Thought Leadership

What is my PC for?

By Colin Walls

A while ago, I wrote about the applications that I use on my phone and I thought it might be interesting to perform a similar “audit” of the software I use on my PCs.

I use two computers. I have a “heavyweight” laptop, which Mentor provides. This is my main computer and runs XP. I also have a cute netbook, which I own personally and is great for traveling. It runs Windows 7 [which I like more and more] and can be used for nearly 7 hours on a battery charge, which is wonderful. I use much the same software on both of them …

Although I keep IE to hand, I use Google Chrome as my main Web browser. It seems fast and stable. Some sites require IE, but I commonly access them using a Chrome plug-in which renders a page using IE. I used to use Firefox, but it became rather bloated and unreliable.

Obviously I use Microsoft Office Word/Excel/PowerPoint/Outlook and I have to say that I am impressed with the 2007 versions.

I am a great fan of mind mapping and enjoy using Mindjet’s MindManager product, which is ideal for planning and managing unstructured information.

My broader “life management” tool is the often overlooked part of Office: OneNote. This is a great tool which I encourage anyone to try out. You can construct any number of notebooks, each with lots of sections or groups of sections. These can contain any number of pages, each of which can be of indefinite size and can contain just about anything – text, graphics, hyperlinks, embedded files.

For planning my time over weeks and months, I use Microsoft Project. This is overkill, but it does work very well in the simple way I demand and means I can easily give my manager a snapshot of my plans.

For my personal email/contacts/calendar I use Google’s offerings, which tie in seamlessly with my Android phone. I use gmail Notifier to let me know when new emails arrive without having to keep a browser open.

I quite like instant messaging, which is probably my most common means of communication with some people. As there is no single standard, I end up using Yahoo, MSN and Facebook. Fortunately the Web-based Meebo tool brings them all together on one screen and Meebo Notifier alerts me of new messages without keeping a browser open.

I am a keen photographer [digital, obviously] and use 2 key programs. I like FastStone Viewer, which is free and gives me a very quick way to browse images, make some changes and do slideshows. For organizing and more sophisticated editing, I use Adobe Photoshop Elements, which is fantastic value for money.

To synchronize files between my 2 computers and manage backups, I use Microsoft’s free SyncToy. It just works.

I am quite interested in family history and I have been doing some work on my family tree using Family Tree Maker 2010, which I have found to be very well designed and flexible, enabling me to build something of a family “archive” of information and materials/documents.

A handy small and free program is WordWeb. This lets me look up a word in a dictionary, in Wikipedia and do a Web search on one mouse click, whichever software I happen to be using at the time.

As a faster alternative to Adobe Reader, I use Foxit Reader for PDFs.

As I have an iPod, I naturally us iTunes and for streaming music Spotify is excellent.

I am not really in the habit of playing games, but I did used to have a great pinball game. Maybe I need to look that out again …

If you would like any further details of any of the software I use, or have any great suggestions to make my life better, please comment or email.

Of course, this might all change as soon as I get my hands on an iPad.


0 thoughts about “What is my PC for?
  • Colin,

    Something that I find more & more use for is remote desktop access. I am the de-facto IT support person for everyone in my extended family, and nowadays I have everyone install TeamViewer so that I can remotely access/control the problematic computer. It’s incredibly quick & easy to install & use (“even my mom can do it” – and she has).

    For accessing my 2nd home-based PC from the road, I often use LogMeIn, or the VPN capability of Teamviewer. A few of use were just talking about this yesterday at ESC, as we’re all juggling multiple things & need access to different things at different times.

    The good news is that it’s a lot easier nowadays to access almost anything (usually work) from anywhere.

    And the bad thing is that — well, the punchline writes itself…

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