Great software

  • January 30, 2017

It’s painful to see how short this list is. The unfortunate reality is that most software is lacking in either usability, features, reliability, or performance. Thankfully, software is constantly evolving and I am very encouraged by the crossover that is occurring between web technologies and native apps. Below is a list of the software that I think is great and some that I frequently use

Excellent software

Everything Search Engine (Free) – If you use a PC, you should download this tiny utility immediately. It will change your life and make you wonder why every Windows open or save dialog box doesn’t work like this natively. I have it setup to open a new search with alt+space key combination.

HelpScout ($20/user/month) – We use Helpscout’s helpdesk and docs products at Astrohaus. The helpdesk product is their flagship and it is phenomenal. It does all the things that I would hope for in a helpdesk and a lot more. The design is well thought out and it is constantly improving. They throw in Docs for some plans and it provides a simple knowledge base. It perfectly fits our needs and is well integrated into the help desk product. If you run a business, I would highly recommend using Helpscout to manage your communal inboxes and your knowledge base. It’s a real bargain for what you get in return.

LastPass – Patrick suggested we start using this at Astrohaus as a secure way to manage passwords and now I use it for my personal password keeping as well. It is well designed and I am now using much stronger and unique passwords for everything. The mobile app on iOSworks great as well.

Word Flow Keyboard app by Microsoft – One thing that Android got right is that the native keyboard allows you to swipe. If you’re an iPhone user and don’t know what I am talking about, swiping allows you to use a single finger to input words by dragging across all the letters in a continuous motion. It is unquestionably faster than hunting and pecking with two thumbs (or one!) because the keyboard software also applies predictive text algorithms to guess the word as you swipe. For the longest time, iOS did not support third party keyboards but now they do! I struggled with the Swype app for a while before I finally replaced it with Word Flow. The basic idea is the same but there are a couple features with Word Flow that are critical yet lacking in Swype. These mainly have to do with errors in typing and in predicting. In both cases, Word Flow handles them very smartly whereas Swype causes a lot of frustration. The keyboard is also great because you can also type like normal with two thumbs and then swipe without changing modes or anything. It’s the best of both worlds.

Greenshot (Free) – This little utility for Windows does screenshots but with a lot more sophistication. It takes over the PrtSc keyboard shortcut and gives you a lot more options including capturing window, capturing region, and sending to a basic image editor. It’s something I use almost daily.

Dropbox – The cloud is powerful when there are smart people building software on top of it. Dropbox is without question best in class and a game changer. I have also used Onedrive, Sugarsync, Google Drive, and Amazon Cloud but none of them are remotely as good as Dropbox. It just works, instantly detecting changes, and reliably keeps everything in sync. A few years ago I put all my files in the cloud which means that I can access any file from anywhere I have an internet connection. It also means that I could toss my laptop or have my hard drive fail in my desktop without any worry.

F.lux – Flux is a small utility that sits in the system tray and changes the warmth of your LCD screen as day turns to night. The idea is that by blocking blue light, your sleep will improve and it is more comfortable on the eyes. There is lots of research out there but it is far easier to just try it out. I have been using F.lux for a very long time and it is fantastic. At first, it seems like everything went pink but then the color palette becomes completely normal.

Notable exclusions

Chrome (Free) – This is my daily driver browser but it is a hungry, fat pig. Yes, it is my fault for having tons of tabs open all the time but the memory management is still poor. As with most Google products, I feel it getting stale the more I use it.

Windows ($$) – It’s bloated and rife with legacy nonsense. The good thing is that it is quite stable and fast for me these days. But the most basic things (network sharing, file management, window management) are still far too difficult and cumbersome.

Skype (Free) – A nightmare. [2017/1/31 edit: I went to use Skype today and it had a new feature that worked! It is a Microsoft product so maybe there is hope given their new leadership.]