Seeing as how 2010 will be here in days, I figured I’d recap some of my favorite things from 2009. (In this case, as is most often the case for me, “things” will refer to Web and electronics products.)
Granted, they’re no equivalent to Robert Goulet’s list, but they should still provide a good break from your daily reading.
So, with no further ado, here’s my list of the best of 2009:
1Password pops up over and over again on my best-of lists for a simple reason: it’s one of my most-used and useful pieces of software I own. It passively collects the usernames and passwords you enter around the Web in any browser (soon to support Chrome), and makes them available to you anytime you return to these sites. Additionally, it offers “bookmarks” (in a sense) that not only take you to the site, but automatically step through the authentication screens in the browser. For those (banking/financial) sites with multiple screens for signing in, this can be a time-saver.
I was turned on to Dropbox by the 1Password crew. It offers the ability to use 1Password’s keychain across multiple computers, although it’s primary selling point is likely it’s free 2GB storage that operates like a normal folder on your Mac and PC, available whether you’re online or offline. Additionally, it offers versioning of files, which means you can roll back to a previous edit of anything you save in your Dropbox folder… a.k.a. unlimited undos.
Managing notes securely across devices and platforms was a bit difficult before Evernote. I used to store my hardware and software serial numbers in Yahoo! Notepad, and other HTML-formatted and image-rich notes in MobileMe’s iDisk or my own self-hosted wiki. Now, regardless of where I am, I can create, edit, and view rich notes (i.e. HTML formatting, inline images, etc.) on my iPhone, my home iMac, my work laptop, or any Web browser anywhere. Additionally, any images that I upload are OCR’d, meaning the text inside them becomes searchable soon after uploading them.
Bit.ly is one of the many, many URL shorteners available today, but it has featureed two very important advantages over the competition. First, it has incredibly rich analytics: for any link I shorten via Bit.ly, I get real-time visualizations showing how many people are clicking on my link to-the-minute, as well as where (and Twitter posts are shown directly on the page, showing context). Second, their API has made it incredibly easy for other developers to incorporate into their applications… meaning that regardless of what product you’re using, you can still see how popular are the links you share.
(Note: nearly all the links in this post are tracked via Bit.ly.)
As a longtime fan of (and pontificator about) the Apple TV, I was a bit surprised this past year about how many times I discouraged others from buying one. Instead, I encouraged them to invest in lightweight PC set-top boxes with HDMI output… all so they could run Boxee on it. Some time ago, I cancelled cable TV (still keep Comcast for Internet connection) as all the TV I wanted to watch was available through Hulu and the Internet, and that plus Netflix are funneled through Boxee’s interface. To make the deal even sweeter, Boxee shows you what you’re friends have been watching, rating, and recommending, so you still have something to talk about around the water cooler the next day.
And, say you’re not as adventurous (and frustrated) as I am for trying to build your own Apple TV replacement. No problem. Boxee will have their own hardware available for sale soon.
- Titanium Mobile
With Titanium Mobile, I was able to get an iPhone application, however crude, running and leveraging 3rd-party Web content on my iPhone. It reminded me of the excitement I felt when I authored my first HyperCard stack in the 80s.
I have many Objective-C/Cocoa masters as friends who decry Appcelerator’s, Adobe’s, and many others’ attempts at authoring applications outside of Apple’s Xcode. In many ways, I see Titanium doing for the iPhone and Android what WYSIWYG Web authoring applications did for the Internet; they won’t be training a legion of Objective-C masters… but they will expose a wider audience to the possibilities of these platforms (which, in turn, will ensure that more Web products get mobile counterparts in a much quicker fashion).
Additionally, GreaseKit and custom userstyles are available to any Fluid-generated application, making user customization and Firefox Greasemonkey enhancements available to your favorite sites.
Somewhere in the latter half of 2009, I became a Foursquare junkie. Foursquare is a location-centric Web site and application(s) that lets you “check in” wherever you go in the physical world: a coffee shop, bar, restaurant, etc. Most check-ins earn points (which rank you against your friends, as well as against everyone in your city), most-frequent check-inners earn “mayorships” (which some establishments reward with freebies/discounts), and all of your check-ins are broadcast (at your discretion) to your friends who also use the app. Why is this interesting? I don’t know. But it is addictive. And competitive. And it lets my team know when I’m in the office.
Mint needs very little sales pitch, as far as I’m concerned, if you’ve ever used Quicken or Microsoft Money (two very, very, very painful and money “managing” applications). With the latter, you pay them every year for meaningless updates, and you do all the work (downloading bank statements, categorizing expenses, etc.); with Mint, you pay them nothing, and they do all the work.
Mint tracks (but can’t withdraw, transfer, edit, etc.) your various financial accounts (and investments, such as stocks, property and cars), catalogues and classifies each transaction (using learning from all its users to ensure ever-better classification and labeling), provides rich, illustrative visualizations of your spending habits (and how they compare to others’), and can alert you when something is out of the ordinary (via SMS, email, etc.).
Mint helped me spot identity theft within 24 hours (thus minimizing damage) and an awry bank auto-pay transaction within minutes. I hope to never return to the likes of Quicken and Money thanks to the good folks at Mint (who now run Quicken, ironically).
Earlier this year, I decided to never buy music (or movies) from Apple again. While Apple has since moved to a DRM-free format and higher-quality bitrate, a considerable amount of music that I “own” is locked into a format playable only on Apple-branded devices or software. Lala, in turn, offers the ability to play any of your music (whether purchased from Apple, Amazon, anywhere else, or even CDs you ripped in the past), accessible from any Web-connected device. Want to listen to something, but don’t care about “owning” the music (i.e. the Apple model)? No problem: Lala only sets you back 10 cents a track (1/10th of Apple’s fee). (You can download music for $0.89/track, too, if you want a high-quality, DRM-free file to do with as you please.)
Every week, I move another DVD full of previously-ripped music up to Lala, making iTunes simply an iPhone-synchronization-only application at this point for me. (Sadly, Apple purchased Lala this month, seemingly to make me renege on my decision… or to adopt a better model for all iTunes customers.)
This year I saw how I will be working sometime in the near future: a series of “applications” that are simply Web sites with “local” storage (i.e. the ability to operate when not connected to the Web). It sounded far off a couple months back until I tried Jolicloud, a new operating system designed for netbooks (although its worked great on two desktop PCs I have, too).
In essence, Jolicloud is simply Ubuntu Linux with a pretty UI, an App Store filled with popular Web sites wrapped with Mozilla’s Prism (which is very much akin to Fluid, mentioned above), and an account that is managed in the cloud (meaning all your PC’s settings, keychains, applications, preferences, etc. get synced with the Jolicloud server and available to the next PC you sign in to). Even better? It already supports Lala, Boxee, Dropbox, Mint, Evernote, and Bit.ly right out of the box.
That’s it for my 2009 best-of list. Noticeably conspicuous are any Apple products (Lala doesn’t count), the Adobe Updater application (3 years later, and still frustrating users daily), and anyone/thing on my Enemies List.