Back in April, 2009, I put up a post complaining about MS Word and musing about the possibility of switching to another word-processing program. I’m almost embarrassed to report that, after spending some time trying to migrate to Apple’s Pages (a nice little program in many ways), I crawled back to the overwhelming industry standard. Word still infuriates me in many ways, but I’ve yet to find a program that practically replaces it.
Nevertheless, I found the little discussion of other possibilities–and the investigation of those possibilities–intriguing. So I figured I’d start a similar conversation again, this time using as a starting point some computer tools that I actually enjoy. Though I doubt any of the programs I discuss below the fold will be new to the readers of this blog, perhaps my positive experiences with them will encourage others to give them a shot. And I hope you’ll reciprocate by suggesting things that you’ve found helpful that I may not have thought of using.
One of the programs that I most rely on is Eastgate’s Tinderbox. Most often described as a notetaking program, Tinderbox is actually a lot more. I use it primarily to keep track of my notes on my book project. But it’s also been great for taking notes on the candidates for a job search that I’m chairing. Though it has an extraordinarily loyal group of users, Tinderbox suffers a bit because it’s hard to explain what it does…and because, though it’s very easy to use, one always has the impression that one is just scratching the surface of its capabilities. The image at the top of this post is a good example of the sort of thing that Tinderbox can do. It’s a tree of American historiography which graduate student Dan Allosso put together and posted late last year to The Historical Society’s blog. For a closer look at the tree–and a discussion of how Dan made it–check out the original post here (h/t Mark Bernstein, the designer of Tinderbox).
Tinderbox is only currently available for Macintosh (though other versions are apparently in the works). And at $249, it is a little pricey, though you can demo it for free. Luckily, Eastgate has just come out with Twig, which appears to be a kind of Tinderbox Lite. At $79, it’s considerably less expensive (though still Mac only).
A much less expensive–and more universally common tool–that I find indispensable is Dropbox, a little program that makes syncing files across one’s computers (and iOS devices) incredibly simple. Dropbox works with Windows, Mac, Linux, and most mobile operating systems. And the first 2 GB of storage are free. My guess is that most of you already use it, but if you don’t, just download it and give it a spin.
Even more ubiquitous than Dropbox is the free mediaplayer VLC. Again, I assume that most of you already know and rely on this little piece of freeware that will play just about any media format. But if you don’t, download it now and give it a spin. There’s a version for just about any operating system you’ve heard of (and probably a few that you haven’t).
Until about a month ago, I’d have sung the praises of the cloud-based back-up service Mozy, which offered limited online backup for free and unlimited backup from a single computer for a very reasonable annual fee. But in January, Mozy announced that they were eliminating their unlimited backup service and were instead essentially charging by the GB. (To their credit, they gave their users advance notice, which in turn gave us time to find another service to use before canceling our Mozy accounts.) After doing a little research, the best option for me turned out to be CrashPlan, whose Crashplan+ Family Unlimited service will allow me to back up every computer in my household much more cost-effectively than Mozy’s new pricing scheme would allow.
What software (or hardware) are you finding particularly useful these days?