Get to grips with file formats

You'll often hear inexperienced PC users complain that they've received an important file, but can't view it. Why? They don't have the necessary software, usually, so every troubleshooting toolkit needs applications that will help you read and work with common file formats.

Add OpenOffice.org Portable to your toolkit and you'll be equipped to deal with Word documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more - very handy.

Grab a copy of the PDF-XChange Viewer or SumatraPDF and you'll be able to view PDF files, too.

Get Unstoppable Copier

When a friend complains that he can't read some files from a few ancient CDs then there may be nothing you can do. But it's worth trying Unstoppable Copier, just in case. This excellent data recovery tool that will grab every readable sector of your files and do its best to put the pieces together.

Just in case that doesn't help, make sure your toolkit has a copy of Greenfish DataMiner, too. It comes in a tiny 300KB ZIP file, yet still has detailed knowledge on the structures of more than 70 different file formats, which it uses to help recognise and recover your lost CD or DVD data.

Sort out the browser

When diagnosing a complicated PC problem you'll probably want to look for help online. But what if it's the browser that isn't working? Add the portable versions of Firefox and Thunderbird to your USB toolkit and you'll be covered.

Recover passwords

Your most clueless friends have lost several product keys and forgotten all their passwords, and of course it's up to you to make everything right. That's why your USB toolkit needs WinKeyFinder or Vista Key Finder to recover Windows and Office product keys, along with IE PassView and Password Fox to recover the user names and passwords stored by IE and Firefox.

Save your drivers

The first rule of PC troubleshooting is to ensure that your tweaks never make a problem worse. So if you decide to update any drivers on a PC then it's a very good idea to make a backup first, just in case you need to restore the previous versions, and Double Driver is the ideal tool for the job.

Totally Free Burner

Add a portable CD/ DVD burner to your USB toolkit and you'll be able to copy data from most PCs, even if its own mastering software isn't working properly. Total Free Burner and InfraRecorder are both packed with features for such small apps, and well worth a closer look.

Scan the network

Network issues are tricky to diagnose, especially with portable apps, but a few tools are up to the challenge. TCPView displays all your open TCP and UDP connections, along with the processes using them; SmartSniff captures and displays network packets on some PCs; and Angry IP scanner quickly checks IP addresses across a specified range and builds up picture of your network from the systems it finds.

Retrieve important files

If all your troubleshooting efforts fail then you'll probably want to retrieve the most important files from this PC. Portable backup tools aren't common, but we find Zback, which despite its small size (a 174KB zip file) still manages to support filters, preview modes, scripting support, manual, batch or command line operation, and more.

Going further...

You'll find more great portable tools at Pendriveapps.com and PortableApps.com. Unfortunately these all rely on your host PC being bootable and recognising USB connections, so for real emergencies you might also want to carry around a copy of UBCD for Windows.

It's a bootable CD that comes packed with powerful troubleshooting tools, and is just what you need to get a broken PC booting again.

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Now read 10 sneaky ways crapware gets onto your PC

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