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Earlier this month, Apple announced it had sold 100 million iPods. Who knew five and a half years ago that Apple would one day sell more of those little music players than it would computers (21 million iPods sold during the fiscal first quarter compared to 1.6 million Macs)?

The iPod was released right as I left the San Francisco Bay Area to begin life as a telecommuter. (Yes, I keenly remember the pain of missing the press conference where all my coworkers were handed iPods to test out.) So this milestone has made me reflect on how much technology has changed since then, making my work life easier in the process.

When I started, telecommuting was tough. My high-speed DSL connection made it fairly easy to pass files back and forth through e-mail, but other things didn—t work quite so smoothly. Bit by bit, things got easier. Here are some of the changes that made the difference:

iChat: Back in 2001, if I needed to ask someone a quick question I had to e-mail them and wait, or try to get them on the telephone. We all know that the telephone can be a time sink, leading to long discussions of the latest episode of whatever show happened to be on the night before. But in 2002, Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) introduced iChat. Say what you will about chat software, but I love it.

At quick glance at my Buddy List and I can see which of my co-workers and writers are at their desks and, to a certain extent, what they’re doing. This eases the loneliness of working at home and lets me ask quick questions without getting bogged down in long conversations.

I was excited about iChat AV, but I must admit I rarely use its video or audio powers. We did video meetings for a while, but slowly stopped because it was hard to see the whole room and the time delay with voices was too distracting. (Plus, it meant I had to change out of my pajamas!)

Built-in VPN client: When I started telecommuting, our former technical guru, Sean Greathouse, spent an hour on the phone walking me keystroke by keystroke through the painstaking steps of setting up a VPN connection… in Terminal. All this was necessary so I could post articles to Macworld ’s servers. When Apple released OS X 10.3 (Panther) in October 2003 with a built-in VPN client that was accessible from the menubar, my life was much simplified.

Acrobat Pro: Our copyeditors used to fax me copies of stories in layout so that I could make cuts to fit text on the page. I struggled with blotchy lines that I could barely read—especially if there were any background tints to the sidebars. I received my faxes (and still do) using Efax, so at least I could print them multiple times and file them on my hard drive. But after these pages were marked up with pencil, I’d hover over the fax machine trying to prevent it from jamming—which it did regularly with anything longer than four pages.

Finally in 2003, our copyedit department started using Adobe’s Acrobat 6.0 Professional to save a (legible!) copy of an article. Now they could ask questions on the document and I could answer. My additions and subtractions to text were all clearly marked. True, I found that version of Acrobat was buggy and cumbersome, but it was light years better than what we’d had before. I hope the future holds even better alternatives for this part of the process.

Voice over IP: I don’t know about your town, but in mine phone bills can be steep. I’ve written before about my move to’s VOIP services. The financial savings have been enormous, but I did struggle with some call quality problems in the beginning. I’m happy to say that the past two years have seen most of my VoIP problems disappear. Sometimes I wonder how traditional phone companies will stay in business.

Since I started telecommuting, the number of Macworld editors working in other parts of the country has swelled. I’ve got to give improvements in OS X and third-party software a lot of the credit for making this possible. It’s easy to forget sometimes that technology really can make our work easier—and that it already has.

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