Posts 2009: Products I Can’t Live Without

2009: Products I Can’t Live Without

Mike Arrington has just posted his 2009 list of products he can't live without. After my own 2008 list, here is my update for 2009 as I think it's fun to observe how our computing environment evolves from year to year. First, the new entries:
  • OmniFocus is the best to-do list application I know of. I use the desktop application daily to handle work and personal tasks. It is worth the whole of its $80. As a pure desktop application without an online counterpart it is a step back, but the benefit is flexibility and speed, both crucial to GTD.
  • Twitter, which I couldn't figure out at all a year ago, has seen 1,778 personal updates so far, and we use it at Orbeon too. I use Twitterrific on iPhone and twhirl on the Mac, but I am not married to either of these clients. Beware: Twitter most likely will kill your personal blog (as if it needed that!).
  • iPhone 3G: I simply can't imagine switching to anything else before a long time. I use pretty much the whole of it: phone, SMS, web, email, iPod, maps, camera, Yelp, music apps, book readers, dictionaries, you name it. Its biggest flaws are the inability to run more than one application concurrently (e.g. for music apps) and the lack of background notifications (e.g. Twitter and IM clients). I don't care how Apple does it, but these have to be addressed.
  • Safari has become my second browser of choice after Firefox. WebKit is great (with some quirks), Safari itself not so much. To be really usable, a browser needs: 1) something like the Firefox "awsome bar", 2) an ad blocker and 3) proper tab save/restore. Safari does have some add-ons partly addressing these shortcomings, but Firefox remains the king in this area. So I use Safari for certain specific sites or applications only.
  • Google Sites handles the new Orbeon Forms wiki. Sites can do better, and it is frustrating that it is incompatible in subtle ways with Google Docs, but it is a start.
The strong values:
  • Firefox version 3 for Mac is a winner. It is hard to imagine we had to deal with the quirky version 2 for so long.
  • GMail: I still use it mostly through OS X's Mail app through IMAP, but I had to disable the "All mail" folder to make it usable. The big change is that I use it through the iPhone mail application as well. I often process (archive) my incoming email on the go, but rarely write more than one-liners on the phone.
  • Delicious: I am now at about 4100 entries (was 1900 entries a year ago). Version 2.0, delivered in July, is a success. I add entries mostly through the Firefox extension.
  • Skype: VoiP, chat, video, SkypeOut, SkypeIn and soon, I hope, usable screen sharing.
  • Google Calendar and Google Maps remain essential.
  • Google Docs is strong and getting stronger. The new offline support is excellent.
  • SlimTimer: it is still impossible to live without it at work, although report performance is an issue and development seems to have stalled.
  • iTunes is frustrating in many ways but unavoidable if you have an iPhone. The new grid view for albums in version 8 is good, and it is still probably the best podcast client around.
  • iTunes Store: yesterday's announcement of 100% DRM-free music was long due and I may buy again music through iTunes (other than by accident). Movie rentals rock, but the movie selection is appalling.
  • Amazon mp3 Store remains appealing because of price, selection, the ubiquitous mp3 format, and the web-based interface.
  • Picasa is my favorite photo application. I had been using it recently through CrossOver, but I now use the new native version. I wonder if iPhoto 2009 will displace Picasa for me this year? In particular, the flickr integration is very promising, and Google has less incentive than Apple to promote flickr support.
  • Flickr is still my photo site of choice, but improvements have been slow to come this year.
  • Google Reader holds about 270 feeds as of now (was 200 a year ago). The recently introduced new look is refreshing. I find myself using it less heavily as lots of news come from Twitter.
The disappointments:
  • Basecamp: we still use it at Orbeon to communicate with our customers. I no longer use it as a personal to-do list as it sucks at that. Basecamp is reliable and cheap, but there are issues with messages, to-do lists, time management, and the writeboards that really don't leave me very satisfied with it at the moment. 37signals is good at rhetoric, but less so at regularly updating their applications (at least Basecamp, which is rumored to represent 60% of 37signals's about $8m revenue for 2009).
  • OmniFocus for iPhone is in some ways a better GTD tool than the desktop version. For example it has a built-in notion of next action, and its relative simplicity is attractive. But stability and performance make it about unusable. It often takes 30 seconds or more to start, and much more after a synchronization. I am not the only one with this problem. A GTD app must be snappy and reliable, so this is a big letdown.
  • Jott: I haven't used it as much as I thought, especially since the iPhone app is unable to send notification emails even with the paying plans. If they fix that I will pay $3/month without even thinking.
  • Adobe Acrobat Connect seemed like the best affordable screen sharing application out there, but it can cause browser crashes and handling of screen dimensions is frustrating (try sharing when using a 30" monitor!). Unfortunately, WebEx remains the most stable and powerful solution out there, but it is outrageously priced.
  • Google Chrome could replace Safari as my second browser of choice if there was a Mac version. I suppose it is coming soon. Or is it, given that it took Google years to release Picasa for Mac?
  • Blogger hasn't seen a single visible improvement since last year. Frankly, it is not a very good blogging service anymore.
  • Feedburner is not that useful anymore given the general decrease in personal and work blogging activity.
  • YouTube has not really moved beyond its lowest common denominator position. I watch videos mostly through iTunes podcasts, iTunes video rentals, or other sources.
Social networks:
  • I have been going to the Facebook site more (but not really "using it" more) because many less geeky friends use it. I mostly go to the site when I get an email notification. My guess is that photo sharing and tagging will be the first feature of Facebook I might actually appreciate this year.
  • I have about 200 connections on LinkedIn (from about 150 a year ago). I still haven't found any actual use for it.
  • Dopplr: I entered a few more trips there but it hasn't been really useful so far.
Like last year, I fail to find most social networks either really useful or exciting, Twitter remaining the notable exception.

See you next year!