Thursday, January 17, 2008

Small things that make your life easier

I got this week the visit of Cristobal, one of my business partners and you can find him here . After a number of meetings we had a few hours to try to enhance his experience. I realized that he is (happily) oblivious to most of the software available for his MacBook so I decided to help him choose a few (mostly free) utilities that could help him.

We work a lot with PDF documents, they are in fact one of the few truly interoperable and multiplatform standards you can find. They work 100% to distribute a read-only document, unfortunately not everybody is smart enough to use them properly when some interaction is needed. Most of the forms I need to fill are just plain pdf files, designed to be printed and faxed back. This is neither ecological nor efficient and we have some alternatives.

FormulatePro/ is a nice free utility that allows you to annotate and modify any pdf file. I use it to open the form, fill it and then Print as PDF and fax back. It is even free and I have never experienced any problem (I am running tiger)

If like me you have not migrated yet to Leopard, you may find this of interest PDFMergeX is another pdf-related utility that allows you to merge several pdf documents and print them as a single document.

I find it ironic that people send documents in PDF because they expect you not to modify them and I am advising on how to do alterations to them.

Another free utility that can save you time is Shrook, this is a news reader that can help you to get the news that you find relevant on a more compact way. I find it much better that going through email digests or going to the website to get the news. One thing I am still looking for is more Middle Eastern related channels. If you know of any please let me know.

Finally, I also advised Cristobal to use Adium , this is my favorite messaging application. It support most if not all the protocols you may wish and is very nicely integrated with Growl.

All of these tools are free and all of them do what they are supposed to do. As a matter of principle I try to keep my system as simple as possible and that involves using as little pieces of software as possible and have them as small as possible.
I rather have 5 highly focused utilities than a large piece of software that does 20 different things. Life is too short to have to deal with malfunctioning computers.

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