Archive for the 'Software' CategoryJanuary 19, 2012
Apple has released quite a few products in the past couple of years. I am loving Final Cut Pro X. And some of the iPhone upgrades have been tremendous. But I don’t think I have been quite as excited about a new product since the iPad was first announced.
Today’s announcement of iBooks Author could be that big for lawyers. Historically, getting published has been a big deal. It’s typically a lot of work (and often luck) to make it happen. But the ability to reach more people with your message and raise your credibility has been worth it.
With the rise of e-publishing, the barrier to entry for publishing has never been lower. And iBooks Author may have just smashed that barrier down entirely. Creating a professional-looking iBook publication appears now to be as simple as making a Keynote presentation or Pages document.
If you’re a little technologically savvy and have the patience to sit and write, adding “author” after “J.D” to your C.V. just got a whole lot easier.
We have been ready to take the next step in our accounting practices for a while now. I basically used the opportunity to teach myself Numbers. But Numbers is stretched to the limit and I need more.
Of course, my mind went immediately to QuickBooks. I signed up for the free trial of QuickBooks Online because it seemed like it had the right set of features and I could access it from anywhere with ease (office, home office).
I was less than impressed with QuickBooks Online, to put it mildly. It tries to be like a desktop application, but just fails. It is not very intuitive, and even something like viewing your checking register takes more steps than it should.
So I took another look at the Mac accounting options. The two primary challengers seem to be QuickBooks Mac and AccountEdge.
QuickBooks of course has the reputation as the Gold Standard. But a trip to Amazon eliminated any idea that I might buy QuickBooks for Mac. There is currently one less 1-star review (38) than the combined total of 3,4, and 5-star reviews (39). So much for QuickBooks.
Unfortunately, AccountEdge 2009 doesn’t fare much better in the Amazon reviews. There is a newer version of AccountEdge available, but I have struggled to find any helpful reviews or impressions of it online.
And so it was back to the drawing board.
Having recently decided to use an online CRM application for our law practice, I decided to take a look at other online accounting services. I couldn’t have expected what I discovered. It was like walking into a tropical rainforest, with every size, shape, and color of critter imaginable.
I have identified the following suspects so far:
And then there are the tools that work together with the accounting services, like Freshbooks and Harvest. We currently use Billings for invoicing, but I am open to alternatives (particularly if it’s integrated with the accounting service).
Some of the services are clearly targeted toward the UK (or Commonwealth countries) or Europe. But it’s tough to rule any of them out at this point.
I welcome your opinions to help narrow down the field. Have any of you used one of the online accounting services I mentioned (or one I didn’t mention)?
My troubles with Microsoft Word are well documented. One particular bug has kept me from making the switch to Word 2011. Occasionally, Word 2011 will lock up when pasting text. It doesn’t seem to matter where the text comes from. But the spinning beach ball of death appears and I have to Force Quit. This happens so often, in fact, that I refuse to use Word 2011. It’s a big time waster and just too stressful.
Microsoft released a patch for Office 2011 on April 12, 2011. Despite the fact that the patch notes didn’t mention the copy-paste bug, I was hoping that Microsoft would have seen fit to render Word 2011 usable. Alas, after a few weeks of testing (intermittently), I can report that Word 2011 has not been fixed. It still crashes quite frequently when pasting.
So Word 2008 is still the King of the Office suites on our system (at least when we need to use the DOC file format).
Alongside the new (blazing fast) laptops this past week, Apple released the first developer preview of Mac OS X Lion. In addition to the previously announced features, a few new things were revealed. So what do we know?
- Apple seems to be pulling many of the design and usability concepts that have made iOS successful over into desktop Mac OS X. Included in Lion is better support for full screen applications and Aqua, popovers, overlay scrollbars, and multitouch support reminiscent of the iPad interface. Not to mention Launchpad, a new “iPad style” application launcher.
- When Apple discontinued the Xserve, speculation ran wild that Apple was also discontinuing Mac OS X Server. That’s technically correct (the best kind of correct!) but also wrong. Mac OS X Server will now simply be an installable feature of Lion.
- Lion will include built-in support for auto-saving and storing complete version histories of documents. Users will be able to enter a mode similar to Time Machine showing the entire history of a single document.
- Applications will be able to support resuming, letting the software return to exactly the place it was when it was opened last time. This is part of a broader move by Apple to make Mac OS X more iOS-like by eliminating the distinction between applications which are not currently being used and those which the user has Quit. When applications have implemented Resume, it should allow Mac OS X to be more responsive in low-memory situations without asking users to remember to Quit applications they aren’t currently using.
- Mail has a revamped interface, which is (you guessed it!) drawn from the iPad. Ok, yes, there is already a plugin for that. But it will be nice to have official support. Plus, the new Mail will include a conversation view and better search tools. iCal and Address Book have also received an iPad-style makeover.
- By all accounts, Safari in Lion is faster and more stable. If they’ve solved the memory issues, it might again become a viable contender to Chrome. Apple needs to do something here, because Chrome has risen like a rocket while Safari usage has remained fairly low.
- iChat AV is rumored to be including support for Yahoo Messenger video chat.
Lion sounds like great news for small businesses. Buying a copy of OS X Server is a big deal for a small business. At $500 a copy, it’s not cheap. Lots of thought needs to go into the business case for shelling out that kind of money. Lion will immediately change the conversation from “should I use Server?” to “how should I use Server?” But the features I am most excited about are Auto Save and Versions. Two features, but they work so well together that I think of them as one. Time Machine is great, but using it is inefficient and often ineffective. It’s inefficient because I have to leave the application and use the Finder to step through older versions. And it’s often ineffective because Time Machine only runs once an hour. I can do a lot of damage to a document in an hour. A limitless history (via Versions) of every single change I made to a document (via Auto Save, regardless of whether I hit command-S) will be a godsend.
Apple also seems to be making great strides with Lion’s usability. The mantra for iOS has consistently been that users shouldn’t have to concern themselves with the operating system. This was apparent when Apple steadfastly refused to allow multitasking on iOS devices until it could be done right. Users shouldn’t have to fiddle with a process list and kill applications to get good performance. But the truth is, users of Mac OS X do have to pay attention to that today. System running a little slow? Search out some running applications on the dock that you don’t currently need. Mac OS X Lion, with its Resume feature and reworked interface, should eliminate that step entirely. Mac OS X should just work.
Likewise the Auto Save and Versions feature helps eliminate the file system. A user only needs to work with the application and the document. Thinking about “saving” and “backups” takes the user out of that suspension of disbelief and forces a focus on the OS.
Snow Leopard came across primarily as a maintenance release, so it’s nice to see Apple take some big steps with Lion. And while Leopard was famous for its 300+ features, I get the sense that Lion includes more new features that will change how I work everyday. But maybe that’s just because Leopard was released oh so long ago…
Our firm has finally settled on a practice management application (more on that in a few days). That tool should cover our task tracking needs for client work. But we still need an application to make sure our marketing and practice-development projects stay on course.
Until recently, I had been using OmniFocus. My path to OmniFocus (via Things and other apps) has been a long and storied one. But I still wasn’t entirely sold on it. OmniFocus has some quirks, and it’s not the easiest application to use. Plus, OmniFocus just isn’t pretty (yes, I know that shouldn’t matter, but it does!).
And then I stumbled upon a new entry into the field, Firetask. What makes Firetask somewhat unique is that it started on iOS and migrated to Mac OS X after the success of its iPhone and iPad apps. The design of the desktop client was clearly inspired by the iPad app, both usable and attractive.
Firetask has a few interesting differences from other GTD apps. First, Firetask is (proudly, I might add), a project-oriented task manager. Every task belongs to a project (by default, tasks go into the Miscellaneous project). Unlike OmniFocus and Things, Firetask doesn’t distinguish between types of projects (ie. completable project vs. single action / area of responsibility). Second, Firetask has predefined categories. These are similar to the contexts in OmniFocus, but they include a handy visual icon indicator. The colorful indicator allows for easy identification of different types of tasks when scanning through a list. And like OmniFocus, Firetask allows users to define their own categories (although you’re limited to the set of 31 built-in icons).
Firetask has much to like:
- Attractive interface is quite user friendly, letting you get in and start working without a steep learning curve
- Category indicators allow me to quickly identify different types of tasks
But Firetask isn’t perfect:
- No apparent way to add long descriptions, links to email messages, or attachments to task description
- Needs to make better use of drag-and-drop (for example, the info palette seems to be the only way to change a task from Today to Someday)
- Using the calendar for entering a due date oddly requires users to click on a different task first
- Syncing is limited to wi-fi (no MobileMe syncing yet)
Firetask is definitely a contender. But as you can see, the list of negatives is longer than the list of positives. Of course, the same is true of OmniFocus and Things (which is what has made choosing a final direction so difficult!).