Tools: Software & Services

This page serves as a frequently updated list of software and web services that I use on a regular basis. It’s stuff we’re using in and around the house, stuff we rely on and trust, for the most part. It replaces a page I used to maintain over at aaronpressman.com. You can also read about computer systems, computer peripherals, other hardware as well as stuff I’m just messing with.

(Last updated April 13, 2013)

In November, 2012, I switched my main system from a MacBook Pro running OS X 10.8 “Mountain Lion” to a Thinkpad X1 Carbon running Windows 8. That entailed a massive software switch, although almost all the programs I really relied on were cross-platform.

For example, back on the Mac, I had switched to Postbox, which is insanely fast at handling my thousands of archived messages and has full color, labeled icons. The Windows edition is just as great and you can literally drag and drop your personal folder from a Mac to a PC and back again to switch versions. Postbox also has ingenious integration with DropBox for sharing files and with Facebook and LinkedIn for gathering contacts and displaying profile photos. I’ve installed the Zindus add-on to sync the address book with my Google contacts. To get Google Calendar onto my PC even when offline, I’m running Google Calendar Sync into a copy of Microsoft Outlook (but it may be getting killed soon).

For everyday web browsing, I am using Google’s super-speedy Chrome browser, now at version Version 26.etc.etc.etc for those of you keeping score at home. In my Chrome extensions, you’ll find buttons for sending links to Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, Pocket, Evernote and Hacker News as well as the bit.ly link shortener (for posting to Twitter) and 1Password’s super-cool tool. Chrome-to-phone sends links to my Android phone.

As far as Windows utilities go, I am totally dependent on Pokki Menu to make Window 8 usable. It lets you boot directly to the desktop and gives you an improved start menu that Microsoft should have included. Microsoft’s Snipping Tool does a good job creating all the screen captures I need for blogging.

On the Mac, I frequently switched Twitter clients, although I probably most liked Osfoora. On Windows, I am mostly using the stand-alone version of Tweetdeck. On my Android phone, I’m loving the Boid app for Twitter, although I miss the old red on white background theme. And on the iPad, I use Tweetbot.

I used to use Lifli Software’s iBlog to write this blog but I switched to WordPress because it has so many more features and better integrates with the tagged world at large. Kudos to my web hosting service, Bluehost, for making WordPress installation easy and free. Comments go through Disqus, aiding the conversational flow. And I’m loving all the new features WordPress finally decided to grant to us self-hosters in its Jetpack plug-in in March, 2011. And the WordFence plug in keeps the bad guys out.

Backing up…we all dread it, we all hate it, we all have to do it or we’ll be sorry. Apple gave us Time Machine and Microsoft has finally gotten around to making a decent copy, called File History. It’s not quite as auto-magical as Time Machine and has some annoying limits on which files can be included but it will do for now. For off-site backup, I had to switch from Mozy, which I joined in April, 2007, to CrashPlan, which I I blogged about on February 1, 2011. I also use DropBox for syncing files that I’m working on or need to access quickly on multiple machines.

Note taking is a critical need. I’ve tried zillions of programs and techniques and strategies and I was never been completely satisfied until I hit upon Evernote. This is one crazy program that can suck in notes, web pages, scanned photos of business cards, PDFs and pretty much anything I’ve thrown its way. Even more amazingly, all my stuff is accessible through client software on the Mac, PC, iPhone, Android, Blackberry or Evernote’s web site. I also had to switch my public bookmarks keeper from Yahoo’s on-again, off-again Delicious service to Pinboard. Pinboard isn’t free but hopefully that means it will be around for years to come. I reviewed Evernote on January 22, 2010 and you can see my Pinboard stream here.

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Since 2008, I’ve been using Zenfolio to host my online photos. It provides a truly beautiful slideshow experience and unlimited storage space for $40 a year.

Social networking site Facebook has become a multiple-times-a-day destination for me to check in on the doings of a global village worth of former co-workers, friends from school and distant relatives. And I really enjoy the integration with other services and applications like Yelp and GoodReads. I’m also getting into Google+ as a kind of Twitter+.

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For photo management and editing, I rely on Adobe’s Lightroom, Both Apple and Adobe recognized there was a need for a high-end photo management and development tool. I found Lightroom was easier to work with and had more features to ease the task of importing, tagging, sorting and developing my pictures. I wrote a lengthy blog review of Lightroom on May 8, 2007. I upgraded to Lightroom 2.0 in August, 2008 and to 3.0 in 2010 and to 4.0 in 2012.

Need to get some songs from a CD onto your iPod? Simple – pop the disk in your computer and let iTunes “rip” the files to MP3. But what about getting that movie you just paid for on DVD onto your iPod? For that you need Handbrake. This brilliant little utility “rips” movies into a wide variety of digital formats depending o the digital device you’re aiming to watch them on. It can take an hour or more but it’s worth it to get entertainment on the go.

1Password app iconI would never be able to remember all the ridiculous sign-in names and passwords in my life without some password helper, really just a program to manage an encrypted database with all the big secrets. I used to use Wallet by Acrylic Software but they had no Android version when I switched smartphones in the fall of 2010. Now I’m using the wonderful 1Password which seems to have a version for every operating system on the planet. It automagically syncs via my free Dropbox account.

Well, at least so far, I’ve found no way to exist in the world of professional writing and journalism without Microsoft Office, if for no other reason than the fact that everyone else is using it (especially on Windows). I’m running the standard edition of Office 2010 and it has all of the same features of prior incarnations but I am not a fan at all of the ribbon interface that replaced old-fashioned menus. Hopefully someday I will find a way to hack it into a useful set up. I will never stop saying good things about Excel, the program that made me look like a computer genius back in 1989 and still sets the bar both for ease of use and super-powered features, in my opinion, and that’s pretty rare.

Since switching to Windows, I have been in need of some additional writing tools, particularly a light-weight HTML editor and something for offline blog post compositions. Early in 2013, I’m using the free BlueGriffon as an HTML editor that’s simple but not too simple. MarkdownPad is a kind of cool way to write bits of blog posts with HTML code. I’m also futzing with Windows Live Writer as an offline blogging tool that communicates well with WordPress.

I am not the world’s greatest authority on mobile apps. On the iPad, some of my most-used apps are Evernote, the Kindle ereader, HBO Go and World of Goo. On Android, I use a lot of the stock apps from Google. CalenGoo is a way better calendar front-end, though. I’m liking Feedly as an RSS reader app since Google announced its own reader would be turned off in July, 2013. Boid is currently my Twitter client of choice, though it still has some stability issues. Lookout Security is protecting me from malware, mobile WordPress is letting me blog and see my blog stats and Book Catalogue in combinations with Barcode Scanner is assembling my online scifi book catalog at LibraryThing. For collecting and listening to Podcasts, I’m using the excellent Pocket Casts. And Amazon’s Cloud music player holds an unlimited amount of music and brings it down where and when I want it.

Other stuff: Systems, Computer Peripherals, Other Hardware, Just messing with