Software and Web Apps I am Using Now

MacBookPro and Dell Inspiron

Back in April I did my first post on how my transition back to having a Windows-based laptop, after having used a MacBookPro for a couple of years. My reasons for moving back to a PC are here.

Now how does using a computer and running go together? The computer allows me to connect with other runners via social media (like this blog, Twitter, etc.), keep track of my running statistics a lot easier than doing them manually (which I have done) and is a part of who I am beyond the person that goes out and pounds the roads and trails.

Yes I am one of those running geeks ;-).

It has been a couple of months now, so how has the switch back to being a PC gone?

In a word: Great!

After getting used to right-clicking again and finding mostly free software to use, switching back to a Windows-based laptop was easier than I expected it to be.

Where I am now

For the most part I have gotten my laptop setup and am comfortable using the software that I have loaded and the web applications that compliment my desktop. I will always be trying new/different software or web applications (just a part of who I am), but below is what I am using now.

Desktop

This is the first place that we see on a computer and I try to keep my desktop pretty Spartan. I use Fences to keep files and folders separated into certain areas, so I can quickly find something when I want it.

I use the Taskbar extensively and it is visible all the time. It makes starting or switching between the programs quick and easy.

Also I like Internet Explorer’s ability to “pin” webpages to the Taskbar for my Google Calendar, Pandora, the local newspaper’s website or other websites that I go to a lot – is a nice little trick. All I do click on those icons and that webpage opens up directly in a new Internet Explorer window.

Running

Since this is primarily a running/healthy living blog, how do I use my computer to keep track of my running.

Nike+ App –  I hate it when a GPS program is a quarter-mile different for a 3.0 mile on different days and many of them had differing distances for the same run.  Nike’s iPhone GPS App has been the most consistent of the ones that I have used, plus if things are way off I can manually correct the distance. Nike just went through a big re-design of their website and while things are not perfect, if I want to use the Nike+ GPS, it seems I have to use their website. My biggest gripe with the Nike website is that you cannot manually input data, if something happens to the App during the run.

Google Docs Spreadsheet – I have bounced around between  many iPhone Running Apps, none of which have completely met my needs or if something happens where I mess up or the program doesn’t work for some reason or other, I still have a record in one place of all of my runs. I chose Google Drive Spreadsheet, because I can access it from any computer and I will not lose it if something happens to my computer.

Having my running log in this spreadsheet, allows me to try the different running apps and websites without loosing track of my running data. Sure it is a few more steps, but at the same time, I don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time I go and use a new App or try a different running website.

Runblog entries – I use this blog to summarize my runs and publish screenshots from the various websites I use to document my running. It is where I discuss what happened during the run and how I felt. This is my actual running log and the Nike+ and Spreadsheet are really just contributors to my digital running diary.

Using the computer to document my running doesn’t really save time compared to a Pen and Paper running log, in reality it takes more time, but I am able to manipulate the data, see trends more easily and don’t have to worry about losing the log – which I have done more than once in the past. Overall, I enjoy using the computer and its capabilities to visualize data from my runs to help me see where I have been and more importantly plan for where I am going.

I read a lot of running blogs, articles online, do shop for running gear and other things, read running eBooks – basically the computer has entwined itself into my daily running life.

Browser

I pretty much live in the browser now and it came down to Chrome or Firefox as my primary browser. After trying both out, I concluded that Chrome does everything that I want from a browser and is much more stable in Win7 than it was on my Mac  – but it still has an annoying habit of showing the “Ah Snap” page too often.

The ability to pin websites to the taskbar was the deciding point to make IE9 my secondary browser. I was pleasantly surprised at how much IE9 has improved over the past couple of years, but the lack of add-ons and its annoying hesitation/pausing while typing (it happens too often for my liking) stopped it from being my primary browser.

I do have Firefox and Opera loaded on the computer, but I do not use them very often – I keep them there so I can go in and see what improvements have been made or if someone has said something about them and I want to quickly check it out.

Homepage/Start Page

One thing that I use as my homepage on all of my browsers is the Symbaloo start page. It is an icon driven start page and I have used it for a couple of years and haven’t found anything that works better for me as my start page.

I like the icon driven start page and how quickly I can visually find what I am looking for.

Also I have made my http://haroldlshaw.com site into a quick start page for potential employers and others to find more out about me – if you look there are some similarities.

Productivity

(email, calendar, to-do list, contact list) – I surprised myself here, I initially was using Windows Live Mail, connected to Hotmail and even tried Outlook too, but once I figured out how to Pin a webpage to the taskbar, the desktop mail programs became redundant and I went strictly to using gMail and gCal as my Mail Client and Calendar Programs. Hotmail was a consideration, but the page was just too damn busy for my tastes – Microsoft do you really need to run ads in Hotmail?

So I forward all my email from my other email accounts to my primary gMail account, that I have one place that gets everything. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible and this is working for me.

When I delete something now it is gone from my gMail account (which is my primary email), instead of staying in All Mail forever or whatever mail account that I forget to check, until I go in and do a manual purge, it now goes away when I empty my trash folder. Which didn’t happen when I was using a desktop mail client in addition to gMail.

I know – what about connectivity? What if there is no Internet? gMail and gCal both have offline capabilities now, so I can still access a limited number of emails and my calendar. For my present needs that is enough.

I am using Evernote as my task manager/todo list and am happy with it, even though it is probably more labor intensive than some other methods, it is working well for me.

Office Suite

 (word processing, spreadsheet, slide show, notebook) – Another surprise. I am doing a combination routine and I really love the results so far. My primary is Microsoft Office 2007 (I had a copy lying around from before my Mac adventure) and I use Google’s Cloud Connect to Google Docs – which I really like and everything syncs up automatically. See my post on Word Processors.

MS Office 4-16-12

I also starting to use Microsoft’s cloud version of Office in SkyDrive a little, but still am more comfortable with the Google Docs/Drive web application. I also keep all of my documents in my SkyDrive folder, so they are automatically backed-up. An important strategy to not lose important documents, if your hard drive crashes or your computer gets stolen. Yes I also have Google Drive installed as well, but I am using Skydrive as my primary backup drive for now.

Eventually I want to upgrade to Office 2010, but unless I find a great deal, it won’t happen very soon, even the Student/Home edition costs over $150, which is a lot of money to me and I don’t want to get used to it during the 60 day free trial period and then have to revert back to Office 2007.

Social Media

My primary social media site are Twitter, Facebook and Google+. I am starting to get back into using g+ more again and really do like it better than Facebook – but the people I communicate with are more on Facebook than g+. Since I am still job searching I have updated and am using LinkedIn a great deal more than in the past. However, Twitter remains my favorite to connect with other runners and take part in the many chats that are available.

Twitter – I am using a desktop application called Janetter, which is similar to the old version of TweetDeck pre-Twitter HTML5. For the most part it has worked great, but I sometimes when have too many #hashtags and it doesn’t like me until I get rid of a few of the less important ones.

Blogging

I thought that when I got back to Windows that I would go to using Windows Live Writer as my primary blogging software. Now that I am maintaining more than one blog, I found it easier for me to simply use the blogwriter in WordPress.com – that way I don’t accidentally cross-post to the wrong blog. I can do everything I want with it except create tables (then I create them in Google Docs and copy/paste to WordPress.com), so there is a quick work-around for that issue.

Over the past week I have fiddled around with WLW and will probably give it a go again. There is just something that I really, really like about it, that the WordPress.com blog writer doesn’t do for me.

Note taking

See my post on Evernote, it explains it all. Evernote has become my “other” brain – the one that doesn’t forget and my task manager.

PDF Reader

This was the biggest thing that I had to figure out during my change back to Windows, there is not really a native PDF capability (but they say it is coming to Windows 8), so I had to find software that performed those functions. I like Adobe Acrobat and was using the 30 day trial offer, but at over $400 for a license, it was definitely out of my price range.

I am and will be in cheap as possible mode, so buying a new license was out – for now and at that price probably forever.

After doing a lot of research, along with more than a little hands-on testing, I ended up using the free Nitro Reader as my primary PDF reader software and someday will buy the Nitro Pro 64 bit license, which is priced a lot more reasonable than Acrobat and goes on sale quite often.

Screenshot

Since I blog a lot, one of the things that I have found indispensable is a good screen shot tool. I like Jing, which I have used for several years and am comfortable with it. However, I recently found a screenshot software call PicPick, which I have found to be pretty amazing and does everything that I want from a my screenshot software.

However, I will warn you that navigating the PicPick website is tricky – it has too many ads that look like the PicPick download link and I finally got frustrated and found it on CNET.com and downloaded it there. When installing it I recommend that you don’t go with automatic install, if  you do you will end up with an AVG toolbar and a new default search engine – as I found out the hard way. Go with custom install  and uncheck the boxes you are not interested in having on your computer.

Once you get past those hurdles, the program is really great.

If you don’t want to go through those hassles, just to get a good screenshot program, my recommendation is to use Jing or upgrade to Snagit, if you can afford it – they both work great and you don’t have to jump through any hoops to load them on your computer.

If I need to do a quick screen cast, I still  just open up Jing.

Photos

Windows Live Photo Gallery with its connection to SkyDrive was very tempting. However, I have used Picasa for several years, have a pretty good idea of what it does, how to use it and have most of my photos backed up to the online version, so I just stuck with Picasa as my primary photo application for now. I still haven’t figured out if I like how it connects to Google + or not yet.

I use Windows Movie Maker for editing my videos, when I need to.

Video Player

I use VLC, it plays almost every kind of video without messing around with it.

Music

I listen mostly to Pandora and have it pinned to the taskbar for music. I use  iTunes by protest.

As much as I complain about how bloated iTunes is, I still have my old iPhone and I have to use iTunes, if I want to manage that device. Windows Media Player works for everything else, but iTunes will be my primary music tool for a while.

Unless someone wants to send me a new unlocked Windows or Android phone to test drive and then review Winking smile, so I can review how it works for me as a job searcher/runner without a data plan.

Utilities

I am running Windows Defender as my Anti-Virus and Malware protection – when you are job searching and an inveterate tinkerer when it comes to software/applications, you go to a lot of sites, to search for information on a company or to look for different software to try. Some of those sites will install tracking code or other not so pleasant things and I have found Windows Defender has done a great job of protecting me from them so far.

I use Secunia to keep my software up to date and Revo Uninstaller to get rid of most of the crapware that came installed on my Dell or to get rid of programs that I try, and find do not work for me. Revo works great for those programs that slide in a ringer during their automatic setup when you are not paying attention and you end up with some extra software, that you didn’t want at all.

Still Looking

Being that tinkerer sort of technology geek, if you have any software suggestions (freeware is better on my budget now), that I should be trying/using and missed – I am open to hearing your recommendations and looking at how I can incorporate them into my routines.

Overall

I am very happy being back to a Windows-based laptop. I just feel more comfortable with what I can do with the machine.

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