Switching to Laptops Full Time and Working Mostly Online

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on December 2, 2009 · 2 comments

dell-studio-1555Sylvia and I have now migrated from desktop computers to full-time laptops. I was a bit worried about doing this, giving up nice big monitors for smaller laptop screens, but so far it’s working out really well and neither of us are noticing any impairment or difference in our ability to accomplish computer related tasks.

I purchased each of us a Dell Studio 1555. This model was well reviewed and I picked mine up at Costco for almost $300 less than the Dell online price. I wanted to buy and use mine for a while before getting the second one, just in case. After giving it a thorough test drive, the Studio 1555 performed like a champ, so I ordered the identical model for Sylvia, getting hers for free by cashing in Thank You Points that had accumulated through use of our CitiBank Visa. (My accidental discovery of the existence of this trove of almost 20,000 accumulated Thank You points would be a good topic for another day – bottom line, if you download all your credit card expenses straight into Quicken, still take a look at the actual paper statement at least every year or so).

Benefits of Laptop vs. Desktop

1) More work space on desk, less wires.

With the desktops, I had various cords and plugs, speaker wires, speakers, power cords, etc. running to a battery backup power center. It all took up a lot of space, used a lot of plugs and collected a lot of dust. With the laptop, I have one power cable plugged into the side of the laptop, and a usb plugged in for syncing/charging the iPhone. That’s it. The cordless usb mouse tops it off. No speakers, no monitor, no full size keyboard. I don’t even plug in the network cord because the wireless internet speed is plenty fast. Don’t even need the battery backup because with the larger 9 cell batteries, the laptops will run 8 hours unplugged. I feel more organized and less cramped at my workspace with the smaller form factor of the laptop, which provides a psychological benefit.

2) Quieter, no excess heat

The desktops use to do two things that really bugged me. First would be the groaning of the systems when they’d rev up for various unknown reasons at various times and run loud. Second would be the heat they put off, which made our office hot, especially in the summer, though not really a problem in the winter.

The laptops on the other hand go into sleep and then hibernation status when not used, make hardly any noise at all even during use, and produce no noticable heat, except a slight amount directly above the keyboards if used for a while. I will not miss that revved up groaning sound of the desktops. It was very annoying to me. I feel like I can think better without that sound droning in the back ground. I had even taken both desktops for evaluation, increased the memory, cleaned up the startup and background programs, and still was unable to stop the high rev sounds or get them to sleep and hibernate properly without freezing up, so the laptops are a much welcomed quiet replacement.

3) Everything in one place, and portable

With the desktops, I also had to have a laptop for travel and working outside the office. That represented additional computers to take care of and keep updated. Now one computer does it all for each of us. This afternoon when it was time to take my daughter to volleyball practice, I closed the lid on the laptop, unplugged the power cord, dropped it into my bag, and left. When I opened it later at Starbucks (where I work during daughter’s 2 hour volleyball practices twice a week), all my work was there, in 1 second, in the same browser windows as before, and I just had to log into the AT&T Wireless at Starbucks and continue where I left off. Before, I’d have to start over in the laptop browser, navigate to whatever I was working on and had saved online, then start again. This new functionality is a real time saver, especially since I work on the go so much.

4) Cheaper and easier to maintain and repair

Even though these systems are warrantied by Dell for 2 years, if I have any minor glitches or problems I’ll most likely head straight to Mr. Notebook on W 24th Street for a quick, free walk-in diagnosis. I’ve bought two laptops from these guys in the past and have had several repairs and upgrades performed on my three previous laptops. It’s like night and day compared to hauling a desktop computer into a Best Buy or elsewhere.

Aside from the physical effort difference of not having to unplug and disconnect the entire system first, I like having a local resource that specializes in Dell Laptops and can perform upgrades and repairs quickly for a fair price. It’s like having a trusted mechanic for your car who you always rely on.

What About Theft or Losing a Laptop?

The systems are password protected and backed up. There is nothing on my laptop that can’t be accessed and/or restored from any computer. But a laptop is easier to steal than a desktop, so this is something worth being aware of. It’s also easier to drop and break, for obvious reasons, though Sylvia doesn’t haul hers around as much as I do mine.

What Online Software and Tools does the Crossland Team use?

Almost everything we do now is web based. We are approaching the point where we almost have no desktop software to keep or maintain anymore. Here is a list of what Sylvia and I use for work and productivity.

Gmail and Google Calendar.

We migrated to these a couple of years ago now. I can’t imagine living without Google Calendar. It allows Sylvia and I to see and edit each other’s calendars, and have our calendars available anytime, anywhere through our iPhones.

Gmail, if used properly with labels and message filtering, is an extremely powerful productivity tool for those of us who have to deal with more email than we can handle. I’d no sooner go back to a desktop bound MS Outlook than I would drive clients around in a 1982 Olds Delta 88 with 8-track tapes. Gmail is also available real time, anytime, anywhere, on my iPhone when I’m not near a computer.

Google Docs

Google Docs still isn’t quite there yet for us, but I’m slowly starting to ease into it, migrating a few forms and docs at a time. I wanted to mention it as a tag along to Gmail and Google Calendar though. It still has some shortcomings but I think eventually it will supplant MS Office, which we rarely use because we don’t type and mail actual letters to anyone anymore, except in rare instances. Instead we email. Mostly we have boilerplate forms and docs that need to be printed out occassionally, and Google Docs can handle most of those as long as the formatting is kept simple.

Microsoft Live Sync

Sylvia and I keep our docs in two windows folders on our desktops, “Work Files” and “Real Estate”. If I’m at Starbucks and save a document, offer, etc., in a folder on my computer, it is instantly synced to Sylvia’s computer and available to her within seconds, and also synced to a backup computer. This is accomplished using the free Microsoft product Windows Live Sync (formerly FolderShare). So whether I’m in the office, out of the office, out of state, in a hotel across country, my folder directory always contains the current files I need (provided the laptop computer has been on and connected since last saved file, otherwise it will re-sync at next startup).This is much better than the old system we used, where a folder on one desktop computer would be used as a network file server.

Zip Forms Online

When we need to write a contract, that’s all handled in an online Realtor product, replacing the desktop version we use to use. The problem with the desktop version was it didn’t sync between computers, so an offer that needed to be edited on Sylvia’s computer was unavailable on mine, and vice versa. Now everything is in one location at Zip Forms Online, which is also a “free” product to Realtors, covered by our dues.

AllClients Contact Manager

We use a simple online contact management system called AllClients to keep track of our contacts and past clients. We recently migrated to this system, dumping the horrendously over priced, slow and bloated Top Producer. All Clients costs $21.95/mo and it’s simple to use and accessible from the iPhone. Top Producer was $80/mo, difficult to use and non-functional/useless from the iPhone. Good riddance Top Producer, hello AllClients. Now if I need to reach a client or contact, I can pull up the name and number from any computer anywhere, or my iPhone.

WordPress

Our website and Blog is run entirely on the free WordPress software. Gone are Front Page and DreamWeaver desktop software, which I used to build our websites in the old days. All I need is a web browser to edit and make changes to the website.

Fax to Email

We haven’t had a paper fax print off a fax machine in over 5 years. All faxes come directly into email as a pdf attachment, where we can view, delete, save or foward easily. This service is through Top Answer Communications. Fax to email, service for unlimited faxes and no per page fees (much better and cheaper than eFax)  is $9.95/mo.

That covers about 95% of what we use and do on a daily basis.

If you’ve been thinking of untangling that dustball of wiring under or beside your desk, and hauling that old desktop and monitor out of your office and replacing it with a simple, elegant laptop instead, I think it’s a move worth making. That, combined with some free or cheap online products, will make your work life more simple and hassle free.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michael @ The Stage Coach December 2, 2009 at 8:29 am

Hi, Steve:
I see you too have discovered MS’s best kept secret: LiveSync. I can not stress how much I love having this service. Have you tried to access your files via iPhone browser? You might be able to open the shared folders and email files, but I don’t own an iPhone, so I am not familiar with it… Now, only if they would let me Sync it to a folder on my NAS for backup, it would be perfect! Unfortunately, it only works with Windows Clients, and it will not let me map the drive. And I wish they would let you add MS Skydrive…

Which brings me to some thing I do not see above; Back up. You mention that it’s “backed up”, but do not mention how. Coming from an IT back ground, I am a believer in there not being enough backup systems. Not because I used to sell them, but because Murphy’s Law Applies: If you don’t back any thing up, you’ll have a catastrophe. If you back every thing up, nothing will ever go wrong. And while Live Sync does create a copy of every thing, it’s not really Solution.

I attack this from several angles:
1. Back up to NAS: I use a free program, Cobian Back up to send files up to an old PC with FreeNas loaded. It’s in the laundry room, and always on. Never had to go back to it, but it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing it’s up there.
2. Back up to External USB Hard Drive. These are cheap – I saw 1 TB for less than $100 this week. And some have 3-5 year warranties now. Even better would be a Network Hard Drive so you and Sylvia could both back up to it with the included software they come with.
3. Carbonite. If my house burns down, all of my backups are lost. It’s like $70/year. [I have heard complaints about how long it takes Carbonite to restore an entire system. But if you keep local backups on your Ext USB drive, it's a lot faster. And you won't mind the time it takes if there's a catastrophe.]

Michael @ The Stage Coach

2 Steve Crossland December 15, 2009 at 11:55 am

Hi Michael,

Regarding backups, I do a combination of automated and manual. For the really important stuff that can’t be replaced, I swap out a usb disk ever week or so and keep it offsite. Also have a 1T external backup the duplicates the synced directories, but would remain archived even if a synced folder was accidentally deleted. Finally, I zip my docs directory about once a month and ftp it to my web server where it’s safe.

Otherwise, unless I lost every computer and hard copy file in a fire or something, the file directories are cloned on multiple computers via LiveSync such that even a hard drive failure would be of no consequence..

I have been thinking about Carbonite though, mainly because it would be automatic and I wouldn’t have to schedule recurring backup tasks.,
http://www.carbonite.com/home.aspx

Steve

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