As I’ve been juggling with a few different projects lately plus some upcoming schooling I’ve found myself suffering from a bit of information overload. I was having some trouble managing my research, my appointments, my project artifacts, my writing, my contacts and my personal and business task lists.
I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying out different pieces of software, both desktop and web-based, to assist me in organizing and controlling all this data and kept finding that, for one reason or another, none of them quite worked.
Then on a whim the other day, I opened up my old copy of Microsoft Entourage and fell in love. (Entourage is a component of Microsoft’s Office suite for Mac.)
This was a bit of a surprise because I’d all but written this software off a couple of years ago. Yet, after just a few hours using it I find myself a convert. I love Entourage again.
I say that I was surprised because, some time ago, I quit Entourage. I don’t recall why, but I opted to use Apple’s Mail and iCal applications instead.
Since then I’ve been dabbling with different project management interfaces and artifact management systems but they all bugged me for one reason or another. The primary issue I faced with a lot of these apps was their lack of information integration. I found I was duplicating information in different applications and they weren’t sharing very well.
For example, I tried a very nice piece of software from Marketcircle (a Canadian Mac software publisher) called Daylite. It’s sort of like a PIM on steroids and is clearly targeted at multi-user environments, so excels at sharing information among workgroups. However, it was incapable of automatically syncing calendar events with the Mac OS’ built-in Sync engine and therefore sharing that information with other applications.
I also found the interface and workflow model in Daylite a tad confusing.
I also tried other project management systems such as the web-based BaseCamp. I find the interface of BaseCamp very kludgy, however, and I had problems again with information sharing (like, why do I have to manually re-type in contact information when it already exists on my desktop?).
Plus, over time that I’ve found that I’ve grown weary of the click-and-wait interfaces of web-based applications. I prefer the snappiness of a desktop application, especially for performing fast tasks. (Not to mention that this sparse, block-colour Web 2.0 design aesthetic is worn out like an old sock. Yuck!)
One more note inregards to web versus desktop software, I’ve found that I’m not a fan of subscription-based software licensing models such as that with Basecamp. I prefer to pay my money and have full, unlimited ongoing use of the software until such time as an upgrade becomes available. I further like to retain the right to decide whether to upgrade my software or not.
These are just a couple of criticisms of just a couple of pieces of software I’ve tried. I could go on at great length.
When I opened up Entourage again the other day, a few key qualities caught my eye: its exceptional level of information integration; its zippy performance; its extremely intuitive and, yes, pretty interface; its management flexibility. Oh yeah, and it has a cool desktop icon.
Entourage automatically links everything up. When a message arrived in my In box, it automatically links it to the sender’s contact item. When I create a new task in project view, it automatically links the task to the project. When I create an appointment with a contact associated with a particular project, it automatically links the appointment to the project.
It’s a very well thought out user experience design as its behaviours and workflows seem based on how a person actually works, rather than how the information needs to be managed.
Entourage is not without its shortcomings, however. It’s not a Cocoa app, so my favourite Mac keyboard shortcut, command-control-D, doesn’t work (try that one in Safari, just point at a word first). It’s a few years old so it doesn’t take full advantage of the Mac OS Quartz engine, leaving things looking a bit flat.
But what it lacks in pizzazz it makes up for in zip. Because it’s a couple of years old now, Entourage literally cooks on my Power Mac G5 tower. Everything is instantaneous. How much time I’ve spent waiting for a page to load in BaseCamp when Entourage handles the same tasks without delay!
It’s nice, too, that Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit has just started publising their own blog, called MacMojo. It’s very interesting to read about the exploits, feelings and thoughts of the folks who build this software, especially when they invite feedback and feature requests.