Choosing appropriate software tools can be challenging. Here are the principles I employ when making the decision:
- Simple: This seems obvious, but many companies fail here. Typically, their downfall is focussing on a perpetual increase in feature quantity. I don’t evaluate software with feature counts. Rather, I value software that performs a few key operations well. Small, focussed tools result in much greater productivity than overly-complex, all-in-one tools. 37 Signals’ Writeboard is a great example of a simple, focussed tool for collaborative writing.
Open formats: I will not choose software that uses proprietary or closed data formats. Closed formats cause two main difficulties:
I must pay the proprietor of a closed format for the privilege of accessing my data. Furthermore, switching to a new set of software may require translating my data or, even worse, losing access altogether. Open formats allow me to access my data at any time and with any appropriate tool.
My tools are limited to the range of innovations that the proprietor deems important. Open formats allow me to take advantage of any great new tools that come available.
Flexible: As my requirements ebb and flow, I shouldn’t be locked into the constraints of a particular tool. The best options are internet-based, subscription plans. If I need more storage space or more access for collaborators, I simply choose a new subscription plan. Then, if things slow down, I can move back down to a basic plan and save money. The online backup service Strongpace, for example, has a subscription plan tied to the amount of storage and number of users required.
- Network: A good tool must be fully integrated into the network. The ability to collaborate with anyone or access my data from any computer are great boons to productivity. Many of the best tools are completely internet based; all that is required to use them is a web browser. This also means that the tool is monitored and maintained by a collection of experts and that the tool can be upgraded at any time without being locked into a version-number update. Furthermore, with data maintained on a network, many storage and backup problems are addressed. GMail, for example, stores over 2GB of email, free of charge with an innovative user interface.
These are some of my favourite adherents to the principles outlined above: