The tools you use can make a tremendous difference in your workflow. Here are comments on some of the hardware and software that I use or no longer use. No guarantees are implied! Software and hardware change rapidly, so do the tools I use. If you have suggestions of other tools, please let me know.
Peer-to-peer (p2p) syncing: My current preference for keeping a mirrored copy of my work is to use peer-to-peer syncing using SugarSync. You indicate which folder on machine 1 is to be synced with which folder on machine 2; and so on for more folders and more machines. If you change a file on one of the synced machines the file is changed on the others. Thus, you automatically get a backup of your work. SugarSync provides p2p syncing but also saves files on the cloud, but you must pay for cloud storage. Renting cloud storage costs about $1 per year per GB. On the day I decided to abandon LiveMesh and try SugarSync for a month (free trail) they had a half price sale. I have been very pleased with it, although I still use Dropbox for many things. 22Aug2011
Warning about LiveMesh: For several years I used Microsoft's Foldershare -> LiveSync -> LiveMesh. With the "upgrade" to LiveMesh I started having problems. Twice I found folders of recently "synced" files where the copies were the right size and name, but were filled with with garbage.
Warning about p2p syncing: If you delete files by mistake, they are deleted on the other p2p'd machines. Second, if the "other" machine is not running, the syncing obviously does not work. Hence you need to verify that your synced machines are all running.
Dropbox: The clever program can be installed on your desktop, laptop, smartphone and iPod Touch. If you link "dropboxed" (DB'd) folders, if you put a file in the DB one one device it will show up on other devices. The file is also backed up on "the cloud". You can share files with others by linking your Dropbox folders. A very handy feature the avoids those dreadful, large attachments is that you can put a file in the DB Public folder and get a link associated with the file. Include the link in an e-mail and the recipient can download the file even if they don't use Dropbox. You get 2 to 8 GB of free storage and can buy more.
Portable drives: When P2P syncing is not available, I use a portable drive as the primary location for my work, using the hard drives on my work and home computers to back up the portable drive. That way, I have all of the files I need when I move between computers. Since I back up the portable each time I log off a computer, I don't have to worry about losing or dropping the drive. Be sure to "Eject the drive" and not simply unplug it. There are lots of choices for portable drives. The LaCie's Rugged All-Terrain is rugged and works with FireWire. It is also bright orange making it hard to forget. It includes both USB and Firewire, seems rugged, and is ugly enough that it is hard to forget it. I also like the Seagate FreeAgent Go drives that have a holder, but can also simply be plugged into a USB port.
External drives: I use several external drives to archive my work. Drives go bad, so I rotate backups among several drives from different manufacturers.
Firewire and Vista: I find that Firewire 400 and Firewire 800 work terribly in Vista running on a MacPro with Bootcamp. USB 2.0 is much faster. With recent updates to OS X, eSATA cards work in Bootcamp. For $50 you can get a Thermaltake BlacX External Storage enclosure; you can put "internal" eSATA drives in it and obtain copy speeds as fast as if they were internal.
A good backup utility makes it easier to backup and archive your files. Once you configure a backup utility, a few clicks is all it takes to back up your data.
Allsync has a nice balance between ease of use and power. Plus, if you have a question or problem, technical support is good. Here are a few "tricks" I find useful:
1) Selecting a specific external drive. You can use a drive's volume label when specifying a folder. If you specify a drive as, for example, E:\, Allsync will always look for the E:\ drive. But, with external drives the drive letter can change so that sometimes it is assigned, for example, E:\, but the next time it is F:\. To avoid problems where Allsync can't find the right drive, you can designate the drive as: %<letter>:<volume name>%\ For example, %E:EX18_AT160%\ indicates I want to use the drive with the volume name EX18_AT160 even if it is not the E: drive.
2) Selecting files in folders that end with +: If a folder name end's with the character "+", the files in that folder are posted. For example, e:\Text+\ indicates that the files in this folder are posted and should no longer be changed. You can tell Allsync to backup all files in folders that end with + as follows:
a) In the properties of a profile, select Filters, Files from the menu.
b) Add a file Filter Type: Inclusive
c) In that filter include: *\*+\*
SyncToy: is a free backup utility from Microsoft. It works quite well if your backup needs are simple. But, I have reservations about recommending for backup something with "toy" in the name.
ChronoSync: works for OS X. While I haven't used it, it has received excellent reviews and I know several people who use it. Let me know if you have other suggestions.
One of the great mysteries is why billion dollar companies do not write better file managers than those written by a single person working part time. In my opinion, the best file managers are those based on Norton Commander (NC, 1986-1998) written by John Socha and released by Peter Norton Computing. The fundamental idea is to two have two panels that allow you to move, delete, compare, etc. from one to the other. There are dozens of NC inspired file managers (see Norton Command in Wikipedia).
For Windows, I highly recommend Total Commander (originally Windows Commander until Microsoft threatened to sue). It includes features to zip files, bit compare files and directories, launch programs, and much more. In Mac, I use Disk Order which is more elegant than Total Commander, but has fewer features. Some users report it is still a bit buggy. muCommander is freeware, runs on Windows, OS X, Linux and other platforms. It works extremely well.
While Total Command and Disk Order contain many utilities for file management, there are two additional utilities that I used regularly (both overlap with what TC does). CloneCleaner provides tools for searching and eliminating duplicate files. This can be very handy in deleting duplicate files in your \- Snapshots folder, etc. RED (Remove Empty Directories) is freeware and works very well at deleting empty directories. (NB: Naming directories are removed by RED since they are often empty).
Several people have recommended Pathfinder for Mac OSX. 2013-03-17
I use MacroExpress which works very well but is not freeware.
For windows, AutoHotkeys has been suggested by many as a freeware program.2013-03-17
UltraEdit is a great text editor. Here is a syntax file for use with UltraEdit. Please check the UltraEdit documentation for information on how to install the syntax file. UltraCompare is very useful when looking for difference between two versions of a do-file or ado-file (i.e., the one that works and the one that does not!). As of 12/2010 IDM has OS X and Linux versions of UltraEdit (but not UltraCompare).
Tip! In UltraEdit for Windows as of at least Version 16, you can show a column marker at colunn 80 (or whatever column you prefer). This is very handy in preventing lines of code that are too long. This option is available in the View menu using with the Set Column Markers and Show Column Markers options. 2011-01-19
If I can find a Mac version of something like Scientific Word, I'm ready to move to Mac OS X! I've tried Lyx but still find Scientific Word much faster for entering LaTeX code. If you have suggestions, let me know.
There are freeware editors that many first rate data analysts use. I been told by several uers that they are quite pleased with WinEdt and Vim. There are many other choices that are listed at Gizmo's Freeware Reviews. Let me know if you have recommendations of other editors.
Graph viewer: In Windows, IrfranView is a fast, freeware file viewer that includes screen capture and format conversion. It also has a thumbnail viewer that allows you to see many files at once and select the one you want to enlarge.
Screen capture and MUCH more: SnagIt started out as a simple program to capture the image on your screen (i.e., a supercharged PrtScn key). It is now a power program to capture all or part of your screen, edit graphs, convert graphs among formats, capture web sites, and more. I find it extremely useful for simple edits of graphs used in papers or teaching.
Major graphics work and web design: You can't beat Adobe Illustrator, Fireworks, Photoshop, etc. These programs come bundled with Bridge which has become a very good file viewer.
Graph database: Microsoft's Media Expressions is good database for graphic files. This program was called IView before Microsoft bought it.
FinePrint prints two pages or four pages of output on a single page using any Windows compatible printer. Saves lots of paper.
Hotswap for Windows ejects portable hard drives, memory sticks, ipods, and even SATA drives. It works much better than the eject routine in Windows.
Launchy for Windows lets you easily launch programs, pages, documents, whatever. Very slick.
TrueCrypt is allows you to create a large, encrypted file that you can use as a container for other files and directories. The large file is password protected, which is great if you have sensitive work that you need to protect. But, even if you don't need the password protection, it lets you save an entire project within a single file that you can easily backup. I'm still experimented with this program, but so far am very impressed.2010-03-19
Please send me information about your favorite hardware and software.