Posts tagged software

AppSpace.com Helps You Find The Right App

The number of apps available for the iPhone, Android OS and Blackberry is rapidly approach a combined 200,000. Wading through the sewage that constitute most apps to find that diamond in the rough can be a daunting task.  For some of us installing and deleting apps is a hobby, but most people don’t have the patience or desire to go through all that downloading and testing.

AppSpace.com is a recommendation engine for the app store of your choosing (WebOS is once again snubbed) and is intended to help you find just the right app for your needs.  By taking your indicated areas of interest and the apps you like and dislike (based on your ratings) AppSpace will recommend apps for you to try (along with the appropriate download links).

It’s a handy little system and while you’ll probably still have some trial and error in finding the perfect app for your tastes, AppSpace should definitely make the process easier.

This video will do some explaining and you can click through to MakeUseOf for a writeup on the site and it’s features…

via [makeuseof]

Google Docs Lets You Share Any File For Free

Back in October ’09 the Google Docs team announced shared folders which was a much needed addition to the gDocs featureset.  Now the team has announced the ability to upload any file type you please, essentially making Google Docs into an online file sharing repository.

Users can upload up to 1GB of data and make the files available for viewing and download to anyone they want.  Additional storage is $.25 / GB / Year.

There are many ways out there to share files with friends and coworkers (including creating a Google Site or manually uploading to your FTP site), but being integrated directly with Google Docs makes the process much cleaner, simpler and safer.  Users can leverage their existing accounts to take advantage of the sharing and security features that come with Google Docs.

This isn’t a mind blowing feature, but the next time you need to distribute a file that is to big to e-mail you should think of Google Docs.  It’ll save you a ton of time.

via [Google Docs Blog]

Keep Personal Errands and Work Projects on Track With the Right Tool

Everyday people have tasks they need to complete.  Be it at work, at home or somewhere in between there are chores, tasks, issues, assignments, to-do’s, … on and on.  There are basically as many ways to track and organize all of these from the always classic Franklin-Covey planner to a well organized spreadsheet to enterprise level project management platforms (and yes, in the end, I believe all of these serve the same purpose).  Most of them have individual pros and cons and it’s up to the user to choose the right one.

Today we’ll talk about solutions for different applications ranging from managing daily errands to project management for medium to large-ish projects.  There is a lot out there, but we’ll focus on the ones I’ve had the best experiences with while trying to keep my life and projects organized over the last decade.

A quick talk about my organizational philosophy…  For a tracking system to work, first and foremost, it has to fit with what you are trying to accomplish.  A 1,000 line project plan and gantt chart aren’t necessary to get your grocery shopping done and your dry cleaning picked up, but a checklist isn’t going to get you through a a significant development project either.  Next most important is that the tools fit the process.  A person without a smartphone is probably not a prime candidate for an online task list and you can’t use MS Project with anything agile project management.  In the end, I like a solution that is just barely powerful enough to support what you need.  This usually helps keep things streamlined and prevents the tool from becoming a crutch (this is obviously a fine line, but is something to always watch out for).

So, without further ado…

The Spreadsheet

The simple spreadsheet is a category unto itself…  The beauty of the spreadsheet is that it can be as simple or complicated as you need/want.  When you think about it, all the other tools you might use are really just pretty front-ends on some really complicated spreadsheets (I may have just oversimplified the concept of a database, but I’m going with it).

For most people just writing down the things they need to get done for the day, a party, or even a research project is an extreme improvement in productivity.  Create a spreadsheet with columns for a task name, task description, priority and due date and you’ve got a powerful little method for keeping track of your tasks.   For example, input the list of chores for the day and rank them as 1s, 2s, or 3s (don’t agonize over it, you can change it later) and set the due date for all the tasks to today.  Now you can use the sort function of your spreadsheet app (I recommend Google Documents) to sort everything into a prioritized list of tasks.  Review your tasks, rework your numbers, sort again and keep crossing things off the list until it’s all done.

Maybe you need something a bit more complicated to keep track of tasks at work?  Add  ‘last action’, comments, and ‘assigned to’ columns and now you’re ready to track yourself and other across a broader range of tasks.  If you want to get fancy learn a little bit about conditional formatting to highlight what is late, who is assigned to what or what is the highest priority.  In no time you have a quick, reasonably powerful, and well organized document you can use for yourself or share with others to keep you and/or your team on track.

I’ve gone as far as using spreadsheets to run small projects with great success.  The point is, the spreadsheet is the most flexible of the options because, small or large, it is what you make it.

Personal Use, Get your errands done or your party planned

RemembertheMilk.com is basically a project management platform for your life.  It offers organizable lists with due dates and priorities in a simple web interface with a great deal of integration and power behind the scenes.  You can setup different lists to group tasks, prioritize the tasks within that group then schedule all manner of updates to be sent to you through e-mail, sms, etc.  There are iPhone and Android apps (where are my WebOS apps!) as well as a number of ways to integrate RTM into your life.  It’s an excellent platform for people serious about using an application to stay organized.  Jump into the the RTM Tour and signup for an account (it takes about 15 seconds) or hope over to Lifehacker’s extensive rundown of the features.

A far less powerful, but still very useful tool is Google Tasks.  Integrated into gMail it offers a simple way to create and manage lists.  For now it’s about as simple as can be and due dates don’t show up on your gCal, but it’s Google and you can expect gTasks to grow like any other Google product.  If you want a quick and simple task list accessible on almost any platform, Google Tasks is a great option.



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Small to Medium Project, Getting things done with other people

Redmine is my personal favorite for a project where I get to choose the tracking platform.  It’s open source, easy to setup and offers the flexibility necessary to work on many different types of projects.  It’s simple to keep multiple projects going on the same installation of Redmine while limiting access across projects to only those people that need it.  In particular I like the ways that Redmine manages tasks across users and projects in summary views while also allowing for very granular resource and activity tracking.  Checkout Redmines site and demo to get a feel for the application.

Redmine is not a hosted solution and requires installation on a web host.  Anyone that has ever FTP’d a file to a webhost can get this setup in about 10 minutes and any SysAdmin worth his salt should be able to do it in 5 (if yours can’t then I suggest you find a new one).  This done mean there is a little bit of effort upfront to setup the site, but it also means no monthly fees (beyond your hosting) and unlimited accounts.

For a hosted solution ProjectOffice.net offers an excellent feature set at a reasonable per user price.  I always prefer to host my own apps, but not everyone can do that.  Project Office is clean and simple without a lot of overhead or clutter.  In addition to the basic project management features there are some gantt charting abilities and Blackberry integration too.

Conclusion

Both in your personal life and in business the key to the right tool is to choose one that fits what you’re trying to accomplish.  There are literally hundreds of solutions out there and I’ve tried A LOT of them.  I’ve touched on my favorites here, but what works for me might not work for you (heck, what works for me on one project might not work for me on the next) so it’s up to you to try things out and tweak them until they do what you need (which is why I love spreadsheets so much).  The key is that you try different solutions and continuously improve on your methods as you gain experience.

No matter what the venue or goal following the basic best practices of writing things down, assigning tasks and setting due dates will always lead the charge.  Start there and add-on accordingly until you’ve found the limit of what you need to track to be effective.  Follow that method and, at the least, you’ll always end up with an efficient system for your needs.

Open Source and the Palm Pre: Nerd Out!

OpenSourceSimpsonsI’ve had a palm device of some sort since 10th grade when I got the PalmPilot Personal.  After 13 years and about 8 devices (that I had), Palm FINALLY developed a brand new, ground up operating system known as WebOS and put it in a sleek new phone, the Palm Pre (for the record, I was in line at 6am on release day to get my Pre – yes, I’m a fanboy).  In that time the screens, processors, keyboards, and even the company have changed, but one thing has generally remained constant.

A commitment to an open source operating system and NOT preventing developers from taking control of the device.  As far back as I can remember (and before I had ever heard the term Homebrew refer to anything other than coffee) users have been able to download freeware, shareware and paid applications to extend the functionality of their Palm device and to customize their experience.

Long time users will remember applications like Technician and Butler that let you tweak just about every setting the device had (and even a few it wasn’t supposed to have).  Over time, Palm took a number of these features and integrated them into the core OS, thus improving the experience even for those users not quite nerdy enough to be messing with their PalmPilot.

Now the Palm Pre has saved Palm as a company (fingers crossed), but the pattern remains the same.  WebOS is Linux based so it’s open source by nature.  It took less than 5 days for the first hello world app to hit engadget and within 3 weeks we we’re all basking in the glory of a homebrew community.  While the folks over at Apple are constantly battling their developers and rejecting applications Palm has embraced their developer community at an almost unprecedented level.  It’s not that Palm doesn’t reject apps from their own app store, it’s that Palm encourages (at least, makes no effort to stop) developers from creating and distributing applications outside of their  store.



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For the record, iPhone users can install custom apps, but the phone has to be ‘JailBroken’ and until recently this was a pretty risky task. The term itself implies the problem iPhone developers face.  The iPhone platform is in jail…inaccessible from the outside world without significant effort and criminal acts.

The nice people over at PreCentral.com have setup a homebrew app store that is constantly growing with custom apps from the homebrew community (admittedly, of a varied quality).  So, now, any user with even basic skills can get in on the homebrew goodness.  I’m currently playing with about 20 different apps that would never have existed if they had to go through an approval process.  Not because they don’t deserve to be in an app store, but because the developers might not be able to do all the necessary work to get approved, or because Sprint wouldn’t like it, or any number of other reasons.   Some developers are using the homebrew community as their beta testing platform and last time I checked about 10 of the applications that started out on PreCentral have already graduated to the official App Store and that number will continue to grow.

In the other direction, developers have found that Palm has coded, but commented out a number of features.  That is, the code is there, on the phone…it’s just not enabled.  So, what’d the developers do?  They enabled those features and Palm, whether they like it or not, gets tons of free feedback from a very knowledgeable community.  The fact is that everyone benefits, the users and the corporations.

My point in all of this is that, in the long run, giving the power to the users, especially in consumer electronics, will help more than it will hurt.  Sure, you’ll get the occasional bad app or bricked device, but overall, letting the community work together to come up with the best possible solution IS the best possible solution.

Hackers have known this for a long long time, but as social networking comes to the forefront of our society and crowdsourcing a solution becomes commonplace, you’ll hear more and more about Open Source this and Homebrew that…and that’s a good thing for everyone.