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Nine software packages without which I would be much poorer

jenn_studies2.jpg…. and I mean poor not in the Biblical sense of poor in spirit but in the Financial Reserve sense of not having money in your checking account.

There are so many kinds of software now that it is hard to choose what you absolutely have to have. First on my list of software the company would fold up without is Dreamweaver. I am currently using version 8. This heavy-duty web development package does so much in the background I just love it. For example, as a test (yes, I know I am weird, don’t bother to email and tell me) I moved a folder that had files in it with links to hundreds of other files. Dreamweaver automatically updated several hundred links. There are dozens of books on Dreamweaver, so I won’t bore you with all the details of what it can do. One feature I do appreciate is that it has a split view where you can drag objects and basically use a point-and-click to build your web page, while at the top it shows the code so you can make changes there if that is easier for you. For someone learning web design it is also a good way to learn HTML and CSS because as you create the web page you can look up and see how that is coded. I know some people take the snobbish attitude of,

“Well, I hand code all my pages in HTML.”

Good for you. Guess what? You’re slow.

Dreamweaver is kind of pricey. Two of my other favorite pieces of software are really a steal. Omni Outliner used for organizing ideas is my second-in-demand. It also allows you to paste in pictures and links but I use it mostly for text. Here’s how –

When I start on a grant, I begin with reviewing the literature. I may read as many as 50 books and articles on the topic, highlighting sections to quote or reference in the grant. By the time I sit down ready to start, I will usually have over 50 pages of notes on the research literature. Usually, I work as part of a team and I will have notes from meetings, conference calls and other discussions, random ideas I jotted down on the plane. My first step in writing a grant is to open up Omni Outliner and create the main categories that go with the required sections, e.g., significance, technical objectives, work plan. Next, I enter under each of those main sections (there is an indent function) the required subheadings, e.g., need for the project, related research. Then, I start cutting and pasting my notes from wherever they are into the outline. By the time I finish, the grant is half-written. I just need to edit each section, paste it into a Word document and I am done. This works way better than the outline feature in Word.

Pads is a notepad function for the Macintosh. Big disclaimer here, it was written for me, literally, when I was complaining to my husband about the old stickies feature that used to come with the Mac. It was a good idea to have stickie notes on your computer desktop but I wanted to be able to search and organize them better. When I had a client call, I wanted to be able to stick their note on the top corner of the screen and talk to them while maybe looking at the document or budget they had called about. I use this program every day. Anyone who, like me, is often working on several different projects, will find the categories very useful. You can have all the various notes you wrote and stuck on the computer on your project together and flip through them to remind you just what it is you promised that client.

Adobe Acrobat Professional is not cheap and doesn’t do a whole lot of things. So, why the heck am I recommending it? Those things it does do, I often need, and it does them very reliably. Here are a few simple examples:

  • Merges pdf files. Increasingly, federal agencies are asking for proposals sent as a single pdf file. If you have letters of support, faxes, a word document and some pdf files, this program can merge all of these together.
  • Makes it easy to copy text from a pdf file into a word or html document, something not every program always lets you do, even if the ad says it will.
  • Usually (not always!) allows you to edit a pdf file.

It’s funny, but Windows, which almost everyone on earth seems to own in the continuing effort of Microsoft to rule the world, is only installed on two of the six computers in our house, and Office, the other black hand of world domination, is on two others which, oddly enough, do not run Windows. This leaves two completely Microsoft-free rebels moo-ha-ha-ha (that is my evil scientist laugh). Windows, of any version, is not on my must-have list. I can get along fine without it.

I do use Word, Excel and PowerPoint all of the time, so those are in my must-have list. The other computers have various free versions such as Open Office or NeoOffice. Those are fine for people who just need to write a letter or balance a checkbook, but I do a lot of heavy duty document production and as much as I want to like the free stuff and empathize with their motives, right now those applications are not fast enough nor compatible enough with all of the other hardware and software I use.

Pretty much any mail program and any browser will do, but one of each is an absolute necessity. I use MAIL, the free program that comes with the Mac OS. For a browser, I use both Safari and Firefox. When doing web design, I always test in both. Once I have a near-final design, I test it in Internet Explorer as well.

I seem to have gotten along fine without Quicken or Quickbooks (tried both, bored me to death) and although I had Access and Filemaker both for years, neither were applications I couldn’t live without.

So, there you have my very idiosyncratic list of things I without which business would run much less efficiently and I would have less money for jellybeans, plane tickets .

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