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All In The Name of Productivity

What's technology all about? Sure you hear about furthering humankind and all that, but let's be honest here. It's so we can be lazier and lazier. But it's not all bad. We can only hope that people aren't just getting lazier as technology takes over a lot of the tasks in everyday life. So instead of wasting our effort on doing things a computer could do almost infinitely faster, we can focus our efforts on things technology cannot replace such as cohesive thought, creativity, etc. So I'll show you some of the things I've been using recently on my laptop that has made using it both easier and more productive.

1. Universal Vista Inspirat Brico Pack 1.1

Okay, so I lied a little. This shell replacement doesn't directly affect my productivity. But I'm still something of a sucker for aesthetics so I guess you could say indirectly it helps me by presenting everything in a nicer fashion. Plus the shortcut bar at the bottom saves me like a whole 2 seconds of searching through my start menu to find an application. Here's what it looks like.

As you can see, I even have iTunes skinned to match! Yummy.

2. Maxthon Browser

This was actually really luck that I happened upon this new web browser for me. You may remember (or perhaps not) that I used Konfabulator for my RSS feeds, the weather and email notification. Well, it's an awesome application; however I have two gripes with it.
  1. Each 'widget' that you run is essentially a separate instance of Konfabulator. And each of those instances used up 5-10MB of memory. That meant with my 8 or so widgets open at any one time, I was using up a massive amount of memory just to show relatively little information.
  2. Konfabulator was set to open up when Windows booted up. Due to the nature of the widgets that I was using (weather, emails, RSS and others) they had to connect to the internet to retrieve updates. This meant a very slow loading process each time I started up Windows.

These two downfalls made me actively look around for a replacement that could do the same thing but on a smaller memory footprint and less time to sync. At first I tried the Google Desktop sidebar but I wasn't impressed at all with the look of it or its functionality. The bar was a little small for the amount of RSS feeds I wanted to show. It was actually when I was searching around for the Microsoft Desktop Search app that I came across a web browser called 'Maxthon'. It's a web broswer based off the Internet Exploder engine but with a ton of improvements and added features. To name a few, you get tabbed browsing, a RSS reader, Gmail notifier through a plugin, a dictionary search plugin, and a generally slick interface. Firefox still has some problems with some pages, but since Maxthon uses the IE engine, you can almost be assured things will work well. Plus, this was especially good for me since UWaterloo's sites favor the IE engine a lot more. Pages load quite a bit faster than in Firefox.

So in one swoop, I was able to do away with Konfabulator. The browser can now sync my RSS feeds, show me the weather and check my multiple Gmail accounts. It lets me use mouse gestures I got used to from my time using Opera and it has the functionality I liked about Firefox such as the Adblocker. Have a look. There's the RSS feed in the sidebar.

3. Windows Live Beta

This site was pointed out to me quite a while ago. I had read a bit about Microsoft's 'Live' initiative, but I never really paid it any attention. After all, it is coming from Microsoft. In any case, about a week ago, someone in my residence mentioned how slick it was. He showed me his customized homepage and I immediately liked it. First take a look at what it is.

Once again, I've streamlined my browsing experience. Instead of being in the sidebar of the browser, I can have it all laid out in the whole browsing space. Additionally, I get my weather there and the stocks of the companies that I find interesting. So if you feel like trying it out, just log in with your MSN passport and start customizing your page. There's not too much in terms of extras than you can add just yet since it's still in beta, but I definitely see great potential in it. Actually it's very much like Google's Personalized Homepage, but I find this much neater and pleasing to the eye. To each their own I guess. And shamefully, I've found myself using the Microsoft internet search more and more these days mostly since it starts up as the homepage anyways. Google's becoming a little too powerful these days anyways. $400 stock price? $110+ billion market cap? That's just getting a little rediculous. I remember during our high school stock challenge reading all the analyst comments on Google. They looked rediculous setting $200+ stock price targets but that doesn't look so rediculous now does it?

4. Microsoft OneNote

It seems like I've been a big proponent of all the things I've hated these days doesn't it? First it was Apple. I defended them against some really irrational people. Now I'm pimping Microsoft like there's no tomorrow.

Anyways... Microsoft OneNote. To be honest, I haven't even used it for very long at all. In fact I just loaded it up on my laptop this past week. However, even just through that little bit of time, I've found it to be very useful for a student. I actually received a free copy of it from the university and it had been sitting there for the past two months, untouched. However after a bit of reading, I realized just how useful it could be for me. My laptop hasn't been really all that useful for me in classes themselves. I found programs like MS Word too confining in terms of what you can put down. It's basically impossible to use a laptop for any science or math class since you can't easily write down equations or draw diagrams.

Well, OneNote takes your regular old Word processor to a new level. Instead of just being able to type things, you can integrate graphics, audio clips, and drawings all directly on the page. Plus OneNote takes the idea of your high school notebook and digitizes it. You start off with a blank 'notebook' which is divided into sections. Sections can further be subdivided. For example, I have a classes section which is then divided into sections for each of my classes. Big projects are stored under the projects section with subsections for each project. Then each subsection is divided into pages which allow you to move through your notes without reading everything. Pages and even sections of notes can be moved around by just dragging them to where you'd like them. You can even make to-do lists quickly and easily. Don't I sound like a PR person or something right about now?

Oh and a little side notepad starts up with Windows. So if I have anything on my mind that I want to just scribble down, I can do it digitally instead of writing it down on a random sheet of paper I'll probably lose. It's great for reminding me what I want to write about in my blog! Here's what OneNote looks like.

It's really too bad that I've only now discovered this nice application. I found myself writing less and less throughout my semester in my binders since I realized it would be almost impossible to read through it logically later. Stuff is scribbled down and somewhat incomplete. If I had used OneNote for my notetaking, I'd be able to reorganize all my notes after lectures easily and the search function would've been indispensible. I know now for next semester though.

So that's all for now. Perhaps you found something you liked this post. But either way, these applications have helped me improve my productivity. I'm just glad I can squeeze more time out of my day to get these projects finished at a decent hour. You wouldn't believe how much that extra 20 minutes of sleep can do.

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Blogger Will wrote at 11/19/2005 6:43 PM

Good post....good to see you active again :D

I can see from your "Universal Vista Inspirat Brico Pack 1.1" screenshot that you are obsessing over FFVII a little :D    

Blogger Nick wrote at 11/22/2005 2:25 AM

Mind giving us non computer geeks a clue as to what RSS feeds are. They look interesting:P



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