions on the train on the way home from work.

I have also enjoyed the "Wireless Sync" software that Verizon provides as a free service. With IntelliSync supplying the backend-engine, the Wireless Sync software can be set up in several different ways to pull information from your POP3 mail server or an Exchange server.

Since I did not have a Exchange server, and I wanted to synchronize more information than just my e-mail, I elected to install the desktop piece of Wireless Sync on my desktop, which talks directly to my Outlook. I leave my home computer up and running all the time, and the Wireless Sync sends any new e-mail, calendar updates, and contacts directly to my device via a "push" paradigm. I could probably do this with the free ActiveSync software, but the Wireless Sync software from Verizon handles all the backend stuff for me, and I can even log on to a website to check my e-mail.

Avast! Ye Mateys and Hoist the Firewall!

I have several computers at home. They each need their own firewall and anti-virus software, but I'm too cheap to shell out the additional cash. So I do what any honest tech-head does do and looked for something for free.

I had known about the free Kerio firewall for a while, but they had recently stopped offering their well-received software. Fortunately, the good folks down at Sunbelt Software purchased the application and now continue the grand tradition of offering a free version, as well as a solid, inexpensive full version. I actually heard about the "new" Kerio offering through the fantastic Security Now! podcast with Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson. I highly recommend this podcast if you are concerned about computer security.

I've been very happy with the free version of Kerio Personal Firewall. It alerts me about any connections that it doesn't recognize and has a nice interface for permitting or denying the connection. The free version is probably as much firewall as you'll ever need, but for a limited time, you can pump up to the full version for just $14.95 (the regular price is $19.95).

I also needed an anti-virus application and decided on the free avast! 4 Home Edition from Alwil software. It ranked 8th out of 10 anti-virus apps (from free to $50) reviewed by PC World, but all three of the free apps found themselves at the bottom of the list, and they recognized that the free anti-virus apps were at least much better than having nothing at all.

The free avast! 4 Home Edition updates itself every day and I have generally been happy with its operation. And while I feel protected running avast!, I am still extremely careful about where I surf and what e-mail attachments I open. Alwil software offers a Professional Edition of their anti-virus software with an annual subscription, and I would recommend this version for those of you who want as much protection as possible.

Piggin' Out on Wi-Fi

Here is another plug for the Security Now! podcast I mentioned above - Steve Gibson devoted several episodes to discussing virtual private networks (VPNs) and it was enlightening and fascinating.

One of the products I discovered from those podcasts was the affectionately-name iPIG from iOpus software (it stands for iOpus Private Information Gateway).

When your laptop jumps on to a Wi-Fi network, the data you send back and forth to the Internet is basically wide open to anyone who would like to "sniff" your information. But if you encrypt that data traffic flowing from your laptop over the Wi-Fi network, you can still "sniff" the information, it would just be impossible to make any sense out of it. That's where iPIG comes into play - it creates a virtual, secure "tunnel" between your laptop and another computer such as your home or office PC.

It's free, so keep that in mind if you experience a couple of little hiccups like I did - I sometimes had to restart iPIG to get it to work, and anytime you encrypt data it slows down the transmission rates which means you'll be surfing slower. When iPIG did work, however, I was satisfied with my security. I only use iPIG when I'm on a wireless network that I do not trust.

Next, Steve Gibson in the Security Now! Podcast mentioned Hamachi. I haven't actually tried this yet, but it sounds like an incredible way to create your own VPN back to a home or work computer when you're on the road. You have to set up Hamachi on your home computers before you leave, but when you're away, you can create a secure connection between your laptop and home computer and then use an application like RealVNC or TightVNC to have graphical interface access.

Back Me Up Before You Go-Go

I've used several backup programs in my career but most of them use a proprietary compression technology to achieve smaller backup files. This is great except that when you need to restore those files, you have to have the same software because nothing else will be able to read those backup files.

When I recently purchased a large, new external hard drive, I decided I just needed a small application that would allow me to copy over my files and data in their native formats. That way, I knew I could reload anything when I needed to without the need for additional software.

My search ended with the free SyncBack from 2BrightSparks software. I pointed SyncBack to a folder on my PC, selected the option to "backup the source directories," and then told SyncBack to copy those files to my connected external hard drive. I clicked "run" and it was done, just like that.

For subsequent backups, SyncBack checks both locations, determines what has been changed, added, or deleted, and backs it all up according to your directions. There are "Simple" and "Advanced" options you can choose from, but I found the Simple side of things to be the best. SyncBack will also let you schedule jobs to run at your leisure.

The free version of SyncBack appears to just be an older version of the $25 SyncBackSE offering which I would highly recommend if you demand a lot more options for your backup requirements.