EWS stands for Employee Written Software, and is a treasure-trove of free utilities and programs written by various IBM employees for OS/2 users. One of the best is ExCal, a remarkably simple and elegant PIM that exists entirely as an extension to the Workplace Shell. An ".EXE-less" program, it may be perfect for someone who's in need of just a simple To-Do, Calendar and Address book.
Once you've downloaded and unzipped ExCal, you need to copy the excal.dll file into a directory that's somewhere in your LIBPATH (such as C:\OS2\DLL,) then run the included install program which will create an ExCal folder on your desktop and populate it with a few starter-objects.
Since ExCal works by extending OS/2's folder class, opening the Calendar, ToDo list or Address book is simply like opening a regular desktop folder -- because that's exactly what they are. The only difference, of course, is their appearance.
Calendar view (GIF, 21K) will give you a split window with a monthly grid on the left hand side and a details view on the right. You can flip through the months and years with a roll-bar at the top of the left side, or jump to a specific day of the month by double-clicking on its square. The right side will then display a list of all meetings, appointments and alarms scheduled for that day. Rescheduling an appointment for a different day is simply a matter of drag-n-dropping it onto a different square. Unfortunately it doesn't have a drag-n-drop method for rescheduling the time of day, like Relish can. But it does have a convenient selection of preset times in half-hour intervals accessible through the right-click menu over the appointment's object, for quick rescheduling.
To create a note or appointment, ExCal has a set of predefined templates such as High, Medium High, Medium and Low priority notes for your ToDo list. It also has Vacation, Class, Meeting, Travel, Phone-Call, etc. for appointments. You can either drag-n-drop these templates from ExCal's templates folder (separate from Warp's regular templates folder), or right-click somewhere in an ExCal folder and pick 'Create for today' from the menu -- it will display a drop-down menu of all templates it has found in ExCal's templates folder. So, if you created your own templates and put them here, they'd show up in the right-click menu too.
Editing an appointment once created is very easy and everything is presented for you in a convenient tabbed notebook (GIF, 15K). From the first page you can set the title and a summary, pick the location, time, and set an alarm to go off in advance. Other pages can display more detailed information on time, repeating events, location, attachments and alarms.
Some interesting points can be made here. The 'location' of a note or appointment is not linked to ExCal's address book like it is in Relish. You can create and customize locations, such as "home," "Favorite Place," "Office," and "Classroom" and put them in ExCal's locations folder. The contents of this folder, like with templates, is scanned by ExCal and conveniently loaded into a number of context-sensitive "right-click" menus (GIF, 15K) spread throughout the PIM.
Another convenient feature is the Attachments tab of an appointment's notebook. There are two areas, one called "Attachments" and another called "Launch on Alarm" -- which is pretty self explanatory. You can drag-n-drop any Desktop object you want into these areas, such as a document, program or folder. This goes above what Relish and Organizer can do, since both of these programs need a full pathname to an executable file (.EXE or .CMD) before they can launch any window on an alarm. With ExCal you could drag a shadow of the shredder into an attachment area... if... you should happen to have a reason for doing that.
ExCal has a convenient, alphabetically tabbed notebook (GIF, 8K) folder for storing addresses in. It provides enough spaces to enter a single address, as many phone numbers as you want, and some notes. It cannot, however, separate home and work addresses. Nor does it provide any phone-dialing mechanism like Relish and Organizer do. ExCal does not have any "Grouping" functions like Relish does either, but it is possible to make multiple address books (right click on the object and pick "create another" from the pop-up menu) and sort groups of addresses that way.
While testing ExCal I found some interesting and beneficial side-effects of its deep WPS integration. For a start, you can drag your ToDo list or Address Book into a WarpCenter tray (GIF, 5K) and instantly have a real-time-updated, drop-down list of your items -- all thanks to the fact that the ToDo list is just a subclass of a regular folder. It's also possible to drag-n-drop objects that aren't from ExCal's templates into your calendar, such as documents or folders of projects due on certain days.
If you need to separate calendars and address-books for different people who use the same machine, you can do so easily by using the "Create another" option in each object's right-click menu. You can then selectively share elements too, such as an address book, set of locations or templates.
Unfortunately ExCal is probably not suited for the serious user. ExCal can't dial the phone, it can't print anything -- not even a ToDo list or address from your address-book, and it does not have any mechanism for making backups of your data. This last point is very serious, since your ExCal notes are at the mercy of a Desktop crash, "forgetfulness" that may come from restoring your desktop from an earlier archive, or a complete wipe out should you need to reinstall OS/2. ExCal also hasn't been updated since mid 1995, and we don't know if the authors plan to improve it further.
I found that there is a work-around for the backup problem. If you own Stardock's Object Desktop 1.5 you can back up all of your appointments, address books and ToDo lists safely with an Object Package.
I'm also willing to entertain the idea that an enterprising Rexx programmer may be able to come up with some means of printing ExCal notes or dialing Address-book entries. ExCal comes with documentation for its Rexx Interface (primarily designed for creating ExCal objects -- such as with its example Rexx install script). But it's really not a project I'd recommend for casual users.
This is a shame, really, because ExCal seems like such a good little PIM.
ExCal should be praised for its elegance and simplicity, it's small and more tightly integrated into the Workplace Shell than any other PIM reviewed here. It is, however, very underfeatured, cannot print, and has no means for making a backup of your appointments and address-book without resorting to third party utilities.
But ExCal is superb and stuffed with "neat gadget appeal." If you're only looking for a simple ToDo list, basic address book and calendar for occasional use -- try it. You'll probably like it better than the more expensive packages.
Chris Wenham is a freelance web designer, writer and Englishman who now lives in Endicott, NY. In the past he has written comedy, sci-fi, Pascal, Rexx, HTML and Gibberish. He has been using OS/2 exclusively for the past 2 years.
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