How to integrate a PIM with your applications. (Personal Information Management System)
by Richard O. Mann
Personal information Managers accumulate all sorts of information ... much of which could be used in other applications. When you're setting up your PIM the first time, you'll probably have some data in another application that you'd like to import into your PIM. Address book data is the most likely.
Generally it's easy to use your PIM data in other applications--most often it'll be names and addresses for letters and envelopes. Importing a whole address book, however, turns out to be about as easy as neatly stacking spaghetti noodles--after they're cooked.
All PIMs allow you to import address book data. They require the data to be in a specific format, most commonly ASCII (plain text). Other common import formats include dBASE (DBF files), tab- or comma-delimited ASCII, Lotus worksheet (WKx files), and a variety of palmtop organizer formats, such as the found in the Sharp Wizard.
If this sounds too technical, you're going to have trouble. If you're comfortable with creating ASCII files, however, you're not out of the woods yet. The data must be sorted into exactly the right field order, and the fields must have exactly the right number of characters. If your address book data presently has the name field containing both last and first names, separated by a comma, for instance, you'll have to split the names before importing. Most PIMs require the names in two separate fields. Splitting the names isn't likely to be an export option of your existing address book application.
On the other hand, you may be a computer whiz or you may know someone who can perform the necessary prestidigitation to bring it off. It may involve reading the address book data into an intermediary program such as dBASE or Lotus 1-2-3, massaging it there, and writing it out in the necessary ASCII form.
In any case, expect it to be difficult. If you choose YourWay, you'll have an easier time because you can modify YourWay's address book file by changing the field names, types, and lengths to match the incoming data.
PIMs don't expect you to do wholesale exports of data files. They'll write data in a variety of common formats, such as those mentioned above, but again,: your receiving application will have to exactly, match the field order, types, and lengths.
PIMs do expect you to casually use their data in small doses. Almost all provide for handing off name and address data to your word processor, for instance. Most can directly print envelopes.
Similarly, if you need the text from notes or other small pieces of data, you can easily send out this information into ASCII, which any word processor can capture. Windows PIMs allow direct use of the clipboard to transfer both text and images to other Windows applications.
Many Windows applications also can forge direct DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange) links between data in separate applications so that the shared data is updated whenever either application uses it. DDE isn't child's play, but it's certainly within the abilities of most Windows users if the need is strong enough.