Products and services I’m trying out followed by a virtual graveyard of stuff that didn’t make the cut. For what has made the grade, see my pages on main systems, computer peripherals, software and web services and other gear.
(Last updated April 13, 2013)
I recently converted from Mac OS 10.8 to Windows 8 on my main system. Windows 8. Hmm. Yeah. Umm. Well, let’s just say it’s not quite perfect yet. The loss of the start menu and the many steps required to perform simple tasks (like looking for your list of all programs or restarting the computer) can be pretty annoying. So in November, 2012, I turned to Pokki Menu to resolve all those issues and more. It’s really an evolution of the start menu that works even better — at least so far. There’s a lot of competition in this space, so I may swap out Pokki if a better alternative comes along.
To get around some of the wifi dead spots in my old, brick house, I used to use a bunch of Powerline HD Ethernet adapters running on our standard U.S. 110 volt electrical system. But since Verizon FiOS let me add a couple of Actiontec coaxial cable to ethernet extenders, brick walls messing with wifi signals have become much less of a problem. I blogged about the HDX101 and prior, slower incarnations of Netgear’s lectro-networking gear on August 17, 2007.
When I switched from using a Macbook Pro to a Thinkpad in November, 2012, I handed off my excellent Apple 24″ LED Cinema Display to my daughter. It’s still an amazing docking solution — with three quick cords to connect to a Mac laptop, you get a huge screen, speakers, a full-size keyboard and mouse plus a built-in iSight webcam. I reviewed the monitor on March 2, 2010.
Since 2005, I’ve been purchasing mobile broadband devices for my laptops, seemingly flipping back and forth between Sprint and Verizon every two years. In 2012, we jumped over to T-Mobile for the awesome flexibility and low price of their prepaid service. T-Mobile supplied a mobile hotspot made by ZTE that’s small and seems to last for several hours on one battery charge. But when i switched my main mobile phone (a Nexus 4 with hot spot capability) back to T-Mobile in March, 2013, I didn’t need a separate gizmo anymore.
In February, 2012, I started messing with Hibari, a minimalist Twitter client on the Mac with cool features like the ability to exclude all tweets containing a keyword (Goodbye stupid Jeremy Lin tweets!). It lacked too many of the basics and I switched to Osfoora a few weeks alter.
In December, 2010, I switched from the world of iPhone to the world of Android. That meant my huge investment in iTunes and a lot of its content was now a liability. So in search of some kind of syncing and tracking media solution for my Nexus S, I started messing with doubleTwist. But it was constantly crashing and freezing on my MacBook Pro. The arrival of not one but two cloud music services, from Google and Amazon, meant curtains for doubleTwist before the end of 2011.
I tried super-powered screenshot utility Skitch, which also includes some social and data-mining features. There was total feature overload and I found the click-dragging of thin frame borders to set up my screenshots annoying. So I canned it and went back to Grab. Lately, I’ve been using SnapNDrag instead. More recently, Evernote bought Skitch so I really should check in and see if things have improved.
I tried out the cloud-based WordPress backup system called Vaultpress. Install a special plugin and the service backs up your entire blog, updating the backup whenever you update your blog and saving it to a Vaultpress site. Supposedly, the backup contains everything. But it cost $180 a year, too rich for my blood. Back to making manual back ups with the export menu as well as the WordPress Database Backup plug-in.
On a Twitter-related note, I generally go to Twitter’s web site to read and post tweets but it’s less than optimal. I tried out the premium version of Twitterific for Mac but the color scheme drove me batty and there was too much info in the main window at one time. Trying Twitter’s own free-standing Mac app now.
For a while in the pre-Chrome era, I relied on the Xmarks add-on to Firefox to synchronize bookmarks and passwords among my various browser installations on different computers. But eventually Firefox Sync came along and seemed more straightforward. And then in October, 2010, Xmarks kind of, sort of went out of business.
With Verizon FiOS, a second line is just $10 bucks a month. That eroded the advantage we were getting from using Gizmo Project and a little grey box from Sipura (a Cisco company). The box provided iffy sound quality at times and was a bear to reconfigure, too. And the Gizmo Project itself has since been discontinued, alas.
I love Tivo dearly but getting things off the machine and onto our iPods and iPads hasn’t always easy or quick. Tivo is on our home network so I messed around with the free TivoDecode Manager. Sadly, it locked up frequently and took a long, long time to transfer shows. I switched to using the Tivo Transfer program from Toast Titanium 8, and later versions, instead.
Amazon started out as a book seller but it has morphed and evolved multiple times. These days, the Seattle-based web company is offering an online storage service at dirt cheap prices. Called S3, it can store whatever you want in a secure, encrypted online locker for 15 cents a month per gigabyte used and 20 cents per gigabyte transferred. Several software utilities cropped up to let Mac OS X users easily transfer stuff to S3. I messed with Jungle Disk and S3 browser, so far. Unfortunately, even on on our gee-whiz fast cable modem, all of the software was slow as molasses and lacking in user-friendly backup features. I switched to using Mozy instead and later CrashPlan.
When I got a Treo for work, I picked up a copy of the Missing Sync: Palm Edition, which helped connect much of my existing Mac-centered data to the phone. But as time went on, the Missing Sync started missing more stuff. And instead of improving the program, publisher mark/Space wanted me to shell out for a full upgrade to the new version. Pass. Now the Treo is long gone.
I’m always on the look-out for new reading material and, at least in theory, a combination social networking and book listing service like Shelfari might help. But I switched to GoodReads at the prompting of a friend and haven’t looked back. More people I know are using it and it has excellent Facebook integration.
There are also innumerable widgets and plug-ins that I’ve tried at one time or another for my WordPress blog set up. For example, for a while I thought if I added the ability for readers to rate each post, I’d generate more interactions and comments. So I added the plug-in WP-Postratings. But few people rated anything, so I canned it. I also canned the WordPress Mobile plug-in when I shifted to a cleaner and simpler theme.
I frequently want to toss a web address into a Twitter post, so I tried a Firefox add-in called TinyURL Creator, which adds a menu to the browser letting me instantly turn the page I’m reading into a TinyURL on the clipboard, ready for pasting into a tweet. One big problem — I’m not using TinyURL anymore because Bit.ly has additional features, like tracking how many people click on my shortened link. Bit.ly also has a bookmarklet for Firefox or Safari that takes me immediately from a web page I want to tweet to its own Twitter-enabled page.
A throw back to the olden days of word processing, Writeroom is a modern software program that attempts to remove all distractions when you are writing by taking up the whole screen. There are no toolbars or menus visible and the display is green lettering on a black background. I’m just not doing enough long-form or fiction writing, however, to need the distraction-free screen much.