Office suites and organisers

Office suites and various ‘office’ programs

Office suites and organisers are needed if we’re going to keep documents on our computers, even if it’s only lists of stuff to memorise! The most common option is Microsoft Word, I suppose, but people have grown tired of the program’s endless complexity. It’s become known as a prime example of ‘bloat-ware’, programs with so many features, and many of them really quite obscure, that they take up lots of hard disk space, and lots of memory.

That’s not such a problem these days, of course, with hard disks getting ever more spacious, and much more RAM becoming the norm (and a lot cheaper, if you need to increase it). Still, it’s an expensive program, and if it didn’t come with your computer it calls for quite an outlay.

There are plenty of alternatives these days though, and many of them based on Word and compatible with it, so they’re just as good, and the documents you produce will be acceptable to anyone you send them to. A bonus is that many of them are freeware, and some are shareware, which is only a step down from freeware – with shareware, you’re expected to pay something towards the program, but only after a free trial period.

Also, many of them are open source software, which is always a good thing; legions of very able and interested programmers are keen to improve on these programs, and that virtually ensures open source software programs are of high quality.

OpenOffice

OpenOffice - among the most comprehensive office suites. Use it with one of the organisers.

Apache Open Office is a great free alternative to expensive office suites

Open Office is based on Microsoft Office and has a program to match each MS Office program. They’re virtually the same, and perform really well. The big bonus is, of course, it’s entirely free! It’s now known formally as Apache OpenOffice, and it is one of many ‘open source’ programs, meaning that the code is readily available to interested parties who want to contribute to the project.

Its development is entirely supported by talented volunteers, and the aim is to provide exactly what people need, rather than constantly upgrading (and charging for the upgrades!) by adding unnecessary complications.

Online organisers

I’ve tried several online office suites and organisers, and used some of them for a matter of months (though some didn’t last long at all!). For various reasions, I’ve always found them wanting, sooner or later. That’s not to say there’s necessarily anything wrong with them (not generally, anyway), just that they’re not quite right for me. Treepad Plus was one that I paid for, so I must have rated it highly, but I eventually lost interest in that too for some reason. Actually, now that I think of it, it was a stand-alone program, not an online organiser.

Among the online organisers I’ve tried are RememberTheMilk, EverNote, Springnote, andZoho. They might suit you better. If you care to, click on a few of them and take a look.

Keep&Share

Keep&Share - one of the organisers I tried, briefly

Keep&Share makes it easy to store all your documents, photos, etc, in one place, and to share them, if you choose

Keep&Share is just one of many online organisers. It has a paid-for version, but for most people, I imagine, the free version is quite good enough. It consists of a documents section, a photo storage section, a to-do section, an address book, calendars, and more. You can keep huge numbers of documents, photos, calendars, etc. online in Keep&Share, and know that it’s quite safe. In other words, you can keep your entire online world organised in this program (or any really good similar one, such as Google Docs, I suppose). And using the documents section is just like using Word, or OpenOffice.

You can also choose to share anything with anyone you choose. All you have to do is select the sharing option onscreen when a document (for example) is open, and then specify the other party’s name or email address.

KeyNote

Keynote - one of the organisers I used for a long time

Keynote does the lot, and it’s very secure
too, but it’s computer-based, not online

I’ve used KeyNote, on and off, for years. I still have a soft spot for it, even though I use Keep&Share or Essential PIM more often now, and the reason for that is simply that KeyNote is not an online organiser. If it could be stored online, it would be just about perfect!

I think it’s a wonderful program, and it’s described in the literature as a 3D notebook, and that sums it up really well. You can open a Note (which is, effectively, a notebook) and give it a name, and you can have any number of nodes (or pages) within it. You can have as many Notes as you need, though you probably won’t need too many, since each one can have as many sections as you want.

Unfortunately, the person that coded KeyNote (Marek Jedlinksi, I think) stopped development of the project some years ago, although you can still download it if you want to. I see that there is actually a new development taking place now, with some new features.

EssentialPIM

EPIM - one of the best organisers

EssentialPIM really does take care of everything!
It even synchonises with your other devices

EssentialPIM (the PIM stands for Personal Information Manager) is another great organiser program that takes care of virtually everything. I used to use EssentialPIM years ago and I can’t even remember why I stopped! I’ve downloaded a recent version of it just lately and it really is a remarkable program.

Among the various modules there are Notes, Contacts, To Do, Passwords, Calendar and Mail. In the Notes section, you can store any kind of text, whether it’s literally just a quick note or the new novel you’re working on. And you can format the text any way you like, including using bold and italic, numbered or bulleted lists, coloured text and all the rest of it.

Contacts is obviously the place to store details of everyone you know, or every company you deal with. It’s a full-featured database which presents you with a ‘card’ for each entry, with several ready made fields. You can edit the fields or add some of your own, so it’s very accommodating.

You can store all your passwords in the Password section, although I’m not entirely convinced it’s as safe as some other utilities. Personally, I prefer to use LastPass or Password Safe, since this is one job for which you really do want a dedicated program. Having said that, EPIM can probably do justice to the job – it’s just my personal preference to use one of the programs that are specifically tailored to storing passwords.

The To Do section in EssentialPIM allows you to note down all your to do’s in a neat list (in fact, several different lists, if you need more than one), and you can prioritise them, and add copious notes wherever necessary.

The Calendar is like any other online calendar, in that it allows you to store details of appointments or anything you think of as important enough to record, whether it’s a one-time event or repeating weekly, monthly or annually. Of course, you can also add reminders to each one, if you choose, so that you’re alerted close to the time of the event. And you can have your To Do list visible at the side of the Calendar, or shift it out of sight if that suits you better.

I can’t really comment on the Mail section. I’m sure it does what it’s meant to do, but I stick with my internet provider’s mail client, so I don’t need to use it. I could probably choose to use that same mail client and have it displayed in EPIM, but that’s something I haven’t looked into.

The program opens on EPIM Today, which shows any reminders or appointments you have entered for the day, or for the following day or two, if you choose. It also shows your To Do list and any mail messages that have come in (if you’re making use of the Mail module). You can choose to have the program open on any other module instead, if that suits you better.

You can safeguard the program with a password and it will be encrypted so that the program is very secure, and you can make it so that it shuts down and needs the password if it’s been minimised or if a set period of time has passed and the program left idle. All in all, a fantastic program, and I can’t for the life of me remember why I stopped using it all those years ago! If you’re looking for something to really help you get organised online, some office suites and organisers, this is the program!

37 Signals

37 Signals

37 Signals makes a range of uniquely simple software. Well worth checking out

This innovative company creates programs that are really well made, and quite unlike any others. It’s worth visiting the 37 Signals site to read about how their company operates and see for yourself some of their products. They’re really cool! As their home page says,“Frustration-free web-based apps for collaboration, sharing information, and making decisions”.

I won’t waste any more time telling you about 37 Signals – visit their site, it’ll explain things a lot better than I could.

Update: The company has changed a lot recently, including its name (now called Basecamp). You can find out more here.

WriteMonkey

If all the menu bars and options get in the way and distract you from your writing, WriteMonkey might just be the software you need. It’s very plain and simple, and lets you just get on with your writing. As the WriteMonkey home page says:

“WriteMonkey is a Windows writing application with an extremely stripped down user interface, leaving you alone with your thoughts and your words. It is light, fast and free. With an array of innovative tools under the hood, it helps you write better. Editing is for another day …”

And, as one user comments:

“With every new version, conventional word processors like Microsoft Word gain more and more features, bells and jingles nearly nobody will ever need, while disregarding the needs of creative writers. When I am writing, all there has to be is me, a blank screen, my words and the current wordcount. No fancy toolbars, colorful buttons, floating windows or other useless distractions from the things that really count”

I’ve used WriteMonkey from time to time, and one of the things I like about it is the option to turn on typewriter sounds (there are a few to choose from, as I recall). There’s something oddly peaceful and mind-focusing about hearing typewriter sounds as you type, specially if you learned to type on an actual typewriter.

Keyboards nowadays are soft and easy to type on and quite quiet, but the clickety-clack of the old typewriter somehow seems exactly the right soundtrack to focused concentration and getting your thoughts down ‘on paper’ (oh, okay, onscreen!).

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