Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Products I Can't Live Without - 2009

Inspired by this post from Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, I thought it would be interesting to make my own annual list of products and services that I can't live without. Here we go for 2009 (in the order that they came to mind):

Gmail, Google Calendar, Remember The Milk, iPhone, F-Spot, Quicken, Google Reader, Facebook, Google Sites, Flickr, iTunes, Twitter, Jungle Disk, Dropbox, Delicious

I use this every minute every day for both personal and work email (my company uses Google Apps for email and calendar). I just love the user interface and ease of accessing it on the web and the iPhone. Beats the hell out of Outlook for work email.

Google Calendar
Again, this is how I keep track of temporal events in my life both at home and at work. I love that I can get text messages with alerts for calendar events.

Remember The Milk
Ever since reading David Allan's Getting Things Done, I was in search of a tool to put his ideas to work. About a year ago, I settled with Remember The Milk (RTM) and have used it ever since for task management. The user interface is outstanding and I can access it from the web and iPhone. Perhaps the best feature is that it integrates perfectly with Gmail as a "Gadget".


I don't identify with being an Apple person, but I couldn't resist the lure of the iPhone. It really adds a lot of value to my life as I can manage email, read blogs, listen to Podcasts, use Google Maps, locate GeoCaches, and even SSH to a server at work. Oh, and visual voice mail rocks!


This GNOME desktop application is what I use to manage photos. It stores photo metadata in a SQLite database which I can easily access if I ever want to export the data somewhere else. It also makes it easy to upload photos to Flickr.

I have been using Quicken for years to manage my personal finances. I upgrade it to the latest version every even year, so right now I have Quicken 2008. Honestly, I would love to stop using Quicken and switch to a web-based solution, but I can't find one that is fully-featured enough for me. I just have to have the ability to create arbitrary asset accounts for my wallet (cash), reimbursements, etc. Most web-based services don't offer this yet. I've got my eye on Mint which, I have a feeling, will get good enough for me to make the switch one day.

Google Reader
I read a lot of blogs. I couldn't possibly keep up if I didn't use a blog reader. In late 2008, I switched from Bloglines to Google Reader because the user interface for Google Reader just kept getting better and eventually it won me over. A big part of this was the excellent user interface of Google Reader on the iPhone.

This barely made it to my list. Maybe I could live without it, but I do find myself checking it almost daily because so many of my friends use it and somehow it makes me feel like I'm in touch with all of them without ever really talking to them :). Also, Facebook is the platform I used to develop and launch my book sharing application We Read which continues to grow slowly, but steadily each day and recently passed 1000 users.

Google Sites
This past year I finally committed to using a wiki for my family. I have been using wikis for years for work and open source software projects, and always thought it would be useful for keeping track of personal things like lists of gifts to get people, account information for utilities, financial services, and contractors, etc, etc. I tried setting up and hosting wikis like XWiki and Confluence, but ultimately went with the free, online Google Sites which was formerly JotSpot.

I purchased the Pro Account and now use Flickr for all my online photo sharing needs. The pro account allows me to upload an unlimited amount of photos for about $25/year. My family depends on this to see the many photos I take of my son as he grows up.

I hate the fact that iTunes doesn't run on Linux machines, but I can't resist it because it is really the only good option for managing music and videos on an iPod. I use it daily to load up my iPhone with podcasts.


I use Twitter a lot. I blame Twitter for killing my urge to blog. It is just so much easier to share things 140 characters at a time. I have Twitter linked with Facebook so that each Tweet I send out ends up updating my Facebook status.

Jungle Disk
This might be one of the most important services I use. It keeps my music, videos, photos, and other important files backed up on Amazon's S3 network. At only $.15/GB, it ends up being pretty cheap to store a lot of data. This way, if my house ever burns down or someone steals my computers, or I experience a hard disk failure, I will always be able to restore my precious data.

I have started storing all files that I access often in a special directory on each computer (home, work, laptop, etc) called the Dropbox. Each directory gets automatically synchronized so I have easy, local, access to the files I need wherever I am. It also makes it extremely easy to share files with other people that use Dropbox.

I store all my bookmarks in Delicious and take advantage of its Firefox plugin to easily tag sites and recall sites I've already tagged. I don't do a lot with the social features of Delicious like bookmark sharing, though. Maybe it's just because I don't know which of my friends use Delicious too.

Well, there you have it! I can't wait to see how this list compares to the one I'll make in January 2010.


AlainYap.MorphLabs said...

I think you're making a very good case for others to try cloud-based storage!

Itching to try it out myself - Jungle Disk might be irresistable.


Chelsea said...

Hi Ken,

This is Chelsea from Quicken. I'm so glad to hear Quicken made your list of things you can't live without. Which version of 2008 do you use?

I'm not sure if you've tried yet, but it is a free, Web-based, forward-looking service. At this time, it won't give you the drill-down you've said you're seeking in a Web-based service, but it is coming from the same company that makes Quicken, something you've said you can't live without.

If you are willing to talk to me about the reasoning behind your proposal to switch brands, I'm open! If not, thank you so much again for mentioning us, and stay tuned as we continue to make Quicken Online the best it can be.

- Chelsea, Quicken Online

Ken Weiner said...


I'd love to let you know why I'm thinking about leaving Quicken. The main reason is that Quicken is limited in functionality on the Mac and not supported at all on Ubuntu (Linux) which I use as my primary computer at home. I have to keep a copy of Windows around just to use Quicken, not something I want to continue.

I tried Quicken Online when it first came out. When I heard that Intuit was coming out with it, I was really hopeful. I use Intuit's Web Turbo Tax every year and find it extremely impressive. I expected the same quality for Quicken Online. Instead I found Quicken Online to be very limited in scope compared to Quicken on the desktop. It felt like a clunky, poorly designed version of Mint. It was missing the ability to create asset accounts to track cash, something that I find necessary. Also, even though Quicken online was a web application, it had many bugs. I wrote support about it and they told me that they don't support Firefox on Linux. That was the end for me - I instantly cancelled my trial membership. If you're going to offer a product on the web, I don't see any reason not to support Mac, Windows, and Linux. It's not that hard.

So, I continue my search for a Quicken replacement. I've considered Money Dance which is well-supported on all platforms, but ultimately I want a web-based service with the ability to manage transactions from mobile devices too. Every time I use cash to buy something, I want to be able to whip out my iPhone, launch an applicaiton or visit a mobile-oriented web site, enter that transaction, and forget about it. As it is now, I have to write down the transaction or save the receipt, then wait until I get home to enter in into Quicken.

I mentioned Mint because it completely web-based, its feature set seems to be improving rapidly, and they released a very well-written iPhone application. They just seem to get it.

If you have any suggestions as to how to address all my concerns using Quicken, I'd love to hear them. After all, I do have a lot of transaction history in Quicken that I'd hate to leave behind.