Image by smemon87 via Flickr

Since the decision to change the focus of my blog, I want to establish a baseline of what I am presently using for on my MacBook Pro.  This will give readers information on what I am using now and you will be able to see what changes occur as I review different software or web applications.  Below are the categories that I place the tools that I am using in:
1. Productivity suite (mail, calendar, contacts, todo)
2. Office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, slide show, notebook):
3. Social media
4. Internet browser
5. Blogging (blog host, blogwriter)
These reviews are not in-depth reviews of each product discussed, but simply a quick hit of my thoughts about the Software/Web Applications that I use in those categories.
PRODUCTIVITY SUITE (mail, calendar, contacts, todo, website):
I am less concerned about how a productivity suite interacts or is available to my students than other tools do.  A productivity suite is something that is for my personal use and I have to feel comfortable with that particular software or web application not anyone else.  We do have Google apps at school, but we use a different email client for school-wide staff and student email so it is not integrated and causes me more than a few headaches, but that is another post down the road.  I do plan to teach how to use productivity tools to my students, but it might be a while before I am able to fit it into the schedule.
I am currently using a combination of Apple’s and Google’s Gmail as my productivity suite.  I like being able to access my information from any computer and still be able to access it if there is no Internet access available.  This combination while redundant in many respects, works reasonably well for me.
Apple:  It is the most visually appealing productivity suite that I have used.  You have to use Mobile Me (at the cost of $99 a year) if you want a central online place to go for your information through Apple, which is the reason I choose to integrate for free using Google.  Apple’s desktop suite works well, but there are a couple of things that coming from the world of Microsoft that I don’t like.  Having to have three separate programs open and running is a pain in the butt, instead of being able to simply click on a tab to connect to a different section within the program you have to switch or open a different program to get where you want to go. I understand some the reasons for it, but it is just inconvenient to my way of doing things.
Meanwhile the one program I would want to have its own window, the task manager doesn’t in either of the applications it resides in and it just does not seem to fit seamlessly into the Calendar or Mail program.
Apple’s task manager is almost acts like an after- thought that was just put in there, because a productivity suite needs one (yes it does integrate with Mail).  The instructions for how to use the task manager are minimal and it certainly is not as intuitive as the rest of the suite, especially when integrating it with Mail (I tend to get lots of extra emails as a result of adding or changing a task).  These are relatively minor complaints, but they do bother me and reduce my perception of how productive I am with this tool.  But I have found that I need a desk top productivity program for times when I am not connected to the internet or while I am at school, so this is the best desktop option at this time.
Google:  I have used gMail and the other tools included with it for many years and like most everything about how it does things.  The biggest thing I have against the mail program is that it does not give a window to read the email without actually opening it.  Everything works well, is stable and integrated to work well together.  Another thing is that I use Google Sites which is easy to update (and correct) as my Class Portal and add
Google calendars and other gDocs items to my website, which is helpful to helping my students know what is going on (I could do the same thing with Mobile Me, but at a higher price).  I have the same issue with the Task Manager that I have with Apple’s it is baked into a window and you cannot open it up in it’s own window.
Unfortunately, Google’s productivity suite does not allow offline access in all browsers, while many consider this a small issue, when you need to find that “one” email, appointment, contact or what your tasks are for the day and the internet is not available, it becomes a major issue.  Many students do not have Internet access at home and interestingly I lost power while writing this blog entry and the Internet was not available, so it is a consideration that needs to be thought about when looking at what you are using for a productivity suite.
So I believe that there continues to be a need out here for desktop applications.
The other thing is if you have multiple Google accounts, remembering which account you are in can become an issue when adding an appointment or task – maybe the ability to synch automatically between all the accounts if you wanted to would be a good option that could/should be looked into more closely.  Something else to consider is that  gMail itself is blocked for me at school (and many others), which reduces its usefulness and forces me to rely upon an alternative email client during school hours, so I can see my email during the day.
In order to ensure that I am using the same information in both of the Apple and Google productivity suites, I use Spanning Synch to synch the two and most of the time it works fantastically (thanks Dan C) and I highly recommend it to those of you who use the above system.
Zimbra:  I downloaded it about a month ago and used it for a few days.  I really, really liked how it worked for me (it was very intuitive) – when it worked right.  I experienced a number of stability issues, which caused me to give up on it.  I have a feeling that I will try it again after a couple of months to see if the stability issues have been resolved.  In order to check my mail from multiple computers and devices, I would have to continue to synch with my Google account.
I have also tried Thunderbird, Zoho and couple of others, but they didn’t do what I wanted or how I wanted to do it.
OmniFocus:  I have used OmniFocus off and on, it is a standalone Task Management software program and is on the MLTI laptops.  It is extremely powerful and I paid for this software for my Mac out of my own pocket.  It will do everything I want and then some, but each time I go back to using it, I find that I spend too much time managing my tasks, it is almost like it is too granular (powerful) for what I need a Task Management software to do.  I also just don’t like having to have yet another window open, that I have to keep track of.  I do highly recommend it for someone outside of the classroom, who has multiple projects to keep track of or wants to use Getting Things Done (GTD).
The combination of Apple and Google productivity suites is working for me right now and while I am not completely happy with this system, it does work.  I just wonder if Outlook would be part of the solution, but even with that I would have to synch with Google because I do not want to fragment myself all over the Internet anymore than I have to by going to the Windows Live site instead of Google (which I have learned to use pretty effectively).
I guess the best solution for me would be for Google to make its productivity suite available offline in more browsers than it currently does and get permission to use gMail at school.  But if Apple ever makes Mobile Me more affordable, it would be an interesting alternative to explore more closely or even more radical using Zimbra and finding a web host (hmmmm).
But both Google and Apple have to change their task management systems considerably to make me happy, they really don’t work the way that I do.
What have you done to make a difference today?
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