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My Search For the Ultimate Personal Information Manager

Way back in the beginning, I began storing information in WordPerfect and Lotus 123.

Pack Rat

Here I started with version 4.0 and kept up with the upgrades. It was a great system because everything was modular. You could create any tabbed page you wanted and then put any totally customizable viewers and data entry screens you desired on it. This reached a beautiful level with release 5.0, but unfortunately that program was incompatible with just about every machine it was installed on. I can't believe that Polaris software even stayed in business the way they just screwed and then abandoned their customers with that release. Yet somehow they did stay in business. and are supposedly releasing a brand new version 6.0. I don't think any program could be special enough to get me back to using a program from people like this. Unfortunately the data needed to be irreversibly converted to update from ver. 4 to ver. 5, so going back to the ver 4 wasn't an option because of the way I trustingly upgraded. Yes, I still hold a grudge toward Polaris Software. If you ever have a chance to buy one of their competitor's products instead of one of theirs, please do so.

Janna Contact

This was the first 32 bit info manager to hit the shelves after the introduction of windows 95. It's basic database engine was Microsoft's own Access. The program called itself "docucentric" and it was good at arranging, storing, and finding documents. For about the last 1.5 years of my practice, I kept all my patient scheduling in this program. The main drawback to this program for me when I was in practice was it's cumbersome method of logging phone calls. I used to make many phone calls to pharmacies for refills of patient's medicines, and a program that would not only dial the phone, but then also automatically bring up a log screen with the date time and phone number already in it would have been so much more convenient. I E-mailed Janna and their support a couple of times, but never got any response from them.

Ecco Pro

I tend to think in the form of an outline, so this program really appealed to me. In addition to it's general calendar, scheduling, and To Do functions, the whole program is based on a free form outline style of nested notes. Items can linked together, and there are many features and much power that I haven't even begun to explore yet.
I downloaded a limited time trial version of this program from the Net Manage web site. I quickly found some great newsgroups for tips, questions, support, and new application development on web. Unfortunately, it was here that I also found out that Net Manage has no interest in continuing to support or develop this product. They are supposedly trying to sell it, but it looks more like they are just letting it die a slow death. They have cut the staff for this product way down. The few that are left are great people. I think this was really a program that had even more potential.
I still liked it well enough to go out an buy it, even though it is about to become an orphan.
I think the main weakness of the existing version is that it still doesn't achieve the mythical status of "Universal Address Book". Ideally such a program would work for our main database such as contact manager, as well as with our mail merge, our E-mail programs, and our web browsers.

Microsoft Outlook

It is apparently because Gates has gotten such widespread distribution of this program that some of the information managers seem to be giving up. I don't have a copy of Outlook yet, because I'm waiting until I get my new computer to move on to Office 97. I understand that this program goes a long way toward achieving the "Universal Address Book" function. I just read a list of upgrades to this program, and many of them are to make the E-mail portion as nice as the Outlook Express E-mail client that I have been using since I got Internet Explorer 4.0 on the first day that program became available.
2/7/98 The Outlook that came with Office 97 was really clunky. I downloaded a 3-pane extension and a number of other updates. It still didn't seem as nice as Outlook Express for handling E-mail. Figuring I had nothing to loose, because I didn't like Outlook 97 anyway, I downloaded Microsoft's Beta 2 of Outlook 98. Now here is an E-mail program that's almost as good as Outlook Express. I've worked hard to get my Contacts folder to be my one single overall address book. That was the whole purpose in using Outlook instead of Outlook Express.
7/31/98 I've continued to stick with Outlook 98 as my E-mail client, but I still use ECCO for its wonderful free form outline note taking features. Additionally, Outlook does lock up with some frequency when I'm exiting the program. I'm sure I have much more saved E-mail than the designers of the program ever anticipated anyone having. With about 100 folders and subfolders, I'm able to organize and store much information that I gain from the various E-mail discussion groups. For months I was afraid of the auto-archive function and delayed letting it run itself. Now I've finally let it run a couple times and I can still see all my oldest messages, so I'm not really sure just what's happening with this archive feature.
1/15/00 Actually my whole Outlook program locked up so terribly on the home computer that I can't even start it anymore. I think the Office 97 CD that I have has some sort of error. Therefore I'm back to using Outlook Express for my E-mail and have long given up on using Outlook as my PIM and gone back to Ecco for managing my information.

A Whole New Approach

1/16/00 I've still been using Ecco Pro as my main PIM on the home computer, though it is now a defunct orphan program. It's not that I so much like its calendar or address book, it's the outliner style of storing lots of data that appeals to me. Because my Ecco is on a CD and my work computer doesn't have a CD drive, I've been having to use Outlook at work. There really is enough separation of my work and real lives that having two separate programs hasn't been too problematic. Because my computer system at work doesn't provide a good way for me to manage information, I have been using a paper system for the past year. I've given up on the VA ever providing me with a decent computer system, though they have been saying it could be coming for more than 6 months now.
I got very interested in this new Visor Deluxe, an 8 meg PDA from Handspring, a company created when the original founders of the Palm Pilot felt too constrained by the 3Com corporation. Only $250 for an 8 MB, palm OS, PDA sounded too good to be true. When I started reading the reviews and feedback from people, I found there were some quality problems, huge shipping and availability problems, and the worst Customer Support since AOL invented horrible Customer Support. In my researching about the Visor, I was really impressed by much seemingly useful software is available for the Palm OS. I had looked at a Windows CE operating system on a small device a few years ago and thought it would be great. Since then it has proven itself a typical Windows product by becoming extremely bloated and a resource hog. Not only that, but there is very little software available for it. On the other hand, Palm has now sold 5 million PDA's and there something like 20,000 developers producing all sorts of neat programs and utilities for it. I spent a lot time yesterday searching the web on information about the Palm products and the software available for the Palm OS. There is now a Palm VII that includes a wireless connection, but I believe one has to pay monthly for another service and the device still isn't all that useful yet. That leaves my choices between the IIIx and the Vx. The "x" models are the ones that have more memory than their counterparts, with the IIIx having 4 MB and the Vx having 8 MB. Unlike the "GameBoy" look of the Visor, the Palm Vx has an aluminum case. Not quite as cool as Toshiba's magnesium cased subnotebook, but not too shabby.
One of my main concerns is data input. Each day I get detailed reports on each of my patients, and I jot notes down during this time that tell what I want to do for them that day. This provides a daily ToDo list, as well as leaving a documentation of the work I've done. In medicine, if you don't document, it didn't happen. The problem is that the computer system is so slow at work that I can't possibly document in the electronic patient record all that I would like to. Therefore it is important for me to have documentation of what I've done somewhere. I'm not sure that the Graffiti input system will be fast enough for me to get down what I'd want during the morning report time, though I realized there is a definite learning curve for that. Since college, I've done my note taking in printing rather than script, so I hope I won't have too much trouble with the Graffitti system. One of the medical software programs I found appears to have customizable pop-up lists for lots of the most common entries. This could mean that input would just consist of stylus taps, rather than writing. Landmark or some such company also makes a small keyboard called GoType! that might also be useful. I really think I'll give a Palm product a try and report back on how it works for me.
3/17/00 It's exactly two months now since I bought the Palm Vx. Last night I bought and added Quicksheet 4.0 which now gives me a spreadsheet that integrates totally with Excel. Earlier this week I downloaded the software from AvantGo and began setting up a number of channels. Now at each Hot Synch I get the latest weather, medical news, Hand held computer news and developments and much more. All this is downloaded right to the Palm for viewing any time. No more needing access to the desk top system to catch up on very up to date news.
12/7/00 I've experimented with many of the Outliner programs available for the Palm. So far, I'm most impressed with Progect, and I recently discovered another called Shadow. I've been putting a lot of information into Arranger for the past 10 months, but I may very well change to one of the above programs.

InfoSelect 5

12/7/00 InfoSelect, the free form way to handle random bits of information has been around since the DOS days. They have finally come out with a Palm OS product. While reading E-mail discussion groups I saw InfoSelect mentioned so I decided to go out to their website. I kind of impulsively bought the Windows version for $99.95 For this price, the program must be downloaded and one receives no paper documentation. There is a feature where one can highlight material from a webpage on ones browser, they click on a lightening bolt and have that material entered into InfoSelect 5. They also say it can take over handling your E-mail. I belong to many discussion groups, and important bits of information are always coming accross. The thought of being able to search for this data in one's main information manager program sounded really appealing. I worked through the tutorial and help files. Having used ECCO to outline for so long, I've gotten into some habits. To add a new item at the same level in ECCO, one simply hits "Enter". To add a child item, I'm very used to holding down Ctrl and hitting "r" The best I can tell, to add a new item or "Topic" as they call it, one must either mouse through the menus, or use the F11 key. I imagine I can learn to live with that. When I tried to figure out how to add a Child Topic, I just couldn't figure out how it was done. The Keyboard Shortcuts included in the Help files don't say how to do. I began to search for the mythical "Online Manual" I'm sure I saw mentioned somewhere. I could find no way to access it from within the program, so I went to MicroLogics website. Feeling very stupid, I was unable to access any online manual there either. Adding a Child Topic is something that I do so frequently, I'm getting very frustrated trying to figure out how it would be done. I E-mailed my question to Customer Support this morning, but so far the only E-mail I've received from them is an acknowledgement of my order. I can't believe how much it bugs me to spend a hundred bucks on a program and not be able to figure out how to do something that I feel is important to me. As of now, I have really negative feelings about InfoSelect 5 and MicroLogic. I'll just have to wait and see what kind of response I get from Tech Support.

UltraRecall Pro v2.0b

Was excited enough to buy a license for this baby, even after a bit of a mess getting a copy installed and registered.  The selling point of this program for was the ability to place and exact "copy" at another place in the outline.  In fact, it's not a copy at all.  It is a second instance of the original node.  This way and important subtopic, such as "The House" can be given a top level position as well as living at the proper place in the Overall Outline.  Any changes to one are made on the other.  Another great feature, which I find more useful for research than general record keeping or ToDo list generation, is the ability to copy or link a web page anywhere in the outline.  A menu is added to Internet Explorer to Copy or Link.  I prefer to copy most pages, or at least a selection of one, as that leaves the material available at times of no internet connection.  The storage alogorythym must be fairly sophisticated as pages are stored very accurately, and take up minimal room.  I have no idea how many pages and parts of pages I've added to my UltraRecall, but the file had not grown large. Size is about 55,000 KB

Despite skulking around the forums and reading the local and on line help, searching is not at all intuitive for me, and I'm sad to say that I still do not know how to produce a simple list of current ToDo:s

Any thoughts or opinions?

Website Work
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Adventures in Linux

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created 2/7/08
updated 2/7/08