From the June 1999 issue of Startups

"Free" is a magic word. Couple that with our overwhelming need to get better organized in the face of today's tsunami of info--e-mail addresses, appointments, to-do lists and all the other stuff we have to keep track of--and signing up with a personal information manager (PIM) sounds all the more attractive. Dozens of free PIMs are proliferating on the Web. You can find a list at http://www.emailaddresses.com/email_pim.htm The really good news about these services? They provide a place to store information on contacts, calendar items, to-do lists and even "reminders" via e-mail that nag us when items are coming due.

I confess--I'm chronically disorganized. So it was with a keen sense of need that I tested a number of these services. But I quickly sank into frustration. Most online PIMs offer hard-to-use tools, confusing and ugly interfaces, and slow, balky computer servers. Nobody will use an organizing system if it's hard to use--and that means most of these PIMs just don't do the job.

Fortunately, there is a stand-out: Yahoo! Calendar (http://calendar.yahoo.com). Here, the tools are elegant and the servers are turbocharged. But the biggest plus is, Yahoo! doesn't depend on you to actually enter data by hand at its Web site. And that's good news indeed, because even at Yahoo! inputting info is slow and tortuous--that's just the way the Web works.

How does Yahoo! work this cybermagic? Dandy "TrueSynch" software (downloadable at Yahoo!) lets you "synch" your Yahoo! information with the contents of desktop PIMs like Microsoft (MS) Outlook (free with MS Office; http://www.microsoft.com) or Starfish Software's SideKick (about $50; http://www.starfishsoftware.com). That means you enjoy the speed and convenience afforded by a desktop computer's PIM plus the benefits of having a Web-based PIM that can be accessed from any computer, at any time. You can also toggle the online calendar so it's viewable by colleagues or family, use it to send out invitations for meetings and, of course, schedule it to fire off e-mail reminders to you at pre-set intervals. And both the Yahoo! Calendar and the synching software are free--making this the deal to beat among online PIMs.

No, I wouldn't use Yahoo! Calendar as a solo tool--inputting data on the Web is way too slow. But put it in harness with MS Outlook and both tools become better, more useful and more likely to bring some order to our chaotic lives.

Robert McGarvey started exploring the online world over a decade ago with Genie, and has been writing on--and complaining about--the Net ever since. He writes about the Web for Entrepreneur, BizTravel.com and Upside.