There are a ton of tools out in the Linux world which are able to simplify your life or add minutes or hours to your day by getting out of the way and letting you get to work or play. I thought I would share my favorite five productivity tools.
OpenOffice & LibreOffice
Arguably one of the top open-source projects in history, particularly in terms of applications for regular users, OpenOffice (and the more recently forked LibreOffice) has been well-regarded as a good replacement for Microsoft Office for most of those users. I would estimate that 85 to 90% of the features the majority of users take advantage of are available in an accessible and friendly format. The Writer, Calc, and Impress tools are comparable to Microsoft Office’s Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Included is even a built-in PDF export tool, without the awkwardness for new computer users of a PDF printer.
For someone who has ADD, modern technology can be a very interesting experience, and one of distraction. Some programmers recognized this challenge and started writing tools which cut features to focus closely on the task of writing, whether it’s code or a doctoral dissertation. One of the first entries into this area is PyRoom. PyRoom starts as a full-screen program in black with a single box in the middle of the screen. This is the main interface for the program. Just below the box is a single line for information. To start, the status line offers the hint that you can use Control-H to pull up help. Other shortcuts are typically Control-[something]. There are no other distractions and no menu. This is the absolute essence of a minimalist text editor, and is available as a Debian package or a bundle of source code.
After PyRoom was introduced, another group created FocusWriter on Windows. It was shortly ported to Linux and Mac, which means it could relatively easily be ported to any other operating systems. FocusWriter builds on the basic blank screen of PyRoom to add just enough features for me. It starts as a completely blank screen. If you hover over the top of the screen, the full graphical menu pulls down. At the bottom of the screen is a bad to allow you to switch between files, along with showing the word, character, and paragraph count. You can also theme the background with an image and colors, if you prefer to customize it.
FocusWriter, like I said, has just enough features for me, including:
- Spell Checking, including while you are typing with the classic red wavy underline
- Basic find/replace functionality
There are a few other features, including a quirky preference. For those folks who appreciate nostalgia, you can turn on typewriter sounds for each keystroke. Since I prefer the older, mechanical IBM keyboards with noisy switches, it is actually a helpful feature, motivating me to write and continue to attract focus to the program.
The fourth tool on my list will help you organize your thoughts when brainstorming. Freemind is classic mind-mapping software. Imagine back in primary school, having to write out mind maps on paper, with the bubbles connected by lines out from the middle. Freemind is a Java tool which does just that. You can use simple keystrokes, in addition to the mouse, to quickly add new nodes to the map. You can also drag and drop them around, along with expanding and collapsing any child bubbles.
Freemind is a dream when trying to organize your thoughts for any larger project or topic. As a student, I appreciate using it to plan out my papers for my English and business classes.
My last tool is the most unusual. First, a little background:
- On the theme of focus and attention, David Allen’s “Getting Things Done�? has gotten some exposure on helping by providing a system to organize the daily tasks of work, home, and more. The “Getting Things Done�? (GTD) philosophy is gaining traction in the technology world. I would highly encourage anyone who has trouble focusing or simply a lot on their plate to look to this book to help bring everything under control.
mGSD is a new tool that takes TiddlyWiki and expands that to completely embrace the GTD framework from the book. You can dynamically add tasks and projects, as well as organizing these into the various areas of responsibility and contexts where we might work. You simply visit the site and download a “blank�? file. Use the Open command in your browser (Firefox is highly recommended.) and get right to work. The options can be turned on to automatically save the main wiki file, along with making a backup of the older versions of the file.
The beautiful irony of this list is that all the tools (other than PyRoom) are available as portable apps to take with you on your flash drive, if you are ever using another computer without your tools involved. And with such an embarrassment of riches, I thought I would share my favorite tools to keep myself on-task and avoid the far-too-frequent interruptions and distractions while I am trying to work. What are your favorite tools? What tools have you tried that you didn’t like? Please, leave a comment or send a message through the contact form.