And now, let’s observe a moment of silence for Personal Information Managers (PIMs) – an honorable category of software that’s gone to its eternal reward.
Software designers devoted more creativity to PIMs than to all other software categories combined, I think, and in this millennial year it’s all for naught. (And yes, of course the pun was intended.)
Let’s take a trip down memory lane. For those of you who can reach back that far, Sidekick, the first PIM, invented “terminate and stay resident” (TSR) techniques for DOS. Just as significantly, Sidekick and succeeding TSRs taught PC users the value of having access to more than one program at a time. What should have been Sidekick’s longest-lasting legacy, though, is how it helped end-users with the small stuff – the thirty-second tasks that fill the day. It was Sidekick, far more than WordStar and VisiCalc, that leveraged the PC to bust the old paradigm of IS apart. After Sidekick, end-users understood that computers could help them with everything, not just those official responsibilities, related to company “core processes”, that were written into their job descriptions.
It took IS a decade to catch up. In some companies, it never did. Sadly, in others it did once but forgot.
PIMs generated more enthusiasm … and partisanship … among end-users than any other software category. I loved a product called “Tornado Notes”, which popped up tiny windows all over the screen, into which you could type quick notes, which you could find instantly. It was very cool. You can’t buy anything like it anymore.
Then there’s the late, lamented Ecco Pro. Purchased and immediately discontinued by NetManage (a brilliant business strategy) it combined outlines, tabbed pages, and drag-and-drop to let you keep track of every scrap of information you ever collected and knew you’d need to find three months from now. More than any other program I’ve ever used, Ecco Pro demonstrated the validity of the concept of “personal” computing. It kept track of my information.
With Ecco Pro (among other products), if you wanted to log an appointment with someone, you dragged their contact record to the right date/time slot on its calendar. Need to note the need to call someone? Drag their record to a fresh line on the “Calls” page. Need to take notes about a call? Hit the tab key to indent the next line and start typing.
Now I have Outlook — an integrated enterprise system, not a PIM. While its interface is ghastly in comparison, my need to integrate contacts and calendar with corporate e-mail and my PDA have forced me to abandon the defunct Ecco Pro. Random notes? While Outlook’s Notes feature provides a few of the old Tornado Notes’ capabilities, it has replaced the instantaneous response I got from Tornado Notes on my old 286 with tedious delays on my Pentium 233, while what Tornado Notes did in four keystrokes takes about 37 keystrokes and mouse clicks in Outlook.
Why are there no PIMs anymore? One reason: “Personal” computing … using computers to empower individuals in everything they do … is waning. It’s waning everywhere, that is, except among the end-users who still need a personal effectiveness tool. They, in desperation, are buying PDAs by the zillion.
PDAs, of course, have their own limitations: Any application that synchronizes with the PC is limited to what the controlling PC application stores.
What’s ironic is why personal computing has fallen out of favor. Microsoft, the biggest purveyor of personal effectiveness tools on the planet, has done most of the damage by persistently designing “DLL hell” into its product line — it’s DLL hell (and inflated estimates of its impact by the big industry research firms) that’s motivated IS to depersonalize the PC.
What’s even more ironic is this: As the World Wide Web has made the idea of cross-linked, cross-indexed information commonplace, the tools we provide end-users to cross-link and cross-index their personal information have become worse, not better.
Figure that one out.