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The mobile office

the blend of desktop in an office and laptop on the road

     
12:06 am on May 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Ok, this is selfish. Love of my life in MD. I'm in VT. I've been working out how to make my work more portable so that I can function near or at 99% effectiveness no matter where I am located as long as I have cell and internet access. I have 2 part time employees who work from home. So here's what I've setup so far:

-Secure Client Area where our clients can communicate with us using threaded communications.
-IMAP mail server.
-Dedicate server to gain extra hard drive space and more server process threads.
-FTP Area for clients to upload files for us to use.
-Calendar to allow my team and myself to keep track of our availability
-Laptop and desktop have the same apps I typically need and use, including my passwords (ala roboform).

Hope to implement soon:
-Online time sheets through Intuit

Might you have some additional suggestions or comments on the current setup?

I should add that I work under the hood as much as my staff does - meaning I need access to the smae files and scopes of work as they do.

5:38 pm on May 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Verizon EVDO Card and service. It won't help you much in Montpelier, but traveling to more metro areas it will frequently connect you at speeds over 1MBs.

Some new laptops have them built in. Svc is about 70/month, but really useful, and more secure than using some wifi hotspot.

6:08 pm on May 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Thanks. I suspect that it would be more secure than hotel INet access.
7:10 pm on May 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

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>>Verizon EVDO Card and service

As a slightly different approach, consider the Verizon XV6700 (6800 model to release in a few weeks, supposedly) smartphone. It connects your laptop to the Internet via USB cable (charging the phone at the same time) or Bluetooth (I didn't test), plus it is a fully functional Windows Mobile smartphone. I tested one of these recently on a trip, and really liked the flexibility it gave me. I connected my laptop in airports, the hotel (which had lousy internet), and various other places.

Plus, even when I didn't have my laptop, I logged on using the phone. I recall one instance where I was standing in a long line of fuming people. I whipped out the phone, got online, and got productive... no frustration, lower blood pressure. I was almost sorry when it was my turn to be served. (Not really, but you get the idea.)

I ended up returning it to wait for the 6800, but I was quite impressed by many aspects of it. Not the ideal phone (kind of like talking into a small brick), and the dialer is a touchscreen (hard to do without really paying attention), but a really handy little device.

I liked the fact that as long as I had cell signal, I had a decent connection (230kbps, typically). No hunting for hotspots or forking over a payment to an airport WiFi provider for the privilege of connecting for a few minutes between flights. If the 6800 comes out before an even better competitor appears, I'll be the first in line.

7:30 pm on May 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

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-Online time sheets through Intuit

If you're referring-to Quickbooks, I've used it, as an employee, and it sucks.

There may be a BIG security concern - or else the temp agency I worked for that uses it just didn't set it up properly. Do you really want all of your employees to have your complete client list? Well, there it is in a drop-down list...

Oh, and it only works with Internet Explorer. When used with Firefox it fails with an error message that doesn't give you a clue as to what is wrong.

8:17 pm on May 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Yeah, I was referring to QB. I know they are an IE only company (why on earth don't they get a clue) but it may be best option. We're running an open book company anyhow, employees know our client list and how much we make so I'm not worried about that - they don't have the secret sauce.
1:25 am on May 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I set up a home office VPN (virtual private network)and LOVE IT.

I connect to the VPN at home, then connect to my desktop with "remote desktop" (requires windows xp pro on the desktop or vista pro or ultra) and it is like sitting at my desktop.

Sometimes I am on my couch and want to check my stats which only run on my desktop and I log in. Within my house I cannot tell that I am not on my desktop. Coffee shops are usually a similar experience.

In addition to that I have file sharing enabled, so If I want to work on files on the home network I can grab them and use them on my laptop.

Total cost was around $200 and 2-3hrs of setting it up.

- Linksys WRV 200 - I think 79 @ dell
- The GreenBow - This is a software VPN client, since both the linksys and windows VPN clients are bad news.Around 120$ us w/ 3 years upgrades, cheaper with a shorter support plan.
- Windows XP on desktop - to allow for remote desktop
- DYN DNS - Allows you to have a "static" address, even though your cable modem or dsl will change. Free

The other things that I would say make like easier on the road are having a hosted exchange server ($10 per user per month). That and outlook means my email/calendar.etc is synced across desktop, laptop, web, and blackberry.

The last is the blackberry. Ask Rae about hers (c:

In a pinch I use my BB and USB to connect to my laptop and get 120-160k connection which costs nothing extra.

3:53 am on May 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Interesting responses so far.

One of the thing that strikes me here is that while I'm an SE consultant, I'm also a developer type and thus I am more hands on with coding and contract requirements. I'm trying to ensure that I have access to email and documents for each client. Today I decided to ensure all client contract related documentation is located on our server. And that all project related documentation (image originals and copy) are located on the client's server. So as long as I have FTP access, I should be able to get what I need.

oooolala. I just realized that I didn't make clear that we do website development work for our clients and thus need to exchange files and data with them.

11:20 am on May 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

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We have everyone in the office store their files on one shared drive. Using "mydocuments" on your own PC is not recommended in the orgainisation as we backup the shared drive every night, not individual machines.

We then have a VNC style connection that allows us to make that drive accessible remotely as a virtual drive. This takes care of all documents withing the company. I also use an IMAP email thingy for getting emails on my phone/pda but I am not totally enamoured with this as it does not yet push emails like a blackbery does.

We also use sharepoint for scheduling, calenders and all of that.

In a totally separate area of my life, we are using Google Docs to collaborate on documenst. I've gotta say that this is really cool if you only want word and spreasheet collaboration. Also using www.google.com/a for another approach which is really almost complete and would be great if I didn't expect ads to turn up on my pages at any minute.

If I was to start again from scratch, I think I would seriously look at building my business processes around Google Apps.

12:23 pm on May 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I've been using go2mypc for a couple of years.

I do agree with the idea someone posted earlier about cellular broadband instead of hotel connections.

I never really feel comfortable in a hotel or internet cafe.

cg

1:12 pm on May 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Agree with werty on the VPN. It will be just like being at home, so you'd exchange files the way you normally do when at your house. Also agree on the blackberry. Not only is it good to keep you connected to business while you're just about anywhere (I'm frequently stuck without wifi, but my blackberry keeps on ticking) but if you grab two - one for you and one for the love of your life, you'll find it to be an amazing, if not to me indisposable, tool for a long distance relationship (work aside). I have an spare 8700 on my desk right now and soon shall have two spare 8700's as I'm upgrading my current 8700 to the 8800 shortly (when I feel like dealing with the whole switching the bb issue lmao). ;-)

I work remotely a lot as I'm traveling a ton. My other piece of advice is the bug werty often, as he keeps up on this stuff and then he can just point at what you need and you know he researched it before getting it himself. (hahahahaha)

1:17 pm on May 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

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If I was to start again from scratch, I think I would seriously look at building my business processes around Google Apps.

Hmmm.... All of your data are belong to us. I think we give them far too much already Dixon ;)

But yes, for the odd project no harm will likely be done.

Are there any other tools similar to Google apps that allow you to use your own storage device?

2:02 pm on May 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

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>> that allow you to use your own storage device?

I've seen a couple a year or so ago. I'll have to see if I can dig up the Co names again.

Rae, what's the advantage of the BB over what I already have setup? All of my client contact info is either in my IMAP folders or in our Client Area. I've never actually tried nor researched a BB so I'm in the dark here.

2:59 pm on May 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Greg, the BB is great if you are working with mainly email communication. I think it makes a pretty lousy phone, but as an email device it is brilliant. Not sure how it would be with files however if you find yourself sending many. I do not know how it would support attachments.

"It puts the power of outlook in pocket"

I have only had one for about 3 months now, and I have noticed it has made me a bit more organized. I use the calendar function to store any event that I should not forget. My address book is synced up as well.

The only thing that may be slightly difficult with it, is when you cross time zones. You need to adjust a setting manually for your appointments to be correct.

I think they are higly secure too. Mine locks itself up after an hr, and I believe if you lose or get yours stolen they can be locked and erased remotely.

5:23 pm on May 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Thanks werty. Good to know. I have no need to access my email unless I have access to my desktop or laptop - I can't do much work without them. Though I suppose I could just sympathize with a client if they called me - but then they have my mobile number.

Thanks Receptional. That was an excellent suggestion re: Google Docs. I'm testing it out with a few new clients this week and next. I read Google's Privacy Policy and while they say documents are safe and secure from the outside world, they make no mention of inside Google. That's an answer I'd like to get from them.

12:54 pm on May 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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One thing I ensure that when I travel, I can get stuff done while offline. If you travel a lot, you often have times where you can't be online for whatever reason.

Note: I'm a huge fan of outlook.

Use outlook to sync your RSS feeds - easy offline reading of news.

Make sure your phone syncs with Outlook (or exchange) so no matter if you update your phone or Outlook, the contact data is updated across all platforms.

MS onenote is also nice for syncing data across your phone, laptop, and sharing notes across multiple computers.

Outlook shared/public calendars so everyone can quickly note intown/OOF. For your top employees, you can give them full access to read your calendar (or just one of them if you have multiple outlook calendars) as well. Shared calendars are also an easy way to track company/client meetings, etc.

Personally, I prefer the verizon card for connecting to the web as opposed to the cell phone because of total time that might pass before you can find an outlet.

Extended batteries for both the computer and the phone.

A computer with a 12" or smaller monitor so you can easily be productive on any plane seat, train, or auto.

Groove (MS product) is nice for using shared spaces for developers/PMs per open project.

Firefox session manager plugin. Let's you quickly reopen full browser sessions when you have to quickly shut down.

 

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