I’m on the computer a lot (over 40 hours/wk), and there are a few tools I’ve noticed I have on every computer that have become a standard part of my setup.
On my Mac, I tend to use Safari, but at work and on any PC I’m on, I use Firefox. Safari pissed me off a couple of days ago (Flash crashed it again again again), so I set Firefox as my default browser (I’m using it to write this, in fact). It seems that even the worst AJAX-abusing web sites work in Firefox, it’s pretty standard across all platforms, and it wraps plugins well enough that when certain Adobe products explode, the browser just displays “Sorry, the flash plugin has crashed” or similar, instead of crashing itself. Firefox pre-3.6 was frickin’ slow, but 3.6 is about as fast as Safari. Of course, I do lose syncing of bookmarks to my iPhone, but honestly I almost never use bookmarks on my iPhone.
I used to use 1Password, but Lastpass took over because 1Password didn’t work on Linux (it may now, I don’t know). I still run 1Password (Pro) on my iPhone, but that’s mainly to look up passwords that aren’t in Lastpass yet. Lastpass is web based, which makes it really convenient if you end up on a hotel computer and need to log into a web site, and may not have your iPhone handy. Of course, there’s also an iPhone app, but I haven’t gotten that yet. 1Password also requires too much setup: you need to store your password file somewhere and sync it yourself (via Dropbox, iDisk, whatever), and the iPhone sync requires you to manually run the program on your Mac and phone at the same time. See, Winbloz users just went away. Lastpass just lets you store passwords. It handles the syncing (to their servers), and is still secure, because they’re just storing encrypted information.
I’ve used a lot of blogging products over the years, starting with straight HTML in a text editor. WordPress has great features, and is the standard for setting up a blog. I use the installed version, which is conveniently a 1-click install through Simplescripts on my current web host. Before this host, I installed it myself (and even wrote scripts to do installs/upgrades automatically before that was built in). Current wordpress is stable, feature-rich, and very easy to use. Themes and plugins usually work with little modification (you used to have to tweak the heck out of things to make a new theme work – “Widgets” fixed that). Updates are automatic like most desktop software these days. The Askimet plugin combined with the “Bad Behavior” plugin stop 99% of my comment spam (which is a huge problem and time sucker if you’re setting up a blog these days). WordPress lets you set up a blog very quickly and easily, and add/change features as you go. In short, it’s quite flexible, but easy to get started with. Although you can use it as a CMS to set up web sites (and I have), it’s really designed as a blog platform, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re trying to find a web site builder. If your web site is a blog with some extra pages, however, WordPress is fine.
This is a must on all my computers now. Dropbox’s syncing is impeccably handled, it works on all platforms, and it allows 1-click sharing of folders. I have an “Assistant Share” folder (shared with my assistant and girlfriend), a “Bookkeeping” folder (shared with my bookkeeper), and an “Accounting” folder (shared with my accountant). If I need to get tax documents to my accountant, I just drop them into my Accounting folder, and they’re on her computer immediately. Need to update some procedures for my assistant – I update the document in my “Assistant Share” folder. The syncing is immediate and I have never had a problem with file conflicts (well, I did once, but my girlfriend was copying files into her Dropbox folder and I moved them on mine while they were syncing. Even then, cleanup was pretty quick, and Dropbox didn’t break anything – just moved the files I said to move, while leaving others in place because she’d just put them there). To share a folder, you control-click (or right-click) and select “Share” (the option varies slightly depending on the OS you’re running). Works on Linux, Mac, and Winblows.
I had to use a PC for work, and I tolerated Windows for a couple days of instability on it before I borrowed my friend’s Ubuntu CD. I still prefer MacOS X, but if I can’t use it for some reason, Ubuntu’s next in line. In some ways I even prefer it to MacOS. Software updates (for all software) are built in. You can customize the desktop to behave like Windows or MacOS X, or some weird hybrid if you want. It’s almost as stable as MacOS X (although I do run into occasional glitches that require a Google search to remedy). It’s got a good user base, so most issues you run into can be solved by Googling and following the instructions someone’s spelled out. It’s 99% an end-user-friendly OS now, including Firefox, OpenOffice, an iTunes-like music player/store (which even has Last.fm built in), and a host of other applications pre-installed. Getting new software is unique – you go to the “Software Center” menu item and search (or browse by categories such as Office, Entertainment, etc). Most software is free (open-source). Software updates are usually automatic, as when you “download” software, you’re not actually downloading an application, but installing a package description, which then tells the software update tool (“package manager”) to include that software in its updates. Fancy. To the end user, that means that the software just magically stays up to date. Plus, it’s free, and in many cases better than certain commercial equivalents. (I don’t bother with MS Office any more, as OpenOffice runs on PC/Mac/Linux).
I don’t know anyone who isn’t a Netflix subscriber, but I figured I’d mention it anyway. I use it both for DVDs and to Watch Instantly on my Mac and the PS3. Netflix jumped in as part of the beginning of the switch from broadcast to on-demand content. (Tivo was the other part).
So that’s a few of my favorite non-obvious tools. I also use the iPhone, running Shazam, Omnifocus, Now Playing and Siri on my home screen. (Now Playing is there to add movies to my Netflix queue when I see cool previews). Shazam is awesome for figuring out “what’s that song”, and Omnifocus is the best GTD-based organization software for Mac/iPhone (although the lack of a Linux version is problematic for me – if there was an equivalent web-based tool with an iPhone app I’d use that instead).[ad#Adsense]