The tools for a remote life

In this article I want to discuss with you all, trying to create a list o f all those applications and tools  that are essential for a remote life. For remote life I intend the passage  of all the documents, photos, works and information on an accessible space from any kind of device, wherever in the world and above all without necessarily having along one’s pc/mac.

I would like to push myself  further, trying to understand how much these tools can be shared even by  the common people that don’t use  the web as a profession.
It’s obvious that many advanced and innovative solutions are first tested by those who use them for work and after  pass to the commercial level and to wide diffusion.  So, I hope to discuss this argument not only with the YIW community, but also to give indirectly helpful tips  to all  web users.

It’s obvious that for every solution presented in this article, there’re valid alternatives.  The given indications don’t have no commercial purposes, they’re based only my daily experience.

The basis

I wouldn’t divide this list in “indispensable” and “new”, because  every user has his own field of action, according to his job or interests, but it’s objectively right to understand the web tools majorly used.
The access modality, the security of  data and of access  account aren’t the only things important for me, but also the perfect synchrony. For example if I read an e-mail or a feed Rss from an Iphone, it’s important for me not to see it in the “to read” state acceding from a pc/mac after a couple of hours.

Mail

There’s not much to say about this argument. Webmails are now a reality well consolidated and the use of clients on one’s device isn’t a must anymore. All the clients (like mail, outlook, thunderbird) and webmail services have the possibility to work in client mode (with pop/smtp parameters), but being able to enter in one’s account  keeping all the messages and the address book is more much more comfortable and I think  more “peaceful”. With the term “peaceful”, I think of the risk of our pc/mac  stolen or be in any moment unusable (crash or data loss).

I personally use Gmail and I think  that it’s one of the best client in terms of performances, mailbox space, dimension of the attachments  and anti-spam filter. Google email is easy to configure in push modality and on Apple products (like Iphone and Ipad), but also in optimized web modality (and even very well) for mobile devices. Pointing on Google mail guarantees  technical solutions  and multi-devices of new generation, totally widespread and of support with  all the desktop and mobile platforms .
One of the fundamental things is that with Gmail, both in web modality and client, everything is synchronized and I can have access to all the functionalities from any  location.  If I move a message from the inbox to any kind of folder created, what I do from mobile or from mac, I’ll find it perfectly synchronized on the web.

Feed Rss

Always being updated to the world we’re interested in is a classic and reading the feed Rss is a very common practice, almost like the mail. Even in this case, my choice falls on a Google product, that is Reader.
Besides the functionalities and convenience of all respect, the synchronization is really excellent. Moreover the Google product is one of the accounts better supported by Rss readers of the Iphone/Ipad and Android world.
Being able to read my feeds from the app. “Reader” on the Iphone and tag it as a “favourite” and then go to the office and find that feed with a “star” visible from my mac is really fantastic!  We’re not talking about science fiction but I think that devices should be used according to our needs and not change our habits according to the devices.

Calendar/Appointments

Google again, this time Calendar. This tool has many functionalities like the calendar sharing. It can updated even from “calendar” on Iphone, without having to access it via web from Safari. All this is very useful. In addition it has the functionalities of recursive appointments (like anniversaries or birthdays) and another thing that is really at the top is the possibility to receive sms on one’s  cellular for upcoming appointments.
I personally use it also as a “to-do-list” with no need of anything else. But on this detail I accept suggestions.

Documents/Note

New! This time I choose Google… The application“Documents” supports a lot of formats, everything is as always synchronized, and you can work in sharing . This is all I need to always use it, also to take note of the nonsense.

Let’s go over

The tools analyzed above represent those commonly used and that allow to have one’s  items/documents available from any location and device, but above all always synchronized.

Favourites

Around October it was announced the closure of Xmarks, but fortunately the emergency was called off. In this period I searched for valid alternatives, without  a great success. Saving the web pages that we visit in the favourites list is a practice not only for professionals but it’s increasingly popular in the consumer world. Xmarks (ex FoxMarks) is the best application around. It makes  synchronization its strong point, another strong point is the support of the major browsers in use, in addition to having an excellent app. for Iphone.

Documents/photos/video/etc

On this point we’ll go down heavy in terms of remote control of our data, but I think that they really represent the future.
Who uses mac knows well “time machine”, very useful but always related to the good health of our mac. To overcome this problem I tried to do the backup with the time machine on a external disk, a  2TB “time capsule”. The thing seemed to be a good compromise also because I connected the disk to the network and I was able to reach it via ip “nattato” from any work station around the world… but it’s not a consumer solution, it’s not an economical solution.

But Dropbox isn’t just a repository, it’s much more! First of all everything works always in the background on our mac, synchronizing all the folders and files that I create/add/delete/modify and it does it in both directions: from mac to web or vice verse. Besides this he creates a history for every single file, that is a versioning. We can go back in time on the single file looking for the previously saved  version. Initially it seemed incredible, but it’s all true and it’s an incredible commodity.

So I arrived at DropBox that is the real turning point. Many of you know it, but considering that this guide is aimed  also tonon-professional I try to summarize the advantages and the features:
Dropbox, in substance is a virtual disk accessible via web. Downloading   the application (available for pc and mac) a local folder gets created where we can put inside all the material and create subfolders, like a normal directory of our mac. Everything we put in this subfolder (the default is called “Dropbox”)will go on the net, that is on this virtual disk. At this point everything is accessible from the web but also from pc/mac on which the client is installed.

But Dropbox isn’t just a repository, it’s much more! First of all everything works always in the background on our mac, synchronizing all the folders and files that I create/add/delete/modify and it does it in both directions: from mac to web or vice verse. Besides this he creates a history for every single file, that is a versioning. We can go back in time on the single file looking for the previously saved  version. Initially it seemed incredible, but it’s all true and it’s an incredible commodity.

I have everything on Dropbox and I can accede it from Iphone and Android that have appl. Developed ad hoc. If this is not enough, in Dropbox there’s a folder called “public” that is visible to everyone. If you need to send a very big file to someone you can copy it in this folder. On Dropbox at this point it’s possible to create a public link to send to someone that can download the file easily. Other than “jumbo mail”…

I wanted to highlight that in alternative to Dropbox there’s Memopal all in Italian! At the moment I’m working with Dropbox because I have already paid a business account, but the passage to Memopal will soon be a reality.

Professional use

Some valid resources, of common use, for web professionals  and non.

Editor photo and images. Modifying photos isn’t an activity only for web designers. Being able to work online on photos is really fantastic and I recommend the site of Photoshop.com which is the online program of reference for graphics and photos. A valid alternative to Photoshop.com is   Pixlr.com localized also in Italian.

Websites creation – editor xhtml/css
I didn’t find a valid alternative for dreamweaver, but I’m working  with Squarespace.com it’s exceptional.With this product we can really work online considering that we have the possibility to create websites and have a professional editor xhtml/css online .  Besides this we can manage all the functionalities of our web space, develop codes and manage the different aspects of a site (import blogs, social, do statistics). The remote management is enhanced by the app. Iphone developed in an optimal way

In short

Here’s the list and the links of all the solutions illustrated in this article:

Gmail – Email – http://mail.google.com
Reader – FeedRss – http://www.google.com/reader
Calendars – Calendar/Appointments – http://www.google.com/calendar
Documenti – Sharing documents/note – http://documents.google.com
Xmarks – Favourites – http://www.xmarks.com/
Dropbox – Remote Disk – https://www.dropbox.com
Memopal – Remote Disk (ita) – http://www.memopal.com/
Photoshop – Editor photo – http://www.photoshop.com/
Pixlr – Editor foto (ita) – http://www.pixlr.com/
Squarespace – Management and website creation – http://www.squarespace.com

I would like to point out one last and useful resource. On the site alternativeto.net you can put the name of the application and search for the alternative not only online but also on other platforms (pc, mac, linux) or mobile (ios,android, windows, s60) I always use it and it’s really useful.

Final Considerations

I’ll treat in another article the implications of a fully- remote life , of the link with hardware features  and of the adsl, mobile connections, but I want to underline how this is only the first step towards a totally different use of applications and devices. Google is trying to introduce its own operating system online (Chrome Os) and if its new creation has the same success of the search engine of  Gmail, well things will really start changing.

The trend could be to  relieve some  hardware aspects like the mass memory, in favour to the ram or to the processor cache, this could facilitate online work sessions. But all this cannot be a reality if we don’t have adsl/fiber  connections really performing and mobile networks of higher quality. After the spread of  mp3 (and the consequential retirement of cds  /vinyls ) the same future is awaiting for films, as recently launched by Apple. The future is everyday more digital, but we’re already a step ahead, that is remote applications.
You’ve  heard of “cloud computing” , right? In the future our device will only need the power necessary to run a browser. When Eric Schimdt said “ the browser is the computer” he was meaning exactly this.
Here’s the links that leads to a video that  explains this phenomenon (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJncFirhjPg&feature=player_embedded#!)

And is your experience on remote work  so exciting?

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The Author

Alexander is a web professional for over 8 years and lives and works in Rome. Has several knowledge in web design and web development. It ranges from pure creativity to development of templates and graphic design conforms to the W3C standards.

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