Another reason why equating the “personal” part of personal computing to a number is problematic is that today many people actually use multiple computers, all of which we want to work together to provide a seamless experience. The Internet and what is called cloud computing is the key enabler to real personal computing.
Knowledge workers have been living in a multiple computer world for many years, using one computer at work and one at home. In the beginning there was only one computer in the home, but as prices came down and arguments amongst family members over sharing the home computer went up, multiple computers began appearing in the home. Today thanks to the decrease in prices it is not uncommon for a person to have a notebook or tablet and desktop computer, along with a smartphone.
We use each of these devices in different ways, a desktop or notebook computer for activities best done with large screens and full keyboards; a tablet for activities best done with large screens (relative to smartphones) done away from a desk; a smartphone for activities one needs to do wherever they may be. Collectively all of these devices and what you do with them constitute the personal computing that you perform. Clearly, personal computing is no longer a one device per person activity.
The glue that makes multiple device personal computing work is applications that use the Internet to make it easy to access your information from any device that has access to the Internet. If you aren’t using these type of applications you may want to check them out to kick up your personal computing a few notches. Two free applications that are at the core of how I use my personal computers are Evernote and Dropbox.
Evernote aspires to help one remember everything, which is emblematic in their app icon that is an elephant’s head. I use Evernote for storing information that I expect to need to retrieve some time down the road. In its simplest form you create a new note in an Evernote app and enter information, but even more powerfully and simply you can snap pictures to send to Evernote, scan documents and send them to Evernote, in some cases, such as with the HTC Flyer tablet or with the Penultimate app on an iPad write handwritten notes and send them to Evernote, or create an audio recording and send that to Evernote.
Two important functions of Evernote make it incredibly useful, first is that you can find an Evernote app for every computer available: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Windows and Mac, or you can access your information using a web browser. You have several ways to put information into Evernote, perhaps one of the more useful is by sending an email to a designated email address for your Evernote account.
Information retrieval is an important part of Evernote, and it includes a very powerful search feature. The second important function of Evernote is that it automatically performs optical character recognition on the pictures that you send to it. If you snap a picture of a sign that has words and send it to Evernote, you can later retrieve that picture by performing a search on any of the words in the picture. The same recognition feature also works with handwriting, so you could scan a picture or take a picture of handwritten notes, and store them in Evernote for later retrieval. If you work with PDF files, you can store them in Evernote and if you pay for the premium version of the service Evernote will perform character recognition on those files so that you can search for them using any text contained in the documents.
While Evernote is optimized for storing and retrieving information, Dropbox is optimized for storing files. There are several different free cloud storage services and apps available on the Internet, but in my experience Dropbox currently has the lead in integration with other applications, particularly on the iPad. Applications like Documents To Go and GoodReader are capable of directly accessing a Dropbox account to retrieve and store documents. Another nice feature is the Dropbox app for Windows and Mac automatically syncs the files you put in Dropbox to your computer, providing you with a local copy. I use this feature to automatically store all pictures I take on my smartphone to my home desktop computer. Free Dropbox apps exist for every computer available, and you can also access your Dropbox account using a web browser.
Both Evernote and Dropbox store your information on their servers that you access via the Internet. While both companies take steps to secure your information, you should be cautious about storing private information on these services. Evernote provides the ability to encrypt text that you put in a note, so I recommend using that feature for anything you really don’t want another person to see, but unfortunately it doesn’t encrypt pictures and file attachments. One feature I wish Evernote provided was the ability to encrypt entire notebooks.
Dropbox does not have built-in support for encryption beyond using SSL to encrypt files while they are being transferred between your computers and their server. I have been experimenting with a couple of different ways to encrypt files that are then stored in Dropbox and I plan to write more about this in the future. If you are familiar with file encryption tools that encrypt files on your computer, you will probably be more comfortable with first encrypting files and then storing them on Dropbox or any other cloud storage service.
Evernote and Dropbox are just two applications that use the Internet to enable the mashup that I call personal computing. If you don’t have experience with either of these apps, I recommend them to you, but if you have experience with others, I am interested in learning about them because I am always on the hunt for new apps and services that increase my productivity.