I’ve always been a fan of staying flexible as regards to platform, but it’s especially true these days, since my desktop environment is heterogeneous - I still tend to use Windows most for work, but for personal use I’m most comfy in Mac OS X now. I do have Ubuntu around too although I generally only use it when I have to on the desktop (although I love it to death as a server OS since it takes everything that is great about Debian and updates it a bit). Therefore, when I’m seeking out desktop applications they either need to be cross-platform in themselves, or if the applications are platform-specific - which is ok too, so long as each platform has a decent option available - they have to be able to share data effectively.
Here’s a couple of apps that are nothing new, but which I only started using recently and have been quite positive about.
Keeping your personal data encrypted is fairly important these days, particularly for portable devices, but I also have information that I don’t want to lose (passwords etc) but wouldn’t want to be stored in plain text. Operating systems are increasingly implementing this, and both Vista and Mac OS X have encryption features built-in. The problem is that neither of them inter-operate with each other, so if you need to access the encrypted data on the other platform you’re knackered. Previously, I would use the Mac OS X encrypted drive image on the laptop so I could take copies of company documents etc around on it when I was travelling without worrying too much (these didn’t need to be accessed on Windows), and would use GPG for things that needed to be cross-platform, but it got a little bit awkward (keeping keys in sync, finding productive shortcut interfaces on both platforms). The reason I looked at this area again is that I went to a presentation on Windows 7 last week that mentioned the encryption enhancements it has (BitLocker), but that the encryption was still platform specific like Vista, so no good for sharing USB drives. It prompted me to take another look around.
Enter TrueCrypt - it has full support for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, encrypted images can be mounted equally on all platforms regardless of where they were created, and the user interface is quick, easy and consistent on all platforms. As an added bonus, because it’s open source you can almost guarantee it doesn’t have any back doors in it, which is always a concern when dealing with proprietary security utilities. It’s not perfect - I couldn’t for example figure out how to create a ‘sparse’ image, ie one that expands depending on how much data is in it, so I think that feature isn’t available yet, you just have to create an image that’s as large as you’ll need.
So far, it seems much better than the platform-specific alternatives for people that frequently hop platforms, and is definitely friendlier than using GPG.
I was looking for a better way to track my TODO list, one that could sync across the Internet but wasn’t just web-based. Evernote was an option, but it was more than I needed and I always like to give open source a chance, so I tried Chandler, which has Windows and Mac clients and we synchronisable web version too.
It doesn’t quite do everything I want - it’s a little too obsessed with the ‘triage’ concept and doesn’t support dependencies between tasks, but as a place to dump things from my TODO and categorise, vaguely prioritise, and synchronise them, it works pretty well. It’s fast and unobtrusive at least, feels the same on all platforms, and I guess the lack of complications means it’s less likely to be distracting and become a task all in its own right to manage. I could still wish for a little more granularity, and definitely a little better documentation, but on reflection, it does the job pretty darn well.
Ideally I’d like a cross-platform version of something like Midnight Inbox. Why must some developers of nice programs focus only on one platform?