Apps of the Week

Apps of the Week

Today, while flying over my beloved Rocky Mountain on the way to Phoenix to support my son Gabe as he competes in the Western Region Oireachtas Irish dance competition, this theme occured to me. As I have thought about the wide variety of topics on which I have written over the years, it became clear to me that one of the reasons that my posts have been so bursty is that I, as many before me, have wondered what I have to say that would be of the most interest. Over on the RedSeal blog, I post frequently on topics of cybersecurity and related networking challenges. However, especially when I wrote a column for InfoWorld, it was clear that there were topics that resonate and which people find helpful. 

Given the shift in applications over the past few years, it seems there is an interest in the systems and applications I use to do the work I do, both in my home office and as I travel to support clients around the world. So, beginning with the next post in the Technology section of the blog, I'll share with you the apps I use, how I use them, and why I like them. 

Purpose 

I could, of course, do this for any number of reasons, including that I'm being paid to do so. Let me start by saying that I am not. While I have acted as a beta tester for a number of the applications I'll be describing, most are simply those I have found by trial and error to be useful and effective for my work. You'll have to decide if they fit your needs and wants, and I'll do my best to help you with that process. Also, if you have questions about particular workflows, types of apps, others that I have tried but don't use, and so on, please ask.  

Also, perhaps through this process you and I will have an opportunity to influence some of the existing and emerging applications, and that seems like a reasonable purpose, as well. 

Most of all, it is my deepest desire to see you able to do your best art, whether it's writing a book, building software or hardware, teaching, or expressing yourself in any other way. If my insights into the applications you can use to make that work more effective is helpful, I will be delighted. 

Platform

The vast majority of my work is done on an Apple device. I use an iPad and iPhone (which run iOS), a MacBook Pro Retina, and an old 2008 Mac Pro (which run OS X) for my personal work. There are times when clients require me to use a Windows system, so there are some Windows applications that I use to shortcut and otherwise help me do good work in that environment, but for Windows applications (or Android, for that matter), my insights will be quite limited.

Perspective

There are a number of ways to view applications, the data on which they operate, and the systems and devices involved in the process. I have a very specific view that colors virtually everything I do: data is central and applications manipulate it. Applications are windows into and tools to manipulate data that is stored independently, accessible from any device anywhere. The ubiquitous Internet means that your data is available almost everywhere, and applications caching means that you can always have a copy of your data that will sync up when you are back online. As a result, my application choices and preferences are biased towards those that combine these fundamental concepts:

  1. availability across all my devices or cooperative interaction with an app on the other devices. For example, there are times when the same app isn't available on OS X and iOS, but there are apps that interact with the data compatibly, but in ways that take advantage of the particular characteristics of the different environments (touch versus keyboard interactivity, for example).
  2. caching. I am on airplanes and international destinations where use of cellular data is quite costly frequently enough that I must be able to cache data on my devices to continue to use it even when I'm offline. As I type this post, for example, I'm at 34,000' into Desk, I am not connected to the Internet. I'll post it when I get to my hotel, losing nothing in the process.
  3. cooperation. Apps that cooperate with other apps that I use help me more than those which are isolationist.
  4. nothing's perfect. I am always looking for apps to align more closely with the way I think, my preferences, and my workflow. Sometimes, I'll have 3 or 4 apps I'm using for the same thing, experimenting to determine which one fits best.

I think that's about it. Let me know if there are applications, workflows, or other related areas that pose as challenges or create questions for you. I'll do my best to address them either in a post or with a direct response.

Let's go!

Keeping Account: Accounting Software for Small Business

Yesterday, I heard from David Matthew after he completed a very thorough review of small business accounting systems from Intuit (the company that brings you the venerable QuickBooks) and Peachtree, a long-time PC-based accounting system that has played second-fiddle to QuickBooks. His review includes a couple of very useful charts to compare the two, giving you a very good way of selecting between the two.

In our conversation, I mentioned to him that I'd encourage an expansion to include my current tool, Less Accounting (http://lessaccounting.com/), which is a hosted solution that I find exceptionally productive.

Check them out and let me know what you think!

Evernote: Notes Anywhere and Everywhere

With the emergence of real mobility as demonstrated by the Apple iPhone, Google Nexus One, Microsoft Windows Phone, Windows netbooks, and now the Apple iPad, we have a new problem: keeping track of our data and making sure that it's available everywhere we might want it. Last week, I wrote about using Dropbox to keep track of all of our files, and it is a key component to the overall system of keeping track of your stuff. Another key is to be able to capture notes, photos, web pages, and even screen shots and have them organized and available wherever you are and whichever of your devices is at hand.

Enter Evernote, the ubiquitous capture tool.

Like Dropbox, Evernote is a system designed from the cloud out, and it uses the cloud for some very interesting functions that I'll discuss more in a bit. First, though, let's look at the basic functions.

Capturing Where You Are

One of the keys to your personal organization is being able to capture your ideas, notes from meetings, white boards, web sites, and your computer screen in the moment wherever you are. Evernote is the tool I use to do that.

Two weeks ago, a prospective client invited me into their headquarters to meet with the CEO, President, two Vice-Presidents, and a member of their board who had introduced them to me. As we sat in the executive suite, I pulled out my iPad to take notes and opened Evernote. I typed into Evernote during the meeting, capturing their concerns, the key outcomes they wanted, the people involved, and the next steps. Then, before I left, I sync'd the note to the cloud. When I arrived back to my office, the notes were already there. They were on my iPhone, too. In other words, I could go to work on the project using my other computers without skipping a beat.

That's how I want to work! Do it once, use it everywhere. Perfect.

iPad App

The Evernote iPad app has even more interesting capabilities that make the overall system more powerful. For example, you can view all of your notebooks and see the number of notes in each:

You can also see everywhere that you created notes, provided the device you were using allowed Evernote to figure that out:

And you can look at all of your notes by tags that you create and assign to your notes:

Cloud Functions

In addition to the synchronization functions, and browser-based access to your notes, the Evernote servers also process your image notes and perform character recognition (OCR) on them so you can search their content. This is especially useful when you've taken a photo of a whiteboard and loaded it into your Evernote notebook.

The servers also organize your files using metadata plus information you enter yourself such as tags and the notebook into which you store it.

Together this creates a powerful storage and recovery environment for text, images, audio, PDFs, digital ink, and attached files (the latter with the premium service only).

Try it and let me know how it works for you.