The Best 3 Alternatives to Basecamp

February 20th, 2015

Basecamp is 37Signals’ flagship project management software. Originally created as a tool to let freelancers manage projects, it’s gradually added functionality and customers until it’s now the most popular content management software solution out there.

It’s not all roses for Basecamp, though. Because it’s so simple, many people complain that even basic functions like the ability to assign tasks to multiple people or even time tracking, are absent. And unlike when Basecamp was first thought of, there’s some serious competition now.

1: ActiveCollab

ActiveCollab comes in web-based and self-hosted, and it has some pretty heavyweight customers, including Stanford University and the British BBC, as well as Adobe. It’s integrated with Xero for time tracking and invoicing, and starts at $25 a month for a package that gets you 5 users, 5GB of storage and unlimited projects. If you want unlimited users, projects and storage you can go up to the $299 per month premium package, and you can even buy an self-hosted version of the software for $499 and put it on your own servers.

2: Asana

Asana promises ‘teamwork without email’ (subtext: project management without Basecamp). It offers Google Drive integration, and the ability to forward emails to Asana and have it turned into a task automatically, and it also offers a comprehensive list of keyboard shortcuts to shave off seconds. Asana is free for the first 15 users and goes up to $50 per month for 16-30 users, and tops out at $800 for 100 users. There are unlimited projects and tasks, as well as private projects and teams.

3: Freedcamp

Freedcamp is designed to emulate Basecamp: it’s an alternative because it’s a free knock-off, ‘the closest free alternative you will ever get to Basecamp,’ in the company’s own words. Freedcamp is good enough to number ABC, Chase Bank and even Google among its customers, so its simple, Basecamp-like user interface and array of group communication tools that include a wall, browser alerts and social media integration means it’s basic but effective. In reality Freedcamp is only free if you’re happy with just 20MB of storage. If you want more, you’ll have to upgrade, to 1GB of storage for $2.49 per month or unlimited storage for $39.99 per month.

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The Most Innovative Tech Products of 2014 – and What To Look Out For This Year

February 18th, 2015

2014 was a killer year for innovative tech products – some of which represented improvements on existing technology, while others pointed ahead to whole new worlds. Here are the top X innovative tech products of 2014 – plus X to watch out for in the year ahead!

1: Virtual reality

If Oculus Crescent sounds like a transformer, that’s appropriate. The Oculus Crescent Cove VR headset is the latest offering from the virtual reality company Facebook bought for $2bn in 2014. VR has been a perpetual flop for tech companies, but Oculus might be the ones to make a go of it, especially now the graphics and other tech is in place to support it. And with Facebook’s reach behind it, we might be hearing a lot more about it in 2015. (Alternatively, Google Cardboard offers a different take on things…

2: Virtual currency

Bitcoin came of age in 2014, and mobile payment methods like Apple Pay and similar offerings from Google and Paypal are set to make us forget, not only cash, but physical payment of any kind, even credit cards. Being able to pay directly with a smartphone sounds pretty innovative now, but by next year, it might just be normal.

3: The best of everything, ever

Apple made a desktop with the best screen ever, its near-15-million-pixel, 27 – inch iMac Retina display. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 has the best screen that’s ever been in a smartphone. And the iPhone 6 has the best camera ever put in a smartphone, while Android got enough of a reboot to make it a serious contender. Even already extant technologies got way better in 2014.

4: And for my next trick…

What does the coming year have up its sleeve?

Microsoft is releasing Windows 10, designed as a multiplatform OS that will work on smartphones, laptops, desktops, and even the Xbox. It’s also got a bundled browser that isn’t Internet Explorer!

Samsung expects to be able to ship a bendable phone by the end of the year. The company foresees mass-producing flexible displays before the end of 2015. And, finally, hot on the heels of the world’s largest iPad comes… a really huge, 12-inch iPad, the iPad Pro, blurring the line between laptops and tablets.

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What if that’s your last phone?

February 13th, 2015

The ubiquity of mobile phone technology makes the idea that you could be holding your last ever phone seem slightly ridiculous. Barring catastrophes, why would we suddenly stop using a technology we so evidently love? Because we basically already have.

What is a phone exactly?

We still call the devices we use so much ‘phones,’ but it’s increasingly obvious that the difference between a phone, a phablet and a tablet is… whatever manufacturers can get us to say it is. The device you can send your emails from, browse the web via apps or browsers or both, take pictures and communicate via instant message services, will also let you make voice calls. And that’s about all it has in common with the old cord-and-handset machines we used to call phones. (Speaking of which, as of 2013, about 30% of Americans didn’t have a landline at all!)
What do we actually use our phones for?

The telephone is for talking to people. But increasingly, that doesn’t describe our phones at all. what we actually do with them is move data. And the amount we’re moving is huge and growing.

Something else that seems to be huge and growing is the phones themselves, and the same cause is at the root of both effects. That would be the 4G technology known as LTE. LTE lets you move gigantic quantities of data over 4G networks, but it’s energy-hungry. Hence the size of phones, which are growing to accommodate bigger batteries in back and bigger screens in front.

Even when you do make a phone call, it’s not really a phone call

You talk into a phone and your voice is turned into electronic signals and transmitted. That was true when you had to wind phones up and it’s still true. but the way it’s done has changed fundamentally. 3G and older cell networks used dedicated connections to move your voice: virtual landlines, preserving the phone-ness of phone calls. But 4G and LTE don’t do that. Your voice becomes data packets, just like the rest of the internet. Even when you make a phone call, you’re really using a technology that has more in common with Facetime or Skype than with anything Alexander Graham Bell would have recognised. You might already have had your last phone.

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The 3D Printer That Makes Custom Electronics

February 11th, 2015

Could anything be more Zeitgeisty than a 3D printer that can produce things to fit into the Internet of Things?

The first generation of 3D printers are mostly used for producing small items. But Jennifer Lewis of Harvard University has helped create a new kind of 3D printer, one that can print electronics.

The Voxel8 printer

Voxel8 only bega developing a product last year, but the printer is the result of more than 8 years of research by Ms. Lewis and her Harvard colleagues. Right now, it can’t quite print things as sophisticated as a smartphone. But it is able to make quite complex gadgets, like helicopter drones.

The printer costs about $10, 000 and is aimed firmly at professionals, not the domestic market. Currently, Voxel8 is trying to get feedback from designers to optimize the product for them.

Talking about the future of manufacturing

The Voxel8 team foresees their technology being used around the world. Ms. lewis says that in the next decade, ‘rather than shipping components, you are going to be shipping CAD (Computer Aided Design) files and then you’re going to have local centers of manufacturing excellence, where these CAD files are just ported and then directly products come out.’

Until now 3D printers have largely been used by hobbyists. That doesn’t mean they’re not being used industrially – in China, they’re 3D printing houses, and in the USA and Europe car parts and, notoriously, firearms are getting the treatment too. But 3D printing is especially good for electronics.

Why are Voxel8 betting on a 3D future for electronics?

Voxel8’s co-founder, Daniel Oliver, says, ‘for 3D printing to push the limits of what’s done now, it has to solve key issues that current manufacturing technologies don’t.’ For electronics, that’s the duality of the circuitry and the physical object. Currently, electronic circuit boards are manufactured in standard shapes and sizes and the designer’s job is to fit them into the product. With 3D printing technology, the device and its electronics can be manufactured at the same time.

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Top 3 Cyber Security Risks for 2015

February 6th, 2015

2014 saw an explosion of concern about cybersecurity, as more and more of life moves online – especially financial life. When big companies and even government agencies were hacked and millions of people’s details were leaked, we all sat up and took notice. But what form will the dangers of cyberspace take in the year ahead?

Cybersecurity is a major mainstream issue. Hacking experts warn that 2014 was the beginning of a new arms race between legitimate web users, companies and even governments, and ever-more-sophisticated hackers on the other. 2015 will see traditional cybercrime like internet password fraud continue, but there will also be brand new threats to accompany new technology.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things is the name given to the web of communicating smart devices that will increasingly predominate in our homes and workplaces. When the toaster talks to the fridge and the doorbell communicates with the garage door, that’s great – but it’s great for hackers, too. John Nesbitt is the founder of Cyber Senate, a council of the world’s cybersecurity business leaders. His group believes that ‘the IoT presents unique security challenges in terms of the number of connected devices present,’ and that makes it ‘the main cybersecurity risk for 2015.’

In fact, it’s possible that many of the Things in the IoT have already been hacked – or come ‘pre-hacked’ with spychips. In any case, they’re far from secure: ‘we have sacrificed security for efficiency,’ concludes Mr. Nesbitt.

Cyber-espionage

Governments, non-governmental organizations and other groups are already busily engaged in cyber espionage, including data gathering as well as hacking and other activities. Non-governmental political groups are already players in this game – witness the Syrian Electronic Army’s antics in 2014.

McAffee’s ‘2015 Threat Predictions’ document warns that cyber-espionage attacks are likely to increase in frequency in 2015 and that ‘newcomers will look for ways to steal money and disrupt their adversaries,’ while the information-gathering behind the scenes will become more sophisticated.

Cyber theft

It’s almost certain that cyber theft will rise in 2015, for two interconnected reasons. One is that more people will do more business online. The other is that an increasing proportion of those will be relative novices who lack good cyber-security habits and knowledge.

Some of the risk is out of consumers’ hands, too. In many cases, ‘the payment technology used won’t protect against retailers who aren’t storing payment card data securely, and they will still need to be vigilant in protecting stored data,’ says Symantec Security’s Candid Wüest.

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How to Use Cyberduck To Manage Files Stored in the Cloud

February 4th, 2015

Sometimes it’s useful to store public-facing data in the cloud. When that’s necessary, it’s typically done inside the web application by the end user. They’ll upload their pictures, video or other content quite happily using the app. In that case, there’s no real need for an admin to get involved. But when an admin does need to get involved, the best way is often to go forward by taking a step back.

If you’re a systems administrator looking for a way to manipulate content the best choice might just be an FTP client. Remember those? In the bad old days before Adobe Muse and other design software started letting you just upload whole websites in the click of a button, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) clients were how things got onto the web. And if you have cloud data you need to get right into and manipulate by hand, they deserve a second look. In particular, Cyberduck merits your attention.

Cyberduck is available in over 30 languages. You can get it for Windows or OSX, and it supports a whole range of FTPs. Standard FTP is in there, and so is SSH FTP, as well as WebDAV, Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, and Openstack Swift. That means that if you’re a user of Rackspace Cloud, HP Cloud, Internap, or any cloud storage systems that use Openstack, you can use Cyberduck. And Google’s Cloud Storage meshes with S3 protocols, so you can connect there too.

Getting set up

After you install Cyberduck – and Bonjour, if you’re a Windows user; it’s optional, but not necessary – click ‘Open Connection.’ You’ll get a drop-down, and from there you can select the protocol you want to configure. Copy and paste your credentials to be allowed access to the system you’re connecting to and click ‘Connect.’ You’ll get a password prompt, and FTP users will get a warning that their password will be sent in plaintext – unencrypted. You can bookmark servers during a session so they’re easy to return to for future sessions.

Manipulating files

You can upload and download files with a simple drag and drop. There’s a queue manager for batch upload files and you can view the progress of those uploads. Click the ‘Get Info’ button and you’ll be given the option to manage attributes, and you’ll also be able to configure data on traditional web servers so it can be distributed with Amazon CloudFront, Memset Memstone and Akamai. You can edit files through an external editor, and upload revisions from a temporary stored file.

What about security?

Cyberduck stands out from other FTP clients because its FTP functionality is actually the least important part of what it can do. It also stands out because the majority of FTP clients aren’t great for security, but Cyberduck is. You’re constantly being reminded that standard FTP means your passwords and other data are being sent unencrypted. That’s because FTP was introduced in the 1970s, before encryption was seen as a major issue and certainly before SSL. But FTP continues to be offered on many servers anyway. Many traditional FTP clients leave no alternative, and the best you can usually hope for is SSH FTP. Instead of these limited options, Cyberduck gives cloud access, offering better security too.

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Consumers Demand More from Mobile Web Surfing

January 30th, 2015

In an interview with O’Reilly Radar writer Mac Slocum, Joshua Bixby, president of Strangeloop, said that the days in which consumers were happy to just be able to connect to the Web with their mobile devices are long gone. Today, the owners of smart phones and tablets demand that Web pages load quickly on their mobile devices and that these pages include all the bells and whistles of a full Web experience.

And, Bixby told Slocum, those companies that can provide this experience are the ones poised to thrive. And those that can’t? They’ll fade away.

Web, mobile Web no longer separate entities

As Bixby says in the interview, the Web and the mobile Web can no longer be considered two separate entities. Today’s consumers expect their Web experience to be just as smooth and complete whether they’re reading a forum on their laptop or reading a newspaper on their smart phone.

Of course, what’s most interesting is that the smart phone market is still so young. As prevalent as these devices appear to be, the truth is that the vast majority of consumers still don’t own smart phones. Bixby cites this stat in the O’Reilly Radar story: 155 million U.S. mobile phone users aren’t using smart phones.

The smart phone revolution

Bixby says that this stat shouldn’t prevent developers from creating a rich mobile Web experience. Change happens quickly when it comes to technology, and new mobile users are picking up smart phones before they experiment with lesser mobile models. Many of these new tech users, then, will do the vast majority of their Web browsing through smart phones or other mobile devices.

Too much focus on apps?

Today, Bixby says, too many developers are focusing on apps rather than their own Web sites. This can lead to problems. Bixby points to this example: Users, while accessing their Twitter feeds through a tablet or smart phone, click on a link to a story that interests them. However, instead of the link taking these users directly to the news story, it takes them to a page that demands that they download the news site’s app. Those users who actually do this, and don’t skip this step, are then taken to the news site’s home page and not the location of the actual story they wanted to read. To get to that story, they’ll then have to go back to their Twitter feed to find the original link.

This, Bixby says, is a good example of developers missing an opportunity to take true advantage of mobile devices.

It’s clear that Web sites that don’t create a good experience for mobile users will miss out on traffic and customers. Consider Bixby’s interview a wake-up call.

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Mobile Marketing 101: What Your Business Needs to Know

January 28th, 2015

Your business already boasts its own interactive Web site. You run a busy blog promoting your company and its services. You Tweet your followers whenever your business is holding special sales or launches a new service or product. Your business’s Facebook page is steadily adding followers.

Unfortunately, to reach today’s consumers, all that isn’t enough. You must also master mobile marketing.

Mobile marketing matters

For time-strapped business owners, this might seem like one too many ways in which to reach consumers. However, today’s customers rely extensively on their smart phones and tablets. If you want to reach them, you have to make sure that they are receiving your marketing messages on their mobile devices.

There are several ways to do this. The most important is to develop a Web site that is optimized for mobile devices. Far too many businesses today boast highly interactive Web sites that look great on a computer screen but cluttered and messy on a tablet or smart phone.

Optimize your site for mobile

And that’s unfortunate. What happens when customers on the road seek an Italian restaurant near them? They’ll log onto your Web site, struggle to read the particulars on their smart phone or tablet, and then search for an alternative, a competitor who might have a Web site that fits nicely in the confines of the smaller screens common to mobile devices.

Savvy businesses today operate both standard and mobile-optimized Web sites, giving consumers the option to visit their mobile sites when they’re accessing them through smart phones or tablets.

Offer your customers value

Business owners can also send short text messages advertising their business and services to mobile devices. It’s important, though, to make sure that your customers actually want this service. You can, for instance, ask your customers to sign up for mobile messages through your Web site. Usually, you’ll have to entice your customers to sign up. You might, for instance, offer savings and discount opportunities in the mobile messages you send out. A beauty salon might send a message to clients that all perms will be 15 percent off on a specific date. A fast-food restaurant might send a message that French fries are free to all mobile customers with an order of $15 or more.

In short, customers don’t want their smart phones and tablets flooded with marketing messages. But if these messages actually offer them something worthwhile – first crack at a newly released movie or book, a discount on their next purchase – your customers will come to appreciate the value in them.

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Get IT Satisfaction: How to Clearly Explain Problems to Your IT Department

January 23rd, 2015

We’ve all had this experience: We log onto our computers at work and something’s not working. Maybe we aren’t receiving our e-mail messages. Maybe our Web browser has slowed to a crawl. Maybe the computer crashes every 10 minutes.

Whatever the problem, it makes it impossible for you to complete your work. You now have one option: You have to call your IT department. Unfortunately, that can sometimes cause as many headaches as does your current computing problem.

Be honest: It’s not always easy to communicate with your IT department personnel. The staffers working in IT obviously know a whole lot more about computers, Web browsing and general technology than you do. Because of this, it sometimes sounds as if your company’s IT personnel are speaking a different language. And when this happens, it’s not always easy to effectively communicate your computer problem so that you can receive quick results.

Fortunately, you can take some simple steps to make sure that your IT department clearly understands your problem. Once clear communication is established, your IT pros can quickly and effectively repair your ailing computer.

No reason to be intimidated

First, don’t be intimidated. Yes, that IT worker knows more about your computer than you ever will, but remember, you know more about your specialty, too, whether it be the law, accounting, sales, or marketing.

Screen shots

Secondly, take screen shots when you can. If you can show your IT personnel exactly what has gone wrong with your computer, they’ll more easily be able to tackle the problem. If you can’t do that, try to replicate the problem in front of IT workers when they arrive at your desk. If certain actions, for instance, cause your computer to crash, perform those actions – causing the crash – while your IT workers are standing at your desk.

A written report

Finally, keep a written report of your problems. If you notice that the same problems are taking place whenever you check your messages, log onto the company’s Intranet site or visit Google, write this down in a notebook. Make a new entry every time the problem reappears. This, too, will help you better communicate your computing issues with your IT personnel.

Communicating with your IT workers doesn’t have to be an intimidating or frustrating experience. Just follow these simple rules, and you’ll be back computing at full strength in no time.

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Don’t Let Your Competitors Set Your Agenda

January 21st, 2015

Even the biggest tech powerhouses make the occasional business mistake. And one of the most frequent? They let their competitors set their agendas.

Take Google. Google remains the undisputed search engine king. It’s also one of the most powerful companies in the world, but that hasn’t stopped Google from trying unsuccessfully to become the next Facebook.

Facebook takes Google to school

Facebook has already established itself as the leading force in social media. Google thought that it should hold that title, so it launched Google+, its own social networking program.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with Google+. It boasts some nifty features, especially in the tweaks it offers for business owners. But Google+ is not Facebook. Consumers are simply used to Facebook. They prefer to use the service for their social media needs. Google attempted to break into Facebook’s turf by offering a product that’s not really needed.

It hasn’t worked. Google+ remains a distant afterthought in the world of social media.

An Internet search mistake

Microsoft knows the feeling of falling into this same trap. As everyone knows, Google remains the top dog in the world of Internet search. This hasn’t changed since Microsoft launched Bing, its own Internet search engine.

Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Bing. The search program does a good job finding information. And it, too, comes with some nice features. Unfortunately, Google search is still better. It’s easier to use. It’s familiar. And it’s quick. There’s no real reason for consumers to make the switch from Google search to Bing.

Learn from Google, Microsoft mistakes

You can learn from the mistakes made these two tech giants. Focus on improving what you already do. For instance, instead of targeting social media, Google should concentrate on improving its search, e-mail, and online documents servers. These are already successful offerings, and Google can gain even more followers by making them stronger.

Follow this example. Don’t be distracted by what your competitors are doing. Your job is to make the services and products at which you already excel even stronger.

 

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