I often get asked advice on software and web apps I use to make my life easier and more productive. And occasionally more fun. Although I use Apple Macs, everything below is also available for Windows and, in the case of web apps, completely agnostic when it comes to operating system.
Our lives are increasingly digital: our photos, our music, our videos, our memories. So an effective back-up system isn’t just for businesses, it’s for everybody. What I love about Dropbox is that it’s seamless. On my computer desktop there’s a folder. Anything I put in it gets backed-up to Dropbox. Without me doing a single thing.
Not only does this give me an off-site back-up (all my information and files are securely-held on Dropbox’s systems), it also stores versions of files (that file you accidentally overwrote, get the old version back from Dropbox), it’s accessible via my iPhone (link will open the iTunes store) and I can ‘attach’ two or more machines to the same account, in effect allowing me to back-up and share files between them.
A basic account from Dropbox, offers 2gb of storage and is free. I have a 50gb account, and use it to back-up all my work files, my photo libraries and anything I would be devastated to lose. It costs $9.99 a month but is definitely worth it. A 100gb account is also available for $19.99 a month.
If you want to try out Dropbox, please use this link – it uses their referral programme and will give us both some extra (free) storage.
If you don’t have an account with Skype, you really are missing out. Who doesn’t like free phone calls? As well as being able to make Skype user to Skype user calls for free, there is of course video chat, screen sharing (allowing you to show the person/people you’re speaking your computer screen, which is a great way of demoing things or solving problems) and conference call ability.
And, if you’re ready to take more of a plunge into the world of VoIP (Voice Over IP, internet phone calls in other words), then you can buy a normal phone number from Skype which automatically routes calls to your computer, wherever you are in the world. So say, you have a Leeds number (0113 000 0000) and make ‘normal’ phone calls through the system for a fraction of the cost of BT, Virgin etc.
But, wait, there’s more… there’s also a Skype app for the iPhone. It needs a wifi or 3G connection to work properly but it means, essentially, that if I walk away from my Mac, I can still receive all my Skype calls. How cool’s that?
I’m not some crazy Twitter obsessive but I do use the service pretty much daily. As a mass communication tool it’s priceless (need to crowdsource something? Twitter’s one of the best places to do it) and I also find it extremely-useful as a source of interesting information and ideas from people who I respect. And Tweetdeck makes sorting the wheat from the chaff much, much easier.
The software works through Adobe Air – essentially think of it as a version of Flash – which allows it to work in the same way on PCs and Macs and it can also connect to Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare and many other social network applications. This means that, in one place, you can see what’s happening throughout your social world.
The majority of the large projects I work on require input from a variety of people – clients, collaborators etc – and Basecamp acts as a repository for all the information that needs to be shared.
Part file manager, part diary, past messaging system – Basecamp is a web-based application that allows every aspect of a project to be managed quickly and easily, leading to swifter and less painful delivery of projects.
For example, I use Basecamp to co-ordinate different elements of a project, create To Do lists (and assign the items to different users), define project milestones, share files with the team, upload items for client approval (there’s a commenting system built-in) and send messages to team members.
There is a free version – one project only, no file sharing – which is a good way of finding out if the system’s for you. If it is, the Basic options (15 projects at any one time, 5gb of storage, unlimited users) will set you back $24/month. A small price to pay for the benefits it brings.
That’s enough for now I think. Go have a play and let me know what you think – or if you can recommend anything for Part 2.