ForeverSave Prevents Lost Work on the Mac

It’s happened to all of us. You are busy writing, entering data, or working on a slide deck and all of a sudden something freezes and then the application crashes. If either we recently saved the document all is well, otherwise the inevitable explicative follows. It is 2011 and there is no excuse for not having autosave, but there are still a depressing number of applications that do not automatically save documents. Blaming the user who lost work to an application or operating system crash is blaming the victim. People are far better served by applications that automatically name, save, and version their files without requiring manual intervention. This way users can easily undo or revert to an older version after application crashes, machine hangs, and power outages, no swearing like a sailor necessary.

Tool Force Software’s ForeverSave ($15) largely solves this problem for Mac OS X applications. ForeverSave allows you to configure the application to automatically save documents from many applications including Apple’s iWork, Microsoft Office, and most Adobe products. The configuration process is quick and straightforward. You simply select the applications that you want to enable autosave. There are options to save after a fixed time interval or when switching to another application.

ForeverSave can also automatically create backup copies of your documents. You can set the maximum number of backup copies and a maximum size for the backups overall. One advantage of multiple backup copies is that it is that you can quickly preview old versions of the document with QuickLook. Restoring an old version is a one click operation. One interesting feature is database sharing. This allows you to share all the historical versions of a document, which is useful to show a colleague how a project evolved over time.

If you use any of Apple’s iWork applications including Keynote, Pages, and Numbers, then you absolutely want to use ForeverSave. The applications in iWork are well designed and I use them often, but unfortunately, as of the most recent version iWork ‘09, Apple has not seen fit to include an autosave feature. Each of the applications crash periodically, It also means that you have lost any work form the last time you remembered to manually save. If you have not named and saved the document at all yet, then everything is gone.

When an iWork applications crashes, all remnants of unsaved work is gone. After a recent crash with Keynote, I decided to experiment to see if I could find any traces on my file system. I scanned my temp files and the swap files and found nothing other than the images in the document. This is a terrible oversight and I expect better from some of Apple’s high-profile applications. Judging from the many complaints I found on the Apple discussion boards and elsewhere online, I’m not remotely alone.

Overall I highly recommend ForeverSave, the price is well worth the insurance against lost work. I experience two annoyances when using the application. First, saving is a blocking operation in the iWork applications, so if you have a large document such as a Keynote slide deck with many slides it will force you to wait each time it saves the document. This is technically the fault of iWork and not ForeverSave, but it is still a detractor. The second annoyance is that ForeverSave requires you to name the document the first time. This typically comes up when I start to work on a document and right when I get into a flow, then the save window pops up asking me to name the file the first time so it can save. I would rather the application not interrupt me and simply pick a reasonable name and let me rename it later.

ForeverSave is $15 and has a 30-day trial. ForeverSave Lite is a stripped down version that offers autosaving only, without backups, versions, QuickLook, or database sharing.

Time Machine vs. CrashPlan for Backups

Trouble in Time Machine Land

In my recent article, A Simple and Effective Backup Strategy for Mac OS X, where I recommended a three part backup system: 1) a full disk clone, 2) local incremental backups with Apple’s Time Machine, and 3) networked incremental backups with CrashPlan. I found Time Machine problematic for my own setup, for reasons I explain below, so I now use CrashPlan for both local and networked backups.

For most people with configurations that are not highly customized or complicated, Time Machine is a great “set and forget backup” solution. The primary interface is a single on or off toggle switch. Its ease of use can make the difference between having backups and not having backups for many. At the same time, Time Machine has some notable quirks and limitations that can make it far less desirable in some circumstances. In these cases CrashPlan provides a solid alternative for local backups in addition to network backups. CrashPlan also has the advantage that it works equally well on Windows and Linux.

Clones are Key to Fast Recovery Time

Let me emphasize that maintaining a recent clone is the key for you to rapidly recover your data in the case of a disk failure or theft. Most incremental backup solutions, including Time Machine and CrashPlan, do not backup your entire computer including all the system files and boot records. This means that you must first reinstall your operating system and then restore your files from the incremental backup on to the newly installed operating system.

The process of recovering from a disk failure with a clone is much faster and more efficient since you can connect your cloned disk and boot from it. You computer will be in the same state as it was when you made the clone. You will only have to restore files that have changed since you last made the clone. No other recovery process is nearly as quick recent clone and an incremental backup. The difference is substantial.

Advantages of Time Machine

  • It’s free, supported by Apple and ships with every copy of Mac OS X
  • The setup is impressively simple and it generally just works after that
  • The overall user experience for backup and recovery is substantially better than most alternatives
  • You can manually mount a Time Machine disk on any computer and copy files from it

Disadvantages of Time Machine

  • When you restore from a Time Machine disk, the backup is invalidated and you must start your backups anew
  • Time Machine only backs up changes to your files once an hour, so there is always a potential lag in your backups
  • If you use FileVault, Time Machine will only backup your home directory when you log out
  • If you use FileVault, you can only restore your entire home directory (missing out on the great restore interface) unless your home directory is on Mac OS X Server
  • Time Machine can get confused if you plug more than one Time Machine backup disk into the computer
  • Moving a backup to a new computer is a complicated process and typically requires editing system files

Personal Observations About Time Machine

  • The combination of FileVault and Time Machine makes logging out very slow
  • I found the Time Machine volume occasionally got corrupted and I would have start over
  • Time Machine would sometimes cause large amounts of disk IO with high memory usage that substantially slow my machine down. This would typically happen after longer periods of not backing up due to travel etc.

Advantages of CrashPlan

  • Backups are continuous and files are backed up as soon as they change (note while CrashPlan can be used in local mode for free, continuous backups require a subscription to CrashPlan Central)
  • All backups are encrypted by default
  • Straightforward to configure multiple local and networked backup destinations

Disadvantages of CrashPlan

  • You must use the CrashPlan software to restore a backup, it needs to be installed first for recovery
  • Higher memory usage with 64-bit Java on Snow Leopard (see note below)
  • User interface is functional but, not nearly as nice as Time Machine, it’s also a bit slow to start up
  • If you use FileVault, you must be logged as the FileVault user for backups to happen

Personal Observations About CrashPlan

  • Simple fix improves memory usage
  • Appears to have much smaller impact on my system resources once memory is reduced
  • FileVault complicates install process

Notes on Reducing CrashPlan Memory Usage

I found that CrashPlan could use up significant amounts of memory with the 64-bit Java on Snow Leopard. The most recent version of CrashPlan places a 512 MB memory limit on the process, but that is still quite large. I limit my to CrashPlan process to 150 MB and it has not caused any problems, although this is lower than you will generally see recommended and you will want to carefully monitor your logs to look for memory errors if you set it this low. This post CrashPlan using too much memory on Mac OS X from offTheHill explains how to reduce the memory footprint of CrashPlan.

Why Pinboard is My Favorite Bookmarking Service

Pinboard is a bookmarking service that allows you to easily save, tag, annotate, share, and archive bookmarks independent of your browser. Pinboard describes itself as “antisocial bookmarking,” which highlights its capabilities as a private and personal archiving tool compared to the social features offered by Yahoo’s Delicious service. I find Pinboard a simple, fast, and reliable way for me to save bookmarks and archive web pages for future reference. I have been happily using the service for nearly five months (Update a year) and recommend it highly.

Pinboard has become a part of my everyday online reading experience as I use it archive both a bookmark and the full text of any article I found interesting or that I plan to read later. My primary use of Pinboard is as a personal archive rather than a public bookmark sharing service, and I prefer it to Yahoo’s Delicious bookmarking service, although Pinboard has fewer options for sharing and tag management. For example, it does not support the Delicious style of aggregating multiple tags in tag bundles or the ability to share a bookmark with a specific user.

To start using the service, simply drag one of the Pinboard bookmarklets into your browser bookmark bar. The first style of bookmarklet can either open a new page or a popup window allows you to edit the URL, title, description, tags, and optionally mark the bookmark as private or “to read”. I use the send style of bookmarklet that Pinboard calls “read later.” This bookmarklet saves the page, automatically marks it as read later, and returns you to the place on the page where you left off without opening a new window or a popup. The “to read” status allows you to quickly build up a reading list without interrupting your workflow.

You can aggregate links posted to multiple services by configuring Pinboard to watch for links in your Twitter posts, Twitter favorites, or pages saved to Instapaper, Read It Later, Delicious, and Google Reader. You can easily save links from a BlackBerry or iPhone using a private email address from Pinboard. I find the ability to centralize my bookmarks from multiple services very convenient. Pinboard automatically expands any shortened links and stores the original URL. Full text search on Pinboard include the title, description, tags, and notes, but not the text contained in the pages themselves. Pinboard also allows you to narrow the results of queries with public vs. private status, starred status, and the source e.g. Twitter.

Pinboard offers a single paid add-on, that will archive the entire page, HTML, CSS, and images for each bookmark you save. You can then view the snapshot of the page, even if the original disappears. The cost for this is $25 a year minus your original sign-up price. Pinboard recently introduced a feature where all users can download an offline copy of the last 25 URLs saved. The developer says that he plans to eventually allow users to download their entire archive.

Pinboard offers multiple ways to import and export data including including a format compatible with that is compatible with Delicious. Pinboard offers both public and private RSS feeds of bookmark data including tag-based feeds. The Pinboard API is compatible with the Delicious API. This means that any application that uses the Delicious API should work with Pinboard by simply changing the URL to the API endpoint. Unfortunately, most bookmarking applications do not allow end users to change the API endpoint URL and few directly support Pinboard. On the Mac, both Delibar ($18) and Pukka ($17) desktop applications support Pinboard. The best solution for mobile devices is to use the Mobile web version of Pinboard. Update The Delibar touch application for the iPhone and iPad ($1.99) works with both Pinboard and Delicious. I recommend it.

Overall, Pinboard is an excellent option for storing and archiving bookmarks and I recommend it highly. The service is not free. Currently the price to join is $6.38 (Update $7.41) and the cost increases by a fraction of a cent for each new user. I like this pricing model as it is inexpensive and allows the developer to support the service without ads and without taking external funding. This leaves the service with a smaller, but more active user-base, and more importantly almost no spam. Recent Pinboard releases have improved bulk editing capabilities, but it is not currently possible to add or remove tags on a set of items returned from a search of your own bookmarks. Hopefully, the developers will eventually add this feature as it would make it possible to quickly and easily organize large numbers of uncategorized bookmarks. Update The developers added this functionality. Tag management is now far more flexible.

If the idea of social bookmarking seems foreign or the benefits do not seem clear, I highly recommend taking three minutes to watch the short and entertaining animated video Social Bookmarking in Plain English by Common Craft. What is Antisocial Bookmarking? is a nice post on the Pinboard blog by, Maciej Ceglowski, the founder of Pinboard explaining his reasons for creating the service.

* This article originally appeared as Why Pinboard.in Is My Favorite Bookmarking Service in my Messaging News “On Message Column.”

Update 2010-12-16 Mentioned feature additions, Delibar touch support, and price update.

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Notational Velocity – Elegant Note Taking for the Mac

Notational Velocity is a free and open source note taking application for Mac OS X that is extremely simple, fast, and stable. I find the minimalist interface very functional and pleasant to use. It is one of my favorite applications.

I mentioned Notational Velocity’s ability to sync with the Simplenote iPhone note taking application in my Messaging News Magazine column Great iPhone and iPad Apps for Reading and Sharing Docs. The combination of Notational Velocity and Simplenote allows me to create, edit, and manage notes that are seamlessly synchronized between my desktop and iPhone without worrying that I will have the latest version on the other device.

Dropbox and SimpleText.ws allow for synchronizing Notational Velocity across multiple machines. The author of SimpleText.ws provides the source code you can run your own private server on Google App Engine.

Aside from the ease of use and speed some of the features of Notation Velocity I like are:

  • Makes no distinction between searching notes and creating new notes
  • Displays search results incrementally to help rapidly filter documents
  • Saves automatically, no save button needed
  • Allows data export with a single click
  • Preserves creation and modification timestamps for both import and export
  • Optionally stores notes as plain text, rich text, or HTML
  • Optionally stores notes as a single database or as plain text files in a directory
  • Optionally encrypts the database and provides secure text entry mechanism
  • All commands have keyboard equivalents

* This article originally appeared as Notational Velocity – Elegant Note Taking for the Mac in my Messaging News “On Message Column.”

Great iPhone and iPad Apps for Reading and Sharing Docs

Instapaper, Dropbox, GoodReader, and Simplenote are my favorite applications for reading, writing, and sharing documents on the iPhone and the iPad. I have used each application for more than six months and I highly recommend all of them.

Instapaper

The Instapaper application makes it simple and pleasant to read lengthy articles on your mobile device. Instapaper is optimized for the type of articles where you find yourself starting in your browser and thinking, “I’d rather read this later”. The application automatically loads any new content from the Instapaper Web service, which reformats Web pages for small screens and strips away unnecessary elements. The service provides an experimental option to save pages formatted for the Kindle as well.

There are multiple ways to save content to the Instapaper service including a bookmarklet, email, or applications that integrate Instapaper directly. The “Read Later” bookmarklet is compatible with most desktop browsers, mobile browsers and Google Reader. Each Instapaper user receives a unique email address that will import included links and text. Many iPhone and iPad RSS feed readers, Twitter clients, and social bookmark clients support saving links to Instapaper directly. The Instapaper service allows sharing of individual articles via email, Tumblr, and several Twitter clients.

Instapaper is available in two versions, a free ad-supported version with a limit of 10 articles, and a $5 (USD) pro version with a 250-article limit. The pro version includes additional features, such as background updating, folders, remembering the last read position, tilt scrolling, multiple font options, and disabling rotation. I find that the pro version is well worth the price.

Dropbox

In a crowded market of Web-based consumer storage services, Dropbox is popular and widely praised. The minimal user interface of the desktop application is one reason for its popularity. When I say minimal user interface, in most cases I mean non-existent. This is the beauty of Dropbox. After installing the application, Dropbox appears as a folder on your desktop. The folder is essentially magic. Any files in the folder are automatically synchronized to all other machines where you have Dropbox installed. Mobile Dropbox clients synchronize with the server upon launch. In my experience, it just works, and this is high praise. Dropbox is fully accessible via a Web interface for devices without an installed Dropbox client. Dropbox saves any revisions to your files for 30 days by default. These revisions are only available via the Web interface and do not count against your storage quota.

Working with shared files on Dropbox is as easy as working with files on the desktop. Shared files and folders are synchronized with all authorized users’ accounts. My only real complaint is that sharing must be configured from the Dropbox Web interface rather than a Dropbox client, which is not intuitive. Access control for sharing is based on email addresses and can only be configured via the Dropbox Web interface. It is important to recognize that any shared files count against the storage quota for all shared accounts. Each user’s Dropbox folder has a public directory—any files placed in that directory become publicly accessible without access control. The mobile Dropbox can generate links and can be used to share individual files with any email address. Be careful, the mobile links can also share private files and currently there is no way to revoke access.

Another reason for Dropbox’s popularity is its broad platform support. Mobile clients for Dropbox are available for the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. A BlackBerry version is in development. Desktop clients are available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. All Dropbox clients are free. The mobile Dropbox client takes advantage of the document viewers built that are part of iPhone OS to open files directly. Supported formats include plain text, RTF, Microsoft Office documents, iWork documents, PDFs, Web pages, images, music files, and videos. Dropbox only supports viewing files; files must be edited with another application.

Some mobile applications such as GoodReader can read and write files from the Dropbox service, although the process is a little convoluted. Dropbox recently added a new mobile API to allow iPad applications to easily save files to a Dropbox account. Saving files to Dropbox is far easier with the most recent version of the GoodReader iPad application due to the new APIs. Even better, the Dropbox iPad application allows you to open files directly in other applications. Hopefully the iPhone Dropbox application will gain this functionality with the next major version of iPhone OS.

Dropbox is a subscription service that uses the Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) for the backend store. A free account is available with 2 GB of storage. There are two paid upgrade options—a 50 GB option for $10 (USD) a month or $100 (USD) a year and a 100 GB option for $20 (USD) a month or $200 (USD) a year. Paid accounts can optionally save file revision history forever.

GoodReader

GoodReader works well with long and complex PDF documents. I have used it to read PDFs that are several hundred pages long without a problem. The iPhone and iPad support PDF files natively, but navigating long documents is cumbersome as there is no support for jumping to a specific page, for using PDF bookmarks and outlines, or for searching PDF files. GoodReader supports navigation to specific page numbers, PDF bookmarks and outlines, and full text and bookmark-based search. The application includes a night mode for reading in the dark and an autoscroll mode for reading long files without having to manually select the next page.

GoodReader’s support for text files includes a number of features not available in the native viewer, including the ability to edit text files and reflow text when the font size changes or the device is reoriented. One feature, called PDF Reflow, extracts plain text from PDF files and displays it in GoodReader text file viewer so it can be reflowed, copied to the clipboard, or edited. PDF Reflow should not be confused with accessible PDFs that are sometimes called reflowable PDFs.

GoodReader supports file transfer over WiFi in addition to many storage services including POP and IMAP email servers, WebDAV servers, Apple’s MobileMe, Dropbox, Box.net, Google Docs, and FTP servers. There are two versions of GoodReader for the iPhone. The standard version is $0.99 (USD). Access to POP and IMAP email servers, Google Docs, and FTP servers require a $0.99 (USD) in-app upgrade purchase each. GoodReader Light includes all available types of server access and is available for free on the iPhone, however it is limited to storing five files. GoodReader for the iPad is currently on sale for $0.99 (USD) and includes all available types of server access.

Simplenote

Simplenote is a note taking application for the iPhone and iPad that automatically synchronizes with the Simplenote Web service. The application has a basic feature set, but it works very well and is easy to use. Notes are stored as plain text and can be forwarded as email messages or deleted individually. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to work with multiple notes at once. The built in search is fast and searches incrementally as you type, to quickly narrow down the list of notes with the search term. Options include changing the sort order, preview, link detection, and display of file modification dates. If the user has installed TextExpander, snippets will expand automatically. All notes can also be viewed or edited in any Web browser using the Simplenote Web service.

Currently, support for the iPad is limited to the same feature set as the iPhone aside from running in full screen mode. The developer plans to add additional iPad specific features shortly. The Simplenote API enables synchronization with multiple desktop applications including Notational Velocity—a simple, fast, stable note taking application for Mac OS X. This means I can create notes, make changes or additions either on the desktop or my iPhone and they are automatically synchronized. I am very happy with the setup.

Simplenote is free and ad-supported. A $9 (USD) a year premium add-on removes ads, provides an automatic backup, an RSS feed, the ability to create notes by email, access to beta versions, and prioritized support.

* This article originally appeared as Great iPhone and iPad Apps for Reading and Sharing Docs in the May 2010 issue of Messaging News.

Markdown Simplifies Writing for the Web

Why I like Markdown

I format my articles using Markdown, a lightweight syntax designed to emulate the simple markup style commonly used in email messages. For example, if you would like to make text bold, just put asterisks around it. If you would like to make a list, just put a dash in front of each item. Overall, I’m happy with the change, as it has simplified the process for me to publish online. I can write with any text editor or word processor and then Markdown will convert my text to nicely formatted HTML.

Markdown is both a markup language and tool to convert the markup to HTML. The syntax for Markdown is simple and adds very little bulk to my text. Effectively, the only change made when I write was to add a small amount of formatting for the Markdown hyperlinks and headings. Markdown’s creator, John Gruber, wrote Dive Into Markdown, an essay describing his design goals, soon after he released the software in 2004. It is well written and worth reading.

I now prefer to keep my documents in Markdown over HTML as they are smaller, easier to read, and I can convert them to modern standards-based HTML on demand. I prefer this setup to WYSIWG tools or graphical HTML editors as viewing the content in the same browser version is the only way to ensure that you will see the same HTML rendering as your readers. When the W3C updates the HTML specification or the Markdown conversion tools add new features, I can just install a new version of Markdown. I don’t need to modify my original text. Markdown is great for producing basic HTML documents like blog entries or simple web pages, but it is not well suited for long, complex, or highly formatted documents. There are several extensions to Markdown that add features to publish more specialized and complex documents.

If you would like to try Markdown for yourself without installing software, the Markdown Web Dingus or PHP Markdown Dingus will both give you a live preview of any Markdown formatted text you type. Markdown works on Mac OS X, Windows, and Unix/Linux and is widely supported as a plugin for most popular blog and wiki software. The reference version is written in Perl and developers have ported Markdown to Python, C, JavaScript, and other languages.

Gruber also wrote SmartyPants, which transforms plain text to include nice typographic elements such as curly quotes, en-dashes, em-dashes, and ellipses. Many implementations of Markdown include support for SmartyPants by default. Markdown has a liberal BSD-style license that makes it easy for developers to embed it in other packages. There are several Markdown test suites that can test compatibility between versions, including one that ships with the reference version of Markdown. Wikipedia has a good technical comparison between lightweight markup languages if you would like to see how Markdown differs from similar projects.

Markdown Implementations and Utilities

These days, I write almost everything using the TextMate editor on Mac OS X, which includes support for SmartyPants, Markdown, and PHP Markdown extra. I use the QuickLook Markdown plugin when I want to quickly see a formatted version of a Markdown file from the Finder.

Markdownify converts from HTML to Markdown. The script is available as a web-based conversion tool or you can run the script on your own machine. It supports PHP Markdown Extra as well.

PHP Markdown Extra by Michel Fortin is a PHP implementation of Markdown that supports definition lists, footnotes, tables, and intermix HTML with Markdown. Fortin also created a PHP version of SmartyPants unsurprisingly called PHP SmartyPants.

MultiMarkdown by Fletcher Penney supports extensions to the Markdown syntax such as footnotes, tables, bibliographic citations, image attributes, internal cross-references, glossary entries, and definition lists. MultiMarkdown first converts the plain text to XHTML and then uses XSLT transforms convert the XHTML into HTML, LaTeX, PDF, or RTF. It includes many features similar to PHP Markdown Extra. Penny’s MultiMarkdown Bundle for TextMate adds support for the MultiMarkdown variant.

Discount by David Parsons is a C version of Markdown, PHP Markdown extra, and SmartyPants that focuses on speed.

Pandoc by John MacFarlane can convert from Markdown, HTML, reStructuredText, and LaTeX to “reStructuredText, HTML, LaTeX, ConTeXt, PDF, RTF, DocBook XML, OpenDocument XML, ODT, GNU Texinfo, MediaWiki markup, groff man pages, and S5 HTML slide shows.” Pandoc includes Markdown extensions for definition lists, embedded LaTeX equations, footnotes, and tables. Pandoc is written in Haskell, which and currently requires a bit of tweaking to make it work on Mac OS X 10.6/Snow Leopard.

Babelmark, the Markdown Testbed, allows you to compare the output of different Markdown implementations.

* This article originally appeared as Markdown Simplifies Writing for the Web in my Messaging News “On Message Column.”

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Simple Package Tracking with TrackMyShipments

The web-based interfaces offered by the shipping services allow you to schedule shipments, manage billing, store addresses, and track packages online. Some third-party services offer simplified interfaces and allow you to track shipments from multiple shipping carriers at once. Still, the process of entering multiple tracking numbers into multiple services can be cumbersome. I prefer the email-based input method used by the TrackMyShipments service.

TrackMyShipments is an email-based online package tracking service I used for more than year and half to as a streamlined method to track packages. TrackMyShipments takes advantage of the fact that you already have the tracking numbers sent to you in email. I wrote about another email based interface in my review of how TripIt Shows the Value of Combining Email, Web and APIs. The signup process is very quick. After registration, you simply forward an email messages with tracking numbers to track@trackmyshipments.com and the service will send you a notification when the shipping status of you package changes.

Say you want to see when the new hard disk you ordered will arrive so that you could finally get around to your New Years resolution to make regular backups. The most common way to find out the status of your package is to search through your email to find the confirmation email from the store that has the tracking number for your drive. If you are lucky the store has formatted the message so you can simply click on a link and it will take you directly to the page on the shippers site that has information about the state of your package.

Unfortunately, many stores do not give their customers such an easy path and so must copy the number from the email and paste it into the web form for your package carrier. You might even already have an account on the package carriers web site that lets you save the number for future reference or set up email or SMS alerts to let you know when there is progress or problems. So you sign into the service and paste in the tracking number you found. This somewhat cumbersome process is the norm.

TrackMyShipments has a few options to configure the level of detail about the status of the shipment. If you choose, the service will notify you about every hop the package takes along the route, but in my experience this is far too much information. I configure the service to notify me on the day of delivery and for any exceptions. This means I get notified that the package is out for delivery and when it is delivered or if there are any problems with the delivery. All of the package carriers have pretty significant lag in their delivery status information and TrackMyShipments can not give you any more information than the carriers have, it’s just more convenient.

The TrackMyShipments iPhone and iPod Touch application allows mobile users to see the current status of all packages tracked and the ability to remove any packages from tracking. Previously the service offered both free and paid versions of iPhone application. TrackMyShipments for the iPhone is now free and advertising supported with iAds. The application includes push notifications, unlimited shipments and the ability to associate users, which were previously paid add ons. The iPhone application works with both free and pro accounts.

Overall, I find TrackMyShipments is the most convenient way to track packages online. The service is simple to use and in my experience it just works. While neither the TrackMyShipments web site nor the iPhone application will win any design awards, there is little reason to use either unless you want an overview of all shipments at once. TrackMyShipments supports tracking DHL, FedEx, UPS, and US Postal Service packages. The basic TrackMyShipments service is free for tracking up to 10 shipments at a time. You will receive email updates about that status of your package or you can log on to TrackMyShipments to see the status and location of all of your shipments. TrackMyShipments Pro costs $20 a year and gives you the ability to track unlimited packages and receive notifications about the shipping status via SMS. I suspect most people will find the basic more than adequate, although those with greater package tracking needs will find the pro service a bargain.

* A version of this article originally appeared as TrackMyShipments Offers Simple Email-Based Package Tracking in my Messaging News “On Message Column.” Revisions and iPhone application updates on September 13, 2010.

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