Category Archives: Reviews

Q-Review: Why I’m considering going back to DEVONthink

dtp.jpg DEVON-Technologies has recently released the 2nd public beta of DEVONthink 2.0, and I’ve taken it around the block a few times and gotten a pretty good sense of what’s new in this long-awaited update.

DEVONthink is the granddaddy of all the notebook/information manager applications that have been cropping up over the last few years. It’s a big, Swiss army knife of an application, serving a number of roles, including:

1.) a very searchable storage unit for nearly every kind of file 2.) a quick capture tool for webpages, web archives, text and images 3.) a wiki 4.) a text editor / word processor 5.) an outliner 6.) media player / PDF viewer 7.) web browser

I’ve had a DEVONthink license for going on 5 years now, and I’ve used it in quite a few different ways. In the heyday of my use of DT, I mainly used it to capture webpages as archives for reference and as a bookshelf for my giant collection of PDFs. It was a great for a knee-jerk information packrat like myself. Quick capture, easy sorting, and efficient retrieval of data. Loved it. But…

It suffered from a few major drawbacks that prevented me from using it more, the most debilitating of which was the fact that you couldn’t have more than one database open at a time (and if you only had the Personal edition, you couldn’t have more than one database PERIOD).

2.0: a long time coming

while the developers were responsive and helpful in the rare instance where I ran into trouble, they were incredibly slow to update the application to 2.0. I’m a believer in the “it’ll be done when it’s done” philosophy of making things right the first time, but I bought the application in 2004 (after a year or two of on-and-off illicit relationships) and it was at version 1.8 then. It’s February of 2009, and they’ve just released a beta version of 2.0 in the last few weeks. Resource shortage or no, that’s just a bit too long to coast in the face of rabid competition from the likes of Mori, Circus Ponies Notebook, and the biggest stealer of DT’s marketshare, EverNote.

But now that 2.0 is here, I’m seriously considering shelling out for my license upgrade and rejoining the DT camp. And I’m doing it for 4 reasons:

Reason 1: Hummingbird writer

click for full-size view

I have been using Scrivener for my primary writing tool for a few years now. Scrivener has many of the free-form organizational features of DT and is the best app I’ve ever used for content composition. It’s got great outlining and notecard features, and it’s got a terrific fullscreen editing mode (much better than WriteRoom). But I’ve been uncomfortable with it on some level since the beginning. I actually feel anxious when working on a project that has many different text files in it. And shockingly, I’ve only recently figured out where that’s coming from:

I write like a hummingbird.

Scrivener is limited to a single window. Now, it’s true, that window is subdivided into many different panes, several with text editing capabilities. But it’s all within the same window. This matters because I’ve determined that I don’t write best in a single window, and I never use a fullscreen mode.

I write all 4 of my weekly posts at the same time, cartwheeling from mindmap to mindmap, outline to outline, and draft to draft. I write until I hit a point of friction, and then I move to the next one until I get hung up, move on, etc., etc.

MindNode allows me to have multiple maps going at the same time. OmniOutliner allows me to see all my outlines at the same time. But Scrivener only allows me to have one document visible at a time.

DT, on the other hand, allows me to have as many files open as I want. It even lets me have several instances of the same file open at once. I’m able to flit from document to document, nibbling here and there. The only headache is window management, and, admittedly, that’s a very real problem. But at least, I’m not writing anxious. That’s not fun.

It’s not going to replace Scrivener for full-on writing, but much of my planning and plotting (and blog writing) is done in multiple windows simultaneously, and thusly, DT is perfect for these tasks.

Reason 2: Multiple, simultaneously open databases! (HUGE, despite short section)

As stated previously, DT 1.x only allowed 1 database to be open at a time. This huge shortcoming has been dispelled with the addition of multiple, simultaneously open databases.

Now I can flit between projects as easily as between documents.

Reason 3: The new (Global) Inbox-centered approach

dtp-inbox.jpg

Since I collect information from the web constantly, I need a logical place for a new clip to be dropped. I added this functionality to previous versions of DT, but I’m happy to see this metaphor be officially adopted.

Additionally, they’ve introduced the global database, an always-accessible holding place for newly collected items awaiting processing and sorting. This is big, too. I don’t want to always have to verify that I have the appropriate database forward when I clip something from the web.

This hasn’t actually been activated, as of beta 2, so I haven’t been able to test it. But I do hope that I can choose where this global database is kept, for ease of syncing between my notebook and desktop Macs.

Reason 4: Dropbox can pierce the monolithic database files

I’ve already touted the glories of using Dropbox for syncing between my machines, and after a quick test, I was able to check a huge dealbreaker off of my list of non-negotiable must-haves.

Dropbox is able to read the hidden contents of a DT database file and back up just the parts that change instead of the entire package.

On the flipside, Dropbox sees the package wrapper simply as a folder. So that if you needed to restore your database due to data loss, you can just download the folder to your Mac, and it magically appears as a DT file. Handy.

Links

Faceoff: DEVONthink Pro Office vs. Evernote Premium – The Apple Blog

DEVONthink 2.0 and DEVONnote Updated

Other information managers

EverNote – free Circus Ponies – Notebook 3.0 ($49.95) Reinvented Software – Together 2.2 ($39) Bare Bones Software Yojimbo 1.5 ($39)

Q-Review: Synching up with Dropbox

dropbox.jpg Last week, after seeming to see mentions of Dropbox everywhere I went on the Internet, I finally gave in and signed up for the service. I downloaded and installed the client and was ready to go. It creates a folder on your computer called “Dropbox” and anything you stick in there will be synced to the Dropbox servers. In order to sync these files to another computer, you just point Dropbox to your account, and it pulls down everything in the Dropbox folder. Setup is very simple.

And the actual syncing is done automatically as you make changes:

Dropbox keeps track of every change made to any of its contents. Any changes are instantly and automatically sent to any other computer linked to your Dropbox.

Dropbox is also smart with how it tracks changes to files. Every time you make a change, Dropbox only transfers the piece of the file that changed (also known as block-level or delta sync), making it easy to work with big files like Photoshop or Powerpoint documents.

Dropbox is also cross-platform, available for Mac, Windows, and Linux, and you can get to and share files via a web interface, so you can get to your stuff whenever and wherever you have a connection.

The “I need…” section

Fiddling with my file synchronization applications has become one of the biggest wastes of my time in the last few months. I’ve tried many options for syncing files across a network over the years (Synchronize! Pro, Chronosync, rsync, File Synchronizer, and on and on). Here’s a list of what I need in a file synchronization solution:

I need the solution to be cheap. Cheap-ass cheap. My new software budget has nearly disappeared, so $20 or less is the cap. The problem is that syncing is hard. Software that solves hard problems AND is easy to use tends to be very expensive. Like a hundred dollars expensive.

I need the tool to be fast and easy to use. Since I’m most often heading out of the house at 6:30 in the morning after a night of less than the optimal amount of sleep, I need a syncing tool that is as simple as possible. This means a tool with just one button to click, and that requires little to no attention to fine details like created on and modified on dates. As bleary-eyed and stumbly as I am in this state, I can’t do detail work like that.

I need foolproof syncing. I do most of my work using applications (Scrivener, MindNode, OmniOutliner) that save files as packages, a bundles of files that look and act like a single file in most ways. In many ways, this is great. It simplifies things for the user…except where file syncing is concerned. Too many times have I arrived at the coffee shop only to discover that I don’t have the most current version of the file with me.

I need true synchronization. I don’t want to have to set one machine as the “master” and have all others sync against it. Too often this results in new files being deleted from the other machine because they don’t exist on the master, or deleted files being restored against my will.

I’ve spend too much time trying to find a new solution and fixing the messes that the old ones leave behind. I need help. Let’s see how Dropbox stacks up to my needs:

The “I get…” section

I get a solution on the cheap. Dropbox is free for 2GB of storage. Free…that’s less than $20, right? Luckily, my synced data is a paltry 600MB, so I’m good for awhile.

I get a tool that’s fast and easy to use. After I put my files in the Dropbox folder, it took about 30 minutes to upload everything to their servers. Then I pointed my laptop to my account, and in just a few minutes, I had two perfectly syncronized folders. I opened a Scrivener file on my desktop, typed a bit and saved. Immediately, the changes were uploaded to the servers. I quickly opened the file on my laptop, and the changes were already there! Fast! Easy! Awesome!

I almost get foolproof syncing. This is where the system fell down a bit. While my Scrivener file synced perfectly, I had trouble with my MindNode file. I’m not sure where the problem lies. There are some troubles with packages mentioned in the Dropbox forums, so it seems to be a common problem, but I’ve got an email in to Markus, the developer of MindNode to see if he can tell what the problem is and if it’s possible to fix it. So, I guess I’ll be using an alternative brainstorming tool in the interim, but that’s a small price to pay for the effortless syncing that Dropbox brings to the table. Also, the feature of multiple versions of files, like your own mini-Subversion, is a nice safety net, too.

I get true synchronization. Because all changes made are uploaded to the server and then pushed out to all linked computers, there’s no “master” to worry about. The server is now the master.

The biggest drawback

Aside from dealing with Mac OS X packages, a problem that they seem to be working on, the biggest problem that Dropbox has is its reliance on access to the web. You simply must be connected in order to benefit from it. It is what it is, and if you don’t have frequent access to a fast connection, then Dropbox isn’t the answer for you.

The Verdict: Dropbox is a great option for file synchronization

Dropbox meets nearly all of my file syncing needs. It has quickly become a crucial part of my workflow. While not perfect, it’s still better than any of the software that I’ve used up to this point, cheaper, easier, faster, more reliable. Dropbox is my favorite solution to file synchronization and my new best friend.

Links

Dropbox

Q-Review: Keeping everything tight with OmniFocus for the iPhone / iPod Touch

of.jpg I’m a productivity enthusiast, and I’m a practitioner (and evangelist) of the Getting Things Done method of getting things done. This way of living has made it possible for me to do more every day and with less stress. It’s changed my life for the better. And now, with the recent purchase of OmniFocus for the iPhone/iPod Touch, my life has changed again.

First, some backstory

One of the most important aspects of the GTD methodology is the set of tools you use. The inbox, the labeling and filing system, the task list, the idea capture device. I currently use a simple wire desk paper tray for an inbox, a big ol’, heavy ol’, circa 1970’s filing cabinet to hold my manilla folders, and I use OmniFocus for my task list manager.

You can accomplish a lot with a little using these tools. But you need to use them. This is where I have been running into trouble as of late. My inbox, filing cabinet, and most importantly, my Mac Pro have all resided in my office. And for the last few months here at the Q-Burger, I’ve been sharing office space with the current VP of Frequent Naps and Early Bedtimes. Which has meant that I don’t have the freedom to access my tools as frequently as I’ve needed to in order to continue to be as productive as I’d like. And as a result, there’ve been more dropped balls, forgotten stuff, and missed dates than in the past. Sucks, but, I rationalized, that’s part of parenthood.

Couple things have recently changed. One is the recent move to the basement, which should be finalized by the time you read this. The other is the acquisition of OmniFocus for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

A heavy-duty “lite” version of OmniFocus

You could call OmniFocus for the iPhone and iPod Touch a “lite” version of the desktop application, but you’d be mostly wrong. The iPhone version has nearly all the common features that one uses when at the helm of the desktop version.

The creation of new projects, project folders, contexts and actions is fast and easy. You can view your actions by project or context. Setting start and due dates is easy. You can check off completed items and projects. All the most common ways you expect to use a top-shelf task manager app are there.

But there are a few limitations that you’ll run into. Perspectives (OF’s name for custom views of your data) aren’t available. And some of the finer points of project and action set-up aren’t there, e.g., making a recurring action. So if you rely heavily on these bells and whistles, you might miss them while on the go.

Omni has successfully ported their fairly complex user-interface to the iPhone. Using this app is a natural feeling act, although navigating in and out of a series of nested projects or contexts can get a little tedious with all the tapping, but the app is responsive and quick. Viewing and reviewing your data is nearly painless.

Desktop syncing

One of the basic tenets of GTD is to have just one list that contains all of your projects and tasks. So, arguably, the most important feature of OF for iPhone is the ability to quickly and reliably sync the device with the database used by the desktop app, thereby eliminating the confusion of having 2 lists going in 2 different places.

OF offers several options for syncing iPhone/iPod Touch: Wi-fi, iDisk, or a webDAV server. Syncing is really really hard to do (it’s apparently very easy to do…poorly, if the scores of file synchro apps I’ve been burned by is any indication). And so I was ready for a bumpy experience when I first configured my Touch to pull the OF database from my Mac Pro. And there was a slight bump in the beginning.

When performing the first sync, a relatively large amount of data is being transferred, and there’s not really an indication that anything is happening during this first transfer. And this confused me a little. So I started and restarted the sync a couple of times before I just decided to let it go and see what happened. Once I did that, it took but a minute or 2 before I was up and running with a mobile, synchronized version of my task list. And I’ve synced dozens of times since then and had no problems at all.

It all happens at the touch of one button, and (over wi-fi, at least) it’s really, really fast.

Makes iPhone/iPod Touch the one true ubiquitous capture device

Another fundamental requirement of any well-implemented GTD methodology is the ability to capture ideas as they occur to you, wherever you are. This is easy to do when at a computer, thanks to OF’s Quick Entry feature. Tap a hotkey, the Quick Entry window pops up, you enter the new action, and the window goes away. But this convenience is harder to come by when you’re in the real world.

The best option, in my mind, had been to always carry a cheap little notepad and a small, but durable, pen. And for awhile, I did this. But I already had chronically overfilled pockets, what with keys, cell phone, hand-sanitizer, iPod, coughdrops, etc., etc. Adding a crumple-able notepad and a potentially leaky pen (or breakable pencil) was just too much. Plus, there was the added work of processing the ideas in the notepad and entering them manually into OF on the desktop.

Now, with the addition of OF to my iPod Touch, I no longer need that pen and paper, and I no longer have to transcribe from notepad to computer. This time-saving, super-convenient combination of iPod and OF has had a huge impact on my day-to-day life. Here’s how:

Part of my bedtime ritual is to listen to an audiobook before going to sleep, and then tuck the iPod into my pillowcase. One night, having just settled in and shutting off the light, I remembered that I needed to call and update Pearle Vision with my cell phone number. Instead of either getting up and running to get my notepad, or worse, trusting myself to remember this later, I was able to pull up OF, tap in the action, sync it to my desktop, and resume listening to “The Black Cauldron” without having to get out of my cozy, cozy bed. Awesome.

It is aware

The biggest “cool” feature is the location-aware contexts. Geared primarily toward the GPS-toting iPhone, but also useable with wi-fi triangulation with the iPod Touch, this feature allows you to link a context with a physical location.

Here’s a quick rundown of how it works:

I just set up an Errands: Target context. In the options, you can associate the context with a location. The location is found via a Google Maps search (Google Maps is tightly integrated with the iPhone OS). In this case, I connected it with a Google Maps “Business Search” for “Target”. Then, when I tap the Nearby button, it opens a page that displays all available actions, the distance to the place where you need to do them, and a button that when tapped will show you a Google map with directions from here to there. In this case, I see “Errands: Target: Go grocery shopping. 2 Miles.”

Since I’m tethered to a wi-fi spot, I don’t really feel the true power that an iPhone user might, when I’m out in the wild and looking for an increasingly rare Starbucks or something.

There are drawbacks

The application isn’t without its flaws. The lack of the finer grained settings for projects and actions is a little disappointing, but tolerable. And the lack of user feedback during the first sync up was annoying, but ultimately worked out fine. But as far as functionality and use of the app goes

Q-Review: Sources of possible inspiration for Warners’ Stellian’s customer service

customer.jpg

In a recent post about the bad customer service I’ve received from Warners’ Stellian, I talked about how our time was wasted because Warners’ Stellian took a week to put together an estimate on parts and labor and then called us to see if we wanted to pay their price, not bothering to look at our account. Because if they did, they’d have seen that we’d not only purchased the extended warranty from them, but that we’d had 5 or 6 parts already paid for by the warranty in the last 2 months!

There’s a complete disconnect somewhere in that company. And that disconnect really makes a customer feel like they don’t matter at all.

But that’s business, right? How can a company be expected to keep track of every little detail about their customers? Like how long they’ve been without a major appliance. Like whether or not the repairs will be covered by an extended warranty that they’ve purchased from your company. Is it unrealistic to expect that kind of attention to detail? Is that asking too much?

Apparently, it is with a company like Warners’ Stellian. But I’m here to tell you that acknowledging your customers, hell, just displaying something resembling a passing familiarity with your customers will go a long way toward inspiring customer loyalty.

Want proof?

Acknowledge your customers and they will be loyal

I’ve been a Netflix customer since June 2000. And I’ve recommended their service to family and friends since day one. Why? First of all, they provide a terrific service at an affordable price. A low monthly subscription keeps me in more video entertainment than I can consume. And they keep adding services without bumping up the price. Their recent addition of all-you-can-eat video-on-demand came without an increase in their rates.

They’ve also got a great policy for when discs get lost in the mail and for customers who receive damaged discs. Neither of these things happen very often, but they do happen. And as long as it’s not apparent that you’re abusing the system by doing this repeatedly, they send out replacement discs. No questions asked. They don’t assume you’re gaming the system. Just fill out a webform, explain the problem, and they immediately send out a new one. Top notch service.

But the thing Netflix has done that’s kept me as a customer and inspired me to recommend the service to everyone I know is that they acknowledge the fact that I’m a long-time customer and have actually rewarded me for it.

In the 8 1/2 years since I first became a subscriber their plans and rates have changed. I’m not exactly sure of the progression , but when I first started, I got 4 discs a month for about $20. At some point a few years ago, they changed the plan to offer new customers 3 discs a month for that price. But because I was an existing customer, they kept me at 4. What’s more, when they lowered the price of the 3 disc plan to $17 a month, and raised the 4 disc plan to $24, they lowered my rate to $17 a month and kept me at 4 discs!

It’s remarkably easy to do

37signals is a software company that delivers some highly regarded web-based applications. They also keep a blog that publishes many articles about customer experience and examining how businesses can work to make the customer experience better, which in turn, sets them apart from their competition. There is a lot of good advice here.

One example that most recently caught my attention was posted by CJ Curtis. It was just a quick little description of a few small things that DirecTV did that made him feel good about being a customer of theirs.

First, they gave him a “gift” of 3 free months of Showtime. A marketing technique, to be certain, but who’s going to be mad about getting free premium content for a few months? Second, on their bill, DirecTV printed that Curtis had been a loyal customer since 2004, which made him feel like the company knew he’d been around that long, and it made him feel like his business important to them. And third, when Curtis sent a quick note via a feedback link, he got a personal response from customer service.

I love how they not only responded to my note, but that they also reiterated that I have been “part of the DIRECTV family since 2004”. There is something “mom and pop shop” about that. That recognition of how long I’ve been a customer made me feel important. It’s such a simple little thing to do.

What could Warners’ Stellian have done in my case?

Right now, despite the fact that I’ve had an open issue with them for 3 months, I feel as though I don’t matter to them.

1. When dealing with the extended warranty, take some responsibility, even if it’s not your fault

Warners’ Stellian sell a third-party extended warranty. Every action that Warners’ Stellian takes has to be approved by the warranty company. I ran into an issue where I had two problems occurring at once on my refrigerator, one of which involved leaking water. But since I already had an open issue, Warners’ Stellian would not dispatch a tech to diagnose or replace parts until they could do it all at once.

There was no consideration at all for my situation. I had been without a refrigerator for over a month at the time of this call, and the response I got was a cold dismissal. Because the warranty company wouldn’t pay for two calls, Warners’ Stellian would take no action. The result being that I had to sit for another week with no resolution.

I don’t know how much it would have cost them to send a tech out to address my additional problem without the warranty company’s approval. But I do know that it cost them a repeat customer (who will soon be in the market for a dishwasher).

2. Acknowledge your customers or at least demonstrate a vague familiarity with them

Again, I point to the fact that, despite our having an open issue for the last 3 months, Warners’ Stellian wasted my time by calling me with an estimate for parts and labor when I have purchased an extended warranty, and taking at least a day to acknowledge the fact and move on to contacting the warranty company for approval.

The fact that I got this call is an insult, plain and simple. It shows that they can’t be bothered to provide good service. It shows that there is no consideration for a customer’s situation or history. And if they aren’t going to demonstrate that they value me as a customer, then I’m not going to give them any more of my business. And they’ve been so bad about this that I’ve taken it upon myself to do what I can to warn others that they shouldn’t become customers of Warners’ Stellian. So now, not only has their poor customer service cost them a repeat customer, it’s potentially cost them future customers as well.

Links

Good Experience: It’s the little things – (37signals)

The customer doesn’t care whose fault it is – (37signals)

37signals

Q-Review: MindNode is the DJ; I’m the mindmapper

mindnode.jpg I’m a mindmapper. It’s my preferred method for brainstorming and idea generation. My natural tendency is to grab a sheet of paper and a pen, lay down the main topic and start ringing that central idea with other ideas until the page is full. It’s fast, fun, and free from the constraints of a more linear method of listing things. The problem I most often encounter comes when trying to capture these brainstorming sessions and quickly reference the ideas contained therein.

I turned to a software solution to this problem. There are several options out there. I tried a few of them, and settled for NovaMind because it felt the most intuitive at the time. And I continued to use NovaMind for several years. I don’t anymore. The developers decided that they wanted to tap into the Windows market and after they made that decision, the interface changed significantly. And I didn’t like it. So I stopped using it, and went back to paper and pen.

And while there are many advantages to being able to create, save and search mindmaps using a keyboard and mouse, there’s something intangible lost when working electronically. The flow of ideas is slowed and feels less natural when compared to using a pen and paper. It’s more obvious and even painful when the interface sucks.

Out of my way

It had been over a year since I used mindmapping software when I stumbled upon MindNode. The developer of MindNode has made simplicity the name of the game when designing the interface. Everything is controllable from the keyboard which goes a long way toward removing the barrier between mind and mindmap when using a computer to brainstorm. And while this simplicity comes at the cost of some of the more esoteric features of heftier mindmapping apps out there, like NovaMind, it more than makes up for the shortcoming by getting out of the way.

Highly responsive

Not being one who’s ever completely satisfied with even great tools, I had a nitpick about MindNode that kept me from purchasing it out right. One of the features that I really liked about NovaMind was the ability to tack a text note to a node. NovaMind even went a step further and offered a screenwriting add-on that allowed you to create formatted script snippets right in the mindmap. Very handy. But I’d be happy with just text notes.

So that morning, which was a Saturday, I emailed the developer, Markus Muller, and asked him if he was planning to add this feature. Later that afternoon, I received a response letting me know that this was a planned feature, and he even offered to email me personally when it had been included.

Was this a big deal? A quick 2 minute response dashed off on a Saturday afternoon? Hell, yes. Even if I don’t end up buying this software, and I will as soon as this feature is added, I’ll recommend (am recommending) MindNode based firstly on the quality of the software, but I’ll immediately follow it by saying “and the developer is quick to respond to the user community and their needs.” After my adventures with piss-poor customer service, it’s always refreshing to give my money to someone who actually gives a crap about the people who are paying their bills.

Incredibly affordable

When the competition’s offerings are priced at well over $100 or even $250, MindNode Pro’s $15 license seems too good to be true. And if you’re not happy with paying that much, but satisfied with fewer features, you can use the freeware version and still experience the ease of use.

Final verdict: Get it. Now.

The superior interface design with its ease of use and complete keyboard control, the very responsive developer, and the terrific price, MindNode is the best mindmapping software on the market. If you mindmap, you should use MindNode.

Links

MindNode

Macworld’s MindNode review

NovaMind

Q-Review: Perfect timing with Minuteur

minuteur.jpg
*I’m a Mac guy, and so the software that I review is largely going to be for the Mac only. This review is no exception.*

For the last few years, I’ve used a time management technique called [*timeboxing*](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeboxing) in order to avoid spending too much time noodling about with a particular task. If I need to tackle a task, I’ll give myself a chunk of time, a timebox, in which to accomplish it. It’s a simple but powerful way to shepherd your brain.

It works very well with open-ended tasks and activities that can expand to fill hours of the day. A couple of examples: I give myself 10 minutes per to conceive and rough out posts for the week. I often limit my RSS feedreading to 10 minutes on a busy morning.

> Personal timeboxing works to curb perfectionist tendencies by setting a firm time and not overcommit to a task. This method can also be used to overcome procrastination (delaying activities or tasks).

Obviously, you need a tool in order to make use of this technique. Some kind of timer. You can buy a physical eggtimer or steal that kitchen timer magnetized to your fridge, or you can install one of the dozens of timer applications, many of them free.

But allow me to save you a little time and point you to the best timer app out there: Minuteur.

### Good time(r)

Lets face it: a timer isn’t a real complicated tool, so there’s not a lot of hardcore functionality to address here. Minuteur counts down time and does it well. What sets it apart from the competition is the interface.

It’s got very configurable and customizable display options. For example, it’s main window is a small, unobtrusive counter that can be set to float on top of all windows and be visible at all times. It’s got a menubar icon that lets you display the remaining time in a number of ways, as a counter, as a thermometer, and as a ruler. It’s got a fullscreen mode with giant numbers visible from across a room.

You can set and control the timer via it’s main window interface, but it’s got a few easily customizable keyboard shortcuts, and it also comes with a host of applescript samples that you can use as is or customize into your own workflow.

It’s got a host of alarm sounds and visualizations that’ll jar you awake, or turn down iTunes and gently beep to let you know that your time is up.

### It counts down and counts up…your earnings!

Minuteur is also a full-featured time-tracking functionality. It’s able to create projects and track the time you’ve spent within each project. It tracks the date, time, rate, and has a description field for each working session, which comes in very handy when you’ve got a project that requires you to track what you’re working on very specifically.

It also gives the user the ability configure multiple rate profiles. If the services you provide have different pay rates, this feature makes it very convenient to switch between them.

### The verdict

Minuteur is a great timer application with a ton of great features. At $12, it’s a little steep for just a timer application. But considering that this is a very easy to use timer, chock full of keyboard shortcuts that make setting the timer easy and intuitive, it might be worth the dough because you’ll actually *use* it. And with the addition of the nice time tracking functionality, it’s really two separate but closely related apps rolled into one. I think it’s well worth it.

### Links

[Download Minuteur](http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/19356/minuteur)

[Timeboxing – *Wikipedia*](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeboxing)

Q-Review: Buy a Mac for cheap at the Apple Special Deals site

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When it comes to the computer of your choice, it’s tough to tout yourself as budget conscious *and* a Mac user and come off as credible. Macs aren’t cheap computers. If you’re in the market for a $300 computer, you won’t find something in an Apple store. But Macs are *good* computers, and everybody seems to want one. But, and I’m speaking from experience, it seems like Apple’s offerings are always just a little bit more than one wants to spend at the time.

But this doesn’t mean that you’re relegated to the Windows world forever just because you want to save a few bucks. There is a solution for you: The Apple Special Deals website.

The Apple Special Deals website is a secret little spot where they sell refurbished computers and iPods at a significant discount. Rob Griffiths recently published an article on Macworld.com describing his experience buying a refurbished MacBook Pro, and I thought I’d just throw in my 2 cents on the topic.

I’ve had nothing but good experiences when buying refurbished Apple goods. I bought 2 iPods and my current MacBook Pro for about 20 to 30% off, saving a ton of money. When I bought the laptop, I saved so much that I was able to buy a 3-year Applecare warranty and 4GB of RAM from a 3rd party vendor and *still* spent less than I would have if I bought new.

There are a couple of drawbacks to buying this way, however. Buying refurbished isn’t the exact same purchasing experience as buying new, and there are few things that you’ll want to be aware of going in:

The most significant drawback is the lack of customizability. You can’t configure your new machine; they’re offered as is. No bigger hard drive, no bumping up of RAM. You’re stuck with the model that they’re selling.

Another factor you’ll want to consider is that the inventory isn’t static. I found this out when I was in the market for a new iPod. One day, I checked the site and the one I wanted was there: the white 60GB model. I wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger, so I put it off. Next day, credit card in hand, I hit the site prepared to place my order only to find that the white model was no longer available. I had to settle for the black one. Bottom line, there’s no guarantee that the one you want will be there when you’re ready to buy.

Lastly, and this isn’t really a drawback unless you’ve got odd priorities, the packaging that the new hardware arrives in is plain old brown cardboard. None of the fancy, nicely designed packaging that Apple is famous for. Everything’s in the box that’s supposed to be there, but it’s just a barebones shipping carton. And if you think about it, that might just be a positive instead of a negative in the grand scheme of things.

The Apple Special deals site seems to be the best, most affordable way to buy your next Mac or iPod, and I’m convinced that, barring special and unforeseen circumstances, I’ll be making all future computer and iPod purchases there.

### Links

[Apple Special Deals](http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/specialdeals)