When your laptop is lost or stolen, try IPFetcher

There are plenty of web services around which can try to help you find a stolen computer. Usually this involves equipping your system with a small agent of some kind, which then uses the system IP address, wifi connections and more to determine its current location, before communicating this to a central server.

If you’d like something more lightweight, though, there are a few simple free tools around which you might like to try. IPFetcher, for instance, won’t grab images from your webcam, and can’t lock down your system remotely. But it can retrieve a system’s IP address, then email or upload it to an FTP server, and that’s more than enough to be useful.

The program arrives as a compact (1.2MB) download. Unzip this, install the two components included (IPFetcher.msi and IMFetcherBackend.msi) and reboot your PC.

Launch IPFetcher from the Softraven section of the Start menu, and click either “Set FTP” or “Set Mail”, depending on which method you’d like to use. In both cases you’ll need to complete a form with your server names, account details and so on.

Setting up the program is awkward - but you only have to do it once

The “Set Mail” page includes a “Test Mail” button, which in theory should send a test message to confirm your settings are correct. But in practice this didn’t work for us. If we tried it, the program interface would first stop responding for a while, before displaying a horribly technical .NET error message (even though we’d entered the right information).

There are other setup problems, too. Once you’ve completed the form you’ll probably click “Save”, but this just displays a less than clear error message. You’ll have to click “Set interval and log” and set both the “Reset log count” and “Repeat hours” (how often the location will be sent) values; “200″ and “24 hours” will be fine for now. We would manually start the service, too, just in case (click Service Settings > “Click to manually start Service”).

Finally, enter a password in the box, click Save and reboot your PC.

If this sounds all a little irritating, then it certainly was. But if you’re interested in the idea, don’t let it put you off. Once we were past the clumsy setup process we found IPFetcher worked very well, correctly retrieving our external IP address and emailing or uploading it as we’d specified. And there’s no further maintenance required, unless you change your email account or FTP server, anyway -- it just works.

Photo Credit: Matt Antonino/Shutterstock

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