Overlooked applications of 2009
By Jay Dougherty Dec 12, 2009, 15:21 GMT
Washington - There's no doubt that Windows 7 and the iPhone 3G will top the list of the most-remembered products of 2009 - and deservedly so.
But the shadow cast by those headline-grabbing superstars obscured the emergence of several other products that were groundbreaking in their own right. The good news, though, is that those relatively undiscovered products are still around, just waiting to make your life easier. Here's a rundown.
--- Google Voice
Many people today have multiple phone numbers, and that's a problem when it comes to keeping up with messages. Google Voice (https://www.google.com/voice) solves this problem in an elegant way.
Google Voice's headline feature is that it can aggregate your calls and messages from multiple numbers. But it has more tricks up its sleeve as well.
It can free you from voice mail altogether, if you wish, by transcribing messages received into email, allowing you to 'read' your voicemail messages on your iPhone or BlackBerry while you're sitting in a dull meeting.
Google Voice also provides very low-cost international calling, custom greetings for individual callers, and, if you opt for one of Google Voice's free telephone numbers, the ability to have one number for all of your telephones and the ability to receive SMS messages by e-mail.
Password management is the bane of internet users everywhere. At every turn online, you're reminded that strong passwords - those with a mixture of letters, numbers, and symbols - are the safest.
Yet strong passwords are next to impossible to remember, so few actually use them. There have been plenty of password managers that promised to make the job of creating, remembering, and storing strong passwords easier, but they all fell short in way or another.
Lastpass (https://lastpass.com) is different. Not only is it easy to use from its browser-installed toolbar, but it's also been built from the ground up with easy synchronisation in mind, meaning that your passwords can travel with you from computer to computer.
Essentially a Web-based application, Lastpass stores an encrypted copy of your passwords and other internet data in your online Lastpass account. Go to a new computer, and all you have to do is log in to your Lastpass account to get your passwords installed on the new machine.
Lastpass is also a capable form filler - significantly more robust than those built into today's browsers.
A growing number of people have more than one computer now - and some have many more than one. For them, synchronising internet bookmarks or favourites is a challenge that often goes unmet. That's primarily because keeping bookmarks up-to-date by copying them is simply too laborious.
The unheralded Xmarks (http://www.xmarks.com) has remedied that situation better than others. Just install Xmarks on each computer you use, and your bookmarks - regardless of which browser you use - are automatically kept in sync. It's that simple.
The synchronisation occurs thanks to the free online storage you get with your Xmarks account. There's even a bookmark manager included that lets changes made trickle down to all of your browsers.
--- Seesmic and TweetDeck
2009 has been the year of Twitter - where you can follow every thought or movement of millions of people, so long as they're communicated in snippets of no more than 140 characters.
It seems that almost everyone - from celebrities to politicians - opened a Twitter account, allowing fans, constituents, and simply the curious to follow their every move.
The only trouble with all of that twittering was Twitter itself. While the service has drawn legions of followers, the Twitter interface makes using all of the features of the service less than convenient.
That's where third-party Twitter interfaces come in.
Both applications do well what Twitter itself does not: provide a one-screen interface for most of Twitter's features. Both applications even provide access to features - such as Twitter-wide subject searches - that aren't even available on Twitter itself.
There's no special account to set up with either program. Just install or log on to Seesmic or TweetDeck, enter your Twitter credentials, and experience Twitter in a new way.
--- Windows Home Server
Windows Home Server (http://bit.ly/q85Fb) is probably Microsoft's best-kept secret, and that's a shame. If you run a household full of Windows computers, you need this product.
With the addition of a Windows Home Server machine - which can be built from an old, unused PC - you will no longer have to worry about whether your precious data is backed up - not to mention that of your wife or kids.
Windows Home Server did not first appear in 2009, but it did add features that made it even more reliable in 2009. Many current backup options are either too expensive, too inconvenient, or too difficult to use. Windows Home Server is none of these, and it's available now.