Published by Rich Kershaw on July 14th, 2020

4 digital things I can't live without (2011 revisited)

In setting up this blog, I trawled back through 15 years of old blogging platform accounts (remember Blogger?) and came across my 4 essential, totally must-have digital tools from 9 years ago. It’s a nice bit of nostalgia, and a helpful reminder of how things change (and, sometimes, don’t).

Back in 2011, I was a year into getting Corethree off the ground, as an excited new CTO, and without the pressures of pesky clients and SLA commitments. Here’s what I thought was essential back then:

1: Apple MacBook Pro

Back in 2011, I wisely avoided Mac vs PC debates (people cared about that stuff back then!) and just talked about how being forcibly moved from a Sony Vaio in 2001 to a PowerPC Mac had been a revelation. I remember having to spend 2-3 hours a week keeping the Vaio - and more specifically, Windows XP - in shape, cleaning the registry, defragging the hard drive, that sort of thing. Ah, I can smell the dust burning off the overclocked Pentium.

The thing is, reading back, I stand by my enthusiasm for my much upgraded MacBook. In most jobs where I’ve had to code, I still have to use Windows, and it’s still a hodgepodge of hacked-together bits of old Windows NT code, Microsoft’s aborted attempts to modernise the UI, dead-ends of the .NET framework and inexplicable error messages. Mac OS is just easier. And yes, I’m a technical guy and I’m perfectly capable of working around that stuff - I just don’t want to.

And the hardware - MacBooks are still solid, reliable, really hard-wearing and, as high-spec workhorse laptops go, stack-up well against equivalent Windows machines. I do have a soft spot for Microsoft Surface tablets and laptops - they’re built like tanks, and feel great - but add in Mac OS and it’s still no comparison.

Also, back in 2009 the logic board on my MacBook failed and Apple replaced it for free in 3 days at my local Apple Store. Since then, I’ve had a handful of other Mac hardware issues, and every time Apple have fixed it quickly and with very little fuss.

2: Parallels Desktop

In 2011, I wrote:

Parallels lets you run Windows in a window under Mac OS X. It'll even make the Windows apps look like proper Mac OS X apps if you like, so you can pretend your Mac isn't sullied with Redmond's finest. I'm not that fussed, and it slows things down a little, so I don't bother.

That's still accurate. But I'm interested to see how developers deal with Apple’s upcoming switch from Intel CPUs to their own ARM chips. It means that Parallels Desktop won’t work anymore, or at least not in the same way, and Windows is likely to become off-limits to Mac users with the new hardware.

I figure there are several possible outcomes for developers who work with .NET but love Macs:
  • Parallels do something funky with x86 emulation to keep it working, albeit much less performant
  • Microsoft work with Apple to enable Windows on ARM virtualisation, and we get Windows support but with a much limited selection of apps
  • Things like Amazon Workspaces - that is, remote Windows desktops in the cloud - get much more popular

Personally, it’s a kick for me to improve my Python / React / Flask skills!

3: An SSD hard drive

Er… yes. This aged well and I’m not even sure you can buy a Mac without an SSD anymore.

4: Byline (iPhone) / Reeder (iPad)

Some clever engineers some years ago invented RSS - Really Simple Syndication - which is basically just a standard way for news websites to share their updated articles with the outside world using a common format, much like Excel has become the standard for spreadsheets. So now, you just need to gather all the RSS feeds for your favourite sites, and plug them into an RSS reader, which will grab all the new stuff and show you in one place.

I wrote this in order to evangelise about a couple of great RSS reading apps for iOS. I don’t use any iOS devices these days - I’m a committed Android user nowadays - but my enthusiasm for RSS news consumption stands. It’s just about the only way I could keep on top of the 50+ news sources I rely on to stay current.

Unfortunately, a couple of years after I wrote the original article, Google discontinued Google Reader, which was the new aggregation service underpinning both Byline and Reeder’s synchronisation features. Since then, a number of alternatives have popped up, the most popular of which is Feedly. I’ve been happily using it for years now, and it’s supported by a great Android app called Press. I can read an article on my phone, and I’ll never see it again on my desktop, and vice-versa.

As in 2011, I should probably include RSS itself here as well. There have been many articles over the past few months proclaiming that RSS is dead, not to mention a few counter-arguing the point. Even though most Web users don't know it exists, it's unlikely to die: it costs virtually nothing to publishers - hell, even I have an RSS feed, and anyone with a blog, Twitter account or Facebook page can, too. It powers a lot of the features of Facebook, including news feeds, Twitter links and a whole bunch of other stuff, too. Long live RSS - fingers crossed.

…and the rest

The rate of change in technology has been a little slower on the hardware front - the computing power of my MacBook now isn’t that much greater than my last MacBook - and a bit faster on the software side, so the tools I use change pretty regularly. Probably the most significant change in my day-to-day tools is that I lean more heavily on big-name software since vendors started offering subscription packages.

I genuinely couldn’t work as efficiently without Microsoft Office 365 (because everyone uses Word and Excel, no matter how much Apple might wish otherwise) and the Adobe Creative Suite. I use Photoshop and Illustrator for artworking all the time, Audition for postcast editing and Premiere for all sorts of video hacking about. It’s not that cheap - Office 365 and Adobe CS cost about £40 / month all together - but given what they provide, professionally, it’s a worthwhile investment.

I use Dropbox more or less continually. I know there are alternatives, but its platform independence and support by so many third parties for data synching is invaluable. Alongside Dropbox (and Dropbox Paper for household document collaboration on meal plans and social stuff), I also heavily lean on Todo.txt. The idea is that it’s a lightweight text-based standard for to-do lists, and it’s both supported by a wide range of free apps across all major desktop and mobile platforms, and I can store my todo.txt file in Dropbox to keep it synchronised between devices. My to-do list is thus maintained with TodoTxtMac on my desktop, Todo.txt on Android, and a custom single-page web app keeps is displayed on a big screen in my workspace.

What’re your essentials? Hit me up on LinkedIn or to let me know!

I'm currently available for short and long-term projects, including interim and non-executive CTO positions.

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