Anyone who knows me, or has been reading my blog of late must know that I have had my head buried in my new job. A career change certainly has its rewards, but also involves a learning curve. Since my time is precious of late (no surprise that blogging has taken a back seat), I thought a good theme for a blog post would entail the tools that save me time. My new role involves more client face time – meetings, time on the road etc, in fact I have never seen my work calendar with so many occupied blocks of time, so my dependency on keeping my schedule in order has never been more important. Below is a list of the software applications that make my career that little bit easier to manage every day….
Microsoft Exchange 2007 – Yes, I hear the groans, but before I receive the comments about rigid IT departments who break out into a rash with the mere mention of Microsoft Exchange, let me tell you why the latest version – Exchange 2007 – is so productive. No matter what anyone says, I refuse to believe that any other mail server is as feature rich as Exchange. Taking aside the fact that Exchange is only happy when tied at the hip with Active Directory, in my opinion it is hands down the best messaging platform. Exchange has provided Outlook Web Access since version 2000, and the newest version still provides the same rich AJAX-like-user interface (introduced long before AJAX was a common term) to emulate the rich client version in a web browser. The new version integrates with SharePoint, allowing me to access my document libraries from anywhere on the Internet. Since version 2003, Exchange has supported MAPI over HTTP, and because my employer is nice, I am able to access my mailbox, calendar, and tasks using Outlook on my work laptop at home, as if I never left the office. Finally, my favorite part about Exchange – I can synchronize with my Windows mobile device, so can receive push email, calendar and tasks whilst on the road – how nice is that?
Outlook 2007 – I cannot talk about Exchange without mentioning its partner in crime – Outlook. Once again, find me an email client that can do half of what Outlook can (Outlook Express does not count because it is technically Outlook on a diet). I mentioned MAPI over HTTP above, which I use constantly when away from the office. 2007 includes an RSS feed aggregator, and like OWA, Outlook 2007 now connects with SharePoint to access document libraries, task lists and calendars. If you are an SMS hound, you can also send and receive SMS messages using the Outlook Mobile Services. Personally, I think the Internet Calendars feature is a lifesaver – I can access my personal Google calendars and overlay my off work schedule with my daytime schedule to see what the week has in store.
Windows Mobile – My Pocket PC phone combo (HTC PPC 6700) cost me a chunk of change when I brought it, but almost a year later, I never regret my decision. I cannot count the number of times I have been away from my computer and needing to get access to important information in an email, calendar information, or contact information. I think of my PPC as an extension to the office –the other day I was stuck in traffic on the way to a client meeting. So, I called my boss for my client’s telephone number, so I could inform them I would be late, and he was able to email it to me without having to relay numbers over the phone.
Google Apps for Your Domain – For a while, I was hosting an Exchange server at home to look after my email, mainly because I wanted email at my own domain name and I could not stand the half-baked web clients offered by the cheapest hosting clients. Only problem was is that, although Exchange is very nice, it is a problem when something goes wrong. Not so long back, I remember pulling an all nighter trying to get my server back online after a disk crash. When I heard about GAFYD – free email hosting for your domain email, I decided to let Google take the responsibility of backing up my email and worrying about offline issues. As far as everyone else is concerned, nothing changed; they can still email me at the same robgarrett.com email address. However, I get the feature rich web client of Gmail to access my domain-hosted email. No more headaches if my broadband connection goes down, or concerns with hardware redundancy.
Google Calendar – My wife and I used Google calendar long before I switched to GAFYD, which also uses the same calendar engine. Google calendar provides me, and the family, with a nice UI for shared calendars, and because it is Google, I can search for any appointment in seconds. Prior to Google, my wife and I were in constant battle over miscommunication of appointments – paper calendars were lost, emails about upcoming appointments went astray, and I found out about most planned events on the evening before they happened. I guess you can say that Google saved my marriage.
Foldershare – There is nothing more frustrating than finding out that all-important file is on another PC and you forgot to copy the darn thing over before a big meeting. Fortunately, there is Foldershare. FS synchronizes files between multiple computers of your choice, and I use this application exclusively to manage access to my important files.
Groove 20007 – Much like Foldershare, Groove enabled me to synchronize my files with other computers and peers, only Groove has many additional features. For one, Groove permits collaboration against SharePoint document libraries. So, my peers and I can work on documents together and when ready I can synchronize the changes to our company SharePoint server for archival.
I could go on, many more products exist that enable me to shave vital minutes off my day, but the above list contains the main tenants. Between these applications, I can collaborate on work items, schedule appointments, stay in touch with the office, plan my weekends, and gain access to all information when working remote – pretty cool.