my top tools for 2012

Top Tools 2012I thought it might be worth sharing the tools that changed the way I worked in 2012.

I use the word ‘tools’ because it allows me to include just about anything I use to get work done: software, hardware, products, services … whatever gets me through the day (and, too often, night).

Last year, there were three that rose to the top of the heap.


Technically, ManageWP is a WordPress plugin. In reality, it is a complete maintenance system for WordPress sites, with its own dashboard and a series of options that satisfy most of the needs of someone tending multiple WordPress sites.

I use ManageWP to manage 33 websites, including my own and those of  many of my clients.

To give you an idea of what this lets me do, from a single dashboard I can:

  • update plugins and themes across my site portfolio with a click
  • get rid of all spam comments with a click
  • review each site’s Google Analytics
  • monitor my sites’ uptime
  • back up any and all sites by schedule or at will
  • check all my server logs
  • review, search and manage posts, themes, plugins, comments, users and links across any and all of my sites.

I should note that I tried several different facilities that promised much of this functionality, but ManageWP is the only one that not only delivered on every aspect of my site maintenance wish list, they thought of a few I hadn’t even considered.

As if this cake needed any icing, the folks at ManageWP know how to keep me engaged. A weekly email newsletter has never failed to tip me off about some previously unknown aspect of MWP, or a great article or blog post. It’s meaningful, non-intrusive and actually helpful.


This is another case of having tried many options to address an ongoing problem and finally stumbling on what has been a perfect solution for me: 1Password. The problem in question is one that just about everyone has now: how can you juggle the many passwords required to access secure online sites without compromising security?

I’ll admit that my practice has been to keep all my passwords in a single text file. Sure, I set passwords of minimum 12 character length, and I use upper case and lower case and letters and numbers and symbols, and I change my passwords regularly, and I keep an updated paper copy just in case.

So, out of all available options, why did 1Password work for me?

  • I get an icon on my browser toolbar (any browser) that lets me get at all my passwords by signing in.
  • When I’m at a site I need to log in to, I open up 1Password and it suggests the login for that site.
  • 1Password not only fills in the login details on the page, but submits them.
  • I can review all my passwords and settings by loading the 1Password app on any device.
  • The passwords controlled include to websites, my credit cards and bank accounts, software licences, my different online identities and my many email accounts.

Probably the greatest piece of mind 1Password gives me is that I can comfortably set very long passwords for everything and I only have to remember the one for 1Password. 1Password allows me to back up my data in secure files on my various devices.

Adobe Creative Cloud

I may be a victim of clever marketing in the case of Adobe Creative Cloud, but I can live with that. I signed for a deal with Adobe that gives me access to a suite of Adobe software, the likes of which I simply could not afford to buy stand-alone. For $39 a month, I get:

  • Photoshop
  • After Effects
  • Adobe Premiere Pro
  • InDesign
  • Flash Professional
  • Illustrator
  • Fireworks
  • Adobe Muse
  • Dreamweaver
  • Audition
  • SpeedGrade
  • Prelude
  • Lightroom
  • Flash Builder Premium
  • Game Developer Tools
  • Acrobat XI Pro
  • Touch App Plugins
  • Edge Animate
  • Edge Code (Preview)
  • Edge Inspect
  • Edge Web Fonts
  • Typekit
  • PhoneGap Build
  • Business Catalyst
  • Story Plus
  • Digital Publishing Suite, Single Edition

Yeah, OK, I don’t exactly know what all of those programs and apps do, either. But I do know that the combined cost of the programs I do use (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Typekit, Acrobat and Business Catalyst) means I’d have to spend forty bucks a month for a lot of months before it became a losing proposition.

Add in that I get to learn programs I’ve known but not really tried before – like Flash, Fireworks and Dreamweaver – as well as all those others that sound like they do interesting stuff, and this will be a bargain for many years to come.

I love that all these programs update so quickly and painlessly. My copy of Acrobat Pro had upgraded itself to XI before the press release crossed my SitePoint inbox.

The Toolbox

A short list of other tools of continued indispensability:

Zone Alarm Extreme Security Suite (having used it for many years, ZA has learned my set-up and habits and is extremely reliable)

LinkedIn (still the most effective social media tool for business)

Google (they keep adding the right pieces to the big puzzle)

TuneUp (again, use over many years has taught it how to look after my devices)

Adblock (possible the most under-rated – and underfunded – way of managing the commercial side of the web)

WordPress (my framework and CMS of choice)

Outlook (still the best at managing all aspects of email, without question)

Swish (Flash made easy, at least for folks that think in terms of movies)

Pandora (so glad I can now access this legally in Australia, personalised themed music stations)

TextPad (my text editor of choice: enough formatting to make it easy without going overboard)

Dreamstime (still the most economical source of good quality, licence-free stock images)

Dropbox (moved up to indispensable status this year, becoming my main offsite backup)

DNSStuff (everything I need to know and every tool I need to use related to hosting and email issues)

Crucial Paradigm (possibly the best web host on the planet: they really understand that the key is more about knowing how to deal with crises rather than pretending they can avoid crises)

Dishonourable Mention

I want so much for iTunes to be my perfect solution for storing my 13,500+ audio tracks in the cloud and sharing them across my devices. It’s not.

It’s not just that those devices include Windows desktop PCs and laptops, as well as an MBA, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and an Android phone. The whole syncing thing, with iCloud and playlists and iTunes Match just does not do what it should. I have not been able to access everything I own on any single device.

I’m not unclever (also, I don’t dislike double negatives), but iTunes defeats me.

I have hopes for Google Music, but have to wait until access here in Australia becomes available.

Shane! Come back!!

A couple of years ago, I bought a fantastic plugin for Outlook 2007 called  SpeedFiler. Each time I would use the Move command to store an email, SpeedFiler would suggest an appropriate folder based on previous contact with that correspondent. I don’t know what algorithms they used, but SpeedFiler made the right suggestion 19 times out of 20, at least.

Bear in mind that I deal with 100+ incoming emails a day, and I rarely delete anything. I have a highly detailed and deliberately structured folder system that allows me to quickly find correspondence with clients going back many years – which has often been an absolute godsend. SpeedFiler made using this dead easy.

Sadly, SpeedFiler does not work with Outlook 2010 and it doesn’t look like there are any plans to update it.

I miss SpeedFiler.