Last month we looked at the hardware needed to set up your mobile office. Now it's time to add some software. I'm going to assume you already have a contact manager, a basic office suite, and some accounting software. If not, visit my Computer Solutions forum at and we'll help you out.

This month I'll concentrate on a few specialty applications critical for taking the show on the road. The software world changes quickly, with fewer applications being packaged in a box with CDs you have to install on your hard drive and more being offered as Web-based services; this list reflects that trend.

Carbonite Backup (above) automatically selects the data files on your hard drive for backup, but you can include or exclude anything from the right-click menu. One limitation: You can only back up files located on your permanent hard drive; Carbonite doesn't recognize USB external drives or any other removable storage. Backup, backup, backup: The more dependent you become on technology, the more important it is to back up your data, and mobile users are particularly vulnerable. Carbonite Backup ( is a nearly perfect fit for mobile remodelers. It costs around $50 per year for 100 gigabytes of data and operates transparently in the background whenever you're online. The service keeps multiple versions of every file so you can “roll back” if you mess up. Just remember that when you delete a file from your hard drive, Carbonite also deletes it 30 days later, so you'll still occasionally need to make a CD or DVD and take it to a safe deposit box whenever you permanently weed out those old projects from your hard drive. Currently Carbonite is PC-only, but a Mac version is promised by the end of the year.

Scan and fax: Mobile offices still encounter plenty of paper that needs to be processed on-the-fly. You might find enough “scan/store/ fax” features in your office suite, but for my money PaperPort Professional ( is still the small-business document management system to beat. For a bit less than $200 you get an easy drag-and-drop interface that can serve as your entire “mission control.” Some mobile scanners come with an earlier version of PaperPort bundled for free — something to consider when purchasing your hardware.

PaperPort Professional 11 (at left) features one of the best user interfaces around. As soon as a file is scanned it appears on the PaperPort desktop, where you simply drag and drop to print, add to a folder, or open in another application on your hard drive. Sending faxes from your truck is a bit trickier. The most reliable way is to use an Internet fax service such as eFax ( True fax services work by converting your outgoing digital or scanned document to an analog fax or universal file type and forwarding it to either a paper fax machine or to an e-mail address. Incoming faxes wind up in your e-mail in-box as a file you can open and print. There are dozens of these services available, but be careful because some only deliver to e-mail in-boxes — not paper fax machines, which is no good for communicating with paper-happy subs and suppliers. Marketer David Berger has put together a reasonably good review of available fax services at

PDF tools: Portable Document Format, or PDF, is really the key to a paperless mobile office. It allows you to convert any file type —even specialty CAD files or a proprietary accounting report — to something that just about anyone can open. Paper documents can be scanned to PDF format, paper forms and checklists can be made “fillable,” and important electronic documents can be made “signable” if you have the right software. PaperPort Professional (mentioned above) comes with a decent PDF application, and there are lots of free or inexpensive PDF converters on the market that will generate a basic PDF, but I keep coming back to the gold standard, Adobe Acrobat. You can't beat it for reliable, trouble-free conversions of almost any kind of document —paper or electronic. The full version of Acrobat Standard is going to set you back almost $300 (Pro costs $450), but this is one case where you get what you pay for. — Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry;