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Windows CE /
John D. Ruley

Pocket-Sized PIMs

Are you an organized person? You know, a clean desk, business cards all alphabetized and a little loose-leaf notebook with all your meetings neatly penned in weeks (or even months) in advance?

If you're one of those people, the rest of us-grudgingly-envy you. But keep reading anyway: You'll find a way to become even more orderly. And if you're not among the super-organized, this column can help you take the first steps toward organization.

When you want to use your PC to become organized, you typically turn to a PIM that acts as an appointment calendar and contact list. Unfortunately, the PIM residing on your PC isn't much help if you travel frequently. Short of taking a notebook computer with your PIM everywhere you go, all you can do is print out your schedule for the days you'll be out of the office. I used to do this when attending computer shows-and big ones such as the week-long Fall Comdex really stretched this approach beyond its limits. After all, you can only scribble changes on that printout so many times before it becomes illegible.

What I really need is a way to take my PIM with me-and with Windows CE I can do just that.

A portable appointment calendar

Windows CE's Calendar application works a lot like Microsoft Schedule+, which obviously suits longtime Schedule+ users like me. But even if you're used to a different PIM or none at all, it won't take you long to learn how to use the CE Calendar. Double-click on the Calendar icon on the CE desktop, and you'll see a brief Initializing Calendar message followed by the Calendar app. By default, it will show you any appointments for the current date on the left and a calendar of the current month on the right. This is called Day View, and it's the one I use most. You can choose a Week View showing five days at a time, and an Agenda list of appointments without regard to time.

You can create an appointment from any of these views. Double-tap on an empty time period, and an Appointment dialog appears. It lets you type in a name and description for the appointment, designate when the appointment starts and ends, and set a reminder time. The reminder time is 15 minutes in advance by default, but I usually reset this to give myself a day's notice for a major event and an hour's notice for a meeting. The reminder comes in the form of a flashing light, sound, on-screen message or any combination of the three.

You can also set recurring appointments (daily, weekly, monthly and so on) and type in long notes for an appointment. Fill in all the entries that apply, and click on OK. Your appointment appears in the calendar the same way it does in Schedule+

This gives you just about all the capabilities of a good desktop calendar except for the ability to share the calendar with co-workers. Doing that with Windows CE requires synchronization with your desktop PC.

Synchronizing PIMs

You can synchronize appointments, contacts and tasks between your CE-based Handheld PC (HPC) and your desktop PC. Microsoft includes a PIM with its Office suites: Schedule+ 7.0 comes with Office 95 and Outlook comes with Office 97. HPC Explorer 1.1, which comes with all new CE-based pocket computers, includes built-in support for synchronizing with the Microsoft PIMs. If you have the earlier 1.0 version, you can download a free upgrade from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsce. If you have a non-Microsoft PIM, don't panic! Puma Technology (http://www.pumatech.com; 800-774-PUMA) has an application called IntelliSync that provides the same functionality and works with other PIMs such as ECCO, GoldMine, Lotus Organizer and Sidekick.

With the PIM and either HPC Explorer or IntelliSync installed and running, connect your HPC. If you accepted the option for automatic synchronization, then the process starts when you connect the machines. Otherwise you'll have to start it manually. What happens next depends on the options you've selected. By default, only pending appointments are copied to save time (the first time through, you might want to have it copy all appointments instead). If an appointment shows up in your PC PIM but not in the CE calendar, the synchronization program copies it to the CE machine, and vice versa.

You can set options in HPC Explorer and IntelliSync to deal with conflicts between the PIMs. By default, the synchronization program asks you which is correct. You can also have it copy both appointments (you'll wind up double-booked) or have the HPC or PC "always win" on the assumption that whichever you select as the winner probably has more up-to-date information.

PCs can share appointment calendars. Even if you're out of the office, your colleagues can check your availability for a meeting using the calendar data on your PC PIM, and they can invite you to meetings. (That's if your PC PIM supports calendar sharing, as Schedule+ and Outlook do.) When you return to the office and connect your HPC and PC, the two calendars automatically synchronize.

Contact management

Business travelers also need to manage contacts. Again, Windows CE can help: Double-tap on the Contacts icon on the CE desktop, and you'll see a table listing your contacts in alphabetical order. Columns in the table give you the contact's name, phone number, address and so on.

Just as with the Calendar, you can synchronize Contacts with your PC. That's particularly useful if your organization maintains a centralized contact database. I have more than 200 contacts on my Casio Cassiopeia A-10, and the database takes up only 43KB, but if your company's database includes many more names, you probably don't want to sync all contacts. Microsoft lets you designate groups of contacts to sync in Outlook, and IntelliSync provides a similar capability for PIMs that it supports.

If you do a lot of contact management, you might want to check out Pocket On-Schedule from Odyssey Computing (http://www.odysseyinc.com; 800-965-7224). This replacement for Windows CE's built-in contact manager adds support for unlimited databases with customizable fields and a more sophisticated screen layout. Just like the built-in Contacts application, you can synchronize it with Schedule+ or Outlook by using HPC Explorer or with third-party PIMs by using IntelliSync.

Unfortunately, Pocket On-Schedule doesn't let you send and receive contact information using an HPC IR port. This electronic business card is an especially useful feature of CE's built-in Contacts app. If you and I meet and both have HPCs, one of us can set Contacts to Receive while the other sets Contacts to Send. By lining up our units, the entry is transmitted. That saves time compared to typing in the information from a business card.

Recurrent tasks

To keep a project on schedule, project-management software uses tasks to track what must be accomplished, by whom and in what order. Tasks have a start and end date, and a priority. Some PIMs support interaction with project-management software (Microsoft's Schedule+ and Outlook work with Microsoft Project) to provide automatic reminders when tasks are due. You can synchronize tasks with your HPC and PC the same way you do appointments and contacts.

Tip of the month

I found an easy way to copy personal contacts from my Windows 3.1 Cardfile database onto my HPC. The trick was getting the information into a PIM so I could synchronize it into my pocket machine. A little time poking through Microsoft's Knowledge Base (http://www.microsoft.com/kb) turned up article number Q164994, which presented two ways to do it. Indirectly, you can use an import pack for Schedule Plus that supports the Windows 3.1 cardfile/calendar data formats. Or, select text-only print format to convert the data into a text file, then format the text file in a tab-separated variable format, and import that into Outlook.

Well, that takes care of getting CE organized. Next month, more cool stuff-including news about CE 2.0.

John D. Ruley is WINDOWS Magazine's senior technology editor and Windows CE columnist. He's also principal author of Networking Windows NT 4.0, Third Edition (John Wiley & Sons, 1996). Contact John at WINDOWS Magazine's online locations or care of the editor at the addresses on page 20.

Windows Magazine, September 1997, page 271.

[ Go to September 1997 Table of Contents ]