01 July 2006


We are all more than familiar with the rhetoric of 'productivity' that circulates around computing software and hardware, usually as part of an argument about why we should upgrade. As many of you know, I've never needed an argument for upgrading other then the sheer joy of playing with new technology. And thus, I have always been pretty honest with myself that I wasn't buying a computer with the latest chip in it because I 'needed it to be more productive'; I was buying it because it was cool and the process of upgrading was fun.

But yesterday, after a long uninterrupted session of working in my office, I realised that I have recently made a number of upgrades that, cumulatively, have genuinely made me more productive. I honestly believe that in many ways I am either getting more work done, or spending less time to do the same tasks I had done in the past. This now-noticeable effect cannot be attributed to any single upgrade, but there are clearly discernible elements that have contributed to my new-found efficiency. Thus, in the interests of proseltyzing, here are a few:

  • A Mac with an Intel Chip
    As long as you have enough RAM - and given Rosetta this is crucial - the new Intel machines just fly. Actions on absolutely every app on my machine seem instantaneous and that includes MS Word, which is running in emulation.
  • Pages
    I've been using it for a year now. No, it's not perfect. Yes, it needs more attention from Apple developers. Still, used on the proper hardware (see above), it's nice and zippy. And, bottom line: it is a much more elegant and intuitive approach to word processing than Word. Moreover, if you're not doing huge graphics or tables, it truly is interoperable with Word: it opens word files perfectly and exports to word seamlessly. The biggest compliment I can pay Pages? It's the first word processor to help me to understand and get me to use Styles.
  • Pandora
    For some folks this might fall in the 'counterproductive' category. For me though, there seems to always be some sort of construction going on either outside my window or under my feet (in the basement). Thus, especially when I'm not trying to do serious writing, but merely catching up on the dozens of other tasks, it's great to have music in the background. And what Pandora can do in producing a customised stream based on music you like...well, that's pure genius.
  • A Large, High-Resolution, LCD
    See there, I linked to a Dell product. Proof I'm not a total Apple zealot. No, I don't own that display, but if I purchased a Mac without an integrated display, then a Dell LCD would be high on my list because of their high performance low cost ratio. Since February I have been working for the first time on a large display - the 20" LCD in my new iMac. Of all the separate items listed here, this is probably the most significant. The differences in display size that I've experienced in the past (12" to 15") just haven't been enough to really alter the way one works (i.e. it's still mostly one app at a time). But the 1680 x 1050 resolution on the iMac changes everything: one can actually be doing three things at once and see it all. I still work on my powerbook most of the time, but I'm now creeping toward that point where I feel like I need a huge screen. This is one of those paradigm shift items.
  • An RSS Feed Reader
    A huge thanks to Ryan for making me try out this sort of app again. I had looked at feed readers a while back and I didn't see the new paradigm, but the software has come a very long way indeed. Because NetNewsWire has a browser built in, you can just click through the various feeds, and then load up the pages you want to read in tabs. I probably spend 70% less time using a dedicated browser now, and I'd say that the time I spend using NetNewsWire is significantly less than the time I'd spend in a web browser locating, browsing, and reading the same content.
  • Quicksilver!
    I may have saved the best for last. I've certainly saved the hardest to describe for the last. If you are willing to take the time to fiddle with it, then quicksilver will change the way you use your computer. It's that revolutionary. To figure out what it's about, I recommend starting here. If you do some googling, there are half a dozen folks who have tried to describe how one might go about playing with Quicksilver so as to see what it really does (there's no such thing as a tutorial). All I will say is please trust me, if you take the time to check it out, it is amazing. It fundamentally changes the way you interact with your Mac. You quickly reach a point where you can't imagine not having it; taking Quicksilver away would be like taking the mouse away. And there are so many tasks that are simplified by having it around. Again, this isn't a coherent argument at all, I'm just pleading with you: go try it!

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