Chris Dugdale: Apps I Couldn’t Write Without

So, first off, a little about me: I live in the UK, I’m from Guildford in Surrey, and currently live near Liverpool with my wife and one and a half year old son, both of whom are amazing. I work in Chester as a Web Developer, which is great fun, challenging and rewarding. For those of you who are interested my language of choice is C# and I do a lot of SQL and ASP.NET.

My commute is an hour and a half each way and I get most of my writing done on the train, so as to not miss out on time with the family. I have recently bought a Samsung Series 9 laptop which is an awesome bit of kit and allows me to work on the train without having to carry a heavy laptop around. Due to using a laptop a lot of the time, and being a developer at work, I love keyboard shortcuts over mouse use as I find it faster, especially when I’m on the laptop.

I have also just got a Samsung Galaxy S4 (it’s brilliant) and I use the Wi-Fi hotspot to allow me to access the internet on my laptop when I’m on the train. I did the same from my Galaxy S2 before that and it such a useful tool. Aside from that I’m a huge fan of Android itself, a frequent visitor to XDA Developers and I’m often flashing new ROMs on my phone. Also, if I don’t have my laptop with me I’ll use my phone or tablet for writing so I’ve included a couple of Android apps that I use a lot.

My home machine is set up for gaming, it runs everything I ask it to, but isn’t the newest tech, it’s an overclocked Q6700 Quad Core, , 8GB RAM a Crucial SSD (if you still don’t have one you are missing out!) and an Nvidia GTX 460 GS and I run two monitors. When I’m not writing code for myself, or writing articles, or spending time with the family then I’m playing online games with a couple of very good friends.

I started writing for my own site just as something to do, and then started reading AppStorm avidly a while later. Whilst reading the site I saw an article asking for writers, applied and was accepted. The rest is history! Below is a list of apps I couldn’t write without, and a few extras that I really like as well, I hope you enjoy reading it.

WorkFlowy

I’ve long been an exponent of WorkFlowy because I find it so flexible, easy and fun to use. The way you can jump in and out of lists and focus on what it is that I want to look at next is really useful. I use it to form outlines of my articles, first creating main points, then sub points, then sub points to that if needed, and then export it to WordPres to publish.

WorkFlowyEisenhowerOne620

WorkFlowy is versatile enough to fulfill most of your needs

With WorkFlowy you can indent or ‘outdent’ points as easily as hitting tab or shift-tab, you don’t need to worry about which points are the main points, or headings, and which are the minor points, you can very easily move and adjust them on the fly. This is ideal for way I formulate my articles and store my to dos.

Microsoft Word

If I’m not using Workflowy I’ll use Microsoft Word instead. A lot of people frown upon that, and I’ve never understood why, it’s a really powerful document creator that has been developed for many years, and it shows. I’m sure there are other ones that do a great job too, but I’ve been using Word for years and it’s never let me down.

ArsClip

ArsClip is a neat little clipboard manager that saves your clipboard history. You can bring it up with a hotkey combination and then use another hotkey for each item in the list, or use the mouse to choose one. I find it really useful for coding in my day to day job as well as writing.

AutoHotkey

This little scripting tool is far more than just a toy, it’s a powerful platform that lets you program any hotkeys you want, auto complete text and automate processes and that’s just the start, the forum at AutoHotkey is full information, and other forum goers are willing to help you out if you get stuck writing a script. I use AutoHotkey to quickly access programs that I use a lot. A couple of examples: CTRL + ALT + D opens up my dropbox folder, CTRL + ALT + E types out my most used email address, CTRL + ALT + M opens up Notepad++, WINDOWS + / opens up Chrome to Google.co.uk. There are loads more, and you can do anything you want with it really. Well worth a look if that kind of automation, customisation and text completion floats your boat.

Dropbox

I’m sure I don’t need to explain what Dropbox is to anyone, but I use it so much that I had to add it in. I use it to keep everything in sync between my laptop, desktop and phone (more on the phone later) and it is the easiest and most reliable tool for this that I have found. It means that the work I do on my laptop is synced to my desktop pretty much instantly. Using a couple of different apps it’s also pretty easy to access my Dropbox from my phone for edits or creation of new docs.

Apps for Image Manipulation

I use a few tools for images; depending on what I need the image for. Greenshot is a great tool for screenshots, the set up and automation features are great. The snipping tool built into Windows is pretty useful for quick grabs for reference as you only get the actual bit you want, and it loads up really quickly. It’s less good if you need a consistent or specific size of screenshot as you can’t alter the size of the snip once it’s been taken once it’s been taken.

Paint.NET is my image editor of choice, it’s easy to use, powerful and has all of the features that I require. For more info see my review here. and for batch image editing such as resizing a load of screenshots to the same size I use Photoscape as the batch editing is great.

Invoice Machine

Invoice Machine

The Invoice Machine UI is clean and simple

Invoice Machine is a pretty cool online invoicing application. The best bit is that it offers 3 invoices a month for free. As we submit one invoice for all work in a month here at Windows.AppStorm, that suits me fine, no need to pay for a subscription to a service that I would hardly use. The app itself is well designed and full featured, the interface is pleasant to use, yet all the commands that you might want are close to hand. Once you have set up the clients it is very simple to add a new invoice for that client and send it out.

Google Chrome

My favourite browser is Chrome, by a long shot, I’m well invested in the Google ecosystem with my Android phone (I’ve been using Andoid for 3.5 years and still love it) and use of Chrome, and the integration and synchronisation that can be achieved is easy and pretty cool to use. I find it fast, reliable and customisable. I love the Chrome Web store and the extensions/ apps that you can get, it really lets you personalise your browser to do exactly what you need it to.

For those of you who haven’t tried making yourself a new theme with My Chrome Theme yet, I suggest you give it a go. If you have an image to hand you can build a theme in about 30 seconds and share it with friends should you so wish.

Read Later Fast

I have found this to be the best tool for reading later with offline support. As I mentioned earlier my commute is quite long, about one third of this is underground where there is no way to access the internet. That means that I have to have a reliable way to read articles that I have saved, this is the best I have used. Others are great if you have an internet connection, but fail pretty hard if you don’t, the big names included in my experience.

Android Apps

As I said I use Android a lot, and if I don’t have my laptop with me and I want to get some work done I use my Galaxy S4, or S2 before that. It’s obviously not as good as my laptop in terms of power or function, but for getting writing done it’s not that bad at all. Here are a few apps that are essential in allowing me to do this.

SwiftKey Keyboard

There are two main drawbacks to using a mobile device for productivity, the screen size and the keyboard. Swiftkey all but eliminates the latter. The predictive text is brilliant, and the word correction as you type is insanely good. I type fast on a phone and rely on the autocorrect to fix any typos I make, and this one does just that. I used Swype before that, which is also a brilliant keyboard, but since moving to SwiftKey I’ve not been tempted back. SwiftKey also now allows you to ‘flow’ your words as well, a la Swype, although I tend not to use it. If you do want to Swype not tap your words then Swype is better.

OfficeSuite Pro 7

Office Suite Pro 7

Office Suite Pro 7 is the best tool I’ve found for editing documents on a phone

This office suite is the best I have found for editing documents on a phone, you can access cloud services such as Dropbox, GDrive, SugarSync, Box and Skydrive directly through the app to edit your files, or you can use locally stored files as well. Which is where the next app comes in.

FolderSync

FolderSYnc allows you to synchronise whichever folders/ files you like from your cloud service of choice, everything from Dropbox to FTP is covered. You set up a remote folder to be synced with a local folder, this can be your whole Dropbox, or just one folder that you want synced. From this you can choose to upload the changes manually, to have them upload automatically on a schedule to to ahve them instantly sync changes to the remote location. It’s a really versatile app, and great for having your files with you when you don’t have a signal to download them there and then. Highly recommended.

Other Apps

Here are a few more apps that I use a lot but don’t consider essential for my workflow:

Free Commander

A great dual pane Windows alternative. It has one key feature that seals the deal for me; the ability to show folder size next to folders. It is a feature that Windows Explorer doesn’t support, and I understand why, due to the size of hard drives it can take a some seconds to scan and calculate the size of each folder, but it is a useful feature nevertheless. Give it a go.

Foxit Reader

Foxit Reader

Foxit Reader; faster, lighter and better featured than Adobe Reader

In my opinion Adobe PDF reader is pretty heavy, slow to start and generally a bit bloated. Foxit is the opposite, it’s smaller, lighter, faster and better featured. It has a similar but different interface which is to be expected for a reader that does a similar job to Adobe Reader. It utilises tabs as opposed to opening a new windows for every new PDF. You can change the theme on Foxit reader to fit either Windows 7 or 8, depending upon your OS which is a neat addition. I started using it and I’ve not looked back.

Google Drive

I use my GDrive primarily for collaboration with others; the real time collaboration that is built into GDocs is really very good indeed. I also tend to use it for spreadsheets instead of Excel, purely because I can access and edit them from any browser, any time.

That’s it for my apps, I hope that I’ve shown you an app or two that you don’t use, didn’t know about, or want to try out. I’m interested to hear which apps you couldn’t live without so let me know in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading.

Chris.