Back in July, I covered Pester, a nifty utility for setting quick-and-easy reminders. But somewhere between Pester’s “my laundry is dry” timers and iCal’s full-blown calendaring features lies Alarms, a program focused on making sure tasks are done by a particular date or time.
Alarms sits in your menubar, waiting for you to enter a task. Click the Alarms icon (or press a user-defined keyboard shortcut) and a timeline drops down, sliding your Mac’s desktop down with it. The left-hand edge of the timeline is designated as Now, with the rest of the day’s hours displayed to the right. Double-click any time in the timeline and type a task name to create a task at that time. You can change a task’s time by dragging it across the timeline; you can change the date of a task by dragging it to the calendar at the right-hand side of the Alarms display.
The timeline scrolls to the left as the day goes by. When a task is due, it moves into the big ToDo box on the left side and Alarms sounds an alert, flashes its menubar icon, and displays a Growl alert (assuming you have Growl installed). You can snooze the current alarm by right-clicking (or Control-clicking) on the menu-bar icon and choosing Snooze, or by shaking the mouse cursor (left and right, four times) anywhere on the screen. To complete a task, you simply click its checkmark and—poof—it disappears.
One of Alarms’ best features is that it lets you create task alarms that include attachments. Just drag a file, a folder, an e-mail message, or a URL to the Alarms icon. (There's also an option that lets you drag to any part of the menu bar.) Alarms’ timeline drops down, letting you drop the item onto the desired time or date, creating a task with that attachment. When the task is due, the Growl alert you see includes the name of the attachment—click the name and the attachment opens. You can view the attachment at any time by clicking the eye icon on the task in the timeline, or by double-clicking the task itself. When viewing a task attachment, a tiny banner appears beneath the Alarms icon displaying the attachment name and a checkbox for marking the task as complete. This is a great feature for forcing yourself to deal with “stuff”—a document that needs editing, an e-mail messages that requires a reply, or even a product you want to purchase online.
Alarms saves all tasks—pending and completed—to a searchable log, so you can see each task along with its due date/time, completed date/time, and (if applicable) the Internet or local URL of its attachment. Type a search term, and Alarms filters the list of completed tasks to display only those that match. You can click any column header to sort the list by that column.
Another great feature if you already use iCal (or another to-do-list manager that syncs with iCal) is that Alarms can sync with that program, so tasks you create in the other program appear in Alarms, and vice versa. Alarms can also automatically add birthday-reminder tasks based on Address Book’s birthday field.
Finally, you can also set timed alarms (such as the aforementioned “my laundry is done” alert) by click-holding on the Alarms menubar icon and then dragging the mouse cursor down—the length of the timer increases the farther down you drag the cursor. It’s a clever feature that works well once you get the hang of it.
I wish Alarms provided a way to manually enter the due date and time for a task, instead of always having to drag the task to the desired time, and I couldn’t figure out a way to delete a task other than marking it as complete and then deleting it from the task log. I also wish the program offered more keyboard shortcuts (for example, Command+F for Find). Finally, it would be nice to see some more-advanced task-management features, such as labeling.
But despite these omissions—Alarms is brand-new, so I suspect we’ll see some of these gaps filled in as the program matures—Alarms is a novel approach to task-tracking that I found myself enjoying, and using, more than I expected to.