I want a PIM that...

Author: Morten Lied Johansen
Contact: mortenjo@ifi.uio.no

Introduction

This is just a quick bit of text outlining (and in some cases detailing) what I want from a PIM (Personal Information Manager). I'll list the general requirements first, and go into detail for each point afterwards.

Requirements

I want a PIM with stress on the M. Lots of PIMs today have extended beyond simply managing information, they want to distribute it aswell, with integrated E-mail etc. I don't want that. I want a PIM that:

Addressbook

The addressbook needs to support all the kind of operations I'd like to do with a list of contacts. Ideally, it should lay no restrictions on the kind of information I can associate with a certain person, it should allow me to group contacts in different ways, and it should be possible to sort and manage "like I want it to" however that might be.

More specifically, I want these features as an absolute minimum:

  • Store both work and home details
  • Store several (unlimited?) phone numbers and email-addresses with each location
  • Store free-text notes related to the contact
  • Define primary addresses and phone numbers
  • Cross-reference with the task-list for common projects etc.
  • Cross-reference with the calendar for things like birthdates etc.

Calendar

A calendar needs to keep me informed of all my events, and in some cases, other peoples events. It should preferably do so without limitations on what kind of events, or when or for how long an event can take place.

It would also need to have unlimited forward time, so that I could schedule events several years in advance. Systems in place for repeating items on arbitrary schedules would be needed, as well as arbitrary length.

The minimum features are:

  • Events that can be undefined time of day, defined time and length, or special occation
  • Arbitrary repeat patterns for all event types
  • Definable start-of-week
  • Week numbering, as well as dates
  • Year, month, week and day views
  • Cross-reference with calendar and task-list
  • Multiple alerts for each event

Task-list

The task-list is the part of the PIM I'm least concerned with at the moment, but that can change as soon as I start working on projects with deadlines etc. But because I lack experience using one, I have only limited feature-requests. They are as follows:

  • Cross-reference with calendar and addressbook
  • Prioritise tasks
  • Keep dependencies between tasks
  • Store free-text notes associated with each task

Webinterface

In order for a PIM to be truly useful, it needs to be accessible as much of the time as possible, and one way to do that is to make sure there is a webinterface for those times when you are not in your regular location. Alternatively, a thin client running locally which can interact with your PIM over the internet could also be used, but it would need to be minimal so it could be downloaded and ran without poweruser rights on the current computer. Typically, this is complicated and a webinterface is probably best either way.

Some features needed for a functional webinterface are:

  • Access to all features of the PIM
  • Validating XHTML to ensure that it works correctly in all recent browsers
  • Calendar viewability by thirdparties, limited to events marked public
  • Remote sync with other PIM software

Open Standards

There are lots of ways for PIMs to exchange data, each new PIM bringing with it what seems like a new way to exchange data with it, making the old ways obsolete. This leads to a sort of keep up or be left behind mentality, you always need the latest software in order to be able to exchange data with other systems. To combat this, I want multi-tier support for export/import of data, so that I will always be able to get my PIM to work with other systems, even if I have to write scripts to do it myself.

In most cases, we just want something that works. If that fails, we wants something that probably works, and is easy to manhandle into working. If that fails too, we want something we definatly can twist and turn and make it fit any form we'd like.

To achieve this, using Open Standards for data exchange is paramount. The PIM should therefore support what seems the best choices at the moment:

  • SyncML: Emerging industry standard, complex
  • i/vCalendar & i/vCard: Established standards, somewhat cumbersome
  • plain ascii (CSV): Anyone can read and understand this