Shortlist of productivity tools for people who move around a lot

December 4th, 2006 by Adam

These are my favorites: they are mostly free, targeted toward typical Microsoft users, and generally useful for maintaining your distributed office.

1. Hard drive indexer

Google Desktop

Windows doesn’t have a good hard drive search functionality. This software will maintain a full text index of everything on your hard drive, including email and browser history. It utilizes the standard google web interface, but searches locally. This is an extremely useful productivity tool as it allows you to quickly find old email, documents and webpages which you once viewed regardless of how organized your PC is.

2. MS Outlook synchronizer


There is no good free version of this sort of thing as far as I can tell. But there is a free trial of SynchPst. It will syncronize mail folders, contacts and events between two installations of MS Outlook.

Not sure what is available for Thunderbird users.

3. Directory synchronizer

Allway sync:

Synchronizes various distributed directories over a local network connection. If your MS Outlook synchronizer doesn’t do this already, then this free software that will synchronize any folders you select. For example, it will synchronize your laptop and desktop anytime you connect them to the same network, copying the new files over and replacing older files with updated versions. Also useful with thumb drives. You can also pay to have Avvenu syncronize your directories via the internet (see below).

4. Easy remote access to hard drives (plus optional synchronization)


Free, and very easy way to search within and access the contents of your hard drive from anywhere via the internet. Install the client on any computer to which you would like to have access, and you will then be able to browse the hard drive via a password-protected web interface as long as the computer is online. If you pay a monthly fee, you get server space from Avvenu where the content is also copied, enabling you to browse files even if the computer of interest is offline. This upgrade also enables the automatic synchronization of directories between two computers–directory contents are updated automatically over the web. (Avvenu depends on google desktop to index hard drive content for full text searches.)

5. Web-based word processing and collaborative document production

Google docs:

Google recently bought and launched Writely, the web-based document creation software. Now called google docs, you can create, collaborate on, and share documents and spreadsheets using the web-based word processor, then publish them as a file on your hard drive (e.g. a Word .doc), a publicly viewable web page, or blog a entry. It’s a very good tool as long as you and your collaborators have good internet connectivity. You don’t need to move files around from one computer to another. I think you need a google account.

6. Voice over internet


Skype is commonly used and clearly useful for voice over internet and chats.

7. Messaging and chat


Distributed offices often rely upon messaging/chat tools for quick communication and file transfer. There are many platforms, including MSN messenger, Yahoo messaging, Google Gtalk, Skype etc. Trillian speaks all the languages, functioning as a single client interface from which you can manage messaging contact lists and conversations. Yo have to pay for some of the extensions, e.g. the google extension (jabber protocol).

8. Tabbed browser with RSS aggregation capability

Internet Explorer 7:

Many people still use IE 6 or below–these are really primitive and browsers. Tabbed browsers let you to open up many different web pages under a series of tabs, allowing you to conduct concurrent, multi-branched internet searches, or to create a profiles of related websites or web-based tools. Furthermore, open tabs or tab profiles can be saved and opened again when you re-open the browser. Built in RSS aggregator allows you to quickly manage and scan syndicated content from you browser. Built-in bookmark or favorites organization are also very useful for remembering your way around the internets

Firefox was by far the most advanced browser in all these areas, but IE has caught up with the release of IE 7. The default way of handling RSS in IE 7 is probably better than Firefox. I would suggest IE 7 if you just want to install and use it right away. Firefox is ultimately more powerful, but it achieves this through extension and customization. Whatever you choose, spending about 30 minutes reading the online documentation and learning how to use your browser up to its potential is extremely well spent time.

9. To do list / Task management


-Adam Papendieck. 12.04.06. This is a work in progress..

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