Efficient computer tools: what would you put on the list?
May 6, 2005 9:57 AM   Subscribe

What tools do you use to be efficient while working on a computer, be it online or not? Things like del.icio.us, dropload, winzip, phpbboards, group blogs/wikis, etc. Are there any books for general fine tuning of already computer-familiar users? What about seminars?

I was thinking about everyday things people do to speed up their work - like, not everyone uses alt+tab, for example, to switch between app windows. I was also thinking about how to travel as lightly as possible business wise - so, if all your data & tools are stored online, it's just you and the suitcase. I know this is probably a cloudy question, but I know you guys can help me clarify. :D
posted by yoga to Technology (28 answers total)
On Windows, I use windows-R and I know the name and command-line switches for the applications I use most. For instance, I use winword and excel and putty to servers all the time.
posted by SpecialK at 10:38 AM on May 6, 2005

Oh, and I'm starting to store everything online in a Wiki. When I upgrade to a crackberry at some point in the near future, it's going to make my life pure luxury to be able to access all that information from anywhere.
posted by SpecialK at 10:39 AM on May 6, 2005

A tabbed browser, a tabbed text editor (I use SciTE, also recommend UltraEdit). Some other tricks:

Windows Key + R opens the run prompt, I usually already have 'cmd' typed into it so a enter and bam, I'm at the command prompt

Windows Key + D to get to the desktop.
posted by furtive at 10:48 AM on May 6, 2005

Win+E for Windows Explorer
Win+L for Logoff
Win+Pause for System Properties

Bloglines.com for keeping up on all those RSS feeds (like this one)
Gmail for the free, huge email box.
FIREFOX!...on my portable flash drive. Details on that at johnhaller.com
KLM Codec for playing Quicktime and Real (and many other) files without the stupid proprietery players.

posted by SlyBevel at 10:48 AM on May 6, 2005

Oh, and the Mozilla/Firefox Linky extension for sufring porn.
posted by furtive at 10:50 AM on May 6, 2005

Windows Key + R opens the run prompt

a good idea (at least on Win98) is to make shortcuts to programs you use frequently, rename them to a single word, then copy them in to the windows directory. they will then be accessible from the run prompt.

less mousing = good
posted by poweredbybeard at 11:25 AM on May 6, 2005

i buff out my quick-launch -- pull out all the worthless crap, then stack it with programs i use multiple times in an hour, so I don't have to dig through the start menu. Right now, I've got Shortcut to Desktop, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Filezilla, Control Panel (which I never use, so it's getting zapped), Remote Desktop, Trillian (which I only use once a day, I guess, so i might zap that too), Outlook, and the calculator.

You have to unlock the toolbar and drag out the space for the quicklaunch so everything is available on the screen at once (you can usually leave it so one isn't displaying, and then when you lock it again, it'll have enough room), otherwise it's not worth having. Also, you can drag folder shortcuts onto there, which is SUPER-helpful on my server (i've got waaay more stuff in the quicklaunch on there).

the windows-D/windows-pause shortcuts are gold. I didn't know about those.
posted by fishfucker at 11:29 AM on May 6, 2005

I don't know if there's a Windows equivalent, but URLwell has changed my browsing habits.
posted by Monochrome at 11:57 AM on May 6, 2005

I do a ton of graphics and have 1,000's of pics so my fav program of all time is Thumbsplus at www.cerious.com
posted by askmatrix at 12:06 PM on May 6, 2005

Rainlender is a nifty always-on calendar that has some neat features like displaying outlook events.
posted by SteveInMaine at 12:17 PM on May 6, 2005

posted by elisabeth r at 12:35 PM on May 6, 2005

Perhaps not as hip as the other suggestions, but I use Yahoo! Briefcase to store files I need access to from home and work. Great for storing files you don't need to update very frequently (if you update, you have to save locally and upload the updated version).

On preview: One more thing. I've come to love TaDa Lists to remind me of my To Do's instead of Outlook tasks (although my new Zire is quickly replacing TaDa Lists...). Great also in that they're sharable and there's an RSS feed.
posted by suchatreat at 12:40 PM on May 6, 2005

Response by poster: Ooooooo nice Win shortcuts - especially the win+R and D very handy. And slybevel that *is* useful stuff on your site!

So it seems like these tips are things everyone picks up OTJ or some other informal way, like this forum, would that be a safe assumption?

I've yet to find a general "make me efficient with my computer" book. There are lots of focused books & seminars on specific softwares, but nothing broad.
posted by yoga at 12:40 PM on May 6, 2005

i'm using the Kirby Alarm program which pops up reminder boxes for me whenever I need to remember to do something at a specific time or date. (Mainly remembering when to go home). It's quite flexible.

I'm really liking SyncBackSE for backing up stuff and syncing my work files with home via USB drive every day.

Here's a thread talking about application launcher programs (for Windows...I think Quicksilver is Mac-only). I'm hoping to try out AppRocket eventually but haven't yet.
posted by jacobsee at 12:41 PM on May 6, 2005

Don't use WinZip, use IZArc. It does more, does it better, and is free without nags.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:49 PM on May 6, 2005

You must get
CLCL Ver 1.1.1
Copyright (C) 1996-2004 by Nakashima Tomoaki. All rights reserved.

WEB SITE: http://www.nakka.com/
posted by orthogonality at 1:39 PM on May 6, 2005

I use a commercial software program to save local copies of articles & other content I find online. The Firefox extension Scrapbook is free and does the same thing.
posted by mlis at 1:40 PM on May 6, 2005

Putting folders in Firefox's toolbar, then using the AddBookmarkHere extension makes bookmarking wonderfully organized and simple. Then I use Bookmarks Synchronizer extension to keep my various machines identical (PCs at home and work, and Mac Powerbook everywhere) I'd die without those two now -- ABH is specially wonderful.

On OSX I prefer LaunchBar over Quicksilver -- it's less obtrusive.

These next are not tools, but change the livability of Windows for me: I put a Command Prompt shortcut (drag it from Accessories while holding Ctrl) on the top of my start menu, so pressing Windows then down then enter gives me a commandline (where i mostly live).

Making a batch file "e.bat" containing "explorer /e, %1" allows opening Explorer easily. Adding a registry value lets me right-click on a folder in Explorer and open a Command Prompt window in that folder.
posted by anadem at 4:38 PM on May 6, 2005

I use WinKey to bind commonly used applications to Windows-key sequences. I bind Win+Z to cmd.exe for quick access.

Another good trick if you like the quicklaunch bar, but hate all the programs that try to stick shortcuts there: Create a folder somewhere and add that folder to the taskbar as a toolbar. Put the applications you want in it, and disable the normal quicklaunch bar.
posted by yarmond at 5:10 PM on May 6, 2005

Oh, I'm all over Free Mind, a mind mapping/hierarchical tree mapping program. Yes their main site is a wiki.
posted by furtive at 5:36 PM on May 6, 2005

Yoga, thanks for the compliment, but johnhaller.com isn't mine. I just go there for Firefox goodies.
posted by SlyBevel at 9:43 PM on May 6, 2005

Dave's Quick Search Deskbar

Don't let the ugly website fool you, it is brilliant.
posted by Chuckles at 12:21 AM on May 7, 2005

dave's quick search deskbar also.
plus I load up my quicklaunch bar.
the only things I reguarly have to go the start menu for are non-productive things like games and really infrequently (1/month or less) used things.
posted by juv3nal at 12:30 AM on May 7, 2005

I pull the modem cable out of the back of the computer.
posted by pracowity at 1:09 AM on May 7, 2005

Here is a lot of obvious stuff, but sometimes the simplest tricks are the best for people who don't know them. Some of this info is Mac specific and relates to habits I've picked up since getting a Mac, but most of it should be translatable to other platforms.

Have an "inbox" folder into which all incoming items go. Anything that needs to be filed or looked at-- inbox. All downloads-- inbox. It makes it much easier to keep track of things. Also useful is having a "working" folder and some kind of system for clippings. (I've tried all sorts of crazy methods but have just found that saving text and html off the web is the best way.)

Don't maximize windows so that they fill up the whole screen. They should only be as big as the data they are displaying requires. This makes it quicker to switch apps with the mouse and to drag things between apps and to the desktop. It also gives you a visual sense of what is going on in your computer that you don't get if you're constantly tabbing between maximized windows, which is a very ineffecient behavior.

Get a second monitor. Keep your email, RSS, music player, etc open on it and use the main monitor for working.

Avoid using context menus for things that can be done through drag and drop, liking copying images from web sites. (Just drag them onto the desktop.) Drag and drop is grossly underused in the Windows world. I see people navigating through 3 or 4 menus just import data into an application or something.

When you can avoid it, avoid sorting. I have found it is better to just keep all of my applications unsorted in /Applications, for instance (I have a Mac) instead of creating "Utilities" or "Games" subfolders. (It helps that Mac applications are self-contained bundles, but anyway. I then label all games purple and sort by label.)

Sogudi (for Safari, but there are equivalent additions for Firefox.) This allow you to search, say, Amazon with a quick "az booktitle" or search Wikipedia with a "wp subjectname."

Learn your browser's tricks. Center clicking is your friend. (In Safari, now, cmd-enter in a form opens the results of that form in a new page. Amazingly useful.)

"Less mousing" is vague advice. The mouse is quicker if you're already using the mouse. The keyboard is quicker if you're already using the keyboard. The idea is to avoid the switching if it's for only one task. So you should know keyboard and mouse ways to do everything. It is simply not the case that the keyboard is always and every time the more efficient way to operate. It may seem like it is, what with all of those keys you're hitting one after the other, but testing suggests otherwise.

One thing that the keyboard is much faster at is application launching. The days of hierarchical menus of all the applications on your system are over: goodbye, useless Start menu. Quicksilver and Launchbar are Mac programs that Tiger's Spotlight sort of emulates. The idea is you type "cmd-space" or some other quick combination and then the first few letters of what you want to launch. (Spotlight actually sucks as an app launcher compared to these, but I will have to wait until Quicksilver uses Spotlight data for its searches to use it again to avoid having two indexing daemons always going. Spotlight tries to be very comprehensive in what it indexes and as a result is slower than other solutions.) Anyway, this kind of keyboard based quicklauncher is the way to go. You don't "set" magic hotkeys, which suck, it just learns from your behavior what abbreviation means what (it gives you choices, with the default behavior to launch the first choice.) As of right now, there is no more efficient way to find and open applications on your computer in a GUI. You have no idea how much better this kind of launcher is until you've tried one.

An RSS reader (of course) that works correctly (you'd be surprised). It needs to open browser links in a new tab in the browser while keeping the browser in the background. It needs to integrate with the browser so that subscribing to new feeds isn't a hassle. Whatever other behaviors you find useful, it needs to do. You're going to be using the thing every time.
posted by yesno at 4:21 PM on May 11, 2005

Besides Bloglines to read my 100+ feeds every day, I use bookmarklets. Like the one I use to post to my blog and the one I use to post to del.icio.us and furl at the same time.
posted by timyang at 7:42 PM on May 11, 2005

Handy keyboard shortcuts in Windows:
Right-click any shortcut, press Properties, and type a letter in the "Shortcut key" box. This will create a CTRL-ALT-x shortcut. You can also make CTRL-SHIFT and CTRL-ALT-SHIFT shortcuts by holding them while pressing the letter.
posted by trez at 1:02 PM on May 12, 2005

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