Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 155 / AUGUST 1993 / PAGE S2

How to use a PIM. (Personal Information Management systems) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Richard O. Mann

Before you get too excited at the prospect of becoming the world's most organized person and rush out to buy the first Personal Information Manager you run across, take a few minutes to consider which program is the best for you. Don't tell anyone I said this, but with some kinds of software (such as word processors), it doesn't really matter which one you buy. The market leaders are all excellent and they'll work well for anyone. With PIMs, that's not true.

PIMs deal with your personal workstyle. Some are built around the calendar/ schedule, with everything else tacked on. Some emphasize the contact management, while others are task-oriented. Some are so balanced you can't identify any point of emphasis. Each has a distinct personality.

As you choose a PIM, you'll want to see it in action, if at all possible; Many vendors supply demo disks or you may be able to see what your friends are using. It's worth a little trouble to see it live and in person.

Think it Through

Give it some thought; identify how you'll use the PIM. Will you use it for business, personal, or both? Is it primarily for scheduling, contact management, task management, project management, or something else? What kind of reports will you need? With a basic wish list of the features you need (and some thought about what you don't need), you can make a better choice.

DOS or Windows?

If you're not a Windows user, your choices are limited but there are some excellent programs available. Windows users have many more choices.

DOS PIMs, in order to be available all the time, often run as TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) programs that can be accessed from any application with a hotkey. These tend to strain memory limits and can conflict with other applications. They don't have to be run as TSRs, but if you run them standalone, you lose instant access to your data.

Windows PIMs can be available at a mouse click any time and are usually easier to learn.

PIMs few DOS

The best full-featured DOS PIM has to be Instant Recall 2.0 (Chronologic, 5151 North Oracle, Suite 210, Tucson, Arizona 85704; 800-848-4970 or 602-293-3100; $129). It pulls off the extremely difficult task of being both powerful and flexible while remaining simple to learn and use. At its $129 list price, it's a remarkable value. Instant Recall is the only one of the early DOS PIMs to mature into a second generation. Its many deft features and subtle touches of elegance testify to that maturity.

Instant Recall offers several views of your database: daily, schedule, open time, tasks, people, notes, and global (which includes them all). Most entries can be related to time, but they don't have to be. You can attach a 65,000-character note to virtually any entry--a task, an event, or a name and address. You can set alarms and advance notice times, dial any phone number through the modem, use a stopwatch function, find blocks of open (unscheduled) time, and classify basic entries into categories of your own choosing. It's network-ready and can synchronize its database automatically between two computers (handy if you also use a portable).

Instant Recall is strongest as a time and task manager, but its contact management provides plenty of muscle. If, however, you need unlimited history for each contact, you could run up against unwelcome limits.

It also provides a versatile set of reports for a variety of day-planner page sizes. Its TSR kernel occupies only 22K of memory. A network version, Instant Recall OFFICE, manages e-mail and provides group scheduling.

These days, you don't hear much about Arriba (Good Software, 13601 Preston Road, Dallas, Texas 75240; 800-272-GOOD or 214-239-6085; $195). It's still available and still a viable option for certain DOS users. It uses a file cabinet metaphor, with cabinets, file folders, and subfolders. Each folder is a type of application--it comes with scheduler, address/phone book, and to-do list already in place. You can create as many more as you desire, defining fields and laying out your own mini-applications.

Arriba is not hard to learn, but it suffers from a large (200K) RAM footprint in TSR mode and limits its notes to 16K of information. It offsets that by being fast and flexible.

Windows PIMs

It doesn't get much simpler than Lotus Organizer (Lotus Development, 55 Cambridge Parkway, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142; 800-343-5414 or 617-577-8500; $149). On the screen, you'll see the open pages of a small notebook with tabs for calendar, to-do items, address book, free-form notes, a fold-out year-at-a-glance schedule, and an anniversary section for marking annually recurring events. Click on the tab to open a section.

The address book provides a basic set of fields, including two user-defined fields. It won't easily keep a detailed contact history, but you can link notes on the notepad to names in the address book. In fact, you can link almost any two items together.

Although icons--the standard Lotus Smartlcons shared with 1-2-3 and other Lotus products--are plentiful, they can be difficult to decipher. It supports printing on various day-planner sized forms.

Organizer isn't a power house with dozens of functions, but for the basic organizer tools it offers, it's first class.

The ambition of Ascend 4.0 (Franklin Quest, 2550 South Decker Lake Boulevard, Salt Lake City, Utah 84119; 800-877-1814 or 801-975-9992; $199) is to go well beyond merely managing your personal information; it's a tool for managing your life. It's a computerized Franklin Day Planner, the tool used by the Franklin Quest Company in its seminars that teach how to correlate your values and goals into your daily activities. You don't need to use it that way, of course, but it really shines for Franklin-trained users. (Ascend is available with the Franklin Day Planner book and a four-hour taped seminar for $299. 1 highly recommend it.)

Along with powerful address book, scheduling, and daily task list (to-do list) processing, Ascend offers a daily record of events, a personal journal for free-form text, and a red tab section. Clicking a red tab takes you to another free-form text area where you can keep special sets of notes on major tasks or categories of your choosing.

The values and goals section encourages you to determine and record your basic values and correlate them to your long- and short-term goals. For serious introspection, use Franklin's companion product, Values Quest ($49) for help with determining values and goals.

Ascend is a fine, full-featured PIM. You even may find its thoughtful guidance changing your life.

PackRat 4.1 (Polaris Software, 17150 Via Del Campo, Suite 307, San Diego, California 92127; 800-722-5728 or 619-674-6500; $395) is an aptly named PIM that endeavors to cram all sorts of functions and data into its database. It has all the normal functions, but adds project management including simple Gantt charts, checkbook tracking, time tracking for billing purposes, and other goodies. This makes it powerful but complex.

It's not easy to learn, with its crowded screenful of cryptic icons, but you'll be amply rewarded if you make the effort to master it.

Version 5 is near release, but wasn't available at press time. Polaris promises improved ease of learning and a facility to launch any other Windows program from its icons. There also will be hooks for third-party developers to link into PackRat with such products as MapLinx, word for word file conversion software, and a direct telephone link for remote access to PackRat and voice annotation.

If you're looking for a PIM that's as easy to use as a card file, check out YourWay 3.0 (Prisma Software, 2301 Clay Street, Suite 100, Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613; 800-437-2685 or 319-266-2522; $99). The address book is a predefined card file, but you can easily modify it. Cards appear onscreen fanned out in a deck with alphabetic tabs gathered at the back. Click on the letter tab to get to the first item for that letter or quickly search for cards based on any field on the card. Both processes, however, are multiple-step operations; you can't immediately go to someone in the middle of a large group of names beginning with C, for example.

You can set up as many card files as you wish, but you can have only one open at a time. You define the fields you want on each card, then fill them in. You can attach notes to any card--rather like sheets of paper folded and stapled to the back of the card.,

The calendar/scheduler is a little rough around the edges, but is serviceable. Events can be linked to name cards, but only to the card on the top of the deck when you closed it

YourWay links into standard Windows word processors smoothly to streamline simple mail merge operations. It's particularly adept at importing data, because you can set up your fields to match the data coming in.

YourWay is fast and easy to use, admirably suited for all but large databases--even a physical cardfile becomes unwieldy when there are too many cards.

If what you need is a set of computerized 3M Post--It Notes, take a look at InfoSelect for Windows 1.0 (MicroLogic, P. O. Box 70, Hackensack, New Jersey 07602; 800-342-5930 or 201-342-6518; (149.95). It resembles yellow sticky notes because you just pop up a window and write anything at all in it, then pop it out of sight. Do it all day, and you'll have a virtual pile of unrelated, random notes. That's where the computerization comes in. You can quickly leaf through them with a keystroke or, more likely, find the exact note you want by merely searching for any text string or combination of strings that make it unique.

It sounds unwieldy, but it's not. You can organize your notes into stacks, but you can only have one stack open at a time. If you need more structure (at least part of the time), you can set up database-like forms for all the windows in a stack. The program comes with 20 sample forms (address book, phone message slip, and memo, for example), or you can create your own.

Its power is the search engine, which locates all occurrences of the search string quickly. Search parameters include exact matches, Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT, for example), and number of words in the window. Finding things in a snap. Printed output is primitive as is the scheduling function, but if your need is immediate access to random information, you can't beat infoSelect.