Essential software for modern working

I saw this on Ben Metcalfe's blog recently…

It’s my first time working with RoR and I’m really enjoying the experience. Pivotal Tracker continues to be an amazing productivity tool for development, and I’m beginning to wonder how I ever worked before DropBox, EtherPad and BaseCamp.

Got me thinking what tools do I use which I just can't work without.

Dropbox is high on my list. First thing I do when installing a new machine is install dropbox, because has my desktop backgrounds, application settings and all types of good personal stuff which I use day in day out. I've also considered there pro upgrade for the purposes of work. Its like the promise of Webdav without the stress. I like the way I can work on a file on any of my ubuntu machines and then flip to my work windows machine and carry on where I'd left off. Save and Sync, then i'm back to my laptop. I use symbolic links to do drop torrents from anywhere, sync bookmarks and exchange configs. I want dropbox on my Sony Ereader and on my phone (Windows Mobile 6).

Basecamp I do use at work a lot. But to be honest in recent times its starting to look and feel the poor cousin of Googlewave, Etherpad, etc. Basecamp is great because its project management done to the level which I'm confidential I'm not spending time filling in crap like project but acting too loose like on a wiki. The problem is basecamp is a web only system and not only does that restrict what kind of projects I put on it but also makes it a pain to pay for it out of my own budget. What I really want is Basecamp inside of Wave as a robot and series of widgets or Basecamp with the ability to install on your own domain/server and federation support.

TomboyNotes is where I store all my notes which I can't remember. Its great and simple but I do wish it would work on my phone or at least as a webservice (Snowy will solve this problem). On the gnome desktop tomboynotes is quite well supported (plus it runs on all 3 main platforms), so theres plugins for a lot of things you may want but its not really as smart as Evernote which I started using but got fed up of due to their attitude to gnu/Linux users. Using, I'm also meant to be able to turn Tomboynotes into a lot of other things like a basecamp backpack (although this doesn't work for me anymore). I do use dropbox with tomboynotes, so I can sync notes between machines without a problem.

Hamachi is my personal VPN network I have on most of my own machines. It runs pretty smoothly on most of machines even old Pentium 3's. I keep wanting to go the either the OpenVPN (which I just don't get), Ntop N2N which I struggled to get going too) Wippien which has recently come to my attention as a Hamachi but with open decentralised lookup server. But I find myself using Hamachi for its pure ease and clever things it can do. For example because every node on the VPN act like local ethernet, you can use mnds/zeroconf, run pulseaudio from any home machine or use ssh/samba/webmin/vnc over VPN into any machine attached to the vpn.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser. Can be found at, and