Clients often ask us what the best program or device is for a certain task, and we love giving good recommendations. We use a plethora of tools and devices that help make managing networks, getting work done and collaborating with our fellow technocrats a cinch. Everyday we use applications that help us synchronize files and notes back to our homes and phones, use programs without having to install them on local hard drives, keep up with news and social information and everything in between — here’s a list of 10 of our favorites and must-haves.
It’s impossible to talk about our favorite applications without bringing up the most popular cloud-synchronization tool, Dropbox. A simple, free utility that creates a folder under My Documents that instantly synchronizes up to 2GB of data between any and all computers using the same Dropbox account is one of the first things we install after formatting a computer. We use it for “unclassified” work such as personal photos, document templates and side-work, but many a skilled tech have created all kinds of useful tricks for the service. Sites like Dropbox Automator, once granted access to your account, can be programmed to automate tasks for files placed in your Dropbox like cropping pictures, converting documents to PDF and much, much more. With Android and iOS apps that allow access to your files on the go, superb sharing methods through the web interface and the just plain convenience-oriented philosphy of the developers, Dropbox is one of the first things we install on any of our computers.
Another of our favorite cloud-synchronization tools is designed specifically for notes… mostly. Everynote incorporates a great user interface to let you input pretty much anything you need to remember in an easy-to-find list. Everything from text notes, pictures, audio clips and website snippets can be quickly and easily placed into a taggable note for easy searching later. We use it to organize our notes when conducting research for our latest projects. It’s far too simple to run out to a meeting at our favorite coffee shop to share a section of code we’ve been working on, share ideas with associates and take notes when you know everything you type or import is instantly backed up to Evernote’s secure servers. While we, again, don’t use it for any client data, we have no qualms about punching in family members’ wireless keys – they’re going to ask us what they are next time we’re over for dinner anyway. With iOS and Android apps for phones and tablets, we can easily search and lookup all that information we don’t want to remember.
Keepass is, in short, an open-source password management application. Passwords are stored in a database file with a single key or certificate required to access all your various account information. It also includes a robust password generation tool that helps to secure password strength and, in dire scenarios, provide users with plausible deniability – if you don’t know the password, you can’t be forced to cough it up. Once you’ve entered or created your passwords for websites or applications, you can easily copy and paste the username and password into the corresponding box on the site or app and you’re on your way. No more slips of paper laying about, no more hassle trying to remember tens or hundreds of account credentials. We use it to randomize our Facebook, Twitter and other social media account passwords in order to prevent unauthorized users from guessing them. It’s also great at keeping financial PIN numbers and bank website passwords out of the hands of thieves. Usernames and passwords are only stored in the keyboard for a very short time (~30 seconds) and never after the application has been closed, so there’s no threat of somebody using a clipboard viewer to track your information.
PROTIP! For more advanced usability, you can put your Keepass database in your Dropbox folder and access it on any computer, smartphone or tablet.
Any.Do is a great little task list with a beautiful interface and Google Task synchronization capabilities. Anybody with a plethora of tasks piling up will love its gesture-oriented interface and voice recognition. While we primarily use Exchange for our office tasks and responsibilities, Any.Do is our top choice for organizing personal ideas, tasks and events. Since we spend a lot of time in front of the computer from day to day, it’s very convenient to punch shopping lists, short-term goals and books we want to remember to read in Google Tasks and push it over to the phone. After a task is complete, getting rid of it is as natural as striking it through.
On top of all its functionality, it’s very pretty. Task lists are a dime a dozen, but we stick with Any.Do for the unique combination of usability and aesthetics. It just doesn’t get any better.
Even maintaining active development, Google’s Chrome-to-Phone utility and browser extension is still very little-known and sparingly used outside the tech community. By simply signin-in to your Google account through the browser extension and the Android app allows you to send any information, albeit webpage, map, contact or email directly from your Chrome browser window instantly over to your cellphone. Whenever we find ourselves running out the door fast as lightning to fix a downed server, we find ourselves using this handy little extension to make sure we’ve got the right maps and directions wherever we’re going. After work we use it for forwarding things like the delicious looking recipe we found online during our lunch hour to our phones so we can swing by the store and grab all the right ingredients to make it. It’s a one of those small time-savers that you’ll quickly find yourself using daily.
A large part of our jobs as Managed Service Providers is making sure we’re on top of the latest news and information regarding the small business technology industry. If there’s a bad update being pushed out for Small Business Server or a new cloud-hosted solution on the horizon, we need to know so that we can let our clients know as well. The best way for us to skim through all the resources we keep at our disposal is through the use of RSS. There are a thousand different applications for every different make and model of computer for reading and organizing RSS feeds, but we always end up back with Google.
While Currents is geared more toward presenting website information in an aesthetic, magazine-like interface, Reader is strictly designed for presenting and organizing large amounts of sites for quick review and easy reading. Both strip out most advertising space and website graphics to feed you just the bulk of the information you need to know on any device you’re signed into your Google account from, but because of the sheer volume of sites and resources we keep track of, we tend to stick with Reader. Being able to click a star to add an article to list of favorites on the phone and read it back home on the laptop or tablet is absolutely crucial in the Information-Age. We recommend both services whenever we can.
We deal with a large number of computers that aren’t ours. All our work has to be done with care, both for the computer’s condition itself, as well as the state of the software when we are finished working on it. In an effort to keep our footprint on every system low, we use applications that don’t need to be installed to use. These are called portable applications and we use the site Portableapps.com to get the most up-to-date, functional versions of our favorite applications and tools in a format that we can put on a USB flash drive to get our jobs done. They also comes in handy when you’re using a public or shared computer that doesn’t allow installation of outside software. Everything from web browsers and FTP utilities to AntiVirus software and system utilities can be packaged up into a portable format so you can quickly run what you need without having to bother with the installer.
Ninite is a lifesaver. Seriously… there’s never been a more convenient and time-saving application or website for when you have to format a computer. Ninite lets users select through a list of commonly used and downloaded applications, check what they want and install all of them at the same time. Do you prefer FireFox over Chrome? No problem. Simply check the box and move on to the next section. Dropbox, Evernote, Filezilla, Glary Utilities, Revo Uninstaller, MalwareBytes AntiMalware, and even advanced tools for server maintenance like WinSCP and Putty are on there. Ninite lets you install all their most recent versions at the same time, absolutely free. It’s one of the reasons (but certainly not the only) we have the least expensive PC Repair services in town – because tools like Ninite decrease the time it takes to get the job done.
We use a large amount of specific tools and software for repairing computers, depending on the job that needs to get done. One small, quick utility definitely helps us save some time when doing a quick fix for family and friends, though. Glary Utilities is a free program for Windows computers that runs multiple different utilities all at once to solve some of the most irritating issues at the same time. It helps clean temporary files, fix registry errors, check for malware, and defrag the hard drive all in one click. With an included process manager, memory optimizer and startup utility, it makes even more advanced Windows management tasks a breeze for the average user. Trust us, our parents swear by it.
Wifi tethering was a hot topic in 2011 and we expect the hype will calm down in the coming year over its usefulness, convenience and, of course, price. There are all kinds of devices and software to get users connected no matter where they are these days, and we won’t get into which is better and which is most ethical (looking at you, android-wifi-tether) but we will say that we can’t live without it anymore. Each of us has used a different method and they all have their pros and cons, but they all come in pretty darn handy to say the least. Some will get you some addition costs to your wireless plan while other don’t allow Point to Point VPN connections – kind of a dealbreaker, really. Others require rooting or jailbreaking devices and potentially ending up with a very expensive brick. Either way, we know how painful it is to feel disconnected, especially when there’s a report due in an hour and there’s not time to get to the office. Feel free to give us a call anytime and we’ll help you get set up with a tethering solution that works best for you.
We can go on and on about our favorite tools and devices, but for now, just let us know what you think are some of the most useful applications or devices you use throughout the day. You never know when you’re going to find that diamond in the rough that you just can’t live without once you’ve tried it.