This screen will strike fear in the hearts of all who dare take your computer. Students can get a year free here.Most of us head off to college with a laptop lock to keep our valuable computers out of the hands of cunning thieves or uninvited drunkards, but how many people honestly use it consistently after the first few weeks of school?

Luckily a company called FrontDoorSoftware has an effective little client that can help you recover your laptop if it’s stolen, or even if you just don’t remember where it ended up last night.  Normally about $10 per year, the company is giving students a free year of service here.  

It’s not the prettiest piece of software I’ve ever seen, or easiest to set up. Not by a long shot actually.  But once it gets up and running I have to admit, it works.  Your laptop (Mac or PC, Linux beta is available) will display a “good samaritan” screen at startup which displays your name and contact information. Hopefully this will be sufficient to get your computer home safely.  However, if your computer fell into the hands of some ruffian with no intention of returning it, things start to get pretty interesting.

The web interface gives you a few tools to deal with a thief.  The least effective (but most amusing) is to order your computer to start yelling out for help.  Sounds good, but the yelling isn’t particularly loud, the default tone sounds like a bored man helping his son rehearse for a school play, and the bad guys can easily remedy the situation by muting the computer.  Your second option is actually pretty impressive.  Using Skyhook Wi-Fi triangulation, you can view a map with an approximation of your computer’s location (as long as it is in a metropolitan area).  I tested it out a few places in San Antonio, and the accuracy was actually pretty stunning. Armed with this information, you could feasibly recover your laptop Jack Bauer-style.  More realistically though, you should call the police and give them the location information.  As fun as this all is, your best option is probably to lock the computer remotely to keep the thief out of your sensitive files. The FrontDoorSoftware web interface will give you a custom unlock code to use when you retrieve the machine.

The one year free deal for students is a no brainer, and a small handful of colleges actually provide the program for all students.  If you know anybody in your school’s IT department, it might be worth showing this off to them.   FrontDoorSoftware isn’t a very well known company, but their product is affordable and works well, even if it could use a facelift.  Nothing will slow you down in college more than a stolen computer, so there’s no reason not to have something like this installed.

Have you ever had to deal with a stolen computer?  Have this or similar software installed?  Let us know in the comments.