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Productivity Expert Tips: Apple, UI, Teaching PIM, Updates

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2016-02-12: I apologize for the typo in the URL. I won't fix it because my blog article is already well linked and frequently visited.

This is blog post is based on a comment I posted for the episode 10 Computer Hacks for Higher Productivity of the podcast of Asian Efficiency I listen from time to time.

It turned out longer than I intended to. This is because I described my general impression that efficiency experts on the web tend to short time thinking.

This is why I adapted my comment also for my blog.

Therefore, Dylan (guest in the episode) is just one example of many. I do not intend to show up Dylan. He is just the poor guy who got me thinking about things that caught my eye many times before.

Here is my comment:

I do like this podcast and I appreciate many things I came across by listening to it.

However, I do have some issues with Dylan's tips of this episode and certain tendencies of some experts on this show in general.

Apple Fandom

I do miss productivity experts who aren't Apple fanboys only.

It's by far not the most productive system for all users. For example I do believe that most IT literate people do prefer more advanced systems as OS X is able to provide. These people have some programming/scripting skills and optimize their environment (advanced user's way) instead of adapting to given functionality only (Apple's way).

Apple users often mention the UNIX background of OS X as an argument that most things are possible that are possible in GNU/Linux. Unfortunately, in my opinion, OS X is not a UNIX-like operating system from the user's perspective. Apple has done many things to hide or even corrupt (e.g., permissions) the underlying Darwin (UNIX/SystemV) system. There is no working packaging system for Darwin for example. And I did try Homebrew, ports, and fink. They all suck in too much cases. They're just bad workarounds. Sadly.

Even former Apple employees which worked for the core of OS X for many years did acknowledge that Apple now fails at supporting the advanced users. I do have many examples that support this opinion from my own experience. I have worked with OS X since 10.3. And I do work on Microsoft Windows and GNU/Linux on a daily basis as well. I failed at implementing too much workflows on OS X because they were in contrast to the "Apple Way of Life". If you're fine with Apple's preferred "solution" of any problem, you're fine. If not, you do have a harder life than on Windows or GNU/Linux. Apple, a shiny golden cage. Sadly.

However, I do think that for the average computer user without much IT knowledge, Apple's products tend to be the best option for them - I agree. I also think that people willing to optimize their Personal Information Management (PIM) workflows tend to be not average users but advanced users. And this is a game-changer: Apple's limited world and lock-in gets an obstacle which is hard to circumvent.

Importance of UI Design

There are many most beautiful apps for OS X. No doubt.

If you try and ignore the fact that UI designers with good style sadly seems to work on Apple apps only, there is functionality which gets exposed to computer users. And this functionality can be provided either with similar products or by creating/scripting the same functionality in a different environment as well.

I've done this many times. It works. I learn from well done cloud services, Apple apps, or other closed-source software and replicate the most useful things in my environment as well. You can get very creative when doing so. You can modify its functionality to meet exactly your specific and highly personal requirements. And this gets even better than the original functionality from the tool you've learned this feature.

A sleek UI appearance is good and sometimes it can be very important. Beautifully apps which are easy to learn are crucial for stuff I don't use regularly or where I don't want to become expert in.

For tools I use on a daily basis though, I prefer efficiency over "easy to learn" or "looking beautiful". For example, (customizable) keyboard shortcuts are more efficient for advanced usage as a nicely designed and placed button. This scales better as well - not only in time.

Gone Fishing

I do miss productivity experts who don't upload their privacy/dignity to all kinds of cloud services without thinking for the long run.

Cloud services do cause problems. Most computer users don't think of it this way - I know. However, I can't use cloud services for many reasons. Read my blog post if you want to follow my arguments on this topic.

If you want to keep your workflows for a longer period of time without giving ways your personal data to companies that are under the pressure of agencies or black-hat hackers, you have to find alternative solutions. I tend to think that I do very well in terms of having (very) advanced PIM workflows and a decent level of security and privacy. This is a value on its own and mostly forgotten by most computer users. Sadly.

Most tips from so called productivity experts these days are simply presentations of cloud services features. My approach is a bit more general than this. First, I do reflect on my actual requirements, what I want to achieve. Then I do a research on tools and services that might lead to a solution for me. And the last step is the realization of the workflow using the tool of choice for my set of requirements. This last phase does also have a certain influence on the workflow itself, depending on the additional features provided by the tool I want to embrace - or not.

If you show a person how to use a feature like "mail filters in Gmail" they might be happy being able to filter mails via Gmail but this is pretty short-sighted. You rather should describe the purpose or the requirement you want to address. Then you might take Gmail as an example on how to implement the desired workflow with it.

This approach does teach the person much more than just a feature. It's more likely that the same person is able to implement similar workflows with other tools as well. For example within an corporate environment (Outlook) or when Gmail is going down as many other Google cloud services did before.

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime". You do seem to give away fishes all day long. That's better than nothing, I agree, but not the best option to strive for.

Please Do Update Your Systems

The tip of not upgrading is very dangerous! Please be careful when proposing such behavior to the masses. I do know, what you intended to say: you wanted to express concerns about using the latest major-release shortly after its first hit on the market. Which is really a good advice in my opinion as well.

However, the way you were mentioning this was different. Ordinary users most likely remember "don't update - only if it cannot be avoided any more". And this is bullshit: (minor) updates are very important to prevent users from running systems which are open for vulnerabilities. Security experts all over the world repeat the mantra: please keep your system updated. It's the most important rule for computer security these days.

Said that, there is a difference between the term "update" and "upgrade". You're using it the right way in your podcast. I am afraid the subtle difference is not that clear to most listeners of your podcast.

Apple has a sad history of no, slow, or wrong reaction to very severe security issues. Yes, there is almost no malware on OS X in the wild so far. That's true. But OS X is far from being a secure operating system. If you follow hacking contests of different operating systems, OS X is sometimes regarded as an easy (and thus uninteresting) target to hack. A hacker gets much more financial reward or reputation among other hackers when they successfully hack a Windows machine. Microsoft had to learn the hard way to implement basic security in their processes in the recent ten years or so. They've done a good job - far from perfect but still much better than before.

Apple did not had the necessity to learn to deal with security yet. And reactions on past security incidents with OS X do not suggest that they are willing to learn it yet. This will change in future.

By the way: Microsoft still has a long way ahead of them as well. The last nine months, they published way too many security updates that caused much more harm to computers than the attack vectors they tried to fix with it. This got that bad, that administrators delayed important security fixes. They waited until Microsoft fixed the fixes. What a bad joke.

So please: do never ever tell users that they should avoid (security) updates of their system. Users might want to stay on the previous major release of their operating system which is still supported by the vendor. That's OK. But don't use general and simplified phrases like "Don't upgrade until you have to". That's evil.

You, as a productivity expert, should aim for a higher standard than this.

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