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The Wide, Wide
World Of PIMs

Although PIMs can be defined as combo software applications designed to improve your personal productivity (see our topic intro at right), the simple fact is that no two people work quite the same way. So what might be a productivity improver for one person may actually be a productivity inhibitor for someone else.

And this means that choosing what PIM is really going to be right for you often comes down to simply trying out several to see which one you're happiest with.

Many people see real productivity gains from using just a subset of a PIM program, such as a dedicated address book or contact manager.

There are quite a lot of these "do one job but do it very well" types of programs out there. And the only thing that can really be said against this approach is that different programs usually don't integrate; that they can clutter up your hard drive; and that if you have too many, they can clutter up your life as well.

The key advantage of a PIM over dedicated single job programs is that the different applications they combine do integrate (hence, fewer downloads and a lot less clutter).

But if you don't have the time or inclination to use all of a PIM's capabilities, it's not worth fretting over any more than you fret over not using all of your word processor or spreadsheet's capabilities (and is there anyone who really uses all of their word processor or spreadsheet's capabilities? We doubt it).

The central aim of a PIM is to do more - and do it better - in less time than you do it now.

So if you can find a dedicated program or a PIM that lets you do this, you've had a win. Even if you only use a small portion of what it's really capable of doing.

Other PIM Resources

Personal Information Managers
Background: A personal information manager (PIM) is a software program that allows you to keep track of your activities.

PIMs vary in the amount of functionality they provide, but typically they can include such functions as:
  • Address books
  • Lists (including task lists)
  • Significant calendar dates (eg: birthdays, anniversaries, appointments and meetings etc)
  • Reminders
  • Email and/or instant messaging services
  • Fax communications and voicemail
  • Personal notes/journals
  • Project management features
  • RSS/Atom feeds
  • Alerts

A good PIM allows you to store and retrieve important information easily. And while most people use PIMs to handle their work activities, many others use them to schedule their community and other non-work activities (and that's a perfectly valid use too if you have a busy social life)

PIMs try to ensure that you always have the right information in the right place, in the right form, and of sufficient completeness and quality to meet your current need. The aim of any good PIM is to help you spend less time looking for information and thus free up more time to make creative, intelligent use of the information you have at hand in order to get things done.

Microsoft Office Outlook is probably the world's best-known PIM. This massive application combines email with calendaring, scheduling and many other related functions. Over the years many corporations (and individuals) have installed MS Office Outlook on their networks in an effort to increase efficiency as they pursue the surprisingly elusive dream of a paperless office and/or "information at your fingertips".

Unfortunately - like many Microsoft products - Office Outlook is a good idea programmed poorly. And the crashes, data loss and bugs that Office Outlook users have suffered over the years generally negate many of the productivity gains that might exist if these things didn't.

All the same, Office Outlook has helped popularise the idea of PIMs and has given many of us an insight (often, our first true insight) into the genuine productivity gains that a good PIM can bring to our lives.

So if you're someone who'd like a good PIM to help manage information overload but who wants an alternative to Office Outlook, here are six absolute crackers that can improve your life considerably:

 

Popular Personal Information Managers
EssentialPIM Free Edition
If you like MS Office Outlook's Calendar and want a similar PIM but one that's not a memory or disk hog, you really owe it to yourself to try EssentialPIM Free Edition. EssentialPIM combines a calendar, contact manager, to-do-list and free-form notes in an intuitive interface that will make most Office Outlook users feel immediately at home. The program has a system tray icon and configurable hot-key for fast start-up and its extensive capabilities will surprise and satisfy most users. Some features we particularly liked about EssentialPIM are its highly-configurable contact manager (you can add extra fields if you want extend the basic set and its searching and sorting are really quite fast and powerful); its flexible, searchable notes facility (which also allows you to insert photos, drawings or any other kinds of pictures, tables and rich text); and its very flexible To Do List. EssentialPIM is a reduced feature version of the US$40 Pro edition which offers multi-user capabilities; data encryption; synchronisation (with Office Outlook, Windows Mobile devices, Palm, iPOD and the Google Calendar); integrated email and the ability to paste sticky notes on your desktop. But the freeware version has so many capabilities that you'll probably only want an upgrade if you have serious business goals to meet. EssentialPIM Free Edition runs on all versions of Windows from Win95 to XP/2003 and you can try the other commercial versions that the company offers as 30-day trialware. Get EssentialPIM Free Edition.

 

TreePad Lite
If you want to organise your life and/or files better but don't need all the bells and whistles of EssentialPIM (above), TreePad Lite may be what you're looking for. This incredibly small program (just 380K) can easily fit on a floppy disk or USB, but it combines an organizer, personal database and simple word processor in one ultra-compact program which has won many awards since its first release in  1995. TreePad Lite allows you to store all your notes, emails, texts, hyperlinks etc. into a single file. It has an interface very much like Windows Explorer, so you can retrieve your data  by simply navigating the tree structure you create in it in much the same way you manage your hard drive with Windows Explorer. Or if you prefer, you can use TreePad's very fast internal search engine to instantly find any item you need. We were impressed by this program's ease of use and almost non-existent learning curve, and think it would be particularly useful for anyone who finds themselves drowning in a large pile of text-based files (for example, letters, notes, speeches, addresses, research items etc). TreePad Lite is the freeware version of a very large family of TreePad commercial programs (which range in price from US$30 to US$385), so if the base version doesn't fully meet your needs it's quite possible that one of the more advanced commercial versions does. TreePad Lite runs on all versions of Windows (from Win95 to XP) and it also has an Asian version for Windows that's optimised for non-Western fonts. Linux users will probably be delighted to fined there's a Linux version too. Get TreePad Lite

 

Total Organiser
Konrad Papala Software's Total Organiser - much the same as TreePad Lite (above) - uses a Windows Explorer approach to storing files and is very similar to TreePad in several respects. This may not win it high marks in the interface stakes but Task Organiser more than makes up for it in the originality stakes by allowing you to not only store all of your contacts, tasks (calendar), notes and to-do lists into any tree structure you want to create, but also to tag each item into more than one category (which is very handy if you think you might want to retrieve an item later in multiple places). Total Organiser combines a calendar, organiser, to-do list, notebook and contact manager into one compact program. It also allows you to create sub-folders and to explore them using tabs (the tabs group related items in each sub-folder together). In addition, Total Organiser's internal search engine allows you to quickly locate any item of interest if you don't want to go walking down a directory tree to look for it. We liked this program's lightweight approach, clean lines and robust programming (it comes from Poland). And you might too. Total Organiser is the freeware version of Total Organiser Pro, and for a slim US$27 you can beef up the freeware version with password-protection; relational attachments (eg: link tasks and files to a given contact etc); voicemail recording; the ability to add images to items in your database; and the ability to share your database with other Total Organiser users (eg: in an office environment). Total Organiser runs on Windows (NT to XP) and it's also won several awards. Get Total Organiser

 

taskTome
If you prefer a calendar view of your activities (or simply need a PM that runs on Vista), Shanemca's taskTome is worth your inspection. taskTome is a relatively new program that combines a calendar-based organiser/planner, task lists, free-form notes (which will also handle rich text and images) and a money-management module (which allows you to maintain a record of your bank accounts and cash balances) in one easy to use package. taskTome's calendar interface allows you to view all of your activities by the month and to access any comments or other information you may have attached to them by simply clicking on a particular date. You can also easily add recurring items (eg: weekly meetings) to the calendar, which is handy in many business situations. taskTome's tasks and notes modules support rich text and also include a spell-checker, printing and exporting functions; and the money module not only allows you to track an unlimited number of accounts, but also to generate charts to show changes in any of them. taskTome also has a tools module which allows you to customise and configure the way the program works as well as access some of its more advanced features like the program's backup manager, updates manager, system tray and other settings. taskTome is freeware and it only runs on Windows XP and Vista at present. However, we think its calendar-centric interface offers a very handy way to view a busy schedule ,and its inclusion of a simple money manager sets it apart from others in this category. Get taskTome

 

Chaos Manager
Martin Bresson's Chaos Manager is a compact, lightweight PIM that combines an appointment manager (with reminder pop-ups), a contact manager/address book, a notebook that supports rich text and URL detection (ie links entered in notes are clickable) and a calendar into a small, slick interface that - for many people - may be all the PIM they'll ever need. Chaos Manager has a very extensive list of features too long to list here (they're listed on the site) but they include the ability to customise many of the ways the program works and looks, right down to fonts and a choice of 22 skins that come packed with your download. Chaos Manager also integrates with email and it has substantial import/export/printing capabilities too. Yet for all this, it's a genuinely drop-dead easy program to learn and you can get productive with it very quickly - though if you really want to dig into all its capabilities, you'll probably be just as surprised as we were by how much thought has gone into them and how extensive they really are. Chaos Manager is freeware and it runs on all versions of Windows (from Win98 to XP). There's also a separate version specifically for older Windows machines available. Get Chaos Manager.

 

Mozilla Sunbird and Mozilla Lightning
Finally, if you use the Firefox browser and want to extend its capacity with an integrated calendar-based organiser, then Mozilla's Sunbird and Lightning are well worth looking into. The only difference between the two programs is that Sunbird works independently of your email program while Lightning can be tightly integrated with Mozilla Thunderbird (Firefox's email program). Mozilla's long-term aim is that together, the three programs (ie Firefox, Thunderbird and Sunbird/Lightning) will eventually provide a strong, absolutely free non-Microsoft alternative to Office Outlook that runs on all platforms (ie Windows, Mac OS X and Linux/Solaris). However, while Firefox and Thunderbird are now very mature programs with stable code bases and a following numbered in the millions, Sunbird and Lightning are still relatively new and earlier versions have had some problems with stability and memory consumption (though both of these matters have been directly addressed and largely fixed in the current release, we hasten to add). One limitation of the current versions is that they lack a "minimise to system tray" function. So unlike Outlook, any notes/reminders you make don't show up unless you keep the program running. However, Mozilla are noted for not only their rapid bug fixes and regular upgrade releases, but also their intelligent design and willingness to code sensible improvements. So while this feature may not exist at present, we think it's very likely to appear in a future release. Like all of Mozilla's software, Sunbird and Lightning are freeware released under the GNU public licence (and several similar licences). We also think they're pretty cool. Get Mozilla Sunbird or Mozilla Lightning.

 

This page last updated: 05-Nov-2008

 


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