Tag Archives: Personal information managers

An Outliner That Tags

One of my favorite and most used programs, the MyInfo outliner, is now out in a new version that wraps in tagging, fast searching and other tweaks that put it ahead of the opposition. If you use outliners, check it out, and if you don’t, you might want to consider it. (Outliners are simple free-text databases, organised in a familiar tree format. Great for storing more or less anything you want to keep in one place.)

MyInfo is developed by Milenix, a small software company in Bulgaria. It sells for $50. I’ve been playing with this version, 3.5, and it’s impressive. The tagging is simple but well thought through — a classic example of how tagging can be wrapped into standalone applications to improve organising and finding stuff. Search now works across as many files as you have open, so you can find stuff quickly and efficiently. Gripes? There have been some bugs but Petko, the guy behind it, has been pretty quick to fix them.

Plaxo Moves Into Macland

Plaxo, the software and service that lets you update your contact details with others — and lets them update theirs with you — automatically, is now available for Mac. A press release issued today (thanks, Joseph) says the move “represents a major step toward the company’s vision to offer the first truly universal personal contact management service, accessible on any platform, email client, browser, or mobile device.”

This is an interesting way of putting it. Plaxo has weathered the criticism about privacy concerns — some of them from this humble blog, despite my support for the service as a whole — to expand beyond Microsoft Outlook to America Online, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Outlook Express. Users can also import contacts from their Netscape, Palm, Yahoo! Mail, and Hotmail accounts.

Like a lot of folk I’m torn over a service like this. On the one hand I can see the obvious benefits: Who better to update the contacts in your address book than the contacts themselves? But on the other hand, how many of the contacts in your address book would be happy that the information is being stored on some company server somewhere, without their knowledge or consent? Then again, that last sentence looks less problematic than it did a year or so back. We’ve heard so many cautionary tales about private data getting lost, stolen or abused maybe we think this kind of thing isn’t important. Now, perhaps, we realise that Plaxo is not really the problem here. The problem lies in those companies deliberating collecting data on individuals, whether they’re ordinary Joes like you and me, or members of the CIA, as the Chicago Tribune recently discovered by searching a commercial online data service.

But I’m not sure that’s the case. The bottom line is complex: We should be as careful with other people’s data as we are with our own. If we don’t want a company to keep details of us we shouldn’t keep details of other people online. Of course, this refers as much to any web-based application or storage tool or networking site.

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Restoring Corrupted MyInfo Files

Here’s a tip for a piece of software I love, but which I know is not exactly mainstream. It’s an outliner called MyInfo, and it’s a great example of how versatile outliners can be. However, files can get corrupted, and, despite a good backup mechanism, it’s not impossible both the backup and the main file is rendered irretrievable. This is what happened to me, and despite the best efforts of the software’s inventor, Petko Georgiev, things looked hopeless.  But actually there is something you can do if your MyInfo file (MIO) and the back up (MIB) won’t open:

  • Open the directory or folder in which you keep the MyInfo file (using a program like ExplorerPlus which lets you preview the contents of the file helps here);
  • Look for the most recent TMP file that containts RVF files (these should appear in ExplorerPlus’ preview window as a directory tree). Many of the TMP files may appear to be a decent size (i.e. not empty) but in fact contain no usable data. So this will only work if the TMP file contains those RVF files.
  • Rename the file with an MIO extension.
  • Open the file. Your MyInfo file should now be restored.

Synchronize Outlook with Others

Collaboration is the next big thing for software. Not that people aren’t trying, but I’ve not yet come across something that really solves the problem of people working together, needing to be able to see the same information etc. Here’s a new and quite simple offering that will synchronize your Outlook folders with other internet users:

OLFolderSync can synchronize any Microsoft Outlook folder with anyone else’s (except Drafts, Outbox, Sent Items and Deleted Items). The folders you allow to be synchronized will do so in the background by e-mail. You can easily synchronize Outlook folders through the internet without the need for both parties to be online at the same time.

If you have private data elements on Outlook you can exclude them from the synchronization process. It is also possible to synchronize only objects of a user defined category.

The German company that does this, Somebytes Software, suggests this would be useful for letting your

    • PA add and amend appointments, tasks or other Outlook objects while on the other side of the world.
    • Synchronize birthday dates with friends and family.
    • Work with a synchronized Outlook calendar, tasks and other documents across your team.
    • Synchronize Outlook data on your laptop with your desktop.
    • Check appointments with those of colleagues on the road.
    • Check club/association schedules with that of other members.
    • Facilitate schedules to team members.

All pretty useful stuff, though a little steep at $72 for a two person license. The web site is not easily navigable, but there seem to be other products that focus on synchronizing particular parts of Outlook, such as the Calendar, Tasks, or Contacts.

A Directory Of Outliners

(Last updated: Oct 1, 2008)

A directory of outliners, or programs that organise data in a tree-like format. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but a great way to organise data quickly in one place.

All are for Windows unless otherwise stated. This is just a beginning; I’m sure to have missed some, so please let me know. (Thanks Petko of MyInfo for the extra names. I think we’re nearing comprehensive…)

Some assorted resources on outliners:

Some Thoughts On Outliners

I suspect not eveyone shares my preoccupation with outliners, or tree outliners, whatever one calls them. Still, it hasn’t stopped me drawing up a list of those that I’ve come across in my travels, in the hope that some of you might experiment with them. Any more suggestions would be welcome. I find them invaluable for saving large chunks of stuff where I can find them again quickly and without too much kerfuffle.

Here’s another one: General Knowledge Base, version 2.0 of which was launched today by Baltsoft, from Lithuania’s Vilnius. What is particularly intriguing about this is that the software supports quite a few languages, including Malay: Just select the language you want from the menu in the upper part of the main window. It costs $30.

I haven’t explored the software any further, but I’ve noticed that there are some key features that any decent outliner needs to work well.

  • Simple: Folk use these things because they’re fast and intuitive;
  • Adding text and notes, and editing them, should involve as few steps as possible. No fancy pop-up windows and forms to fill out;
  • Formatting: Give them the standard formatting tools — nothing less;
  • Drag and Drop: Nowadays we expect to be able to move stuff from one application to another using drag n drop. Not having it is a real black mark in an outliner (you know who you are);
  • Export and import: The easier you make it to move databases in and out of your program, the happier and more comfortable your customers will feel.

A Good Way To Organise Outlook Emails

This is a must if you’re a power Outlook user: NEO Pro 3.0, out in Beta today.

NEO is an add-in product that “turns Outlook into an email organizer – without affecting all that Outlook already does”. NEO, also known as Nelson Email Organizer, is good at finding messages quickly automatically displaying messages in different ways.

Caelo Software Inc. (pronounced Kay-lo), the makers of NEO, has introduced three other features:

  • auto-classification of folders between New, Current and Dormant top-level areas (auto-moves old correspondents to Dormant after x days of inactivity)
  • global filtering (e.g. ‘show me my active correspondent messages addressed exclusively to me for the past 5 days’), and
  • manageable Outlook categories (see categories at a glance – easily edit, split and merge your categories).

The beta trial program is free: download it here. I’ve used previous versions, and, while I’m not an Outlook fan, previous versions of NEO definitely made things a lot easier.

Update: More Office Woes

 My latest column (subscription only; very sorry) was about Microsoft Office 2003 and how, despite all the upgrades, a lot of old bugs never get fixed. That and why does every new feature appear to be more of a money spinning operation than a time saver?
 
Anyway, I’m not the only grumbler: Chris Pirillo, of Lockergnome fame, is also having problems, with Outlook 2003. “If you rely on POP3 or IMAP, you’ll be just as disappointed with the lame UI bugs and inconsistencies that plague Microsoft’s latest client”.

Update: Outlook Email Organiser

 A program I’ve raved about in the past, Nelson Email Organizer, or NEO, is planning a new version. NEO works atop Outlook to help you better organise and find emails, attachments and whatever. If you use Outlook, it’s a definite boon.
 
 
Caelo say they’re close to releasing Beta versions of NEO 3.0 and NEO Pro, which will deliver “a redesigned user interface, new global filtering capabilities, improved views with more flexibility for organizing and faster, more scalable searching with additional search parameters.”
 
I have to be honest: While I loved the program I found in the end that Outlook just was not the email client for me. I use Courier, although The Bat is just into version 2.0 so I’ll give that a try. Experiment. Email should be what you want it to be.

News: Outlook Ex-press? Or Look Out Ex, Press? Or Press Outlook, Ex?

 From the Do Microsoft Have Any Idea What They’re Doing? Dept comes another story about Microsoft products not quite gelling with reality. ZDNet Australia last week interviewed Microsoft Office product manager Dan Leach who said that Microsoft planned to halt development of Outlook Express, the email client that comes bundled with the browser Internet Explorer. Basically Microsoft seemed to hope everybody would upgrade to the Outlook collossus.
 
Fast forward two days, and scratch all that.
 

“I sat down with the Windows team today,” ZDNet quoted Leach as saying, ”and they tell me my comments were inaccurate. Outlook Express was in sustain engineering, but customers asked for continued improvement, and we are doing that. Microsoft will continue its innovation around the email experience in Windows.”
 

Leach was either on the beach too long, or customers were upset, or Bill intervened. Whatever, I’m overjoyed I’m still going to have ‘the email experience in Windows’, whatever that is. Still, I’d rather go for Courier, Pegasus, or even the email client in Opera. None are perfect, but they’re sturdy.