Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 155 / AUGUST 1993 / PAGE S1

Why use a Personal Information Manager? (PIM software)
by Richard O. Mann

The concept of a Personal information Manager, or PIM, is appealing ... imagine using a PC to keep track of all those elusive details that make up our lives. With so many things to remember; so many appointments and deadlines; so much to coordinate, correlate, and manage; it's a wonder anything gets done. Sociologists tell us that our generation has reached new heights in its hurried, hectic life-style. Maybe it's time to put our computers to the task of destressing our lives.

Personal Information Managers have become a best-selling software category. The booming popularity of Windows has helped, as PIMs are particularly well-suited for the multitasking, graphic Windows environment.

Much of the challenge of dealing with our hectic lives lies in managing information, in being able to find and use bits of data at just the moment they're needed. PIMs make your data accessible-instantly, with all the linked related facts at your fingertips.

Consider a working desk. It has a variety of tools available, including the telephone, fax machine, typewriter, adding machine, Rolodex rotary file, calendar, Day Planner book, notepad, those ever-present little yellow sticky pads, file drawers, alarm clock, and perhaps a file box for 3x5 index cards. A good PIM program is a substitute for all those tools, plus it adds electronic links among the tools.

Picture this--your schedule says to call Bill Gates at ten in the morning to set up a meeting next week. Your PIM reminds you to make the call on time, provides the phone number, dials the phone, displays your notes on why you'll, calling and any background information you might have on Bill (so you can congratulate him on his upcoming nuptials), records the call in your phone log, and helps you find the best time for the upcoming meeting. If you want to send a quick confirmation letter or fax, or a memo to others who should attend the meeting, all that can be arranged quickly through your PIM and its links to your other programs. If the call triggers other tasks (such as buying Bill's wedding present), you can quickly add them to your to-do list on the appropriate days.

It's a powerful vision. Individual PIMs add other functions as well, such as project management complete with Gantt charts, expense tracking, time tracking and billing, e-mail links, a personal journal, file sharing with palmtop computers, and even help with your values and goals. Whatever you can imagine, someone has put it in a PIM.

As PIMs have matured, the ability to print reports, schedules, calendars, to-do lists, and combinations of PIM data in a variety of sizes and degrees of-detail has become important. Current PIM versions feature strong report-printing options.

On the other hand, there are two basic problems with PIMs--they can be hard to learn, and you can't always be at your keyboard when you need to use or create PIM data.

Of the current crop of PIMs, the easiest to learn may be Lotus Organizer, because it uses the visual metaphor of a small notebook with six divider tabs. You navigate around the notebook naturally, selecting icons with a mouse. Prisma Software's Your Way 3.0 uses the metaphor of index cards for its basic organization. Franklin Quest's Ascend 4.0 is an electronic version of the popular Franklin Day Planner, a natural for Franklin users.

Products that are harder to learn don't have a clear, basic underlying metaphor that intuitively tells you how to use them. They require more effort to work out.

Unfortunately, even in this era of relatively inexpensive notebook and palmtop computers, it's rare for us to always have access to our PIM when we need it. If most of your work takes place at your desk or in settings where you can use your notebook computer, you're a natural PIM user. If, however, most of your work occurs where there's no keyboard, it will be difficult to realize enough value from a PIM. Most of us fall somewhere between these extremes.

For middle-grounders, PIM's represent a quandary. If you computerize your personal data, you'll end up copying hand written notes into your computer later. You'll have to rely on printed reports that you can take with you when not at the computer. This might be more trouble than it's worth.

One solution is to use only the functions of the PIM that really make sense for you--portions that don't require you to be at the keyboard all the time--and let the rest go, as attractive as they seem. Perhaps you'll find it practical to use all but the daily scheduling, leaving that to your paper Day Planner. Or use it for long-term matters but skip the short-term items. After using your PIM for a while, evaluate which components still make sense and drop the portions that don't really save you time.

One industry pundit claims that anyone disorganized enough to really need a PIM won't use one. The sales figures don't-support that view; millions are buying and using PIMs. Why don't you join us?