Archive for the ‘Practical Reviews’ Category

A Practical Review: Google Voice

Running my own business, I am more or less required to check my voicemail multiple times a day, which is why it’s so unfortunate that it’s one of my least favorite things to do. I have always found voicemail too linear, slow, clumsy, and a generally arduous process. That was until I found Google Voice.

Google Voice offers many different ways to customize how people call you, how you receive calls, and how you receive voicemails. Google also lets you pick and choose which aspects of Google Voice you want to utilize so it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Its also free and isn’t supported by ads!

Here’s the complete¬† Google Voice feature set:

  • Voicemail audio in your email inbox
  • Voicemail transcription in your email inbox
  • Voicemail transcription sent via SMS
  • Web access to voicemails
  • A single phone number that rings all your phones
  • Place calls via web interface
  • Send SMS via web interface
  • Keep an online address book
  • Log your call history
  • Custom greetings for different callers
  • Low cost International calling
  • Forward, embed, or download voicemails
  • Block calls
  • Send unwanted callers straight to voicemail
  • Record calls
  • Conference calls
  • Screen calls

That’s a whole lot of features to think about. The ability to use one or all of them was the selling point for me and probably the main reason the integration of Google Voice hasn’t negatively affected the other features of my phone/phone line/work flow.

The only feature I wanted to use in Google Voice was to be able to receive my voicemails via email. My work flow for managing and responding to emails was already bullet proof and simple: immediately flag emails that require me to do something and then unflag them once its been done. With my voicemails showing up in my inbox, now I can flag voicemails for followup in the same universally accessible platform as I flag emails. To activate this feature, all you have to do is go to the ’settings’ page in Google Voice and click, “activate Google Voicemail on this phone.”¬† Then they give you a number to dial based on your phone service provider which tells them to route your voicemail to Google.

While the email/SMS transcriptions are sometimes only 50% accurate, they are usally close to 90% intelligible if read phonetically. The audio files of the recording are also included in the email via an embedded player so you can cross check if necessary. Also, your old phone based voicemail will cease to function so make sure you have a data plan or you won’t be able to listen to your messages.

Currently, you can log in to your Google Voice account and place calls via the internet. Just type in a phone number and click ‘call’ – seconds later your phone will ring and as soon as you answer, the call begins ringing on the number your dialed online. FEATURE REQUEST: I would be on cloud 9 if Google would integrate this ‘internet dialing’ feature into general web browsing so that you could right-click any phone number on a website and ‘call’ it without ever having to transpose the number to your phone.¬† Google has been constantly adding features to Google Voice; hopefully this one isn’t far off.

I can highly recommend using Google Voice as your voicemail provider if you want to use your inbox as the hub for both your email and voicemail. As for the other features, you’ll have to experiment and find what’s right for you.

Written by Doogin

March 17th, 2010 at 8:22 am

A Practical Review: Carbonite Online Backup

First off, any online backup is better than none. Regardless of which you ultimately choose, you’ll sleep better knowing your digital life is safely locked away in an underground bunker somewhere near the center of the earth. Eventual computer failure/theft/accidental destruction/etc. is guaranteed and indiscriminate:

Having used both Mozy and Carbonite, I am much more a fan of Carbonite.

Here’s what I like about it:

  • Unlimited backup for $44 a year with 3 year term
  • Files are backedup is real-time, not every 24-hours
  • Manual control over what files/folders to backup via right-click in Explorer
  • Explorer indicates if a file has been backedup with a green or orange dot over the file icon
  • You can temporarily pause the backup upstream, or throttle it down if you need the bandwidth.
  • Locally deleted files remain on their servers for 30 days in case you need them.
  • Mac and PC. PC version only uses 6MB of memory for UI and 16MB for the background service.

Mozy offers a similar package ($52/year with 2 year term), but their UI drove me crazy. It took 10 minutes sometime to open the program to check the backup status and the one time I needed to retrieve a backup, the file wasn’t there.

Carbonite’s interface isn’t anything spectacular either, but it’s fairly intuitive, simple, and hasn’t caused me any problems. Since the backup status of a file is clearly visible in Windows Explorer, I haven’t had much need to go into the UI anyway.

My current Carbonite backup is just rounding 400 GB, *gulp*, yeah, 400 GB. That’s a whole lotta website dev, photo shoots, and business docs I no longer have to worry about, and at less than $1 a week, it’s well worth the investment and peace of mind.

Written by Doogin

March 9th, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Posted in Practical Reviews

A Practical Review: Good bye Start Menu, Hello Launchy

For the average computer user who only uses 2-3 programs on a regular basis, having to use the Start Menu as a portal to all your programs isn’t much a of problem. But if you’re doing dev/design work, you’re probably used to constantly juggling a multitude of programs and windows, pallets, folders, websites, etc. and digging all that out of the start menu or cluttering up the desktop becomes more and more problematic.

Over the years, I’ve tried dozens of UI performance enhancers with consistently disappointing results. Most get trashed immediately, others manage to last a week or two and eventually get uninstalled, accompanied by a sense of failure and frustration.

But not you, Launchy . You’re here to stay.

Imagine a reality where:

  • You never have to click ‘Start’ and sift though ‘All Programs’ again.
  • You don’t have put all your favorite apps on the desktop or quick launch bar.
  • You can open any program with the keyboard in 2-4 keystrokes.
  • You can open any folder with the keyboard in 2-4 keystrokes.
  • You can open any website with the keyboard in 2-4 keystroke.
  • You can open any bookmarked with the keyboard in 2-4 keystroke.
  • You can perform a google search with the keyboard in 2-4 keystrokes.

Welcome to my world. Come on in, the water’s fine.

From the horse’s mouth:

  • “Launchy is a free windows and linux utility designed to help you forget about your start menu, the icons on your desktop, and even your file manager. Launchy indexes the programs in your start menu and can launch your documents, project files, folders, and bookmarks with just a few keystrokes!” – http://www.launchy.net/

Here’s the low down:

  • Its open-source and therefore free.
  • All you do is install the program, let it know which directories you want it to index, assign it your favorite keyboard shortcut combination, and BOOM.
  • Thereafter, just hit the key combo (I’m partial to ctrl-space) and this little box appears:
  • Just type what you’re looking for and it gives you live results as you type.
  • It also remembers what you’ve typed previously to launch each program. So to open Flash CS4, all I have to type in is ctrl-space, f, enter.
  • Now the 2 dozen apps I use on a regular basis are just a keystroke away, my desktop is clear, and I haven’t bothered with the Start Menu in months.

Life is all about the little things, and this little gem has left a big impact on how I use a computer.

Learn more here:
http://www.launchy.net/

Download it here:
linky

Written by Doogin

March 2nd, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Posted in Practical Reviews