BitDepth 455 - January 11

Tools for keeping a resolution to be more organised.
Getting organised in 2005

New Year, new organiser. Mozilla's Sunbird is the latest software to come out of the company's efforts to create smaller, task specific applications from the old Netscape code base. Image by Mark Lyndersay.

If my computer didn't keep interrupting me all day, I'd probably just have to go home. These aren't error messages or porn pop-ups; my computer's screen buzzes me with regular warnings of upcoming appointments and other obligations that I would otherwise blissfully forget.
This is because I have the memory of an absent-minded mouse. I can remember the name of Deep Purple's lead guitarist (Ritchie Blackmore) but I'll forget to pick up bread. I'd love to argue that this is happening because I'm getting older, but I've been a victim of poor forebrain retention ever since my mercifully forgotten youth.

Add to my total lack of recall the attention span of a drunken fly. About the worst thing anyone can ask me to do is to tidy up old books and magazines. Not only will I never finish the job, I'll probably forget to eat.
Computers have always compensated for many of my most aberrant weaknesses. The Knoll brothers probably didn't code Photoshop because MP Alladin told my parents that my hands couldn't make the pictures that were in my head, but once I realised what it could do, I became a paying customer.

Ditto with Intuit's Quicken and my appalling financial lapses and several other bits of software on my hard drive that help me with fallibilities that are too numerous (and embarrassing, even in this revelatory mood) to mention.
Over the years, I've worked with several software solutions to track work at hand and I have a list that any kind of appointment and contact management software must meet. Depending on your needs, you may want to weight the checklist differently.
Direct entry on the screen. Almost every software organiser has the three views that people use, day, week and month at a glance. Astonishingly, some of these digital tools force you go through a dialog box to enter your information instead of letting you replicate the analog experience of going to the day and starting to write.

Alarms. What's the point of logging all this information if the computer won't remind you when things are due? A choice of alarm types is best though I favour a big, immovable notice in the middle of the screen that demands my attention before I can do anything else.
Contact management. The best organisers are complete solutions that allow you to track both what you need to do and who you're doing it for. The best allow you to establish links between this information.

To do lists. Some things can't be scheduled but need to be tracked as well. I don't want to go looking for another application to access a checklist. A good organiser should help you do that too.
Easy synchronisation to a PDA. If you don't use a Palm or a Pocket PC, this will make no difference to you, if you do, the quality of this interface can be a deal maker or breaker.
If you're in a Windows office environment, chances are good that your employers have a Microsoft Exchange Server running for office e-mail. Outlook, the exchange client, has fair contact and appointment management capabilities and at least one killer feature, group scheduling, which allows you to notify multiple office comperes of meetings to come.

Users on a home or small office network will find Now Software's Now Up-to-date and Now Contact a powerful network collaboration tool. You'll need to set up the server software on one computer on the network, but the scheduling server is undemanding of processor time. Now's Up-to-date still prints the best calendars I've ever seen in an organiser.
Palm Desktop is the software that Palmsource provides to handle synchronisation with their handheld computers. This simple software will handle everything on my checklist except synchronise with a Pocket PC. It's also a free download and works even if you don't have a handheld.
Sunbird is the latest fruit of the Mozilla project's effort to break the Mozilla web browser into smaller component parts. Firebird is their hot browser only component, Thunderbird is their e-mail client and Sunbird is the calendar component. Still in very rough beta, it's missing a lot that would make it a compelling alternative. But given the speed of the development of this flock of web tools, look out for Sunbird's rapid rise.

Currently, I'm using Apple's iCal and Addressbook because of their superior synchronisation with my Palm device on the Mac. Both products support web standard files, iCal files for appointments and vCard files for contacts.
What are you using to manage your life? I'm curious about hardcore contact management tools like Act, so feel free to let me know what works for you.
blog comments powered by Disqus