Last month we looked at the hardware needed to set up your mobile office. Now it's time to add some software. I'm going to assume you already have a contact manager, a basic office suite, and some accounting software. If not, visit my Computer Solutions forum at www.jlconline.com and we'll help you out.
This month I'll concentrate on a few specialty applications critical for taking the show on the road. The software world changes quickly, with fewer applications being packaged in a box with CDs you have to install on your hard drive and more being offered as Web-based services; this list reflects that trend.
Scan and fax: Mobile offices still encounter plenty of paper that needs to be processed on-the-fly. You might find enough “scan/store/ fax” features in your office suite, but for my money PaperPort Professional (www.nuance.com) is still the small-business document management system to beat. For a bit less than $200 you get an easy drag-and-drop interface that can serve as your entire “mission control.” Some mobile scanners come with an earlier version of PaperPort bundled for free — something to consider when purchasing your hardware.
PDF tools: Portable Document Format, or PDF, is really the key to a paperless mobile office. It allows you to convert any file type —even specialty CAD files or a proprietary accounting report — to something that just about anyone can open. Paper documents can be scanned to PDF format, paper forms and checklists can be made “fillable,” and important electronic documents can be made “signable” if you have the right software. PaperPort Professional (mentioned above) comes with a decent PDF application, and there are lots of free or inexpensive PDF converters on the market that will generate a basic PDF, but I keep coming back to the gold standard, Adobe Acrobat. You can't beat it for reliable, trouble-free conversions of almost any kind of document —paper or electronic. The full version of Acrobat Standard is going to set you back almost $300 (Pro costs $450), but this is one case where you get what you pay for. — Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry; firstname.lastname@example.org.