Software

Five apps that let me manage essential communications

Communication needs vary, but most of us rely on certain tools and services to stay in touch. Scott Lowe shares his list of go-to communication apps.

I'm going to give away my age: I still love email. I know that to many, that makes me old school, but it's reliable and does exactly what I need. That said, I've augmented my email habits with some other communications services, include Twitter and blogging platforms. Here are the five apps I use to communicate with customers, partners, and friends.

Note: This article is also available as a photo gallery.

1: Outlook

For my day-to-day communication, I can't shake Outlook (Figure A). Nor do I want to. Whether I'm working on my PC or on my Mac, Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2011 are fantastic applications that keep my email and calendar in one tidy spot. On my PC, I've also connected Outlook to a number of SharePoint sites I use in my consulting business, so it really is a single point of information management in many ways.

For my own use, I've subscribed to Office 365, which makes Outlook a natural choice. But I've relied for years on Outlook to manage my day-to-day. In fact, I generally switch to running beta versions of Office when they're available just because of the enhancements that Microsoft continues to make in Outlook.

I've found Outlook's search capabilities to be excellent, although that's true of many of today's modern mail clients. And I'm one who actually really likes the Ribbon interface, so Outlook 2010/2011 and I get along really well.

Figure A

The familiar Office 2010 interface (Image: Microsoft).

2: Outlook Web App

I'm happy to go on record to say that, in my opinion (your opinion may vary!), Exchange 2010's Outlook Web App (Figure B) is by far the best Web-based email and calendaring tool out there. I've tried a lot of other options, but I don't think this one is surpassed by anything on the market right now. In Exchange 2010, which Office 365 uses, Microsoft has added full support for browsers other than Internet Explorer, making Outlook Web App a more than viable tool across a variety of platforms.

Further, with my Office 365 account, I can link other Web-based email services to my account and have all my mail accounts linked together and accessible via Outlook Web App.

OWA 2010 adds support for conversation view and integrates presence information from Lync, if it's deployed. When the right back-end software is deployed, OWA also aggregates text messages and instant messages in the same interface.

Figure B

OWA 2010 includes the kitchen sink (Image: Microsoft).

3: Twitter/TweetDeck

Although I rely heavily on email for my work, Twitter has definitely become a mainstay in my system tray. I use Twitter -- the service -- from a variety of locations and devices. From my desktop machines, I use TweetDeck. I like the way that the application -- shown in Figure C -- places each of my feeds into columns.

When I'm on my iPhone, I simply use the Twitter app. I used to use TweetDeck on my iPhone but began to have stability issues with the app. So I just switched back to the native Twitter app, which I've found to be perfectly viable for my needs.

For me, Twitter is absolutely essential communication these days. I keep up on technical trends, follow friends and industry contacts, and communicate with vendors.

Figure C

Here's a look at TweetDeck on my PC.

4: iPhone mail app

I've mentioned my affinity for email. Well, that translates to my mobile device, too. One of the most-used apps on my iPhone is the mail app, which I use for the same reasons I outlined above. The native iPhone mail app connects to my business mail as well as all my personal accounts and helps keep me connected on the go.

Figure D shows that Apple's iOS supports a wide assortment of mail account types and a unified inbox, making it really easy to manage mail from a variety of sources. In Figure E, you can see that iOS supports a threaded view of your conversations.

Figure D

The iOS unified inbox makes it really easy to manage mail (Image: Apple).

Figure E

iOS mail is also threaded, making it easy to follow conversations (Image: Apple).

5: MacJournal and Windows Live Writer

I'm a blogger. Therefore, I blog. But I don't particularly like to log in to WordPress to write a blog post unless I have to. I'd much rather use an application installed on my machine. I rarely, if ever, use my iPhone or iPad for this purpose since I see them as content consumption devices rather than creation tools.

On my Mac, I've been using MacJournal (Figure F)for quite some time. It's a really good tool and is suitable for anything from a quick 50-word post to a 2,000-word manifesto. I've barely scratched the surface of what this tool can do, but so far, I'm very happy with what I see.

Figure F

MacJournal makes keeping up with a blog easy (Image: Mariner Software).

On the Windows side, I've used Word to write blog posts, but I also use Windows Live Writer for this task. Writer supports a variety of blogging platforms, it's free, and it provides the formatting and media/photo handling options necessary to manage a comprehensive and complex blog.

Figure G

A look at Windows Live Writer.

How about you?

What apps do you rely on to handle your most critical communication tasks?

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

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