What I like to use

Everyone has their own way of working. We each have specific preferences and processes that we use – and for good reason.

This is especially true in our digital lives – both professional and personal, which are of course not entirely separate. There are an abundance of tools and approaches for us to select from as we navigate the world from our computers. What follows is what works for me.

A cloud-first approach suits me as I spend most of my digital time in the browser. I chose to use, and continue to use, the tools that consistently give me the right mix of convenience, security and reliability. Flexibility, interconnectability, cost and continued improvement of the tools are also important factors.

NB: If you’re tied to Adobe, CAD or media production tools then the cloud won’t suit ALL your needs (yet). For admin though, and for most people more generally, I implore you to consider the cloud as your foundation.

Last updated: February 2018

So many options

There is a debate – which still rages in certain circles – about local vs. cloud. The conflict is moot, though, without a clear and comprehensive understanding of the specific needs of the company or individual who is going to be using the system. What do they need and what do they want? Plus there are likely preconceived ideas about the pros, cons and risks of any of the available options. One of the main concerns seems to be security, as it rightly should be, and there are a number of factors that affect this. Regardless, a strong password strategy is a priority irrespective of where your data is stored.

It has been a conscious choice of mine to sit deeply in Google’s realm. Specifically: G Suite, Android and Chrome OS (Google’s operating system born out of the Chrome browser). I’m not fully comfortable with the quantity and detail of the data they hold on me, but the quality of their tools as a package is unmatched. Other than Chrome OS, the mainstream options when considering platforms are: Apple (designed for personal, individual lives), Microsoft (intended for a large corporate environment), and Linux (for those who know how to build and maintain their own tech). Google seems to have gotten it right for our time right now. They pioneered highly functional web apps and saw deep into the future of what was possible from The Web well before the market was ready for it. So when the market finally was ready, Google had everything lined up. Not to say I don’t have my complaints, but as of today I can’t see a better option for my needs and desires.

Devices

Most of us use physical hardware to achieve a few tasks: type text, view websites, interact with web apps.

Not long after starting my business, Chromebooks were launched. My Windows laptop was slow to boot, heavy to carry and largely filled with software unnecessary for how I was working at the time. I’d already realised how most of my computing time was being spent in the browser so the potential of Chrome OS was obvious for me. I knew I’d have to make a few changes but it was a surprisingly easy transition.

The first consideration was whether I could be effective having access to only cloud-based software – ie. not being able to install software on the device itself. I hate installing and updating software – it’s a chore, a bore and sometimes leads to time-sapping issues. I quickly realised that having this limitation would be a very welcome change. Occasionally, a cloud app will update in a way that is unwelcome, but in practice that is rare for me.

The second point, and one that some may never accept, is that Chrome OS is primarily intended to be used with an internet connection. It is a safe assumption that I will have an internet connection because I ensure that’s the case. If I don’t, it’s because I’m travelling on a train (as I am while writing this) or because something has gone wrong. My work on computers is online, so if the internet is down then I can’t do that work – this would be the same if I were on a Mac. It is worth keeping in mind how useful it is to tether an internet connection to a mobile.

Thirdly, I wanted the freedom and calm that comes from knowing that all my data is stored and backed up in the cloud. My devices aren’t disposable in that they aren’t cheap, but if something does happen to them I would not lose any data. Almost all of my cloud-based data is backed up – typically to somewhere else on the cloud. The other reason for focusing on the cloud is less dramatic and more frequent: I’m switching between devices. In brief, it’s extremely rare that I don’t have access to the files I want.

With those points accepted, and hopefully embraced or this post isn’t really for you, one can finally consider what specific model to purchase. I look for a good screen, pleasant keyboard, long-life battery and plenty of RAM. With regard to Chromebooks, there are some available under £200, but I got the best available at the time and spent a grand on the Chromebook Pixel LS. That’s not cheap but it’s truly the perfect computer for me, and I am very sad to know it’s no longer available to buy new. Perhaps when it’s time to get a new one I won’t be too disappointed by Google’s newest offering. When I’m at my desk my laptop is plugged into a large screen (one can never have too much screen space), one of Apple’s wired keyboards with the number pad, and a comfortable wireless USB mouse (I’ve found the Bluetooth ones lose their connections at the worst times).

My mobile is currently a Nexus 5X which has a great screen, a good camera, is generally fast enough and runs Google’s stock version of Android. I likely use it too much, but that’s for another time… If you’re curious about using a Chromebook, consider that they have much in common with how we tend to use our smartphones. We don’t need to be online to use them, but we generally expect to be.

In terms of other physical hardware, I hate printers so avoid owning or using them and use Google Drive’s scan feature on my phone if I need to do that. I cannot remember if I’ve sent a fax in the last decade, but there are email-to-fax services. CDs and DVDs are obsolete for me now and I’ve moved all my music into the cloud.

Software

Web development

NB: My ‘local’ development environment is on a remote server. 

  • Git with GitHub (for portability and backup, this script does auto-nightly backups)
  • Secure Shell: SSH & SFTP
  • Caret: text editor
  • Webfaction: cloud server with nice control panel (affiliate link)
  • Pixlr or Polarr: photo manipulation