Thursday, July 27, 2006

Deskbar - Ubuntu's answer to spotlight

So finally we get on to some of the Ubuntu specific tools to get things done. The first I am going to talk about is Deskbar - this is a relatively new feature to gnome (and hence ubuntu) and is a lot like spotlight for the mac. While at present there is nothing quite as slick as Quicksilver for Ubuntu (although Katapult might get there one day), deskbar offers some of the same productivity tricks and has some really good features (and plugins).

On Ubuntu, you may need to install it ("sudo apt-get install deskbar-applet" or use synaptic), and then in your panel right click and select Add To Panel, then select the Deskbar option.

The real interest with Deskbar is in it's integration with other applications and with Ubuntu as a whole. Some of the best plugins are the live beagle plugin (I will talk about beagle in a later blog - it's a file searching tool for linux, like the search part of spotlight or google desktop for windows), and the gmail and delicious plugins I have as well (integration with the web applications is a theme that will run through a lot of the GTD with Ubuntu blog entries).

For the beagle live plugin, make sure you install python-beagle as well as beagle itself. Right click on the deskbar and select properties, and you will see a host of different search options to turn on/off. Before you activate the gmail one, edit the plugin file you downloaded to insert your username and password for gmail.

Also, you can set the activation key, <Alt>space works nicely for me (like command-space on the mac), and will focus on the deskbar and let you start typing there.

With a bit of practice, deskbar will become second nature, it's still a long way off of Quicksilver, but hopefully we will get there in time (the actions feature is the killer part of Quicksilver by the way, as demonstrated by Merlin Mann on Macbreak. OK - so I will freely admit that Ubuntu can't match every feature for GTD on the mac, but on the other hand it is already ahead in some other features.

So - if you are an ubuntu user, you owe it to yourself to get deskbar up and give it a try.

Monday, July 24, 2006

GTD: Ubuntu: Web Apps Ctd - Google Calendar

After this posting I am going to take a break from the web apps for a bit (although there are many more to go that I used to get things done) and start delving into what makes Ubuntu in particular good for GTD and general productivity, but in the meantime there is one more web app that I really want to mention.

Google Calendar was the missing piece of the puzzle for me. I looked at 30 boxes, airset and various other online calendar apps, but they always had one big drawback, other people I knew were not using them. Now most other people I interact with a lot (at least from the organizational side of things) do have a gmail account and now also have a google calendar account too - the fact that other people use it is the biggest selling point (now I can schedule events with other people).

There are some nice general usage features as well with google calendar. For one, it picks out events from email - or at least tries to. It is not perfect, but if someone sends an email to my gmail account asking if I want to meet them for lunch at such and such a restaurant tomorrow, it will try and pick out the details to make an event just from that description - it even tries to come up with a google maps location - very nice.

It also works with my treo. Now this is far from seamless, but it works well enough to be useful to me right now. I can SMS the calendar to add events and I have also added the private HTML URL for my calendar as a bookmark into my phone, so using the web browser on the phone I can see my agenda (it even formats nicely on the small screen). This gives me the basics I need to schedule events and see my upcoming agenda. Just grab the private html feed from the calendar settings - it's dead easy and it works pretty well.

Friday, July 21, 2006

GTD with Ubuntu: Web Apps

OK, as promised I am going to start rolling out how I use Ubuntu Linux to get things done.

The first thing has little to do with Ubuntu per-se, except that it makes an excellent platform for browsing the web and using web applications, it is stable, reliable, fast and with firefox, very compatible.

GTD with Macs often seems to revolve around kGTD (based on omni outliner) and iCal, my personal choice of weapons include GMail, Google Calendar and Writely (for starters - more will be mentioned in the future).

A bit of history, email has been a critical service for me for a long time (let's face it, it is for pretty much anyone these days), but I never liked POP - I use more than one machine during the course of a day, and it bothered me to either have emails downloaded to one machine and not another, or to have to deal with the same email twice.

My original (and in hindsight, foolish) answer was to run my own IMAP server at home - in fact I had a phase where I ran loads of stuff at home on my server, and I always seemed to be having to work on or maintain the server, which just made me more stressed and busy.

GMail was nothing short of an epiphany - here was a centralised web app, that worked every where with no setup, had better search and management tools, and someone else did all the work of keeping it up and running.

Gmail has become the hub of my task tracking - which I have adapted largely from the GTD with Gmail whitepaper and many other tips and tricks off of 43 folders related to GMail. In fact, Gmail has become a lot more - I run and log all of my instant message chats through gtalk (including AIM using a jabber gateway). You can go "off-the-record" if you choose, but having the chats, emails and todo items stored in one searchable database makes this the perfect "dashboard" for GTD. When google calendar was released as well, I nearly cried with joy - since this enables the missing element - the "Tickler" file if you like.

Anyway, I will delve into calendar, writely, integration with Ubuntu and my Treo, and much more in a future blog posting - for now I had better get back to doing things :-).

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Getting Things Done on Ubuntu

I used to blog a lot more, back before we made a successful podcast. For some reason I fell off the wagon - well - not for some reason, actually because I felt I just didn't have the time to do it.

Jackie finally told me that with the new book that I am working on, and the podcast taking off, people were going to start reading my blog again, and that having an 8 month break since the last entry wouldn't look too good. Over the past few days I have revived it in a new form with blogger (more on that in a later note) and I have discovered something, I really like blogging and I have missed it.

Now this is not to say I won't still be doing the podcast and loving it, or working on the book, but the podcast is a partnership (and a damn good one), and the book is a work in progress and has a defined subject and goal. The nice thing about the blog is it is all on me - whatever I want to write about.

One of the subjects I want to explore is getting things done. My own GTD system is a work in progress (and I suspect will be forever) but I already see that it has had a beneficial effect on my life, productivity and stress levels. I will endeavour to explain what and how I use online tools and my laptop (and treo) as a part of the system, with ideas often adapted from 43 folders although the emphasis there tends to be on Mac OS X (Merlin Mann's personal choice of operating environment), while I now favor and use Ubuntu pretty effectively.

As I mention, Ubuntu is the OS I really look forward to using, but it is also a heck of a basis for getting things done, and I will explain more about that as I get into this subject.

Ubuntu - the OS I look forward to using

So it's an older story now, but I wanted to add my own 2c worth on Ubuntu Dapper, and using it on a day to day basis. See Slashdot | Nerds Switching from Apple to Ubuntu? for some context to this.

Anyway, I have been using Linux for about 7-8 years I had Redhat 5 point something as the first one I installed, and then quickly discovered Mandrake which became my favorite for a long time as being the linux distro that just worked better than the others.

All that changed with Breezy Badger (Ubuntu 5.10), I had messed with the Hedgehog (5.04) but it still wasn't up to Mandriva (as it had been renamed at that point) for just having stuff work - particularly installed on my slick AMD 64 box at home - 32 bit apps worked better on Mandriva than on Hedgehog.

With Breezy, the tables turned - Breezy was easier out of the box, and smaller and quicker to install too, plus I discovered that the community was a lot more active - the wiki and forums are a great place to get questions answered and find out how to make that little tweak that makes everything better.

So, now I am running Dapper Drake (6.06) on both my home AMD 64 machine and my laptop, and I couldn't be happier. I also am a Mac OS X fan (anything but windows really), and the Mac has a certain "feel" about it - it's pleasant and appealing to use, it makes you look forward to sitting down and getting some stuff done with it.

With dapper, I find the same feeling is present - I look forward to just getting stuff done. There are some rough edges comparatively, for example, sound still needs some work, and installing compiz was tricky (it is early days and not really part of the distro yet though, so that is expected to some extent).

I can see why geeks are giving ubuntu a go - it has that same "excitement" about using it that the Mac does. It isn't stressful and irritating, it is instead fun and pleasant. It got a lot better over the weekend when I installed Compiz and AIGLX - now Ubuntu has eye-candy that beats even the Mac - some of the most wonderful transitions and effects imaginable, and improves the user experience even further. Deskbar and beagle also give equivalent functionality to Spotlight on the mac as well - pushing the usability up several more notches.

I can't wait to see what the future holds for Ubuntu - development is happening at a breakneck pace. There are still some things I would like to see - the Mac experience is more than just the operating system - take a look at Omnigraffle and Keynote to see what I mean - what I would give to be able to buy (yes pay money) for those on Ubuntu. Sure, Kivio and impress will do the job, but they are just not in the same league from the user experience perspective.

Still - I am happy with Ubuntu as my day to day vehicle. I don't need anything that I don't have to hand, and it's fast and reliable and runs on my existing hardware so I don't have to go out and buy something new.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Don't forget Groovy and Grails

I just saw that Sun's CTO hinted about support for Ruby, Rails, JavaScript and Python in NetBeans to support JavaScript, Python ... but what is most interesting is the ommission, Groovy (and Grails).

Now, it's early days for both Groovy and Grails for sure, but it's also a new language, something which the others can't claim (believe me, I am a big fan of them - particularly python, but new they are not). The newcomer groovy has some tricks to teach the old guys, and integrates superbly with Java and the JVM already.

It's got a way to go - there is an early access version of the book but otherwise documentation is extremely scarce. Even so, the builders, streaming markup and other ideas are fantastic. What it needs, apart from maybe some funding and development time, is an environment that lets people take advantage of the new stuff.

And so my plea is simple - if adding support for the other languages in netbeans, please include Groovy and Grails in the considerations.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

So, I have decided it is about time I got blogging again. I have a lot coming up in the next few months. The Java Posse is a wild success and has been sucking up all of my time recently, but now I have other things going on too. I am currently writing a book about podcasting with my good friend and fellow posse member Carl Quinn, and I will keep the news coming about how I am getting on with that.

I have also become a huge fan of Ubuntu since the Dapper release. I was already pretty pleased with Breezy, but Dapper is frankly amazing. I pretty much had decided that Mac OS X was so far ahead it would be a while before it got caught by anyone, but Dapper is getting really close - in fact it is already ahead in some areas, others like the sound system and the "it just works" effect have a little way to go - although they have improved in leaps and bounds. It is already more stable though - I hate to say it, but the Mac still doesn't feel as solid as linux.

Anyway - that's it for now, but hopefully more will be coming soon.