Open Toolbox

Ever since I moved to a Mac, the tools I use have changed. Also my work and life patterns have changed. I thought I’d share what I have found useful.

Email, Calendar, Contacts

My personal email is on Gmail. I moved from Yahoo Mail after many years and have never regretted it. Gmail totally rocks. For work related email, I first tried Mac Mail. The integration with Exchange was supposed to be better with Snow Leopard which is why I thought I’d give it a spin. But it is surprisingly clunky. I was constantly battling authentication errors which were clearly a problem with the email client not Exchange. Google Calendar sync with Mail didn’t work for me. Also Mac Mail has other irritants like saving drafts even after one has sent out the email. Eventually I gave up and moved to Thunderbird. The email client is trouble free although the performance is a little sluggish compared to Mac Mail. The Lightning add-on for calendar functionality within Thunderbird now works quite well for me, though it took a couple of tries to get it going. Another add-on called Provider for Google Calendar, takes care of the calendar sync. And a third one gContactSynch handles the sync with Google Contacts.

Lightning and the other two add-ons are still in beta. And my move to Thunderbird on Mac is still less than a month old, but it’s working well so far.

Phone and Mobile phone

I use Google Voice. I have come to like it a lot and sometimes worry about getting in too deep with a beta product. While Google usually stretches the meaning of ‘beta’ quite a bit, this service is definitely beta. If they get into a scrap with the FCC and scrap the service, I’ll have to ask all my contacts to change my phone number in their address books – a prospect that makes me shudder. So, if you are listening Google, I hope it won’t come to that.

For my mobile phone, I just moved from a Blackberry Pearl to HTC Hero (on Sprint PCS). The iPhone does not allow the Google Voice app so it wasn’t an option for me. The HTC Hero is an Android phone and so it plays very nicely with all Google services. But surprisingly Google Voice isn’t smoothly integrated. It often fails to make an outbound call with GV, which is not that big a problem since you can complete the call with the mobile phone number. But the one problem that has me worried is that calls to Google Voice have to be picked up in about 12 secs or they go into voice mail. Unless GV extends their ring time, or makes it configurable, I’ll have to be quick on the draw, or miss the call. Which is not good. But not bad enough to have second thoughts about GV.

The HTC Hero apps that work well for me are the HTC Exchange mail client, Gmail, Contacts and Google Maps. The inbuilt calendar is not up to snuff. I often resort to Google Calendar using the browser, which I shouldn’t have to. There are a gazillion apps in the Android Market for Calendar but my problem is that I don’t want to give my Google password to a third party. The information on which apps in Android Market store my password and which don’t is not readily available. Google Reader through the browser works really well, but I’d sure like to have an RSS reader on the phone (that doesn’t store my Google password). Another thing – I think the Google Voice app could be much better.

I am pretty excited about Android and even though HTC Hero feels like a version 1, with many irritants big and small, I’m going to stick it out in the hope that things can only get better.


For bookmarking I have used Delicious for a long time and continue to do so. I don’t find myself using the ‘social’ aspects of Delicious. In fact I rarely go back and look at my book marks at all. But it feels good that if I do forget something I can go find it. For quick access to often used sites I use the browser bookmark functionality in Firefox.

I take a lot of notes. I use Evernote to store my notes. I use a notebook and a pen, the old fashioned way, if I am in a meeting. But even those notes eventually will go into Evernote. If I find something important while browsing, I will use the Evernote Clipper in the browser to quickly add it to Evernote. I also scan almost any important paper that needs to archived, into Evernote. In a way, Evernote has replaced the need to use Word files at all. Or store pdf files in a directory. It is all in Evernote, constantly backed up to the Evernote site. Ironically, my usage is still low enough for it to be free for me.

For backup I use a Time Capsule from Apple on my home network.

Other Productivity Tools

Open Office has been OK for me, not great. I don’t use Writer (equivalent of Word) at all. The spreadsheet software works well for me. The presentation software doesn’t. Just for this, I am thinking of getting iWork from Apple. Keynote is superb.

I also use Google Docs extensively. For collaborative work, it is hard to beat. But again, the presentation software is weak.

Skitch is a fantastic tool for annotating screenshots, images and photos. I love it. Its free.

I recently came across this browser add-on called Readability. It is fantastic. I tend to prefer uncluttered pages and larger font size. Readability delivers it on any page with one click.

I use Twitter very sparingly. I guess I don’t have much to say and when I do, it is a post like this which is more like 1400 words, not 140 characters! But this Sidebar has made it really simple. Even if you use it just to send a link to a friend, it is quite useful and interesting.

I use a whole bunch of other tools and services for blogging, entertainment etc. But that will have to keep for another day.


  1. Patrix says:

    Thanks for the Readibility tip. It is indeed a fantastic service.

    A recent Mac convert myself, I'm looking forward to your "other tools and services for blogging and entertainment".


  2. samir says:

    Have you tried Zimbra desktop – works well for integrating Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Calendars, etc.

    Glad to know I share quite a few tools – even though on a PC. Any reason why you didnt get the iPhone ? While GV is great – the Skype option on iPhone (or I guess th Hero) must work too. Now Fring has one-way inbound video calling via Skype on the iPhone. Does the Hero support that?


    1. Samir – Skype works differently from GV as you probably know. It wouldn't have worked for me. And now I'm kind of stuck with GV since I give their number out. On the whole not being able to get the iPhone was a price I paid for being wedded to GV, but its been worthwhile so far.

      I don't use Skype at all, so I haven't investigated if Hero supports it.

      Didn't think about Zimbra, but for now I'm sticking with Thunderbird.


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