Home Office Survival Kit – #11 Just use really useful tools



What’s great about being and working from home is that you can choose freely your favorite apps and software for your daily tasks. Since I’m into the creative field I can’t really give you an exhaustive list of tools I’d recommend and that fits to everyone, however there are some that may be considered pretty useful regardless of what’s your business.
To be clear: I’m not, as well as Plastical is not, affiliated with any of these brands or products! It’s just my personal opinion and take it for what is it.

So, let’s begin with the most important one.
Buy yourself a Mac.

It doesn’t really matter if it’s a laptop or a desktop computer. I recommend you a Mac for a few but clear reasons: you buy it and plug it to the wire and it works right out of the box. You don’t have to configure or become mad by entering some hidden settings, installing tons of apps or anti-spyware-virus-trojans-malware-whatever software and running that bloated thing called Office. You connect it to your wi-fi, and here comes the App Store where you can buy and download the software you need. It works and it does what is supposed to do: being a tool for working from home.

Sorry PC guys, but what I’ve learned in my several years as a home worker is that the less you have to tweak with technology, the more you become productive.
If you decide to go with a Mac, do not forget to buy a Time Machine or an external drive for your backups. Although Lion offers some special automatic backup system, you’d be safer if you consider having an external hard disk where to store your backups and most important files.

The second piece of equipment I’d recommend is an iPhone (or an other smartphone, but can’t tell you much about Samsung or Nokia devices) or an iPad. Why? Because there are special apps that will boost your productivity in a way you never would think of in the past (and by that I mean two or three years ago).

The third is an all-in-one printer. To be honest, there are tons of excellent print devices that print as they’re supposed to print. Ranging from HP to Canon, is up to you to buy the brand you like the most. We bought an all-in-one HP printer 3 years ago and we’re pretty satisfied with it: it prints color, sends and receives faxes, does scans and it prints copies pretty fast. We chose a laser printer, but it’s ok if you buy an ink jet too, but don’t forget that ink supplies are quite expensive and those will matter on your costs every two or three months. If we need bigger print formats we simply ask our print shop partner to print the format we need and in a few hours we have them delivered to our office. Having a great network of professional partners is really valuable and it weights the same as having the right equipment in house.

The last piece of hardware I’d recommend is a paper shredder because I’m pretty sure you won’t let your neighbors look and find some important documents in your trash. Do you?

That’s pretty much all for the devices you need to begin with your great start up or home business… A part software!

Since we went with Apple, we took the basics from them: i.e., iWorks, iLife (taken especially for GarageBand) and Aperture. We use Mail, Address Book and iCal and we’re pretty satisfied. With the latest OS X upgrade (Lion at the time of this post) we’re all synched on all devices and we really do not have to think if anything works… Because it works! Forget Microsoft Exchange, for GSake!
Remember that Apple also allows you to save PDFs without having Adobe’s Acrobat installed, sparing some few bucks on an other expensive license.

But you still need some paid applications to accomplish certain administrative and operative tasks. In that sense, I tell you that we bought the basic version of Office for Mac simply because sometimes we have to verify the appearance of certain documents… But years have passed since those weird incompatibility issues between PCs (the one’s running Windows) and Macs, and we mostly have it installed for verification purposes rather than real use. That’s why, If I remember, the last time I opened PowerPoint (for Mac) is 2005.
We do not have a particular to do/task manager apps in our applications’ folder, but I individually and sometimes use Bento; but I already wrote in a previous tip that the only and most productive way to keep up with your tasks in a serious way is to write them on paper. So just forget what’s above.
Still on paid apps we use a couple of accounting softwares: Marketcircle’s Billings and, since we’re in Switzlerland, an emulated version (through CodeWeavers’ CrossOver) of Banana Accounting. We also use The Omni Group’s OmniGraffle Pro software for diagrams and schemes and Mindjet’s MindManager  the excellent Markus Müller’s MindNode Pro for Mindmaps and brainstorming.
We also use e3 Software’s DirectMail for our and our clients’ Newsletter management.

That’s pretty much for the basic paid software. For the rest, we use some applications among the TONS of free or online subscription based.
We share documents and files via the free iWork sharing services (which I suppose will soon turn into iCloud): it works right out of the box if you have iWorks installed. Save your documents and share it with your contacts. That’s it.
For sharing other type of files we went with DropBox: it installs in your system and it appears like a folder. To share a file just copy it inside the Dropbox folder and you’re good to go with files up to 2 GB (great for Zip folders, pictures,… Whatever).

On the iPhone we pretty much have the equivalents. Pages, Numbers and Keynote for iOS, Dropbox, Billings, Bento and Mindmanager. What we also have is a great app named iTeleport: it basically allows you to connect via the VNC protocol (Remote Desktop) and share your screen right on your mobile device. You can’t even imagine how many times I had to check certain files on my office system while I was stuck in a meeting. Highly recommended!

So here’s a list of our most used software, remembering that we’re in the creativity field and probably some won’t be of great benefit if you operate in other fields. However we thought it could be pretty nice to share the list with you.

On Lion:
Apple iWork
Apple iLife
Apple Aperture
Microsoft Office for Mac
FileMaker Bento 4
Mindjet MindManager Markus Müller’s MindNode Pro
Marketcircle Billings
CodeWeavers CrossOver Pro
Banana Accounting
Omni Group OmniGraffle Pro
e3 Software DirectMail
Peter Borg Apps Smultron
David Kocher Cyberduck
Adobe Creative Suite Master Collection
Appsolute MAMP Pro
Free Software Foundation Sequel Pro
Apple FaceTime

On iOS:
iWork Apps

As I wrote, those are our production tools. We use them for our core activities and we are very satisfied with them. The idea is that you use these tools to accomplish better and faster results but is not a written or mandatory rule…

Let me know if you have other tools to recommend. I would be glad to know what are your preferred one’s.