The professional marketing trade has somewhat unfortunately hijacked the expression ‘think outside the box’, rendering it almost meaningless.
But, the term may still have some relevance when it comes to technology, applications, gadgets and devices.
To use another cliche, become an ‘early-adopters’ and help set a new trend anytime you feel like it.
Internet Explorer is probably one of the best examples of users ultimately gravitating away from the norm. Even while Microsoft was doing its level best to try and pre-package our browsing habits with its default installation of Explorer on Windows operating systems, people started to look elsewhere. Thanks in part to the rise in popularity of Apple products and the prevalence of its Safari browser on mobile and desktop products, users have gotten well used to other ways of using the web. Of course, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome came along too… and the rest is history.
A player in the so-called browser wars that has been quietly earning fans and converts for almost two decades now, Opera’s Android mobile browser is a reflection of the very usable desktop version of this free software. Built with a new “discover” mode that acts like a personal assistant for finding and delivering things relevant to you without searching, Opera for Android has an easier to use “history” function than many others.
It also comes with an “off road” data compression tool that sounds complicated - but basically works to help you stay online when you find yourself in bandwidth-challenged locations with poor web coverage.
Opera is not that popular, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not good and easy to use, so help set a new trend. Opera for Android is available for Android versions 2.3 and above from the firm’s website and on the Google Play store. Similar versions will be available for iOS and various tablets later this year.
Turning our attention to email software (or email ‘clients’ as they are known in technical circles), there are plenty of options out there. If you struggle with Microsoft Outlook or Entourage (on the Mac), or if you’ve had a corrupted mailbox and simply want something that operates in a new and refreshing way, then help is at hand.
Mailbox is a Gmail focused email program for the iPhone with an accompanying desktop app for Apple Mac users. It looks at first glance like most other email apps as it presents a list of messages as you have received them in chronological order. Where Mailbox is different is that it has some extra functions. Using a selection of swipe controls, users have the option to archive an email or delete it completely with a half-way and full-way screen swipe for each function. The genius is in Mailbox’s half-way left swipe, which allows users to set a time limit for an email to bounce back, to deal with later. A full-way left swipe files a mail in a folder and a tap simply opens it.
Windows 8 users should also take a look on the Microsoft app store for both desktop and mobile email apps as many of the new software is quite interesting. A free install currently sitting at “technical preview” status is TouchMail for Windows 8. This app uses new touch-based interfacing to help you keep your inbox clean, as you organise your email around contacts, tasks and themes.
If you’ve really had problems with a previous email app, then Thunderbird should probably be your first port of call as you go looking a new solution. This free to download application from Mozilla (the people that brought you Firefox) is compatible with Windows, Linux and Apple and is developed with help from open source community support. Thunderbird deliberately replicates the look and feel of Firefox in an effort to provide a similar user experience, so if you use its sister browser on desktop or mobile, then you may like it immediately.
This is one of those “it just works” apps and it has some nice functions such as a one-click address book, a tabbed email reading display and some nifty personalised email address options. You can even search the web without leaving Thunderbird and the email filtering and management tools work really nicely too. If you’re still a bit wary and are worried about having to find your IMAP, SMTP and SSL/TLS settings -- now all you need to provide is your name, email address and password and the Thunderbird wizard will set you up automatically.
There are a few lessons to be learned here: users are now deciding what apps work best rather than being told what they should use by manufacturers; open source free software is easy to use, highly functional and not the sole preserve of hobbyist programmers geeks; and trying out new apps is easier than ever now that uninstall is so much more straightforward on most playforms. So what’s holding you back? Step outside the box - ouch, sorry!