Archive for November, 2007November 30, 2007
I thought I would wrap up the month by highlighting one of the few websites I visit every day: MacZot. I mentioned in my first post that I bought much more software for my Mac (actually Macs, plural) than I ever expected. One big factor leading to that result was MacZot.
MacZot is similar to woot!, except it lists Mac software. Almost every day, MacZot has a piece of Mac software on sale. On rare occasions, MacZot has a bundle of applications or application templates on sale. The MacZot sale price is usually very good. The catch is that the sale price is only available for that one day.
MacZot has served two useful purposes for me. First, it has allowed me to buy software that I wanted, but didn’t really need, by offering the software at a more affordable price. Second, it has introduced me to software that I didn’t know existed. I visit several Mac news websites regularly, but MacZot will still occasionally list software that I haven’t seen before.
To date, I have succumbed to temptation on MacZot 23 times in just over a year. The pace has slowed a little bit as my software stable has gotten larger. But still look forward every morning to finding out what that day’s special is on MacZot.
This post is one part review and one part love letter. I have had my iPhone since the price drop when I was able to nab a 4GB model for $299. Since that time it has been a whirlwind romance. There are some things I don’t like, and I will probably write an article about those. But there are so many things I like that I now can’t imagine not having an iPhone. These are my top reasons to own an iPhone, in no particular order:
1. It’s an iPod!
I always carry my phone and my iPod. An iPhone is one less thing to carry.
2. Price Shopping
Before my iPhone, my shopping trips would go something like this:
ME: I really like this, I think we should buy it.
WIFE: I wonder what price it is on [Amazon/other internet store]?
ME: Ok, let’s check the price when we get home, and if it’s the same price online we’ll come back and buy it here.
Sometimes the roles were reversed, but you get the idea. The internet had really screwed up my shopping! That doesn’t happen now, though. With my iPhone, I can check the internet prices while I am in the store.
3. Surfing at Lunch
I usually go out to eat by myself at lunch. I just find that lunches go faster that way. I still like to have something to entertain me while I eat, though. That’s where my iPhone comes in. I read quite a few blogs and forums regularly and lunch is the perfect time to get in some reading. The iPhone screen is big enough that I can read quite comfortably with my iPhone on the table once I rotate the view in Safari.
4. Listening to Only the Voicemail Messages That I Want To
Listening to voicemail messages on my old phone was a pain – multiple menus followed by a long wait to connect to the system, having to listen to every message, and finally having to remember which number to press to do anything. I disliked it so much that I generally just didn’t listen to my messages. Instead, I simply called people back if my phone showed I ever missed a call.
Visual voice mail on the iPhone changed all that for me. I don’t listen to all of my messages now, but I don’t have to because I can play only the messages I want to hear. Plus, if I know right away that I don’t need to hear a message, I can just hit the delete button – right in the middle of the message. The iPhone makes voicemail fun again!
My 15-month-old daughter can sometimes be difficult to calm down when she gets upset. But one thing is almost guaranteed to get her smiling – Teletubbies. It takes a good connection, but YouTube on my iPhone usually delivers up the goods. The only real difficulty is finding the actual Teletubbies videos and not the rap songs mixed with Teletubbies dancing (some of them are actually pretty good – seriously!).
I did something I hadn’t planned on doing for a while – write an article about another application from The Omni Group.1 I have good reason, though. Over the weekend, The Omni Group announced a public beta2 of a task-management application called OmniFocus.
I have been using OmniFocus for several months now as part of the private beta program and have been quite impressed. My calendar needs are pretty simple, and iCal serves those needs well. The iCal To Do feature, though, hasn’t worked for keeping track of my tasks. The only way to categorize a task in iCal is to assign it to a calendar. That becomes quite cumbersome as the number of calendars grows because the primary way to distinguish one calendar from another is by color.
OmniFocus was inspired by David Allen’s Getting Things Done. OmniFocus isn’t the first Mac GTD application. But for me, at least, OmniFocus is the best of the bunch. I have listed the other Mac GTD applications that I know of at the end of article. If you know of any that aren’t listed, let me know and I will add them.
OmniFocus has the tools to make GTD work. OmniFocus lets me capture whatever I am thinking about as a task. I can annotate the task by writing notes or attaching file, so I can get rid of the email or piece of paper that got me thinking about the task. If I know right away that the task will be a big task, I can create the task as a separate project. If I discover later that a task is more complicated than I first thought, I can promote it from a task to a project at that time. In this way, OmniFocus lets me break down my tasks into discrete steps, so I always know what I have to do next.
Probably the best way to understand OmniFocus and how it can help you get organized is to see it in use. The Omni Group has a 15-minute video on their website about how to use OmniFocus and what it can do.
OmniFocus won’t replace your calendar application. But, if your task-management system involves pieces of physical paper or more than one application, you might want to take a look at OmniFocus.
1 I promise this will be the last one for a while. The Omni Group has several other applications, but I only use OmniWeb and OmniFocus regularly.
2 Beta software is pre-release software that the company allows people to use so the software can be tested as much as possible. It also happens to be great marketing by allowing people to use the software free for many months.
Today FileMaker, Inc. – Apple’s database software subsidiary – released Bento, a lightweight database application. Bento is a welcome addition to the contact, scheduling, and office management space.
Previously, the software in this space fell mostly at either end of the complexity continuum. FileMaker Pro is a powerful database, but complicated to use. It’s not the kind of program the typical user can just install and start using with little or no instruction. At the other end of the continuum are programs like Daylite from Marketcircle. Daylite is also quite sophisticated, but it has limited configurability compared to the open-ended possibilities of FileMaker Pro. But, Daylite is straightforward enough that most users can quickly learn how to use it.
Bento is something in between. It combines the power of FileMaker Pro with the simplicity of iLife. Like FileMaker Pro, Bento is a database for organizing all of the information you need for your law practice. Bento integrates directly with the Mac OS X Address Book and iCal databases, so there is no need to sync your data – like you have to do in Daylite or Contactizer. Bento also works with Time Machine, allowing you to backup database and restore single records.
All of these features come with one limitation, however – Bento requires Mac OS X Leopard. However, as I discussed in another article, there are already plenty of good reasons to upgrade to Leopard. Also, Bento seems like it is more suited to a single-user environment – unlike FileMaker Pro and Daylite. Look for a more detailed review of Bento in a few weeks, after I have had a chance to put it through its paces.
Many of the most highly touted Leopard features seem to be useful primarily for home users. Some very creative law firms will no doubt find practical uses for Mail stationary and Photo Booth effects in iChat. Even so, I have identified five Leopard features as the most likely to have an immediate impact on your law practice. The first four features, taken together, can literally transform how you work with documents at your firm. The last feature doesn’t directly relate to document management, but is just too important to leave off the list.
I don’t think I need to tell you that lawyers in virtually all practice areas have to deal with a lot of documents – pleadings, discovery, letters, work product, and much more. Even with proper file and directory names or Spotlight searches (more on that later!), it may be necessary to look at a number of files before finding the specific file or version you are seeking. If you have ever hunted for that one letter to opposing counsel from a month or two ago where a promise – as yet unfulfilled – was made, you will know what I am talking about.
Even when you know exactly what document you are looking for, finding it can take time. Previously, viewing a document meant loading up the application to and opening the file – a task which could take anywhere from five to thirty seconds. Leopard adds Quicklook, a tool that allows you to view a file without loading up the application. Quicklook supports most of the major file types, including PDF, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, images, and movies. Since Quicklook doesn’t allow you to edit files, it will be faster even if the application you normally use to open the file is already running. On my computer, Quicklook opens most small-to-medium-sized files in a second or less. That may not sound like a huge savings, but even an extra five seconds per document can add up to significant time if you have to look at ten or twenty documents.
Preview in Tiger could best be described as a fast, feature-poor PDF viewer. In Leopard, that place has been taken by Quicklook. In Leopard, Preview has been reborn as a tool for managing and marking-up PDF documents. As before, Preview can still be used to view other types of files, such as images. The new features will be most beneficial, though, when working with PDF files.
The first thing you will notice about Preview is the new interface. There’s nothing outstanding about the new interface – but if you were using Adobe Reader because Preview was awkward and unpleasant, you can stop now.
The Preview annotation tools have been vastly improved in Leopard. For example, you can add notes to your PDF documents. The notes appear as yellow icons in the document. The text of the notes are displayed in yellow boxes – reminiscent of Stickies notes – in a sidebar to the left of the document.
The Leopard version of Preview also allows you to combine or rearrange the pages of PDF documents. You may have already had this capability through Adobe Acrobat. Upgrading to Leopard provides the same functionality to everyone in your office without buying additional Acrobat licenses.
Apple introduced Spotlight in Tiger, allowing you to quickly search the contents of files on your computer or a hard drive connected to your computer (like a USB drive). With Leopard, Apple has expanded the reach of Spotlight to include other computers on your network. Combining Leopard with a ScanSnap and (the usually bundled) Adobe Acrobat allows you to set up fairly effective document repository on your network right out of the box.
The new Spotlight search options in Leopard will also give you much greater control over your searches. In Tiger, Spotlight could only handle simple keyword searches. Leopard adds the often-requested capability to perform very complicated searches. Apple added new search fields, including the primary fields from Address Book, iCal, and Mail such as Due Date, Email Address, and Subject. Document searches will benefit from new fields such as Authors and Pages. The already lengthy list will likely grow as programs are updated to take advantage of the new Spotlight features and add new search fields.
Spotlight also now supports Boolean AND/OR/NOT logic. By holding the Option key down when adding a search term, you can build searches such as “Condition A but not Condition B” or “Condition A and any of Conditions B, C, or D.” Like in Tiger, these searches can be saved as Smart Folders and accessed directly from the Finder sidebar.
4. Folder Sharing
Folder sharing isn’t an amazing feature by itself, but in this case it is the last piece of the puzzle. Folder sharing in Tiger was rather limited – you basically had to give everyone full access rights to everything. Leopard replaces the all-or-nothing approach of Tiger and lets you share individual folders with other users. Each user can be given different rights – or no rights – to the files in the shared folder. You can, for example, allow all users to read the files in a directory but permit only some users to edit or delete the files.
Fine-grained control over access to your documents is necessary as your practice grows. With Leopard, you can share your documents without losing control.
5. Boot Camp
One of the reasons people often cite for refusing to buy a Mac is that they need to run a particular piece of software. There are now two primary solutions to that problem: virtualization software, like Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion, and Boot Camp. Originally introduced last year as “beta test” software, Boot Camp is now an official part of Mac OS X with Leopard. A Mac running Boot Camp can have Mac OS X and Windows XP or Vista installed. Each time the computer boots up you can choose whether to run Mac OS X or the installed version of Windows.
The real magic of Boot Camp comes when it is combined with Parallels or VMWare software. Both Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion allow a computer to run Windows from inside Mac OS X. The Windows installation normally exists as a very large file stored on your computer (my biggest Windows installation is currently 6.8GB). However, you can also choose to use a Boot Camp installation of Windows with either Parallels or VMWare. So by combining Boot Camp with Parallels or VMWare, you can run: just Mac OS X, both Mac OS X and Windows at the same time, or just Windows. That is the ultimate in flexibility.
Mac OS X Leopard is well-suited to a business environment. Leopard includes many more features than I have space to mention here that you may find a use for in your law practice. In addition, Leopard follows in the tradition of earlier releases of Mac OS X, such as Panther and Tiger, by adding great features for software developers. You won’t see a benefit from the new developer features right away. But, over the next couple of years you can expect to see new Mac software released that either wasn’t possible before or would have been much more difficult – and costly – to create. Mac OS X Leopard Server adds even more useful features, but that’s a topic for a whole article unto itself.