A comment yesterday reminded me what a software junkie I used to be. Had I tried TextExpander instead of setting up auto-correct in Word? Of course. And Typinator. And probably lots else besides.
I started using computers in the Eighties, when most of them were as inadequate as they were expensive. True they could do things that nothing else was capable of. But there were always holes, glitches, things you needed that weren’t there out of the box.
So software junkies like me used to hang around CompuServe and places looking for shareware options to tweak our systems. Remember Ram Doubler, without which most Macs were unusable for a while? Or — gulp — Now Utilities, which could be heaven or hell depending on which way the wind was blowing? If you want to recall the full horror of those days click that link to a review of Now on TidBits. I shudder to think of the torture we used to go through. So much did these things proliferate – and so hard to handle after a while – that you had to learn how to diagnose extension conflicts to keep your Mac standing.
The extension conflicts issue has gone away. Computers are a lot more powerful these days. Not that software junkies haven’t stopped loving the merry-go-round of course. I’ve lost track of how many different apps I’ve bought from the App Store. Writing apps, info apps, photo apps, task and list managers, utilities and things to put in the menu bar.
Don’t use many of them. But that curiosity – is there really something out there that can make me more productive? – never goes away.
Well not till now. I’ve designated 2013 the year of the software detox diet. The first part of that has been to move from the Mac to Windows. I’ve had a great time with the Mac. I know lots of people love it. I just happen to think that Windows and Office 2013 are better for what I want to do with a computer these days (which is my prerogative, just as it’s someone else’s to feel differently so if you feel that decision is worthy of jihad please move on).
But that TextExpander comment brought it home to me why I want to do this. It’s to stop fiddling with the computer and start using it more effectively for the reason it’s there: work. Because the endless search for something to make you more productive does the opposite. It’s fruitless at best and a work-avoidance ritual too. I don’t need them any more. Everything I require to work is there already, inside Office. So why add to the expense and complexity?
Look at this bluntly. I do four things during the working day.
- I write.
- I send emails, maintain an address book, keep a diary and a list of things to do.
- I go online.
- I make notes and store research.
Word handles the first. Outlook the second. Any web browser the third (this site is hosted with WordPress.com so that includes website management too). And OneNote the fourth. I don’t need a Windows version of TextExpander because, as I explained yesterday, the autocorrect routines do the same for me within Word, Office and OneNote. So if I want to set up a shortcut for my postal address I do that just once in Word and it’s there for the rest of the apps. Yes, utilities like TextExpander can do a lot more than that if you explore them. But it’s a lot more I never used. So I don’t need something else to clog up the taskbar.
I don’t want to make videos on my computer. I don’t play around with music or games. If you do you’ll feel differently but for me the only extra piece of software I’ve added to my Windows system over Office is Adobe Photoshop Elements to handle pictures.
If I can restrict the software on my computer to one common industry package my life becomes so much simpler.
I’m not sure that many people writing about technology really get this. The Windows Surface RT tablet has taken a kicking in the PC media precisely because it can’t run much in the way of desktop software except Microsoft Office (shorn of a few things I never use such as macros). That doesn’t bother me at all. I can write and take notes on the thing as easily as I can on my full-blown desktop. I can access the same files through a common Skydrive cloud connection, without swapping formats or getting involved in some tedious sync routine.
If I want to edit or resize a graphic I can use a handy little Windows 8 ‘modern’ app called Fhotoroom which does an excellent job and costs all of 99p. Yes, the coming Surface Tablet Pro looks nicer, with better resolution and the ability to install the full range of Windows software. The RT doesn’t have Outlook, which I miss a bit. And the Pro has a pen.
But it’s likely to be almost twice the price at £800. The RT tablet does the job of writing, OneNote, email and web very well. Am I really going to pay another £400 just for the ability to install a bunch of software I don’t actually need?
For the pen and the higher resolution – which could be handy for proof markups – possibly. But for more apps? No. The diet continues, and right now I’ve no great hunger to break it.