It's getting to be about that time when the spring cleaning bug rears its tidy little head. It's the time of year when thoughts turn to organizing offices, cleaning out garages, donating old clothing and "getting it together" in general. As someone who doesn't like to let the opportunity of a clean, new slate pass me by, I decided it was time to dig in and take a fresh look at Personal Information Managers (PIMs).
Perhaps one of the best software inventions, PIMs help you keep yourself and your business together--running on time and on track. Although they won't do the filing that has been piling up for months, they will help you sort out your contacts, schedules and task lists. Of course, as with everything, it's "garbage in/garbage out"--for PIMs to work to your advantage, you have to do some work and be willing to change old habits and invent new ones. Scheduling from within your computer has to become second nature, as does the way in which you check for appointments (whether you print out schedules to put in your paper-based organizer or check the computer for your appointments every morning).
All three programs reviewed here are the most current versions available. They all run under Windows and are all equally useful. Your decision of which to choose will be based less on quality than on what functions work for you.
With all three of the following programs, you get tools for scheduling and viewing appointments (choosing among day, week, month and year views); and tracking contacts, including general information (phone number, address, e-mail address and so on), as well as room for additional contact notes (such as when called, next call and so forth). Keeping in touch with clients is easy with included letter-writing capabilities for creating and generating form letters, and an automatic phone dialing feature. Alarms will keep you on time, alerting you to everything from an upcoming phone call to an important meeting.
Cassandra Cavanah is a contributing editor of Portable Computing Direct Shopper magazine and has reported on the computer industry for nine years.
On One Side...
Sidekick has always been my PIM of choice. It's easy to work with and has numerous key functions that meet my needs. With Sidekick 98, Starfish Software has taken this program's portability to a whole new level. This program comes with TrueSync synchronization software for synching up your calendar, contacts and other information with portable devices, like the ultra-thin credit-card-sized Rolodex Electronic REX and 3Com's PalmPilot. This means Sidekick users can easily take their data on the road--while leaving their desktop computers at home. There's no need to even print out the information and put it in a traditional paper-based organizer. Once on the road with Sidekick, users can make changes to their data and then synch it up with the data on their desktop computers back at their offices.
Another new feature of this program is Sidekick Web Publisher for automatically generating HTML pages. With just a click of the mouse, I automatically created HTML files of all my contacts (or card files) and could view them from within my Netscape browser--a great feature.
Users can either use the defaults to simply post exactly what they have in their database or can opt to manipulate the data for appropriate on-screen viewing. There's also been an enhancement to Sidekick's e-mail functionality, so users can easily integrate their e-mail address book with Sidekick; support for Eudora Pro, Netscape mail, Microsoft Exchange and Windows Address Book are included. For those who cruise the Web looking for contact information, there's support for vCard--a standard that lets users easily drag and drop data from Web-based information sites (such as http://www.four11.com).
There's also a scheduling wizard for setting up appointments with numerous participants. All you do in Sidekick is enter the event, select the participants (who can be notified automatically by e-mail, phone or pager) and wait for the responses. The EarthTime module within Sidekick makes keeping in touch with associates around the globe fairly simple because you can quickly ascertain the time almost anywhere in the world.
One Day At A Time
Day-Timer knows a lot about organization. It's basically recreated its paper-based organizer as a software tool. The two versions can easily work in conjunction, making it simple to become a Day-Timer Organizer software user if you are already a traditional Day-Timer user. The part I like best is Day-Timer's customized computer paper that lets you easily print schedules and address book pages to place in your Day-Timer notebook. While I find Sidekick's printing procedures difficult to follow and plagued with spotty results, Day-Timer has smartly created a onetime setup procedure that makes it possible to seamlessly print from your printer. Within 10 minutes, I was printing beautifully laid-out pages that easily fit into my same-size Filofax notebook.
Just as you can choose between day-at-a-glance, week-at-a-glance and month-at-a-glance views when using paper-based Day-Timers, you can do the same with this software. It's easy to switch between the views to check out your schedules, to-do lists, events and so on.
The address book is simple to use--you can easily import data from other databases into Day-Timer. Keeping contact information on the entries in your address book is also easy. There are plenty of preset action items to choose from, and activities are simple to record. For example, if you want to make a phone call, Day-Timer can dial the phone number (as can all other PIMs reviewed here), and with a click of the mouse, you can indicate whether you spoke to the person or left a message. You can also time the duration of the call and schedule a follow-up.
Day-Timer Organizer also takes advantage of a network for workgroup functions, making it possible to do group scheduling, share information, delegate tasks and send basic messages. Synchronizing your data with another computer is also relatively simple, though not as seamless as the standardized TrueSync capabilities offered in Sidekick. I also didn't find Day-Timer as easy to navigate as Sidekick.
This is the least-known of the products reviewed here. Published by Baseline Data Systems, Info Accelerator is slowly making its mark as an impressive alternative to more well-known products. Available only via the company's Web site, Info Accelerator is an impressive contender for the top PIM slot.
My favorite feature of this software is its omnipresent tool bar that makes hopping in and out of the program incredibly convenient. The tool bar resides in your start-up folder in Windows 95, letting you access your phone book, calendar, notes and so on. More impressive still is its SmartLink technology, which lets you easily transfer data from one application to another. From within Microsoft Word, for example, users can highlight text and place it into Info Accelerator's phone book or grab a name and address from the phone book and import it into a Word document. It's seamless. Similar functionality is available for such programs as Quicken, QuickBooks, Timeslips, Eudora, Excel and more. This is a very powerful tool.
The phone book feature offers more functionality than the same feature of the other PIMs reviewed here--it has more contact management functions. The calendar feature is also incredibly strong--it's easy to navigate and gives you plenty of options so you can organize the way you want to.
If your office is networked, you can opt for the network version of this product, which is capable of running under any Windows network. With this version, you can share data and schedule meetings.
Baseline also shipped me QuickNotes, a separate program ($59.95) that, on a very basic level, is like a "Post-It" program for your computer. But QuickNotes is much more than that. First, the notes can be up to 10,000 characters long, you can place notes in an unlimited number of file folders with subfolders if you choose, and you can search for notes, color code them, set alarms and more. This is a program I could quickly integrate into my daily work style.
Sidekick is great for people who want to take their data on the road using a small handheld computer device, like the REX or PalmPilot. Day-Timer Organizer makes great sense for those already addicted to a paper-based Day-Timer system. This is not to say this program doesn't stand on its own, but traditional Day-Timer users will certainly find it useful.
Finally, if I were embarking on my first PIM, I would probably opt for Info Accelerator. This program makes it easy to embrace this new way of working because it's readily available within all your applications and is thoroughly un-intimidating.
Info Accelerator 5.0
Baseline Data Systems
List price: $99.95
Pluses: Universal phone book gives easy access to database from within any Windows application
Minuses: None of note
List price: $49.95
Pluses: Strong Internet integration, easy to take on the road
Minuses: Contact management functions could be better
Day-Timer Organizer 98
List price: $59.95
Pluses: Great product for current paper-based Day-Timer users
Minuses: Not as intuitive as others
- Remote DeskLink: If you're like most entrepreneurs, you can probably be found sitting at your desk into the wee hours of the night. Why not find a way to take those projects home? Traveling Software's Remote DeskLink lets anyone with a Windows 95 computer work from home or when traveling. This means you can remotely update documents and spreadsheets, reply to e-mail and more. Remote DeskLink is easy to use and costs $49.99. For more information, call (800) 343-8080 or visit http://www.travsoft.com
- Revision Master 1.0: Documents such as business proposals and sales letters often go through the revision ringer several times before they make it out the door. Diehl Graphsoft's Revision Master lets you easily store, track and retrieve any version of a document. This product is capable of tracking virtually any type of Windows 95 document, such as HTML files, spreadsheets, images, e-mail messages and photos. You can look up previous versions of the document, trace changes and more. For more details, visit http://www.diehlgraphsoft.com
- PhotoMAX Image Maker Software: Polaroid is taking its easy photography expertise and applying it to the digital imaging world. PhotoMAX is designed to take the difficulty out of capturing, editing and using digital images. Working with the Polaroid PhotoMAX PDC300 Digital Camera Creative Kit--the first truly consumer-friendly digital camera and software package--Polaroid's PhotoMAX combines six digital imaging applications in a single graphical user interface to offer consumers all the techniques needed to manipulate images. Polaroid also includes DogByte Development's Sticker Store software, which features quality artwork with the ability to add images to cyber and printed greeting cards, insert them onto cool backgrounds, apply them to T-shirts and more. PhotoMAX costs $59.95; the complete PhotoMAX Digital Camera Creative Kit is $349.99. Check out http://www.polaroid.com or call (800) 343-5000.