Woody Allen famously quipped that 80 percent of success is showing up. If your life is ruled by appointments, then you need a good calendaring program like Apple’s iCal. On the other hand, the big problem for some people isn’t showing up—it’s getting things done. If you’re one of these folks, your life is ruled by deadlines, and meeting those deadlines involves juggling many projects and priorities.
While the calendar-oriented person can’t be in two places at once, the task-oriented person could well be working on three (or 13) projects simultaneously. For the task-oriented person, 80 percent of success is managing competing demands on time, and you may need more power and flexibility than iCal’s to-do list provides. And then there is a third group of people whose obligations are fairly balanced between an overwhelming welter of tasks (with or without deadlines) and a never-ending list of appointments. These poor folks need all the help they can get.
We reviewed nine programs:
The iCal Standard
Comparing these programs is a bit tricky, because they are all pretty good and each serves a somewhat different set of needs. Let’s take Apple’s iCal as a starting point, since it’s free from the maker of Mac OS, and it’s an excellent program. The question is, do you need anything other than iCal? The answer may indeed be yes. While all of these programs are great for individuals, three of them (Daylite, Now Up-to-Date, and Contactizer Pro) are designed for multiple users and really shine in collaborative environments.
Apple’s iCal is very easy to use and yet remarkably versatile. You can create as many calendars as you like. You can ask iCal to notify you before an event occurs via e-mail or a pop-up alert. If you want to invite a couple of colleagues to a meeting, iCal can automatically get their e-mail addresses from OS X’s Address Book; also, the invitees will automatically have access to any documents you attach to an event. You can easily sync iCal with your iPhone or iPod. You can also share calendars easily on a peer-to-peer network or even by putting your calendar on a calendar server. While you can sync your calendar to your MobileMe account, at press time the service did not support syncing events in calendars you’ve subscribed to or published. In Leopard, you can even create iCal events and tasks while you are using Mail, and Mail’s data detectors will help you pull appointment information from an incoming message. In short, iCal does most of what you’d want a calendar to do.
SOHO Organizer’s strength lies principally in the interoperability of its calendar, address book, and SOHO Notes. The SOHO Organizer contacts screen lets you see all events (appointments and tasks) associated with a particular contact, although in iCal you can quickly search the calendar by attendee name to get a similar result. But the real power of SOHO Organizer is the way it works with SOHO Notes. SOHO Organizer provides two ways to write lengthy, free-form memos tied to specific days: the daily journal and daily notes. It seems like one or the other of these could be jettisoned, but Chronos seems to expect that you’ll record things like your expenses in the daily notes, and use the journal for more expansive entries. If you’re a note-writing kind of person, then the SOHO Organizer suite might be just your thing.
If you’re looking for a calendar that’s both multiuser and cross-platform, check out Now Software’s Now Up-to-Date & Contact, two programs that come as a package. Now Up-to-Date & Contact is basically a souped-up combination of Apple’s Address Book and iCal that you can easily share on a network. Unfortunately, Now Up-to-Date & Contact is showing its age. Now Software has been working on a replacement called Nighthawk, which is still in beta at this writing.
If you don’t want—or can’t afford—to be tied to a single operating system or computer, then you can access similar calendar and organizer functions via your browser with Google and Yahoo calendars. These are most similar to the calendars in iCal, SOHO Organizer, and Sunbird. Both of these online calendars allow you to create multiple calendars, invite guests, and receive notifications.
Gmail’s feature is a bit smarter. I sent myself a test message, inviting myself to a meeting tomorrow, perhaps at 12:30, but suggesting next Monday as an alternative, at 9:30 at the Starbucks in Casa Linda Plaza. Mail’s data detectors recognized meeting tomorrow if I held the cursor over that pair of words, but didn’t pick up the time later in the sentence. Gmail, on the other hand, without prompting, suggested creating an event. The event I created with a single click missed meeting tomorrow and went instead for next Monday, but did effortlessly pick up the time and the location. (Yahoo Mail has no similar feature.) Google Calendar also can send an SMS (text) message to my cell phone to notify me of upcoming events.
Getting Things Done
With the exception of Google’s calendar, all of the programs mentioned so far have a limited to-do–list or task-list feature. You can enter a task, assign it to a calendar, give it a priority level, and check it off when it’s done, but that’s about it. If you have more-complicated obligations to manage, you need a more flexible tool.
What ToDo is a nifty project and task organizer that’s designed along the lines of best-selling author David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) books. What ToDo tracks tasks, projects, and contexts—broad classifications under which you can group tasks, such as e-mails to send or phone calls to make.
What ToDo also allows you to group tasks (items) within projects, organize them, give them priorities and due dates, and add notes. What ToDo isn’t specifically a calendar application, although it shows a mini-calendar in its Detail drawer that you can use to assign deadline dates. It isn’t iCal-aware, and a task with a deadline won’t automatically appear in your iCal calendar. For individual users, the program’s simplicity may well be a plus. And aside from the lack of integration with iCal, it has a very nice Mac OS X user interface. One particular weakness of What ToDo is printing—What ToDo has no special report layouts. Individual users may find that What ToDo works very well as a complement to iCal.
The programs in the do-it-all category, Objective Decision’s Contactizer Pro and Marketcircle’s Daylite, are Mac-only. Contactizer Pro’s interface has a brushed-metal effect with a sleek, modernistic feel; by comparison, the large, colorful icons in Daylite seem old-fashioned. Looks aside, both programs are loaded with features. Both manage calendars; track e-mail, projects, and associated tasks; sync data with a variety of programs like iCal, Apple Mail, and more; cooperate with programs like iChat and Skype; print reports in a variety of formats; and much more. Contactizer Pro’s design seems more conventional: it tracks contacts (people), projects, tasks, and communications, and the links between these entities seem natural.
Contactizer Pro is the easier of the two to learn without consulting the manual—which is lucky for users, since there is no manual. Contactizer Pro takes a peer-to-peer approach to sharing data between users: there’s no server, something that Objective Decision touts as an advantage. Technically, it may be an advantage for a three-person shop. But for larger workgroups, Daylite’s client-server approach is probably more efficient.
Daylite’s approach to linking data is more free-form and takes some getting used to, and it definitely has some quirks. If you create a new task while you’re looking at the Notes screen, when you then click on OK and save your task, you won’t see it automatically. You have to switch to the Tasks view and select the My Tasks item in the Tasks index pane. This may be disconcerting for novices.
Daylite comes with excellent documentation, as well as instructive sample databases that show how the program can be set up to suit the needs of different kinds of businesses—a law office, for example. One thing I especially liked about Daylite, or would if I were a boss trying to run a tight ship, is that it lets you define customized pipelines. A pipeline is something like a series of steps that are normally followed as a project progresses from start to finish. For example, a wedding photographer might first need to meet with the bride, then send the contract, and so on. Daylite also tracks opportunities as a special entity.
Both Daylite and Contactizer Pro are really multiuser business applications. Getting the most out of them is going to take some effort. But if you need the features and are willing to commit to the learning curve, either program would be suitable for a busy independent consultant or freelancer.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
I can’t recommend Sunbird over iCal, but if you use Mozilla’s Thunderbird as your e-mail client, check out Lightning, an add-on that gives you Sunbird’s features right inside Thunderbird. Now Up-to-Date & Contact doesn’t do much more for individual users than the offerings from Apple and Mozilla, and Now’s product is slated for replacement; but Now Up-to-Date & Contact does support sharing in a mixed-platform environment. Simply as a calendar, SOHO Organizer isn’t dramatically better than iCal, but it is a terrific program if you’re an irrepressible notetaker.
If you live on the Web, the calendar services from Yahoo and Google let you get to your info from any computer with an Internet connection. Yahoo’s calendar has a decent to-do list feature, while Gmail and Google Calendar are as good a team as Mail and iCal. And if you need something with real task-management power, What ToDo is my recommendation for the individual user. If you seek a serious, committed relationship with some powerful but demanding software, try both Contactizer Pro and Daylite for a while before deciding which one to go steady with.
[William Porter is an independent database applications developer, writer, and events photographer based in Dallas.]