Distributed Organization Tools
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What's this all about?
Having spent much of my time looking for a simple but effective tool that I can use both at work and from home, or any other computer I wish, I've spent just as much time swapping from one product to another as I find short falls in one that are addressed by another, only to find out they have somewhat different gaps in functionality.
So I thought it would be useful to give a review of these products for others out there looking for something that will mange their schedule, tasks and documents from one place, wherever they are in the world. I've listed my top 5 reviews in the order I tried them and given my personal preference and relevant websites at the end.
Tasktoy is quite useful because it's all based from a web page. It gives you the option to have several 'Projects' and 'Locations' and you will get a dynamic task list depending on where you are and what you are working on. However it doesn't allow sub-projects and it has a maximum of 40 projects which you can allocate tasks in. You can color code the projects and prioritise them and this will effect the order the tasks in these projects show up in the main to do list.
Also as a neat feature ,which makes having tasktoy as your homepage useful, is there is a Google search box as well as a 'Links' list that you can customise with favourite bookmarks. There is also a notes feature in the tasks which can be searched should you forget where you put that vital bit of information.
Overall it wasn't a bad option for me, but it is developed by one man and although he responds quickly in the tasktoy development group should you find a bug, I've had problems with it being offline for long stretches of time and rendered it ineffectual for work. I last heard this was due to the server overloading and it was being replaced, so it may well have been solved by now, but since finding a better solution in it's absence I haven't gone back.
My Rating: 3/5 ~ http://www.tasktoy.com
This was something I came across whilst looking for a piece of writing software and found it was good for organising notes in when they come out of you chaotically. It's not formally a task manager but it can be used as one if you find that conventional liner methods don't work for you and you tend to have piles of scrap pieces of paper all over your desk!
How it works is that you can have several 'Note Boxes' (much like those real boxes full of paper notes) and in each box you can set up categories for different tasks or topics and then edit your notes inside in text or rich text format. You can even have notes that are cloned in different categories (or even in other note boxes) and it automatically keeps all the copies in sync (for those pesky items that just won't fit within one label or project)
You can export into a text and rich text document and you can even explode the notes so that each category becomes it's own folder and each note it's own text file. This is useful if you wanted to break up your notes for a website or wiki or some such.
You can still colour code things and prioritise them and there are many other features which I never got round to using but I could see would be useful for the budding writer or the conventionally disorganised mind (not that I'm saying that's a bad thing, because I'm just as guilty!) The only thing was it took some investment to learn and I eventually gave up, but I could see how it could be useful if I had given it a full swing. Sadly with so much competition out there, this other lone coder finally lost my custom.
My Rating: 2.5/5 ~ http://www.geocities.com/goosnargh37/?200624
A wiki for those not in the know is a simple way of creating and editing web pages, usually in a collaborative sense. This particular version runs off your desktop rather than on a web server. It's simple to install and to get up and running and you can customise nearly everything and tailor your pages for whatever you desire.
This almost won me over as it gives you so much control over your data, however where it falls down is that in order for it to work on multiple machines you need to copy it over onto a USB stick from one computer to the next and try not to get things out of sync.
Because it's a desktop edition it won't work online (although you could alternatively find a different wiki that will work online) but MMDE (short for Moin Moin Desktop Edition) is useful because you don't need Internet access for it to work (useful for those of you who can only get online at certain times)
I was using this because at the time I could only get online when my partner wasn't using a certain application that wouldn't work with out network router. Because of this I could never guarantee when I'd be online. In cases like this a desktop wiki was ideal as I could work offline. However there came a time when I was unexpectedly sick half way through a week and was off for nearly 4 months and all my documents and tasks were at work and so my organizational ability went right out the window.
If this isn't a factor for you and you know wiki's well enough then this is a great option as it can be moulded for any structure you want, tasks, document lists, you name it you can create with a wiki page.
My Rating: 3.5/5 ~ http://moinmoin.wikiwikiweb.de/MoinMoinWiki
This is another web based tool but it has the ability to be used offline and re-sync once you get back online again and in the strictest sense this is the best distributed tool here in this list. Where it falls down is it has no features so far for manipulating and managing files properly, if it weren't for this I probably would have stuck with this product.
It is currently in it's beta stage and by invitation only (it took a few months for my account to come through). By the looks of it iscrybe hopes to keep expanding, so it may well cover file handling at a later stage, but I've had to move on in the meantime.
It does have a good thought pad for collecting web references for research and has a good list functionality that ties in nicely with the calendar but apart from this it offers nothing more than Google Calendars does (except for the offline option of course).
I did have a problem with it in that sometimes it would time out if I didn't use it for a while and then the odd thing went missing and sometimes popped back unexpectedly, but you have to expect this in the beta stage.
Overall if you just want a calendar you could do a lot worse than this, but I'd sign up now if you think you may be remotely interested in it by the time your invite comes through.
My Rating: 3/5 ~ http://iscrybe.com/main/index.php
By Google here I mean a collection of tools that Google provides for you under your Google account. The main features that I have been using for this purpose is the iGoogle home page with a plug in for Google Mail, To Do list feature, Google Docs and Google Calendar. These options combined allow me to do pretty much everything I wanted, but it comes at the cost of no offline working.
However since everything else is so intuitive and simple to use (and 'backed up more often than I can save my work') I finally succumbed to the Google takeover (I have to say I've resisted the idea of putting so much of my personal data up here).
Knowing Google there must be a whole team working on these features, so that any bugs or issues are much more likely to be resolved and looking back at Google's record I'm sure they'll just keep expanding and improving all the time, so here is where I rest for now.
Google Docs is currently in it's beta stage. I use this for storing work that I need to use from home and at work. For example, my budget is in a spreadsheet so I can always check first if I have enough money in the bank before I pop out to the shop or buy something online.
Both documents and spreadsheets model their functionally on Microsoft Office so it's fairly intuitive. Anything that happens to be different (based on the fact it's a web page and not an application) you can work out fairly easily with their simple menu and help centre.
With iGoogle I installed their Mail reader and a To Do List plug-in called 'To-Do List with Google Maps' by Mahin. I didn't use Google's as it doesn't allow for sub-tasks, but there are a few options available depending on your taste.
I use Google Calendar for events or things that have to be scheduled rather than ticked off a list once I get to it.
Between all these services Google does what I need it to do. iGoogle is my home page so everything I need to do is there, no matter what computer I'm on I don't have to forget or lose anything.
My Rating: 4/5 ~ http://www.google.com
I've personally found the features that Google provides to be the most convenient as I can log in from anywhere, it's quick, simple and affective for what I need it to do.
It saves me copying everything I might need over the weekend to a USB stick. It keeps revisions of any documents I make, in case I wish to revert back to it, which was the appeal of the wiki format. The only draw back is I can't work offline but this isn't as big a deal as I thought it would be for me, as I can always print things out or save it to my hard disk.
However all of the products above were useful to me in some way and you should pick what works best for your particular needs. There is only one real downside: which ever product you pick, there is no more excuse for forgetting anything!