There are many great tools and applications out there. I decided to share some of the ones I use for my company, and give a little write-up on them. Every individual has his personal preferences, and there is often more than one good choice, but the productivity tools discussed in this article are the ones I have found most helpful. These have proven very useful for running a successful web development operation.
All too often I need to do work from home and log in remotely to my office computers. The task can range from sending a simple email from work to editing a complex graphic in Photoshop on my office computer. (In fact, I am typing this remotely since I had already left and gone home, and had wanted to finish this document!) LogMeIn really does make you feel as if you are working on your office desk, provided you have a fast connection on both ends and are using a similar screen resolution. One of the best things about LogMeIn is that it is still free. While true that Windows Remote Desktop is also free, I find that LogMeIn is easier to configure and it also works on all Windows Operating Systems environments.
The only drawbacks to LogMeIn are that it is very quirky when it comes to remote cut-and-paste, and that the app version for Android is very expensive. If it were cheaper I would just buy it, although the reality is that I don’t really need remote login from my mobile devices. I actually use LogMeIn Ignition, which bypasses the website and makes the login process faster.
Dropbox is one of the best ways to share files. In my opinion, Dropbox gets the badge for being the innovators in practical cloud storage and file synchronization. The way Dropbox works is that any computer using the software will have a shared folder that will automatically sync those files on all computers. So, if I update a file on one computer in Dropbox, it will be updated on all my computers automatically. Dropbox also allows me to access these files online, and what makes it such a useful tool is that I can share large files with my customers, and they can share their large files with me.
One of the big drawbacks to Dropbox is that the amount of storage they provide on the free startup accounts is only 2 GB (excluding camera uploads from phones which provide up to 3 GB additional). Every new referral you create gives you an additional 250 MB of storage. (You can get more space by purchasing an account, or by using certain smartphones that provide you up to 50 GB if you connect them to your Dropbox account.) Dropbox is now facing more fierce completion against other cloud services such as Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive, both of which are offering more space than Dropbox. Time will tell who will come out who will come out the winner here and if Dropbox can survive the onslaught.
Running a backup of all data is critical to any business. Hard Drive failures are a reality of computers, and happen all too often. I am pleased that Solid State Drives (SSD’s) are becoming increasingly mainstream, since their technology will increase the lifespan of hard drives. My guess is that in another two or three years all hard drives will be solid state, and the classic movable-parts drives will be obsolete. Nevertheless, even with a solid state drive, backup is critical. I use Mozy Backup for my backup system on my data server, and I highly recommend them. They provide an incremental daily backup that lays low in resources, and although it isn’t free, is still very affordable. Early versions of this software proved slow and lethargic, but they have really improved the optimization of the software to run more efficiently.
In addition to the online backup, Mozy also provides an option to backup all the data to a separate hard drive. I used to use a separate application for this called SyncBack, which worked out very well, but with this new additional local backup tool from Mozy, a separate local backup application is no longer necessary. With Mozy’s local backup, my data is copied daily to an external hard drive attached to my server via USB. Every once in a while I take this home and copy this to an extra hard drive on my home computer. It’s important to have all data backed up in separate locations in case of fire damage or floods, God forbid.
I often need to login to a customer’s computer remotely to replicate a problem or help them setup their email. In order to do this, I use ShowMyPC, which has proven to work well and is free. I have tried other software in the past which was both costly or had bugs or issues, but I must say that I am very satisfied with ShowMyPC.com.
One thing I am constantly doing is creating snapshots from my screen for examples to show clients on a particular window on my screen. While there are many screenshot capture tools, Windows 7 introduced a cute little tool that allows me to take a custom-sized snapshot and mark it up by underlining or circling elements. It’s nice to find this bundled together with the operating system. This was a neat enhancement that can be found in the Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions of Windows 7.
Read more from Microsoft’s Website
Faststone Capture: Before Windows 7, I used FastStone Capture. Faststone Capture has more tools built-in then the Windows Snipping Tool, but it has to be installed separately. For anyone without Windows Snipping Tool, this is a great alternative. Although later versions are shareware, and they require you to buy the software after 30 days, older versions prior to version 7 are freeware and work perpetually. Old versions can be downloaded here.
Quickbooks allows me to organize all my client information and projects into an organized system, and keeps track of all my invoices and finances. I use Quickbooks to generate invoices, balance my accounts, log my timesheets, and keep tabs on my customers and projects.
WinRAR is a tool for archiving and compressing files. It is most useful when sending file packages such as small websites or image groups over email as a single file. WinRAR is shareware, and can be used with several different compression formats. Although newer versions of Windows provide native Zip file support, WinRAR and other Zip file managers are much better at handling compressed file formats.
VLC Media Player is a free multimedia player for video, audio, CDs and DVDs. It does encoding and streaming and supports almost any multimedia protocol. It also can convert a file from one format to another. I use VLC Media Player to open and playback various audio and video files I receive from clients, and use the conversion tool to convert files to more universal formats.
There are a many different anti-virus and malware protection applications out there, all claiming to be the best. For the most part, all the name-brand ones are good, although some are bigger resource hoggers or more intrusive than others. I have found that many companies have their IT personnel set them up with Symantec Endpoint Protection, which seems to be the standard for businesses. I use this as well, and so far it’s been working as it should.
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