This is a brief post on the tools our team use to collaborate remotely. They don’t get us around time differences but they certainly help us work better together.
Skype is our primary application for this. However, since Google Mail’s recent release of video chat we have been impressed with the quality-of-service. It also removes the need to have yet another application running. That said, we will certainly be sticking to Skype for all of our external communications.
Messenger, the golden oldie still works for us. It has the added benefit that it’s one of the quieter ones in terms of noise. If you are transferring large files while chatting, Skype is certainly faster and more reliable. Pidgin is a universal IM client that allows you to connect to AIM, MSN, Yahoo, and numerous other networks all at once. Annoyingly it can be a bit flakey sometimes but it certainly is useful.
Due to the fact that all of our team have been long term Gmail users we decided to use Google Apps as opposed to Zimbra’s Open Source Edition. Google Apps is a hosted solution that we found painless to set-up and configure. Once you have played with your domain name settings you are good to go. We all use email clients so that we have an additional back-up of all our work emails. Despite each of us having our own preference, we all use one of the following clients Thunderbird, Mail (Mac) or Outlook (Windows).
Internet Relay Chat is one of the best ways to communicate and get questions answered online and we use it quite a bit. Our favourite on Windows is the well-known MIRC client, and on the Mac it’s Colloquy.
When we started out we were loyal users of 37signals hosted tools (such as Basecamp). However, we soon found the recurring fees increasingly hard to justify. Don’t get me wrong they are great tools and I have, and will continue to, happily recommended them to others. But seeing as though we had the skills to install and play with something, we thought we might as well give it a shot.
We soon had Mindquarry and Phprojekt installed and battling for our affections. Unfortunately we didn’t really warm to either of them, and we quickly found ourselves looking for an alternative. We finally settled on a mixed approach, combining the flexibility of an installed solution and the more user-friendly UI of a hosted solution.
We now use Trac for all of our technical tasks. It is incredibly powerful and can be customised fully to meet your specific requirements. It also has the added benefit of being open-source and having a first-class support community. For non-technical tasks we use a combination of Google Calendar and Todoist. There has been much praise for Remember the Milk and Toodledo, and quite rightly so. We played around with all of them but ended up settling on Todoist.
We use Open Office because it’s free and easy to use. In fact the latest release (v3.0) has somewhat surprisingly totally killed our use of Microsoft Office.
We use Trac’s built-in wiki engine, that is used for text and documentation throughout the system. If you aren’t a fan of Trac or you just want a wiki you should definitely check out Mediawiki or Tikiwiki.
We use SVN (Subversion) to maintain current and historical versions of our files such as source code, web pages and documentation. Our favourite clients are Smart SVN (for Mac) and Tortoise SVN (Windows).
Mockups, Diagrams and Prototyping
We regularly use Mockups (see our review here), OmniGraffle, Dia and sometimes Visio. Mockups is certainly our favourite at the moment as it not only suits the way we like to work but it also save us time.
As you can see by the recurring trend, “free” as opposed to “paid-for” is something we value highly.
All of the tools mentioned above have their own unique pro’s and con’s and this certainly is not an attempt to label any of these tools best-in-class. Rather we wanted to share what we use and what works for us in our specific circumstances.
We hope this post is useful, and if there are any tools you think we should try, please do give us a shout!