When dealing with data such as a video file, audio file, text document, spreadsheet and such, I have always been told to use a office solution of some kind. Something that ties things together. So when I moved away from Windows to a Mac solution I have purchased additional software solutions to replace for example Microsoft Office. I’ve also tried out a lot of open source solutions. And while there are great programs out there that do the job, I still felt like I was perhaps missing out on something. Leopard provided the solution.
The operating system from Apple, Mac OSX 10.5 offers not only great 64bit native performance, but it of course has some basic programs to help you get started doing your work at home or in the office. It comes with a calendar, email and text editor, and of course a browser. They integrated quite well with each other and using them individually was fine. But since Leopard it simply has been a step better. Good enough for me to stop using third part software and just use the stuff that comes with the OS.
What I really like in the Mail.app client is that it is simple, can hold multiple pop3/imap accounts, and that it understands portions of the emails you receive. For example, you can go to the mail and click to have an address or other personal detail in that mail to be stored as such in the Address Book application. Which is really handy, because the Address Book basically works with everything. You can use it in the Calendar application, in Mail and let it sync between multiple systems to stay up to date. In the Mail client you can also add events to the calendar, or create todo items. Going to the Calendar you can see your todo items and events and work with it. It’s just so smoothly and logical integration that it is a lot nicer to use now.
A quick example is that a friend’s birthday is up and because I have the birthday noted in the Address Book it shows up in the Calendar. I get an email from this friend inviting me to her party. I select the text and click the ToDo option, which adds it as a todo item. I can set priority, due date, and mark it for the Calendar. For example, to set an alarm to remind me of the party. And another event to remind me to buy a birthday present. In the Calendar I can see the birthday entries, the todo items and my events. In the mean time as a reminder I write a note to the email with some thoughts for a present, so I don’t forget. And I reply to my friends’ mail that I will be there and that I am looking forward to it. I notice her mail contains driving directions and her full address. Something my Address Book was missing. So I told the Mail client that it’s an address and to store it as such. And it updated the entry.
By just getting an email, replying to it. And adding the event quickly from the mail, updated my records and left a note as a reminder for the present, I spend not even a minute organizing my schedule. Without having to worry about loading individual programs and making sure I have copied over all the details between each program to try and keep things in order and sync. When it’s say a week from now and I check my Calendar in the morning, I see there’s a todo item like ‘buy present for Sophie’ and I read the note with the suggestions for a present. I check it off and go get the present. Even if I now forget there’s a party a few days later, the Calendar will remind me ahead of time with an Alert, ensuring I won’t miss it. So a simple task like reading an email became a lot more interesting, easy and handy to use. And doesn’t consume much of my time (if any) to get things done.
I have never been a fan of using weird things like imap email, a calendar and todo lists and all that kind of office organization things. Because they simply weren’t working together that smooth, and well. Now I almost regret not doing this earlier when I got my Mac. Because I can sync between my phone’s address book, the laptop and the desktop, having my contact details handy and up to date. As well as my calendar and my emails.
As far as more realistic office applications go, I use Pages to write documents that require markup and styles. Otherwise I try to do as much as possible in TextMate. And I use Numbers for my spreadsheets. Recently introduced by Apple. And they’ve done a wonderful job. The program looks and feels as if they’ve been in this spreadsheet business for years. Of course, I am not working in office or run a company. So I don’t know if it does what is required. But what I require it for, it does it very well. And the money, oh my.. It is just $79 to buy iWork ’08 which is a steal. It’s so cheap for what you get, draw dropping amazing to be honest. If you buy a Mac, make sure it includes iLife and iWorks ’08 (or higher). Both perfect solutions for anybody working with documentation and media files.
I have to admit I also use Google’s office applications, such as Gmail (the most btw), and Google Spreadsheets, and Google Documents, and of course Google Calendar. But I use them for when I need to share files with others, and for quick little things. I still prefer at this point to use offline programs (old fashioned way) for all the personal things like personal letters to friends, or tax documents, or things I do on a daily basis (calendar events). It still kind of feels like I am more in control over the data I create, and aren’t sharing it with the world by posting it online hoping I’ve set my permissions correctly.
For media files such as movies and tv episodes, music and stuff like that I use Quicktime Pro and iTunes of course. And VLC when Quicktime doesn’t work (like with .mkv files). And I use Safari and FireFox to browse the web.
So, for a cheap office alternative I think some basic programs that come with Leopard are the way to go for anybody at home who wish to do their financing, keep a calendar, have an address book, write documents and use media. Play around with those programs, get to know them a little bit. And I think like me, you will be surprised and provoked to use them more seriously for your every day things. You could extend your experience buying a $99 .Mac account. Which will make it a lot easier to sync your data between systems, to back up your data offsite, and to publish your image gallery, web sites, etc. Closing the gap between your offline stuff and your online sharing with friends/family things; and for being on the road (syncing data between your iPhone, Mac Book and iMac, Mac Pro, etc).
I am curious what you have to say and how you keep track of events, addresses and such. So please register and leave a comment. And I like to invite you to read my other blog entries too.