I like the idea of having software installed on a laptop so that if (or when) it’s stolen, the laptop will assist in its own recovery. There are a number of commercial packages that will do this, and now there’s an open-source alternative that’s available at no cost.
One commercial product that’s available in a 90-day trial version at no cost is Laptop Retriever from Front Door Software. It will use a stolen laptop’s Wi-Fi network adapter to, in the background, sniff out nearby Wi-Fi networks and use them to report its position and attempt to locate the thief. It also allows some remote control of the laptop, including hard drive lockout, by the theft victim. It’s priced at $30 for a 3-year license. There may be a free single laptop license for students. This article describes how it works: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/may/11/software-locks-down-stolen-laptop/ Publisher’s website: http://www.frontdoorsoftware.com/
The open-source product, called Adeona, is developed by grad students at the University of Washington and is available in Windows, Mac, and Linux versions without cost. Read its FAQ: http://adeona.cs.washington.edu/faq.html I like the feature that allows its Mac version to use the Macbook’s built-in camera to capture images of the stolen laptop’s user (presumably the thief) and upload them to a server that may be accessed by the rightful owner. It lacks the remote hard-drive locking and Google mapping features of some commercial products, but its price ($0) is right.