As a general rule, I like having everything I need at my fingertips. That much about everyday technology I’m spoiled rotten. I just don’t like having to deal with multiple windows and multiple systems across the gadget-strewn digital microcosm. I know it can’t be helped given the multitude of systems and programs out there, but being the geek that I am, I’ve managed to put some things together for my own benefit. I thought it’s time to share it with you for your benefit as well, though because I’m primarily a Windows and Linux user, I won’t be putting anything Mac specific here, so that you have to work it out on your own.
For a browser, I’d have to say that this is still one of the most flexible programs out there. Depending on the addon extensions you put in to spruce up your default system, it can be a bit of a resource hog at times, but the benefits still outweigh a lot of other browsers out there. Because of that, I use Firefox on 3 separate systems. One happens to be on my Windows desktop, one on my thumbdrive (more on this below) and one on my Linux powered EeePC.
Logically, all the settings and history on one browser differs from another. I never liked that. I usually like all my forms, search history and passwords to be the same everywhere. Prior to this, Google came up with a solid solution to this which was the now defunct Google Browser Sync. Given that it’s not supported anymore, Mozilla Labs came up with a similar Firefox Addon called Weave which does the same things.
It synchronizes you browser history, cookies, saved forms, passwords and tabs between all your browsers. It’s secure enough that you need a password and a separate encryption phrase to access the unified data and it has the benefit of being able to store the data on your own server (which you need to now anyway because Mozilla Labs stopped accepting people from syncing with their servers). Either way, you never really leave your main browser that you use, no matter where you are.
Unfortunately I’m pretty much tied into my instant messages, both as a form of work and entertainment. The problem is that the Internet Gods decided to give us a ridiculous amount of instant messenger clients and protocols. I happen to be one of those people who have at a good number of them because of geographical location and the popularity of the IM client at the time. Because I have contacts on MSN, Yahoo, Gtalk, AIM and ICQ (yes I still use ICQ), it would be crazy of me to run separate programs for all of them, especially since some of them are bloated software, it’ll just clog up my system.
So I turned to Pidgin on both Windows and Linux, which is essentially an all in one instant messaging software that allows you to connect to so many different clients. It’s lightweight, flexible and above all, it does what it’s supposed to. It does have a lack of audio and video support but since I separately use Skype for that, it’s not a big issue. I’d rather have 2 IM clients running on my desktop than 8. Best yet, because it’s open source as well, I’ve managed to add my Facebook chat and Twitter as part of the mix. My communication to the outside world at the touch of my fingertips.
Home away from home in the portability of your thumbdrive. Portableapps is what it says it is. It’s the portable version of common open source programs that you can run off your thumbdrive rather than installing them onto an unknown or locked out computer. In my case, what I can’t do without is Firefox and Pidgin running at all times, but I don’t have that problem because there are portableapp versions of both these programs – updated as they come out.
The result? As long as the system is connected to the net and has a USB port, I can essentially and securely use the programs I want instead of being at the mercy of an alien computer. Coupled with the fact I already synchronise Firefox browsers and that your Pidgin contact lists are the same everywhere you go, I don’t really have to bother with anything else. In fact, I’m writing this on a Firefox that I’m running off my thumbdrive. I use it that often.
The only downside to this is that you do need to invest a little bit into the speed of your thumbdrive and not the size. Running Firefox 3 off my older thumbdrive was as slow as growing molasses. I had to get myself a faster thumbdrive to get it to run smoothly. But come on, even you have to admit that it’s worth it.
So there we have it, some of the things I use to make sure I’m not missing something important and be glued to one system all the time. There are of course plenty of other things to make your geeky life a little easier with this grand unified theory. But I’ll only share it if you guys really want to hear more of it. After all, I don’t usually write about these things to begin with.
At the end of it, it’s all about the simplicity of putting everything together because you know, I have a life and I’m sure you do to. At least with this, you don’t have to spend so much time, energy or money running all over the place trying to put together the things you need. With the world at your fingertips at least, you’ve got more time to do the things you want. If there are days when technology can’t go wrong, this would be it.