Friday, September 3, 2010

My Productivity Toolkit

Everyone has a group of applications they rely on on a daily basis to get things done.  Some go for the high dollar applications.  However, is that necessary?  Can one get away with free applications to “get the job done”.  Sure you can!  You just need to “shop” around and find the perfect combination of tools.  Do not forget that we are living in the age of the “Cloud”, and data storage and retrieval within the cloud is very important.

Browsing

First and foremost we need a browser.  We need something that has instant access to the internet that we so often use.  First, on Windows, you could stick with Internet Explorer.  However, not many people enjoy the experience found with it.  It is also NOT portable.  Interestingly, there are other options that can be installed to a thumb drive and taken with you, if you choose to do it that way.

Mozilla Firefox – With version four right around the corner, and Mozilla Fennec in alpha testing for the Android, this could be your contender.  There are thousands of useful add-ons that help with productivity.  There is also a Firefox to Android add-on that lets you easily push a webpage to your mobile browser for viewing on the go.

Google Chrome – Googles sleek, stylish, and fast browser has been around for at least 2 years now.  Recently they have added the feature of add-ons so it greatly expands on the functionality of the browser.  It also maintains its speed and tenacity with those add-ons.  With Chrome-to-Phone, you can easily send webpages to your Android for quick portable viewing.

Opera – Here is a browser with some serious intent.  It is pretty well available for every smartphone OS out there, including those not released in the US, or do not have a major footing here.  You can find it on the Wii, and DSi gaming consoles.  It is a decent browser that can do the job.  It also serves as a GREAT stock browser replacement for mobile devices that do not offer any other choices.

Dolphin – How about a full featured tabbed browsing experience for your Android?  Dolphin HD is a great browser that beat Mozilla to the punch with the original Dolphin and the newer Dolphin HD browsers.  They offer useful and powerful add-ons, and has a better user experience over the default Android stock browser.

Other Mobile Browser – Stock browsers for your smartphone tends to do just what is needed.  They get the job done, but they don’t do it with many fancy frills.

Email

Outlook is the defacto business email client.  However, what if you don’t want to spend the money, but still need a reliable client?

Windows Live mail – I am bunching these into the same category, even though the first is now dead and only found on Windows Vista.  Windows Live mail integrates with your hotmail and Live email accounts, and any POP3 and IMAP accounts you may have.  There is no add-on features, and the calendar option, Windows Live Calendar, is technically a separate application that works in conjunction with Live mail.

Thunderbird with Lightning – Thunderbird by itself is a great email client, but with add-ons you can expand its power immensely.  Need an integrated calendar in your client?  Lightning is your answer.  You can tie your email and calendar into any POP3 and IMAP account, plus you can tie your Google Calendar directly into your Lightning Calendar extension and have full use of it via a handy app called “Provider for Google Calendar”.

Eudora – This one hasn’t seen an update since 2008, at best.  The 7.1 version listed on the site shows compatibility up to XP!  I don’t recommend it really.

Instant Messaging

Google Talk – This is a lightweight and useful IM client that you can use with your gmail account, or your Google Apps account.  It also is directly tied into your Android phone and your Gmail account.  Google Talk offers Voice and Webcam support.

Yahoo IM – This is one that has been around for over a decade.  It has plenty of features.  Yahoo assures it is secure, as well.  You have great Voice chat and webcam capabilities.  There is also a decent Android App.

Windows Live Messenger – A strong IM client that has been around for almost as long as Yahoo messenger.  Has Webcam and Voice.

AIM – If you need an IM client that has been around since the dawn of the modern internet, then give AIM a whirl.  Todays aim integrates Facebook chat into its client to help expand its user base.  There are a few useful features to utilize.  Just like the rest, there is Webcam and Voice support.  This one is also available for Windows and Mac, and every major Smartphone OS out there, along with a browser version and iPad version.

There are “All-in-One” IM clients available such as Digsby, but you end up loosing many of the features you may have wanted, or needed with the stand alone apps.

Office Suite

OpenOffice.org is your best bet for an installed Office Suite.  It is fully featured with word processor, spreadsheet, database, drawing, and MORE all at your finger tips for not a single dime.  There are some add-ons floating around out there to tie it into the “cloud”, but not many.

Docs – Not Google Docs (that will be next).  This is tied directly into Microsoft Office actually.  It allows you to keep documents in the cloud, and edit them virtually anywhere.  Be aware though.  If the document in question is a little “fancier” than just a standard document, it will require to be downloaded and edited within Word.  It is also tied into Facebook.

Google Docs – Told you it was next.  This is a wonderful online app from Google.  It isn’t as rich and full featured as OpenOffice or MS Office, but it will easily get the job done.  Sadly, Google didn’t create a method of execution for the Android platform, so you can only view documents, not create or edit.

Zoho – Wow, so many tools all up in the cloud used through your browser.  What is better is that if you go to the Zoho Mobile site, you can actually create documents and such from there!  And it is all free for single user use!

Evernote – How about a quick and easy Notepad is all you are needing?  Well Evernote is the tool.  Not only can you access it and use it within a browser, but there is an installable app, and an app for your Android and iPhone!  All of which do exactly the same thing with no loss of functions or features.  There is also a handy add-on for Chrome, Firefox and Thunderbird.

Graphic Design/Photo Editing

GIMP – This is a perfect Photoshop replacement app that is open source.  It isn’t bloated like Photoshop has become, and has all the necessary features you are looking for.

Paint.NET – This is a another perfect app for editing photos and graphic design.  Just like GIMP, this one is free.

Social Networking

Facebook – Seriously?  If you are sitting there wondering what Facebook is, you haven’t been watching TV much, or this is your first time online.  The largest social networks on the planet.  I almost guarantee your grandmother has a profile!

Myspace – The original social networking experience that many of us have cut our teeth on.  It is slowly dying off it would appear as many members are jumping ship over to Facebook, including many of the pioneers that created popular games over there.

Twitter – This is a wonderful app for getting bits of information spread out to many individuals.  The sky is the limit on what you can use Twitter for.

Blogging

Twitter technically fits into this category, but since it is more of a social experience rather than a blogging experience, we will leave it as is.

Wordpress – This is a perfect means of getting a blog written and public.  You can either use Wordpress.com or you can download the PHP app and upload it to a webhosting company, such as HostGator.  With all of the widgets and add-ons available, you can really get blogging.

Blogger – Google bought this one out a long while back, but it is pretty well integrated into Google’s infrastructure.  Plenty of options and features to make your blogging experience worthwhile.

Windows Live Writer – This is an app that comes with the Live Essentials package you download to get all of the Windows Live apps on your computer.  It is an amazingly full featured and powerful blogging application.  I am actually using this app to type up this blog.  You can install add-ons to expand the functionality of the app, and in turn have a much more feature rich blogging experience.

Mobility

So what about mobility?  You need to take all of this on the road with you?  Well if a Laptop or Netbook is not an option for whatever reason, then there is a slew of phones currently available for you.  The question remains, however, what suites your needs best?  Personally, I have found that the Android 2.x platform has fit my needs to a “T”.  I have access to pretty well everything I have mentioned above, minus a good photo editor (there are a couple on the market though).  Email, IM, Web surfing, etc all have been met.  Not to say Blackberry, iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Symbian won’t meet your needs.  It all boils down to the phone design, the features they offer, and what you feel comfortable with.

So, that is my personal Productivity Toolkit.  Some tools are redundant, but sometimes that is what one needs.  Others I may have on the computer, but do not use at all.  Why have them?  They either came with the computer, or were part of a package install.  Either way, What are the tools you prefer?

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