My search for a tasks+notes app
March 29th, 2011 by ravi

I have been searching for an app that lets me quickly write notes that also double as tasks – and therefore could use a due date/time and reminder alarm. There is the built-in “todo” capability in OS X iCal, but not only does it sport a terrible UI, it is also dismal at syncing across computers (this feat can be accomplished, as far as I know, only by the hack of storing such Todos on an IMAP server). Below is a summary of my quirky search for such a tool. Quirky because the authors of these apps could justifiably object that their app is being unfairly evaluated here. For example, Day One is a journal application, not a note-taking app, much less a task manager. At the same time, there are candidates, like JustNotes, that have a reasonable claim to appear on any such list. But nevertheless, here they are:

  • MyTaskNotes: Mac notes and tasks app
  • Evernote: multi-platform note manager
  • Wunderlist: multi-platform task manager with sharing
  • Notificant: multi-system notification for Mac and web
  • Day One: daily journal app for Mac and iPhone
  • 2Do: an iPhone task manager with sync to OSX/Windows

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Posterous: a critical look
November 13th, 2009 by ravi

It is difficult not to fall in love (insofar as such emotions have been called love) with Posterous, the fast-growing mini-blogging service, especially in comparison to its bigger competitor Tumblr. In contrast to the insider ethos that Tumblr (ironically, currently the larger service) actively embraces, Posterous eschews the superficially hip for the genuinely productive, when it comes to features.
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DropZone makes file transfers fun
August 27th, 2009 by ravi

Author's Choice Did I say file transfers? That’s an injustice because DropZone can do more than file transfers. It can zip and email files, install apps, upload pictures, post them to Twitter or Posterous (did I tell you about Posterous? well, that’s the next post), print stuff (though you really shouldn’t be killing trees in the 21st century), generate short URLs via … and all that for less cost ($10) than it took me to type up this list (what, you don’t think my time is worth $1/minute?).

And if you are capable of coding in Ruby, then DropZone provides a well-documented API using which you can write your own extensions. I plan to write one (though I am not a Ruby programmer) that uploads dropped files to a WordPress blog (using XML-RPC)… using the WordPress provided mechanism (XML-RPC) is useful because uploaded files (images) then show up in the built-in media manager (uploading such files via FTP, SCP, etc., will not have this effect).

Snow Leopard gets less elusive
August 24th, 2009 by ravi

Mac OS X Snow Leopard Logo

Image by Dekuwa via Flickr

The fanboy sites are buzzing today with the news that Apple has announced Aug 28th as the release date for the next version of their operating system. This one is called Snow Leopard and I won’t even attempt to go head to head with the likes of TUAW and John Gruber in trying to tell you all that is awesome about it… so go read what they have to say.

Me, I am wondering what tools I use currently will be replaced by new features that are built into Snow Leopard. For instance, text replacement is now built into the OS, voiding the need for Typinator. Tools that display date in the menu bar can be given the short shrift as well, though some of them support additional features (e.g: interface to iCal). Can the most excellent Formulate Pro be upstaged by the new Text annotation tool and other features in Preview? Will QuickTime X edge out video conversion tools? If you give me $29, I can let you know on Friday! ;-)

Headline: an RSS/newsreader for Mac
July 16th, 2009 by ravi

Every year MacHeist offers tightwads an opportunity to score a lot of software for the Mac for next to nothing. One of the applications made available this year was an interesting new RSS/newsfeed reader for the Mac called Headline which retails for $19.95.

At a time when NewsGator has let loose NetNewsWire (not just the Lite version) for free, and was quickly followed suit by NewsFire — and the brilliant Vienna has always been free — is it possible to make a go of selling an RSS reader for ~ $20? Aren’t desktop clients passe in this new age of web applications (in this instance, Google Reader)?

Well, Doseido, the makers of Headline, think so, and I wish them the best. They are not alone in this game. There’s NewsLife, Endo, and other optimists as well. Does Headline deliver $20 worth of goods?

The problem for Headline, as already noted, is what it is up against. In a different world, $20 seems a fair price for a useful piece of software. But not in a world where NetNewsWire is free, not to mention a whole other universe of AIR apps like the amazingly slick if CPU hungry Snackr.

What is worse, Headline, despite its very pleasing and useful pop-out preview, sorely lacks certain simple features, which makes for constant irritation, given its natural use as a news alert tool. What I mean by that is that Headline’s ability to pop-up as a small window, as and when new articles are available, and provide short previews, makes it a good tool for “as it happens” alerts. This is the one differentiator that makes Headline interesting to me. But for such usage to be productive, Headline needs:

  • Open article in background: if Headline pops up 15 new articles, you need the ability to scan through them, opening ones on you want to read in detail in your browser, but doing so in the background, so you can continue scanning the headlines. Unfortunately this is not possible. This could be a limitation of the mechanism for invocation of the browser (Safari, in my case), but the experience is annoying.
  • Choose and act on a range of headlines: say you scan through the list and want to mark a bunch of articles as read. Or even hide them altogether from your view. That’s not easily done. In order to mark an article read, you have to visit the item in the list and stay on it for a second or more (perhaps an understandable precaution to avoid marking something as read just because you “arrow”ed over it). And to hide read articles, you have to trick the app by selecting a different option for the filter (top left) and then selecting “Unread”. Your only other resort is to “Mark all as Read” (Command-Option-R).
  • Other issues: if the apps refresh kicks in while you are on an item, the screen scrolls to newer items and the one you were reading disappears in the list (though its preview remains in the preview pop out). Headline also seems to get confused when my laptop is alternated between monitors with different screen resolutions.

Headline is an interesting idea and a beautiful implementation (aesthetically speaking). But the limitations of its UI make the cost questionable. If all you need is a pop-up alert for updated news feeds, you can consider the free tool FeedPopper. If you would like something a bit more detailed and fancy, you can bite the CPU bullet and consider Snackr. For most use cases, NetNewsWire will most likely do the trick.

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