Monthly Archives: July 2015

Equipping the Home Office Part 4: But Soft(ware)!

Last month, we started looking at some of the “home office essentials”—furniture and computer hardware and peripherals. In this post, let’s look at what to run on that hardware. Namely, software.

A lot of the basic software that you will need will be pre-installed on your computer—an e-mail program, a Web browser, instant messaging, etc. Some other items you may want to consider:

Word Processing Software

Microsoft Word, for example. You may find it preferable to invest in the entire Microsoft Office suite that includes Word, PowerPoint (for doing presentations), Excel (spreadsheet), and Outlook (e-mail). Alternatively, you can use OpenOffice or LibreOffice, which comprises open source (i.e., free) word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software. Kingsoft Office has a free version, and we have also experimented with Softmaker’s office suite, which we can recommend unless you are doing large amounts of statistical work. Excel offers superior chart capabilities.

If you are on a Mac, Apple has Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, its own version of an office application suite. Most of these formats are roughly interchangeable with each other, although some features like formatting, images, and other items may not convert reliably. It is best to check with those with whom you will be collaborating to determine what would be the best tools to have on hand.

Quicken/QuickBooks

These programs are popular accounting software. Depending on your proficiency, Excel or another spreadsheet program may work perfectly well. There is also a cloud version. (We will look at “the cloud” in a future post.)

Adobe Acrobat

Acrobat is a utility for reading and/or annotating PDF (Portable Document Format) files.

Skype

Skype is a videoconferencing and texting application—and it’s free.

Other Software Required for Your Business

Photoshop? Graphic design and layout like Adobe InDesign? Web design? Video editing like Final Cut Pro? Audio editing like Audacity or Pro Tools?

If you find you need to invest in a program with which you are unfamiliar, and aren’t entirely certain it will suit your needs; you can often download free trial versions and test them out. Trial versions are usually “hobbled” in some way, such as ceasing to launch after a certain number of days, stamping a “TRIAL VERSION” watermark on anything you create with it, or deactivating certain high-level features (all of which is to prevent someone from using the trial version for an actual project if that is the only project for which it will be required).

Dr. Joe is a big fan of Open Source software, and these days you can likely find a free Open Source version of any program you may need. Be sure to investigate user reviews; sometimes you get what you pay for.

The Home Office Goes for a Drive

Technophiles have long been extolling the promise of self-driving cars, and Google, for one, has devoted a not inconsiderable amount of resources. Although Richard in particular likes the idea of self-driving cars (he dislikes driving and far prefers walking or using public transportation), he remains skeptical that they represent the future of transportation.

At any rate, one of the advantages of the self-driving car could very well be the ability to take the home office on the road, as this article from Drive.com indicates. Of course, if you have a home office, you may not need to commute, but if you only telecommute part-time, this can be a good way to take productive advantage of a long commute. Even if you don’t commute, you could even get stuff done while tooling around town running errands. It would also be a safe way to phone and text while in a car without running the risk of killing someone.

Assuming, of course, self-driving cars become feasible.

Home Office Tech Support

What happens when your computer stops working? Or your e-mailbox has crashed and you can’t access your saved messages? Or any of the hundreds or thousands of things that can go wrong with a computer? If you are technically proficient, you may just be able to do your own troubleshooting and repairs. Even better, you may have someone else in your household who is highly technological—a teenager, for example. Friends and neighbors might also be able to offer tech support.

Failing these options, you may have to search out local computer repair shops. If you use a Mac, there may be an Apple Store nearby, and its Genius Bar can often help with troubleshooting. (The Genius Bar sometimes gets a bad rap, but every experience I have had in the Albany, N.Y., Apple Store has been very good.) If you are a Windows user, Best Buy’s Geek Squad or a local independent computer repair shop can be a good source of help.

It’s a good idea to identify a competent source of technical support before you have an issue. After all, if you have computer problems, you may lose Internet access, which limits your ability to get help. (A modem manufacturer in the 1990s once did literally put in their user manual, “If you have problems, visit our online technical support site.” Of course, if you have problems with a modem, you can’t actually go to an online site, but you might have to run to a friend’s house or to the town library.) A smartphone or tablet can be enlisted to search for help if your main computer goes down. And we’ve found from experience that sometimes just typing your problem into Google can turn up an effective solution.

And don’t forget crowdsourcing: ask your Facebook friends or LinkedIn contacts if they have any recommendations.

Finding a reliable, economical computer repair person is like finding a reliable, economical auto mechanic. As is the case with many services, word-of-mouth recommendations are often the best.

The Home Office Goes to the Dogs

Richard here. Some time ago, I was on a conference call and at one point, right in the middle of things, one of the participants—who had called in from his own home office—cut in and said “I have to leave this conference call. A large dog just mauled the plumber.”

I admit that I do not have pets, although the squirrels and I have become rather chummy, but for those who do, they can sometimes get in the way of working from home just like humans can. I grew up with cats (although I wasn’t raised by them) and I know from experience that cats love to walk across—or curl up on—keyboards while you’re on deadline. As soon as your conference call starts, the dog(s) will suddenly start barking, the bird will think of you as Tippi Hedren, and other exotic pets can do their very own special thing while work needs to be done. (Do you think the tarantula or boa constrictor is going to escape on your personal time?)

At any rate, whilst we talk about pets in The Home Office That Works!, we did come across this article from the Santa Fe New Mexican that offers tips for home office workers who need to tame Fido.