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.

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  5. Passwords and encrypting your files
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