By Michael Hendry and David Rivers
It’s unfortunate, but in order to work with any efficiency at all, I have to try to get my company’s IT department out of the loop as much as possible. So when I wanted to coordinate my department’s schedule and activities, I abandoned our networked Microsoft Outlook, and we started looking for a Personal Information Manager (PIM) on the Internet.
The good news is there are plenty of PIMs available online. The bad new is, as usual, usability and features were spotty. Here are the PIMs we looked at:
- Yahoo (calendar.yahoo.com)
- Netscape (calendar.netscape.com)
- Jump (www.jump.com), taken over by Microsoft
- MyPalm (www.palm.net)
- When.com (www.when.com), taken over by AOL
- Appoint.net (www.appoint.net)
- ScheduleOnline (www.scheduleonline.com)
(Note: Since this research, Jump.com is no longer available, and When.com merged with Netscape under AOL.) In addition to a basic calendar, address book, and to do list, here are the features we looked for:
- Group calendars that would synchronize with our personal calendars, but let us keep our private lives private
- To do lists that would populate our calendar
- E-mail reminders of events
- Two-way synchronization with Outlook and mobile devices (specifically, Dave’s Handspring Visor and my Rex 6000).
The real contenders are Yahoo, Visto, ScheduleOnline, MyPalm, and Appoint.net.
Yahoo didn’t seem to want to tell me what features it offered, and my user name was already taken (!?!), so it was out. The word is that it is a good PIM, but its group features are somewhat weak. Visto had a wonderfully simple user interface, but it cannot populate your calendar with your to do list, and has only one-way synchronization. You can upload information to Visto, but cannot download information to your desktop or handheld. This defeats the purpose of the group calendar, where we would want to capture events scheduled by other members of our group. However, if two-way synchronization and having your to do list on the calendar are not important, I recommend you take a look at Visto. Also, I noticed that they were advertising job openings for PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) Engineers, so synchronization may improve soon.
ScheduleOnline is a powerful group administration tool. You can run a business with it, but its group functionality wasn’t too intuitive, and it only syncs with Palm-based PDAs and Outlook 2000 (not ’97 or ’98). The free version is supported by advertisements, but you get a thirty-day trial without the ads. The advertising isn’t nearly as bad as MyPalm. If you are trying to run a distributed business, you may find it worthwhile to invest time and money into this tool.
MyPalm has all the features we wanted, and the group functionality was a bit more intuitive. But it has drawbacks. The user interface is difficult (although I got used to it) and it has online help, but I’d rather have good design. The biggest drawback is that it is overwhelmingly populated with flashing ads and gizmos. In the end, I couldn’t stand it.
Appoint.net has all the features we want and more, and no ads! It is a powerful and full-featured PIM. Its user interface is straightforward, and its basic features are easy to use. It has no overview information, and its online help could be better—its poor quality makes some of its more advanced features essentially unavailable. You start by registering. Then you get access to the following features:
- Your personal calendar: You can view your calendar by day, week, month, or year. You add appointments to your calendar, invite others via automatic e-mails, and schedule a reminder for everyone. You can add the appointment to your calendar and the calendars of any groups you belong to.
- Contacts: You can enter Contact information directly into the PIM and synchronize Contacts from other applications.
- To do lists or Tasks: You can add, prioritize, update, and mark tasks as completed. Your to do list can be displayed in the task list, and at the top of the day in the day, week, and month views of your calendar.
Appoint.net and MyPalm generate printer-friendly versions of all of the above so you can take them with you the old fashioned way. MyPalm also gives you the weather report for the day (which is nice), and a pretty lame horoscope. To coordinate with others, you create a group. As a member of a group, you can share a calendar, address book, task list, reminders, and message board. MyPalm’s gimmick is that you can browse local events, such as sporting events and movie show times, and add them to your calendar. Be careful, though, because you can add an entire year’s worth with one click, but can only remove them one at a time. The best part of this is that we will now be able to synchronize our work and home computers, laptops, and handheld devices, and have our calendars and contacts available wherever we have access to the Internet.