Windows is an excellent operating system for professionals. Apple itself admitted this throughout its Get a Mac campaign that spanned several years and featured two friends, Mac and PC, which pointed out some of the useful advantages to owning a Mac. PC, played by John Hodgman (a Mac user in real life), was constantly being one-upped by the laid back Justin Long in his role as Mac.
Throughout the campaign, Mac would reference PC (a Windows-based personal computer) as being a great choice for professionals who work with numbers, spreadsheets, and other business documents. This is where the often Apple-slanted campaign (targeted at home users) gave in to Microsoft, a current leader in the enterprise and business market. While it might seem that practically everyone you see at the coffee shop is sporting a laptop with a shiny Apple logo on the lid, the fact is that Microsoft still holds a majority share among professionals.
So, what makes Windows so appealing to professionals, aside from being what “everyone else” is using? The answer to this question can be found in the software available for the platform. After all, even with so many programs opening up to a cross-platform code base, enterprise and business-specific software is still largely proprietary.
That said, there are plenty of great reasons to choose Windows as your primary operating system, even if you work largely with Web-based or cross-platform software. Networking a Windows system to most networks is actually rather easy, especially in cases where shared drives hosted by other Windows or even Linux machines are present. Windows has a larger pool of available software for a variety of uses from the conference room to the Saturday night Call of Duty marathon.
If you’re a professional seeking some suggestions to help solve your everyday issues, here are some you might want to consider looking into.
Document Creation and Management
Microsoft Office dominates the world of document creation and management for Windows and OS X users, though there’s no reason you should have to invest hundreds of dollars to enjoy the features and functionality of advanced text editing and spreadsheet management. There are several free alternatives that offer a wide range of features to suite the needs of professionals and home users alike.
Here are a few of these options, and why each one is worth considering when searching for a solution.
OpenOffice.org is an excellent solution for professionals on a budget that want many of the features of Microsoft Office without the investment. OpenOffice.org has made great strides over the years to meet the demands of its users and remain as compatible as possible to documents created in the Microsoft Office Suite.
In 2009, Oracle acquired the parent company of OpenOffice.org. While this may have lead many to fear for the future of the popular alternative, it has since fallen into the hands of the Apache Software Foundation, which has maintained OpenOffice.org until plans for integration are complete.
For now, OpenOffice.org remains one of the leading alternatives to Microsoft’s Office Suite.
If you collaborate with remote coworkers on a regular basis, you would be hard-pressed to find an option better than Google Docs. Not only does Google’s series of Web-based services offer a rich array of features, but it remains a very capable solution for business applications. A single professional can easily share one document with as many or as few people as needed while maintaining a completely different shared environment for every other document in his/her library.
Here at LockerGnome, we use Google Docs regularly to collaborate on various projects ranging from large to small. It has enabled us to bring in people from outside the organization without sacrificing security in the process.
LibreOffice is another excellent software package that works a lot like OpenOffice.org. In fact, LibreOffice is a split from OpenOffice.org that maintains a more rapid release cycle and is considered by some to be a slightly superior product because of this fact.
Remote Desktop Management
Accessing your workstation or primary machine from wherever you may be can be a challenging and yet vital part of your professional life. Being mobile gives you the ability to get more done without chaining yourself to a desk for extended lengths of time.
These days, more and more business is being done from the road. Remote desktop management software can help you remain mobile without sacrificing efficiency. Proprietary programs, access to remote networks, and a secure connection to better-equipped systems.
Here are some remote desktop options that might work for you.
Virtual Network Computing (VNC) is a desktop sharing system that can enable you to control systems both within and outside of your local network. I’ve used VNC platforms including UltraVNC to connect multiple computers to a single control system that allowed four computers to run on a single monitor and keyboard. In addition, IT support staff can utilize this free software to remotely access desktop workstations from home, giving them the ability to troubleshoot and fix problems without having to make late-night trips to the office.
VNC is not without its share of problems, however. While I’ve seen it work very well in many cases, there are some where the system just doesn’t want to behave itself. Being left without consistently operational remote desktop software can put you in an awful situation.
If you’re simply wanting to connect one Windows-based PC to another, Microsoft has provided a built-in solution in Remote Desktop Connection. As long as firewall exceptions are in place, you should be able to connect directly to your PC from anywhere in the world. This is a great choice for corporate environments that are largely Windows-based and don’t have the budget or trust for third-party software.
LogMeIn is a great solution, with free access for noncommercial use. While you technically would be using LogMeIn commercially should you be using it to perform your work, it’s free to try before you buy. Like Splashtop, LogMeIn supports a wide variety of devices including those running on the iOS and Android platforms. The kicker is in the cost. If you wish to access your host computer from your Android device, you may need to shell out $29.99 for LogMeIn Ignition.
Splashtop Streamer is one of the more interesting solutions out there. Like other commercial options in its class, Splashtop supports remote access across a variety of different platforms. It allows you to login to your remote PC or Mac from an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, OS X, Windows, Android phone, and Android tablet. Basically, you can access your computer from virtually any other smartphone, tablet, or computer you have at your disposal. With clients ranging from about $1.99 to $4.99, Splashtop is also one of the cheapest commercial solutions on the market.
Citrix has been making remote access software for almost as long as the concept of remote access has been in play. Of all the remote solutions I’ve tried, GoToMyPC is quite possibly the easiest and most reliable. Whether you’re on OS X or Windows, this is a solid solution for professionals on the go.
TeamViewer is a popular choice for remote access among home users. Professional use comes at a cost. For example, the Pro HD client for the iPad runs $139.99, and any use of TeamViewer for business requires this license.
Notes and Dictation
Business meetings and writing long messages is a part of day-to-day life for almost any professional. Whether your meetings take place remotely or in-person, being able to take notes quickly and on the fly is essential. Here are some apps to help you with managing the influx of data during a meeting, scheduling the meeting, or simply dictating a set of talking points before and/or after the meeting has taken place.
Dictation software in itself can be very useful as you attempt to write professional email documents. By freeing yourself of having to concentrate (subconsciously) on the keyboard, you can pay more attention to what it is you’re actually saying. After all, hearing yourself say something aloud is a great way to catch errors or missed points.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking is one of the most popular speech recognition software solutions out there. While it may not be very useful during the meeting itself, dictating meeting notes as they appear in your head prior to the meeting is easier with speech recognition software. It’s often a good idea to stand and practice your talking points prior to giving a presentation, and Dragon NaturallySpeaking can keep up with you by way of a bluetooth microphone or headset, allowing you to see the results of your brainstorm without having to have someone write every word or jot down notes.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking is also a great way to dictate email as you wrap up a long day at the office. Sit back and say what you intend to send to someone rather than having to spend that time slouched over a keyboard, wearing your fingers out as you punch out a dozen messages to colleges.
During meetings, it can be very hard to separate action items from other useful information. Sticky Notes allows you to create several smaller text windows that are easy to switch between and will allow you to document what is being done, needs doing, and doesn’t need to be handled.
Scheduling meetings between colleagues, especially remote ones, can be tricky. Not everyone may be connected to a centralized server. So, what do you do?
Enter Google Calendar, a great way to schedule meetings with people inside and outside of your organization, keep updated with the latest notes, and assign invitations.
Windows Speech Recognition
It’s hard to recommend Dragon NaturallySpeaking without giving a nod to Windows Speech Recognition. This built-in solution offers an incredibly accurate speech recognition function without the added investment of third-party commercial products. There is a pretty good chance Windows Speech Recognition has the capability of handling just about any basic task you’d need, though it does lack some of the added pizazz and program control found in Dragon.
Everyone sends email these days. Even though a lot of our communication takes place on social networks, email is still the preferred method of contact for professionals around the world. Deciding which email program to use depends greatly on your individual needs as a user, and just how robust of a feature set you need to get the job done. Here are some great options for Windows.
Windows Live Mail
Windows 7 has a great email client available in the form of Windows Live Mail. This client is pretty much a port of Windows Outlook Express, with a very different UI. For the majority of home users out there, it has what you need to send and receive messages without the hassle of having to deal with third-party programs.
For Windows, I can think of no better email application outside of the Microsoft Office Suite than Thunderbird. Not only is this an open-source project, but it is one that tackles email like a full-fledged commercial powerhouse. Junk mail filtering, multiple accounts, and advanced sorting rules are just a few of the useful features Thunderbird packs at no cost to the user.
Gmail (Web App)
Gmail has gone from being a simple Web-based email client for Gmail account holders to a robust virtual electronic post office that allows you to do a lot more than just send and receive messages. If you’re looking for an email client you can sign on to with virtually any device out there, this is it.
Synchronizing files between systems is an important component to many offices. Whether your employees are sharing the same networked storage drive, or synchronizing folders remotely, having a comprehensive plan in place to keep everyone in the loop as to the latest documents and files is essential.
Dropbox is a favorite among home users, and with a recent edition of team plans is also coming out as a leader in the professional field as well. Dropbox is a secure and simple method of keeping files such as photos, documents, and other essential files synchronized on as many computers as possible in real-time.
We use Dropbox here at LockerGnome to share video files between the source of production, distribution, and storage across several states in the US.
YouSendIt has a very similar type of shared folder system for its users, and with arguably more appeal to professionals. Document signing in the cloud coupled with file synchronization makes for an incredibly robust package for users. You can even share large files with free members without worrying about exceeding their storage capacity.
File Transfer Protocol (FTP) (preferably with an S added for security) is still a leading method of sharing files between employees externally. IT departments frequently rely on technologies such as FTPS and SSH to maintain Web servers from home or the office (should the server be off-site).
Tracking expenses and managing billing is a vital part of a professional’s software arsenal. Not only does it keep you from being in a financial tangle, but having the right supporting software can make life easier for your accountant and customers. Clean invoices, easy management, and automated entry are just a few of the many advantages to using one or more of the options listed below.
FreshBooks (Web App)
FreshBooks is a Web-based service I use every day. It handles everything I need for contract work from time management to billing. Expenses are also supported, allowing you to invoice separately for expenses that you incur during travel.
FreshBooks allows you to customize your invoices and send them out in a variety of ways including email and standard post (for those outdated companies). Freebooks is also free for your first three clients.
Mint.com is a great way to keep track of your various financial accounts and assets. Having a separate business account, Mint.com makes it easier to categorize and track spending as it pulls the data directly from your bank, eliminating the need for you to individually enter each transaction.
PayPal has been a payment gateway for me for years. To date, it hasn’t failed me, though it has certainly fallen under the watchful eye of the greater Internet as account freezing and termination is a matter of concern, especially when business transactions are involved. While you should use any service at your own risk, PayPal has proven to be (for me) a reliable and widely-accepted form of payment.
It’s hard to do a roundup of professional software without mentioning QuickBooks and Quicken. These programs allow you to track and manage finances for your personal and business accounts. It works like Mint.com in many ways, with several key bonuses. If you’re in business, Quicken is definitely worth looking at.
Being a professional usually means having access to several Web-based logins and passwords. You could attempt to memorize corporate passwords (which tend to be very long and confusing) or you can opt to take advantage of a secure and potentially timesaving password management service. Listed below are two of these services that not only allow for cross-platform access to a single cache of passwords, but also integrates directly with most of the browsers you would ever need.
I use LastPass and have done so for well over a year. LastPass manages hundreds of passwords across numerous sites and allows me the option to automatically log in or opt to select between accounts with ease. Not only that, but I’ve never had to pay a dime for LastPass. It’s a worthwhile service for anyone needing to manage more than a dozen passwords during day-to-day activity. LastPass is also Linux friendly, should you ever decide to switch.
1Password is a very similar solution to LastPass. Like LastPass, mobile clients are available for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices at an additional cost, though the primary service is free for desktop and laptop users on either Windows or OS X.
CRM / Contact Management
Managing your contacts and keeping up with who’s who is important. You want to make sure that you are interacting with the right person at the right time, and remembering things about each client or colleague you work with can help with rapport, even when you deal with hundreds of people, both old and new, on a regular basis.
Windows Live Mail
Windows Live Mail includes a fairly detailed contacts area that allows you to enter a wide range of information about a specific individual or company. This includes a notes section where you can jot down information that you pick up through various interactions in order to bring up topics that build rapport and demonstrate that you pay attention and actively care about the customer on more than a strictly professional level.
Google Contacts (Web App)
Google Contacts has to be one of my favorite methods of keeping tabs on the various people I do business with. Whether it’s through email, phone, or other communication methods – few solutions I’ve seen are as robust or comprehensive as Google Contacts. You can even sync your Google Contacts on Android and iOS, allowing you to keep your contacts from device to device, a lifesaver during upgrades.
Shoeboxed fills a variety of roles including financial management and contact management. Business cards, receipts, and other documents can be sent in to Shoeboxed where they are entered in and saved for you, digitally. This information is even exported directly to your Evernote account (another great service for professionals).
If you’re looking for Windows software that’s more suited to your personal needs, Craighton Miller recently wrote about Best Windows Downloads for Any New Computer.
And if you came here because you just bought a new Mac and you were hoping to find OS X software, check out Best OS X Downloads for Any New Mac.