While the previous post focused on files and passwords, in this round I will go into more GTD related synchronization tools. Email, Calendar, Notes, and the like. First, though, let’s take a look at Firefox.
Bookmarks: Delicious – Browser/Firefox extension/iPhone – Free
Everyone has a browser of choice now, and while there are all kinds of tweaks to be made, the most important thing to have access to across browsers is bookmarks. While tending towards the social aspect of bookmarking, delicious is great for backing up/synchronizing bookmarks. You can access the site from any browser, but Firefox has an extension that essentially replaces the standard bookmark menu with a menu of your delicious bookmarks, too. This isn’t a perfect solution, unfortunately. I use another extension called Speed Dial, to mimic Opera, giving me 9 thumbnail webpages as my homepage, and those ‘bookmarks’ don’t sync, nor does my bookmark toolbar. But, it gets the bulk of my bookmarks, and since the other stuff is a one time setup at the time of install, it is a trivial matter. There are several iPhone apps out there to grab your delicious bookmarks on the go. As a side note, Firefox has a version designed for running on portable devices. Install that to your dropbox, and you are good to go, as long as you use the same OS on all your computers.
Notes: Evernote – Windows/Mac/iPhone/BlackBerry/Android/Windows Mobile/Palm/Browser – 40MB/Month Free | 500MB/Month $5/Month or $45/Year
I started using Evernote a few months ago, and fell in love with it. I can sync every little piddly think I’ve ever thunk with Evernote, and access it anywhere. Not only that, but it indexes the text of your notes so they are searchable. They don’t have a Linux application yet, but they have a mobile version on every major phone OS I can think of, other than Nokia’s. The phone apps are probably my favorite part about Evernote, too. I hate taking notes, because it means lugging around paper. By taking notes electronically, I don’t have to worry about that. But what if I go to a meeting without a computer? Sure, I could try to type on the tiny keyboard, but I can’t even type on a full-sized keyboard as fast as I can write. I started carrying an 8.5/11 whiteboard around with me. I love taking notes on it, because 90% of the things I write down I don’t need 15 minutes later, anyway. I don’t really care about wasting paper, but I do care about trying to find more of it if I run out, or taking the time to throw it away when I am done with it. With the whiteboard, take a note, use it, then erase it. What about the other 10% you ask? Well, that is where the Evernote phone apps come in. The Evernote phone apps hook into the phone’s camera, so I can create a note that is an image I just took (or already had stored) with the camera on my phone. If the note is something I actually need to keep long term, or if I simply ran out of space on the whiteboard, I just take a quick snapshot of the board with my phone, and it syncs to the Evernote server. PLUS, Evernote indexes the text in pictures, too, making them searchable just like normal text. I keep work notes, personal notes, playlists, recipes, and reward club membership numbers in Evernote, and it is available to me wherever I am.
Email: Thunderbird – Windows/Mac/Linux – Free (and Open Source)
Everyone uses email, and everyone has their preferred provider & application. I realize that this is the section least likely to make an impact, since people already have their own thing going with email, but this sets up the next three sections, and you might learn something anyway, so bear with me. I have been using Gmail for years, and it definitely has the best UI of any browser-based email provider. That said, I don’t like actually using browser-based applications. I LOVE that they exist, and I do use them, but as a last resort. If I am at a computer I use regularly, I want an app that I can tweak to my heart’s content, but if I am somehow away from home, without a laptop or a smartphone, I like knowing I can get to my email. (Come to think of it, I don’t remember the last time this actually happened. Probably the day before I bought my Pearl about 4 years ago.) Anyway, I have IMAP enabled in Gmail, which allows me to use Thunderbird (or any other IMAP-capable application) to check my email. The benefit of IMAP (over the traditional POP3) is that the email never leaves the server. This can be true of POP3, too, if properly configured, but IMAP also maintains read/unread status, message location, and folder structure. For example, if I created a folder called “Important” on my POP3 email server, it would not appear in my email application when I configured it. It will with IMAP. Every change I make on any computer will synchronize with all of the other email clients I am using. Like Firefox, Thunderbird also has a portable version, which could be installed to a thumb drive, or, if you have been paying attention at all, your dropbox. Email generates a lot of data quickly, so I don’t recommend this, unless you don’t have IMAP, or you do have a paid dropbox account. The next three sections also deal with Thunderbird, and it would be nice to sync the Thunderbird settings across computers, but, like the Firefox stuff at the top of this post, that is just initial setup stuff, so I won’t sweat it. I also use the Gmail app for my BlackBerry, which syncs the same way (although I don’t think IMAP actually needs to be enabled to use it).
Calendar: Google Calendar – Browser – Free
In addition to Gmail, I also use Google Calendar. Like Gmail, if there is a real application I can use, I will use it over something browser-based. Lightning is an extension made and maintained by Mozilla, that adds calendar functionality to Thunderbird, making it a competitor (and superior to) Outlook. By using this, in addition to the extension Provider for Google Calendar, I can sync my Google Calendar with my Thunderbird/Lightning calendar. I also use Google Sync; a BlackBerry app which syncs my BlackBerry calendar with my Google Calendar. And since I sync my BlackBerry with Outlook on my work computer, my work and personal calendars all have all of my appointment data. I am usually a believer in separating work from play, but it is foolish, in my opinion, to do that with your calendar. Scheduling is difficult enough with one calendar, and you can always mark stuff as private, if your work calendar is shared. Before I had the BlackBerry, I was using a Windows application made by Google, called Google Calendar Sync to sync my two calendars. Even though that seems like a more elegant solution than depending on the phone to do the syncing, it is only syncing while my work computer is on. Hopefully, that is only about 45 hours per week.
Contacts: Google Contacts – Browser – Free
Ever since I started using Gmail, I have disliked Google’s contact management system. I don’t know when they changed it, but when I started using Google Voice, I started using it again, and found it much more intuitive than before. At any rate, I have been using it again, and with Thunderbird extension Zindus, I can sync my Google Contacts with Thunderbird. Google Sync, the BlackBerry app that syncs my calendar, also syncs my contacts. This means when I add a contact to my phone, it gets sent to Google, and when I eventually remember to sync with Outlook, it will be there, too. In case it isn’t obvious, when I add a contact in Outlook, then sync my phone, it will end up in Google, too.
Tasks: Remember the Milk – Browser/iPhone/BlackBerry – Free | $25/Year
My love for Remember the Milk knows no bounds. More than once I have abandoned it, thinking I needed something different and/or better, and tried other services, and I keep coming back. It is as simple or as complex as you need it to be, which is exactly as it should be. So far, I have only figured out how to view my Remember the Milk to do lists in Thunderbird, not sync them. The extension I mentioned in the calendar section, Lightning, also adds task management to Thunderbird, and by adding Remember the Milk’s ICAL link to Thunderbird, it allows you read access to your to do lists. As far as I can tell, any actual changes have to be done in the browser. Still; better than nothing. Remember the Milk also has iPhone and BlackBerry applications. While Remember the Milk is free no matter how much you use it in the browser, to use it on these devices requires a $25/Year Pro account. While the iPhone app is basically just an easier to navigate portal to the Remember the Milk webpage, the BlackBerry app functions just like Google Sync. It adds your Remember the Milk tasks to the BlackBerry’s native task management app (and vice-versa). And, like everything else, if it is on your BlackBerry, it can go to Outlook. My goal when I get a new computer, or install a new OS on an old computer, is to be up and running as if nothing ever happened, as fast as possible. Synchronizing as much data as possible is the key to this. I use a lot of tools to do it, but the time it took to figure out and configure will surely save me time in the long run. Hopefully you will find at least some of this helpful. If you do, or if you come up with better ways than I have, leave me a comment.