It is the time of year when newspapers, TV and bloggers write their “best of” lists, why should I be any different? Well, I will try to make it a little different. What follows are the products and services that were new to me in 2010, some of those that came close to making the list and also a few old favourites that are so much part of my life that they deserve a mention too.
- 1Password: in my Palm days I used SplashID to securely store passwords and other key information. With the arrival of my iPhone last year my first instinct was to stick with SplashID, sadly the experience was not good and from reading around the web I was not alone. For a while I used Firefox to sync passwords but was not happy with the security of that, then I tried 1Password – nice but no Windows version – so moved to LastPass, which is pretty good, but storing my passwords on their server and always needing web access to retrieve information (say, the security code for my phone bank service) were two big negatives. So, when 1P launched their Windows version, I decided that it was time to use the license that I had already paid for.
Although it lacks some of the flexibility of SplashID the interface is pretty good. Synchronisation between my MBP, iMac and iPhone (using DropBox) is very quick and reliable (no dupes for example). Well worth the money.
- Divvy: is a simple app that gives you fast control over the size and position of the window for whatever application has focus. With a simple activation shortcut (I use Option-space) and a few presets (I have set up “Main”, “Full”, “Left” and “Right”) I can quickly see what I want without a lot of mousework.
- Totalfinder: over the years I have used various file managers for Windows so when I switched to Mac I looked for something similar. Pathfinder and Forklift were the two standout choices and I plumped for Forklift which has worked well for me (note: version 2 was released a month or so ago). However, Forklift (or Pathfinder) feels like overkill for some of the simpler tasks that were a bit clunky in Finder; for me, Totalfinder fills the gap. The surprisingly simple step of adding tabs to the normal Finder window makes it easy to move or copy files, sorting folders first (like Windows) is optional as is a dual pane view.
- Rapidweaver: previously I had built a couple of very simple websites with iWeb but was frustrated with it’s limitations and disappointed when iLife ’11 left iWeb untouched. I had previously looked at Rapidweaver and now took the plunge, initially with version 4. Soon I was sucked into a world of Stacks and Themes which make it easy for a CSS novice like me to create great looking websites.
- iOS 4: I have had an iPhone for over a year and loved it from the start but it took the release of iOS 4 for me last summer to feel that the OS was at least comparable to Palm OS (apart from lacking decent privacy option and handwriting recognition). The folders feature was the best thing about the new version.
- iMac: I have bought two Macs this year, a MacBook Pro and an iMac. Both are fantastic and it is hard to choose between them. However, the winning aspect is the physical simplicity of the iMac compared to my previous desktop computers.
- Magic Trackpad: I bought this with my iMac but feel it deserves its own place in this list simply for the way it has changed how I use the computer. My mouse is now history, or at least gathering dust at the back of my desk. With a mouse you never quite know where it is whereas I like the fact that the trackpad is exactly where you left it.
- Canon MP640 printer: I have been on the verge of buying a new printer for at least a year. When I heard 5 star reviews of the new MP640 earlier this year I decided that the time had come. It is a combined scanner/copier/printer, with WiFi, double sided printing and gives good quality colour prints. The best bit: the way the output tray opens automatically when you send a print.
- Canon EF 100mm F2.8 L IS USM macro lens: a bit of a mouthful that. Basically it is lens primarily for taking close up shots: portraits, flowers, etc. I have had it for a couple of months and I love it.
- Domke F2 photo bag: my most recent purchase in a long line of camera bags. Logically a backpack would be best and I have two Lowepros, I still imagine using the big one on a long walk but the smaller one, a sling style, doesn’t feel right and doesn’t hold enough. One day I found myself looking at an old fashioned photojournalist type bag, indeed the original design by Jim Domke. Although I have not yet used it in anger but my initial impressions are very good.
BEST iPHONE APPS
- Carcassone: a port which I think is even better than the orginal board game because the scoring is done automatically for you. Playable in a solo form or in the standard multi-player version against various levels of AI or human players via LAN or internet. A game against the AI takes around 15 minutes. Stimulating and challenging it occupies many quiet moments in my life.
- Kindle for iPhone: simply brilliant. Better than iBooks and allows you to read books, even keeping track of where you had reached, on practically any device.
- Catan: another board game port. It is a good game but I do find it rather slower than Carcassone.
- Risk: yet another board game port. It has transfered well but I do find all the “eye candy” animations pointless and frustrating. The AI opponents are good providing a reasonable challenge.
- The Guardian: excellent design with nice configuration options. Has become my primary way of accessing news. Will be replaced by a subscription version (£4/year) soon which I will be absolutely happy to pay.
- Things: a to do list manager. If you want a standalone to do list manager, on either Mac or the iPhone then this would be my strong recommendation. However I want to access my to do list on all my devices and the problem with Things is that synchronisation is manually triggered and only works on a LAN, for me this proved to be unworkable in practice. The developers have been promising automatic over the air syncing for longer than I have been using the application; when they deliver I will return without any further thought.
I am a creature of habit when it comes to websites. However, two that are very new to me but I expect to become firm favourites:
- Appstorm: specifically the Mac subsite which provides reviews and how-tos on Mac software.
- GuyGowan: a site offering techniques and scripts to improve processing of photos using Aperture and Photoshop.
In thinking about what has improved my tech-life in 2010 I found myself also thinking about what had not changed, about those things which have not (yet) been improved upon, so I want to pick out a few of the highlights.
- Firefox: my browser of choice. Tabs, good extensibility, free. What more could you want?
- Gmail: my email client of choice. Good functionality, excellent spam handling. The new priority inbox view is particularly useful.
- Dropbox: plays a fundamental role in my current three device (iPhone, iMac and MBP) world. Syncs documents, calendar, passwords, settings. Free for volumes adequate for most uses; worth paying for larger package.
- TUAW: great source of Mac related software and hardware news, reviews and how-tos.
- Lifehacker: another great source of info but with a scope beyond computing. Part of the Gawker Media network which has recently blotted its copybook with a major security breach that revealed many commenters email addresses and passwords.