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Lotus Organizer- by Chris Wenham

Organizer, SmartSuite's Personal Information Manager (PIM), is by far the most "fun" programs in a suite of dull office productivity apps. Right away it has the most visually appealing interface that draws you in and makes you want to fiddle around with it. It's also the one you may want to have running all the time, if you have the RAM for it, since it has the power to keep track of your whole personal and business life, schedule alarms and programs to be run at a certain time, plus manage your contacts and long-term projects too. We've already reviewed Organizer last December in our PIM roundup, so in this article I'll be paying more attention to the features I missed last time and giving you an idea of its performance and stability to date.

The Sections

Made to visually resemble a paper organizer (.GIF, 28K), the leather bound kind you carry around in your briefcase and buy refills every year for, Organizer is divided up into seven main sections: Calendar, ToDo, Addresses, Phone Calls, Planner, Notepad and Anniversary, all accessed by clicking on colored tabs that run along the side of the 'binder'. The one you'll spend most of your time in will be Calendar, which has the ability to show through information from the others to give you a complete, at-a-glance view of your day.

Most of the sections can be displayed in up to 4 different arrangements, each will either sort the information differently or display it across varying time spans. For example, the Calendar section can be arranged from a monthly view (with a grid like you'll find in a hang-on-the-wall style calendar), to a biweekly, weekly, and two-day view. The two-day view is the most detailed and my particular favorite, since it not only displays your appointments but also visually represents their duration.

The address book is one of the best I've seen. Not only can it store separate home and business addresses for each name, but it can also sort according to many different criteria. Last name, company name, zip code, city, e-mail, fax, assistant's name, anything. Plus, you can customize the fields, changing the label for the second telephone number to "Modem" instead - and then sort by that! This address book is linked to the "Calls" section as well, meaning that when you pull up the dialog to make a new phone call, you can select from a drop down list of entries in your address book as a means of searching for the number.

By using the Planner section (.GIF, 27K) you can generalize and experiment with long term projects that may span days or weeks instead of just a few hours. Using colored 'marker pens' you swipe the grid, which can represent a year or 3 month (quarterly) view, then label whatever the project or event is. Afterwards you can adjust the marked area to shorten or lengthen it, move or delete it. It might not be a full fledged project manager but it's perfect for figuring out when a good time for a vacation is or seeing where a trade show might conflict with a deadline.

The Notepad you might think is a redundant item, since it's nothing much different than the OS/2 System Editor or any of a hundred other text editors you might have. But its value is in its location - right there in your Organizer. Saving dozens of scrap files in a directory might work, but it's not fun. Organizer gives you a means of throwing random ideas and thoughts, hotel confirmation numbers, shopping lists or whatever in a place where you can find it again. It can divide pages up into "chapters" that are indexed at the front of the section, for even greater ease.

Lastly, the Anniversary section at the back of the binder is good for recurring events such as birthdays, weekly or monthly meetings and so forth. Here you can schedule an event to happen on a specific day of the year, or on "the second Tuesday of every month" and have it continue that way forever or until a certain date or number of months/years into the future.

Taking and Making Calls

If you're busy on the phone you'll like Organizer's facilities for managing calls. Drag 'n Drop an address book entry onto the phone icon and Organizer will prepare to make a call, having the phone numbers found in the address book entry ready for you to select and click the 'Dial' button. Organizer can dial an internal or external modem if you have one and wait for you to pick up the receiver when answered. A notepad and stopwatch is provided for you to jot down reminders and time the duration of the call, all of which is saved together and visually represented as a "phone slip" so you can look back on your records and see not only when a particular call took place, but to who, how long it lasted, and what notes you took.

Similar features are provided when someone calls you. If a call comes in you can click on the "Incoming call" button and a call entry is generated along with a dialog for taking notes and timing the call. Unfortunately, even though Organizer can dial the phone for you through a properly configured modem, Organizer cannot listen for rings and automatically initiate the "incoming call" dialog for you. This is a small feature I think would have been nice for busy offices.


Not to be confused with DDE links is Organizer's information linking ability. With it you can associate address book entries with ToDo items, Calendar events with Planner entries, and link almost anything to an external file or program. So say you need to call a hotel to make a reservation and you've made a note of it in your ToDo list. You can link that ToDo item with the hotel's address in the address book so that when you next review your ToDo list you can simply click on the link and be transported instantly to the exact page with the hotel's address and phone number. That ToDo or address book entry might also be associated with a Calls entry for phoning the hotel and so on.

Especially useful is its ability to link to external files, meaning that a report can be linked to the calendar event for the meeting you have to show it at. When you see that meeting approaching you can click on its link and load the report into Word Pro (or feed it by DDE if Word Pro is already running) ready to review and print.

Ease Of Use

Organizer is very easy to use, mainly because it mimics a "real" pocket planner right down to page curls (which turn the page when you click on them) to sound effects of swishing paper and "clumphing" sections. Scheduling appointments and entering addresses is just a case of flipping to the right section, pointing to the place where you need it to go (like a square marked on a calendar view), and double clicking. This point and click method of scheduling extends all the way down to half hour increments if you need it to. Organizer is also thick with gadgets and nifty variations on standard controls: where another PIM might represent spans of time by a couple of entry boxes and spin buttons, Organizer has a custom drop down time line (.GIF, 8K).

But does this visual metaphor waste space and reduce productivity? With Organizer you can't reduce the size of the window beyond a certain point, hindering efforts to have it on the screen all the time, and the decorative visual elements reduce the amount of space available for your information. If that wasn't bad enough, the view can start to look disorganized when you have a lot of data entered.

Categories and Cost Codes

Every element you can create in Organizer, from calendar event to address book entry, can be assigned to a category of your choice. These can be one of the predefined categories that Organizer came with, or a custom one that you create (.GIF, 11K). The categories are designed to help you keep track of and manage items across sections and are usually represented visually by a tiny icon that you pick. But beyond the visual "key", you can also use Organizer's filtering tool to see all items in your organizer that belong to a particular category.

Cost codes are another immensely useful feature for grouping time related items. With Cost Codes a freelancer or consultant can put down how much he or she charges per hour for a given client or task, and then assign those cost codes to all the appointments scheduled with Organizer. Organizer will calculate how much you're owed, and these figures can then be exported to a spreadsheet program like 1-2-3 for preparing an invoice.


Organizer is very well endowed for printing purposes, coming with a large range of templates for various Avery, DayTimer and DayRunner blanks that you can buy at your local stationary store. In fact, in the printed documentation that comes with SmartSuite you'll find that two of the booklets are dedicated to Organizer - one introduction like the others, and a print layout guide.


I've noticed, especially with Windows programs, that time managers and PIMs are some of the most adorned and polished programs you can buy. I can only guess that the basic concept of a PIM is so simple that the programmers are often left with lots of time on their hands. So it's to be expected when you notice Organizer is chock full of "little things" that add polish and shine to the program (and maybe waste RAM).

As mentioned before, there are a lot of custom controls that replace what an ordinary spin button or drop-down list would accomplish easily. All fields where a date needs to be inserted have a tiny drop-down calendar (.GIF, 7K) that you can flip through and point to the desired day. The scrolling action of the calendar in Day-view is smooth slide-click, not unlike the scrolling action of Microsoft Internet Explorer. Tiny controls are embedded everywhere, like at the top of each calendar page, for "unfolding" a page into a wider view. It has several dozen different alarm tunes (which play through the PC speaker instead of the sound card) and about as many category icons. Turning a page is animated, the moue cursor is animated, and deleting an item is accompanied by an animated flash of flame and smoke.


But boy is this ever a neat program! You could spend more time organizing your life than actually living it with this application (should you be prone to extremes) since it's literally tons of fun for any gadget freak to play around with. But of course, you're a professional, and gadgets are not what's supposed to be important. Functionality and productivity are. In which case you'll still have bags of fun with Organizer anyway, because it's rather good at that too.

But light on it's feet? Nimble? Fast? Goodness no! I do not recommend running Organizer continually on a system with anything less than 32 megs of RAM. All that polish and decoration weigh in big time, slowing down even fast PCs. If you have less than the recommended hardware (Pentium 120, 32 megs, fast hard drive) then you'll only want to run Organizer when you have to, not all the time. This means you can kiss good-bye to its alarms and timed program launching features (Organizer does not have a "stub" program that monitors alarms in the background when the main program isn't loaded).

Organizer is by far the most polished and complete Personal Information and Time Manager we've tested for OS/2.

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Chris Wenham is the Senior Editor of OS/2 e-Zine! -- a promotion from Assistant Editor which means his parking spot will now be wide enough to keep his bicycle and a trailer.


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