Here are some tools that we love, and we think that you should love them too.
Estimate how much you could save by switching to Google Apps.
Online, offsite backups
Backups have entered a new era. Gone are the days of tapes, CD, external hard drive, and USB backups. These help, but they aren’t immune to damage, misplacement, disasters, and other trauma. A fire or even just bumping your backup device the wrong way could mean that you have to kiss your backup data goodbye. Online backups are totally immune to this, since your backup is stored in multiple places across the world or country. All these services are quite secure and have both personal and business options. Carbonite, Mozy, SOS, and IDriveare just a few good ones.
Dropbox’s service allows you to gain access to your personal documents no matter where you are. Once you install this small program, it becomes a folder on your computer that at first seems like any other folder where you might store your files. But, behind the scenes, everything in this folder is synced with your online dropbox account. This allows you to access your files from anywhere that has internet access. You can access your files directy on dropbox.com or install the program for a more familiar “folder-like” interface. It’s great for individual or collaborative use.
Secure your data with FBI-level encryption for free. This program is completely open source and has top-notch security with several handy features as well. It’s the best of the open-source data security programs.
Here’s some more detail on a specific online backup service for your computer’s data. First, you simply install Mozy and tell it which of your files are important (and it’s pretty good at guessing anyway). Then this little program will securely upload your data to your online Mozy account. The data is well encrypted, so you don’t have to worry about security breaches. Also, this service keeps your backup data constantly up to date; it uploads any changes that you’ve made to your data a couple times per day without you even noticing! There are business and personal versions of this application.
This is another backup service very similar to Mozy in almost every respect. It deserves to be mentioned separately from Mozy because it’s just as good while it has a couple differences. The services, interface, and pricing are largely identical. Much of the decision between Mozy and Carbonite probably just comes down a matter of taste for which application feels friendlier to you. Again, there are business and personal versions of this application.
AutoHotkey is a really powerful free keyboard macro program. Basically, it runs in the background and responds to you every time you hit a certain keystroke. We would argue that the two most practical uses for everyday users are (1) spelling correction (works in ANY program that you’re typing in) and (2) shortcuts for commonly typed text like email addresses, phone numbers, and mailing addresses. This is really handy for automating and speeding up the repetitive entries that we’re all familiar with in both professional and personal computing. For more detail on how to use AutoHotkey, see our blog post about it.
Google Voice is like having your own personal phone switchboard operator. When you sign up for a (free) account, you get a phone number. When people call this phone number, you can designate which phone(s) it forwards to. It can ring your work phone, your cell phone, your home phone, or all of them simultaneously (delivering the call to whichever picks up first). You can set up custom voicemail greetings based on who is calling you, and there’s even a “do not disturb” setting! You can also give Google Voice permission to “hijack” your cell phone’s normal voicemail service so that all your messages flow through Google Voice. In addition, Google will transcribe your voicemails for you so that you can read them instead of listening to them. This is handy for organizing your various contacts—professional, personal, etc.
This isn’t an application like some of the other items on the resource list. Instead, it’s already built into your computer. There are a million common, repetitive tasks that we perform on computers constantly (copy, paste, “undo,” etc.), and there are shortcut keys for most of those things. It might not seem like grabbing the mouse, clicking on “Edit,” then clicking on “Copy” takes a long time, but once you press “Ctrl+C” you realize that you can trim 3 seconds down to about 3 milliseconds. Multiply that time gain by a couple hundred times per day and it’s a pretty significant gain for both work and home computing. (Add to this the fact that when you feel like you’re going fast it motivates you to go even faster.) The other good news is that most shortcuts work in every program. Try “Ctrl+Z” basically anywhere and it will perform the “undo” function. Sharpened.net has a good list for both PCs and MACs.
This lovely little program can save you a lot of hurt. When focusing on work in the office, we sometimes lose track of how long we’ve been hunched over our computers. We are usually first notified by a pain in our back, wrists, shoulders, neck, etc., at which point it’s a too late to avoid discomfort possibly for the rest of the day. Workrave is an open source (free) program that monitors your computer activity and alerts you when you’ve been continuously at your computer for x minutes. It prompts you to get up and move around for a couple minutes and stretch. It’s completely configurable: set the timers however you like, whether the alarm is “snoozable,” and whether or not it locks down your controls when it pops up. Try out this RSI prevention tool.
Many enjoy the feature-rich Microsoft Office, but don’t like the high cost of licensing. Many small businesses find themselves reluctantly purchasing Microsoft’s expensive software as a sort of necessary evil. Sure, Microsoft’s software is really nice, but isn’t there some more cost-effective option for those that maybe don’t need all the bells and whistles? Yes. OpenOffice.org is the premier open-source (that is, free and open to the public) office suite. It has fully featured programs that are very comparable to MS Office’s program set with clones of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. There are some small bugs and drawbacks with OpenOffice.org, but nothing of true concern for a business that’s only concerned with the basics. For convenience, it can open and save into Microsoft Office formats. And, again, the sticker price is tough to beat.
Everyone needs anti-virus software to protect their PC. Most PCs come with a “complementary” 1-year subscription to some paid anti-virus software. This all seems well and good until that year is up and you are prompted to cough up more money to renew the subscription. Once you say yes, you’re hooked into the trap. Here’s the little secret: there are many free anti-virus programs on the market that are not only competent but actually outperform some of the popular paid versions according to AV-Comparatives.org. Gizmo’s has a good list to give you a taste. Check them out and at least consider getting rid of your paid anti-virus subscription.
Basecamp is an online project collaboration tool. It’s a clean and simple interface in which you can organize and track projects, tasks, milestones, deadlines, sharing interactive whiteboard space, etc. Task tracking within Basecamp integrates well with your email account, so that emails about projects are even recorded in the central online Basecamp workspace. It’s great for projects with coworkers, partners, or anyone that you share tasks with. There are several different packages that you can sign up for, and there’s even a free version if you closely enough.
Have you ever “Googled” your name or the name or your business? It’s nice to know what people are saying about your business or organization. Whether the buzz is good or bad, it’s good to know what’s being said. It’s also good to know what sorts of things people might find out about you if they try to look for information. Google Alerts monitors new material that Google’s web-crawling machines finds. So, you can basically enter any word or phrase that you like and Google alerts will notify you whenever it finds something new that fits your criteria. It’s great for having a heads up on the internet presence of pretty much anything you want…maybe even a competitor.