May 12, 2007

My top 10 gadgets and software for school

I will be heading back to school, after a long time, in August. In preparation, I'm making my own little list of what is important and what I will be using during studies. Without further ado, here is my list of 10 essential gadgets and software that one should have while going to school.

1. Tablet PC - school environment requires some note taking, collaboration, annotations, impromptu diagrams/idea generation - and a Tablet PC is the right device. Traditional notebooks are simply too cumbersome to use. It's the same thing like sitting in a meeting with a notebook and trying to take notes - it's annoying, slow, and simply not spontaneous. I'm thinking Lenovo Tablet PC is a good choice. I've used IBM previously and they are solid devices.

2. Palm Treo 650 (or greater) or Windows Mobile Device - I've owned a Palm Treo (650) and now own a Windows Mobile 5.0 phone/PDA (Cingular 8125). You cannot go wrong with either - they are pretty full functional PDA and mobile phones. I was pleasantly surprised with the Cingular 8125 Windows Mobile 5.0 phone/PDA which is a quad band GSM phone (should work in US, Singapore, France and India..everywhere I go) and has excellent Microsoft Outlook integration. Comes with pocket word, power point and excel and I purchased this really cool add-on software called SPB Mobile Shell which enhances the functionality of the OS by a good deal, making it very easy to use. This will act as my integration mail + on-the-go documentation + quad band phone + media player + camera + video camera + data storage (supports memory card add-on) + possibly Skype too (support Wi-fi and works fine). INSEAD has Microsoft exchange e-mail and my phone will work handy.

3. A Google account with subscriptions to gmail, iGoogle and google docs. Everyone knows GMail. But iGoogle is Google's 'customized' homepage which is very handy to put all kind of online gadgets and web tools in one place. You could have a page with all your blog feeds, email, your calendar, weather, bookmarks, top news from preferred sources - and many more. So when you start your day, don't waste time web hunting, just go to one place for consolidated information. Google docs has documents and spreadsheets and pretty good collaborative capabilities. That means it's much easier to share, edit and view documents with multiple ownerships/authors. While we may use Microsoft office for e-mail (outlook), these online tools are great for access from anywhere.

4. Google desktop - why waste time searching for documents (or contents inside documents) when you can have them 'popup' almost instantaneously as you search for a file name or phrase inside a file, cached web page or e-mail? I use this very regularly - in fact I've pretty much stopped folder hopping. I just type into the deskbar and get what I want, in a fraction of time if done otherwise. And it's free! (Apple MAC users will use inbuilt Spotlight.. and Windows Vista search - am not too sure yet)

5. XPlorer2 or XYPlorer - I use the free edition of XPlorer2, which is a replacement for your standard Windows explorer (file browser). The typical windows explorer is very limiting - just opening multiple folders, copying around, seeing contents of different directories - is all a pain. XPlorer2 is really good - you can have a single explorer window, have multiple tabs, have bookmarks for your often used paths, view 2 directories side by side, and quit/restart will restore all your previous paths! It also has many other features but I find that these alone save a ton of time for me and reduce annoyance. Google desktop + XPlorer2 = save lot of time searching for stuff.

6. Launchy - bet a lot of you haven't heard of this. This little handy software will popup when you hit 'ALT-SPACE' and type a letter or two and your program names will show up (with autocomplete) and then you hit 'enter' to launch your program. If you're the type with lots of programs and you keep going to program files->..etc..etc.. or have shortcuts scattered all around the place, this super little launcher is a time + clutter saver.

7. Google Earth - simply the best 'see the world' software out there. It's free and available for Apple too. Do your place search, location recon, neighborhood analysis, school campus check-out, places to go - everything from here. I do all my place scouting from here.

8. Adobe Reader 8.0 - for essential PDF viewing. If you have older versions, then uninstall them and get 8.0 which is faster and has a cleaner interface. Much nicer to use.

9. Microsoft Office 2007 - many complained about the new 'ribbon' interface and revamped UI even before really using it. I got office 2007 free in a MS event and my own experience is the new UI is a huge productivity improvement. Often used features are so much easier to use, and the new PowerPoint is pretty good. Hey, gotta make good lookin' resume now. Office 2007, in my opinion is still the best. There are open source alternatives - I've tried them, and I don't like them. Check if you get student discounts and that might go easy on your pocket.

10. Skype - you know why. Google talk is very good too.

So that's my bare essentials list. I'm sure there are some questions you could ask

1. Why not use Linux?
A. In the past I've tried getting me a fully Linux desktop environment, and it's still not ready for prime-time business environment. Too many quirks and those at Slashdot seem to think we all have time to recompile kernels and keep track of patches. Thanks, but no thanks.

2. Why not buy a Apple Macbook/Pro?
A. I actually own a Macbook Pro and had a Macbook before that. Again, for wide business integration and number of software applications, Apple Macs are still a step behind. It's kinda fashionable to say you own a Mac, but after using one for an year - I don't see a point in creating a dual boot (I have Parallels desktop which lets you boot to Windows from within a Mac) and keep using Windows. Might as well just get Vista. But with new Intel Macs dual boot works great and if you should have a Mac - go buy one and use it. It's a matter of personal taste. And BTW, iPhoto sucks compared to Picasa and Picasa isn't available on Mac.

So, time to get-set-and go soon!


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Byoost said...

great blog man. Nice to see a fellow member of class of 08 blogging so well. I totally agree with your assesment of Windows vs MAC, and I agree that Tablet is the way to go for MBA. The Lenovos are solid machines, and I just decided on a X60t for INSEAD next year.

DTLF said...

Gah, more Thinkpad addicts. I had not budgeted for a new rig, but it looks like I'll have to start thinking about it. Thanks for making my wallet cry harder than it already is.

BTW, what apps do you recommend for the 650? I'm reeeeally regretting buying that instead of a 8125 or 8525 now. Argh. WiFi Skype seems so ridiculously good.

Got you linked on my site, reciprocation would be great.

John said...

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. It is always great pleasure to read your posts.