School is in session! We are working out the kinks in the morning routine and homework hour is part of our evening ritual. My family is actually used to the new schedule.One reason it's going well? Technical preparedness.

My son’s laptop is his most-used possession. Before school started, I made him grab it and sit down with me to make sure it was as ready for back to school as the rest of us. I outsourced the time-consuming, patience-demanding portions of this task to a geek-on-call. If you read my column The Benefits of Annual Tech Support Plans you know all about this. But, in a nutshell, I called a toll-free number at McAfee’s Techmaster service (where I have an annual plan), told the tech who answered the phone that I wanted to install new virus protection (his had expired), run a scan for malware, and clean things up so the computer would run a little faster. Then I typed exactly what the rep told me to do into a remote control website, clicked OK a few times, and surrendered control of the computer to the tech on the other end of the phone. Or I should say, I walked my son through doing all of this because I wanted him to know how in case his computer went crazy when I wasn't around to help him fix it. This took about three minutes. When the tech was done, he wished Cole luck with school and logged off.

After, I told Cole he needed real tools for school: A word processor, digital notebook, presentation program, and more. (He’s been getting by with what came on his computer and Google Docs.) And, as it happens, the not-yet-released Microsoft Office 2013 is available right now for a free download while it is in Customer Preview mode. I’ve been using it myself and I like the new, sleek look, the modern updates, and the way it integrates with Microsoft’s cloud storage SkyDrive.

Cole never takes his laptop to school so he often forgets to put completed homework on a flash drive and take it to school. But using this cloud-based storage system means he can access his files from any school computer. You don't need to download the Office 2013 Preview to use Skydrive. SkyDrive is free. But it works nicely with the new office, making the cloud an obvious storage option every time you save.

I sent Cole to the link and he figured out the rest. He liked the new tools, too. For now, he has Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook on his laptop so he can't claim he didn't have what he needed to complete school assignments. Eventually, the preview period will end and Microsoft will want to charge us to keep using the final product. But by then I will know how much Cole uses it. And my budget will have recovered somewhat from all the other back-to-school expenses.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at