Monday, February 28, 2011

7 Best Free Softwares

Lately I’ve come to realize that I’m reliant on free software, mostly cloud-based, which in most cases I didn’t even know existed a year ago!  These 7 applications are not just cool – they’ve made my life easier:

1. Evernote

The first thing I open when I turn on my computer (any of my computers), and the app I use most frequently on my phone.

Evernote is advertised as being your second brain, and that’s not far off from the truth!  It’s a place where you can store notes to yourself regarding any topic.  Add in some web pages, screen clips, pdf files, photos, or any other file-type.  Then make them extremely sortable, searchable, taggable, and easily shareable.  And make them all readily available from any computer – completely in sync.  It’s a WOW product, and yes – it’s free!

The syncing is amazing – I have the exact same notes available from my laptop, my desktop, my phone, my wife’s laptop, and any other computer with internet access.

I started slowly, using it as a place to store blogging ideas and other thoughts from around the web.  But I realized how good it was and I quickly started adding other uses.  Some of my uses include:

  • Client notes & conversation logs
  • Kids’ school projects – no more file cabinets filled with “stuff”!
  • Family medical records – another file drawer emptied.
  • Writing ideas & research
  • Action items
  • Vacation research, planning, and notes
  • Quicknotes for people’s names I can’t forget
  • Recipes
  • Dozens of others – I have approx. 900 notes scattered across 5 notebook “stacks”, 50 notebooks, and 5 tags.

Full disclosure – I used the free version for a few months before upgrading the the premium version ($45/yr), which offers more storage space, larger individual note size, and unlimited file-types can be uploaded.

2. Mint

I used Quicken to organize my bank accounts since the mid-90s – first by manually entering every single receipt, then over the last couple of years downloading our account activity directly from Wells Fargo into Quicken.

This year, on January 1st, I made the switch to Mint.com for tracking and reviewing my checking account, and I’m amazed by how good the program works.  (and it’s free!)

My banking activity is automatically populated into Mint – no more logging into wells.com to download my activity.  Each expense is placed into the appropriate category (you can use Mint’s default categories or you can create your own, which I did.)  I had to teach the program which category to use the first time an expense showed up, but after that it automatically puts the expense into the right category.  And the one click charting/reporting is easy to read yet powerful.

In summary, it’s free, it works well, it’s a faster way to keep track of something I was already doing, and it’s available from any computer (including my phone.)  Yep, that’s a winner.

3. Google Suite

I was the biggest Microsoft honk out there, so the switch to Google was not simple, nor was it quick.  I’ve been slowly migrating since 2008, but now I’m all-in.  I still have an Access database with all the MLS sales since 2000 in it, and I still have an Excel spreadsheet which pulls data from that database and then uses several pivot tables and pivot charts to sift through it all.  But other than that all the documents I work on regularly have been converted or replaced.

  • Gmail – easy to use, plays nice with others, easily taggable and searchable, and has the best spam filter I’ve ever seen.  I use Outlook as a way to backup my email locally, just in case.  But my gmail pulls all my other email addresses into one place.
  • Calendar – I’m able to see my calendar, along with my wife’s and my business partner’s, all in one place (and on my phone), with changes or new appointments showing up in real time.
  • Documents – word docs or spreadsheets, with almost all the functionality of MS Office.  But they’re easily accessed from any computer, and they’re shareable with others, to the point where multiple people can be editing the same spreadsheet at the same time.  And they’re easy to use from my phone!
  • Reader – my rss reader, where I can easily scan through the dozens of blogs I read.
  • Bookmarks – I bookmark my favorite websites using Google Bookmarks, so I have them available regardless of what computer I’m using.
  • Picasa – my favorite photo-editing software.  I still can’t believe this is free.
  • Picasa Web Albums – my favorite way to share photos.
  • Tasks, Blogger, Analytics, Fusion Tables, Alerts…  and more!
  • IGoogle – then I use IGoogle as my homepage, so I can see all of these items at a glance.

It’s free, replaces things I was already using (or in some cases adding functionality I didn’t have before), and available from any computer including my phone.  Another winner.

4. Syncback

It’s hard to get too excited about a backup service, but last month when Mozy raised their prices from $60/yr to $168/yr, I had to make a change!

Enter Syncback.  It’s free, and it works flawlessly.  I now backup my approx 150 gb of data to 2 different external drives, and Syncback manages everything.  Best of all, it uses a regular ‘ol file-tree system, so I can easily navigate my external drives to see &/or restore any file I need.  (not like some backup services which encrypt & zip the backup sets, so you’re left to hope everything is ok…)

5. Android

This might be a reach, because Android is an operating system and not a software application, but I can’t leave it off the list.

I bought an HTC Incredible phone a couple of months ago, and I am absolutely blown away by it – to the point I wish my computer could be just like my phone!  Over the last decade I’ve owned a Handspring Visor-phone, multiple Treos running both palm and windows os (the 600p, my first one, was my favorite), a Motorola Q, an older-generation Blackberry, a Blackberry Pearl, and a Blackberry Storm2.  And this Incredible is like something else entirely – it’s like comparing an NFL team with the local high school football talent – different league entirely.

When you’re ready for a new phone, you need to look at the HTC Evo 4G (Sprint) or HTC Thunderbolt 4G (Verizon) – both are bigger & better versions of my Incredible.  You won’t be disappointed.

6. Podcasting

I spend quite a bit of time in my car, and the radio gets awfully boring after awhile.

I added a free podcast player to my phone and subscribed to a few podcasts covering a few different topics – sports, history, comedy, fitness, general knowledge.

Now I listen to these podcasts more often than I listen to the radio.  My podcast player automatically searches the podcasts I’ve subscribed to for new episodes at night while I’m sleeping, then it downloads any new episodes and cues them up for me to listen to the next day.

It gives me more control over what I’m listening to, with the added bonus of being able to pause, rewind, and take it with me outside of the car.

Full disclosure – I used the free version of BeyondPod for a couple of weeks, then I splurged $7 to buy the full-featured version.

7. RedBox

The RedBox app for iPhone and Android is pretty slick.  You can search for a particular title, and the app will tell you which RedBox locations have that title available.  You can then select a location and rent the movie right then & there, from your phone.  Then, on the way home, you simply stop by the box and pick up your movie.

You can also tell the app which location(s) are your favorites.  Then you can ask the app to display which movies are available at your favorite locations.  Or, you can have it use your phone’s GPS to display which movies are available at locations near you, wherever you happen to be!

Remarkable.

What are your favorites?

Hopefully this list helps you discover a better way to do something you’re already doing.  What am I missing?  What apps do you use to make your life better / easier?

Your trying to work smarter Realtor,

Chris Butterworth