Home Computer: Dating with a flexible friend: Richard Lander learns to mimic a Filofax and manages to become a paragon of neatness

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The Independent Online
ADMIT TO ANYONE that you have a portable electronic diary-address book gizmo like a Psion or Casio and the odds are good that you will be be labelled a prat.

Tell them you have one on your computer and the odds shorten even further. As a nation our love of gadgets outstrips almost any other country; but so does our love of sneering at others when we haven't got them ourselves.

The problems with electronic 'personal information managers' - PIMs to the cognoscenti - are threefold.

First, they can involve a huge amount of time and trouble to key in information such as telephone numbers and appointments.

Second, they can be extremely inflexible: unless you organise the data in a way strictly laid down by the organiser's software, it will throw a wobbly.

And third, the completed information manager may be difficult to read and clumsy to use. After all that hassle, why not just get a Filofax or similar product in the first place?

Little can be done on the first point, but on the second and third, Lotus Organizer, a program designed to provide diary, address book and similar functions on a PC-compatible computer, comes closer than most to getting it right.

I found the the key to the program's success is that it keeps the appearance of the program on your screen as close as humanly possible to a real-life Filofax. Load up the main program and there is the cover, the tabbed sections, even an on-screen representation of the ring binders. You might not be able to smell the leather or pull the ring binders open, but you get the point. This program is designed to work around you, not the other way round.

Organizer develops this by building in the flexibility in page layouts that a Filofax offers. You can choose, if you want, a double-page spread for your diary to cover a week or two days. Similarly you can get between one and 10 entries a page in your address section.

And you can switch the way that information is organised at a click of the button - from a week-to-a-page diary to a week over two pages, or whatever.

The program is also smart enough to realise that you will probably be running it on a desk top system, and will not be carrying it around with you - a personal information manager that is far away is as useless as no information manager at all.

So the Filofax mimicry lets you print out your diary and address book in a particularly user-friendly manner - in fact exactly matched to your own leather and metal Filofax or personal organiser. My address book is now a model of neatness and legibility in Times Roman type where once ballpoint scrawl ruled the day.

Punched-hole paper is easily available from stationers or mail order from Showerings in Hampshire for about pounds 19 per 500 blank sheets. You can print out diary pages, address pages and so on with your own information - dates and contacts - included and the whole thing will fit inside your ring-bound organiser.

The ability to print off the sections that need updating is especially welcome. I used the program to print out my diary complete with vital dates such as birthdays which can be stored in another section of the program.

Of course if you want or have to be a chained-to-the-desk personal information freak, Organizer is not churlish enough to stand in you way. Bells will chime to remind you to telephone your mother in 10 minutes' time; one keystroke will warn you of the urgency of paying the milkman on the 19th of every month.

It will even dial your telephone numbers for you if you have a modem attached to the computer to allow it to communicate with the telephone system.

Vital statistics

Requirements:

Hardware: PC

Software: Windows

Publisher: Lotus Development

Availability: High street retailers, specialist shops, mail order. Paper from Filofax/Lefax shops or mail order from Showerings (059 065711)

Price:

List pounds 92.82 including VAT

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