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DateBk5 V-5.1b
Posted July 2004 by Tanker Bob

A schedule and/or contact manager should provide some key services to the user. It should record future events in a way that makes them easy to find and retrieve. All data concerning that event should be concentrated together for easy access and reference, or linked directly to the supporting information for rapid retrieval. It should also be easy to change any item related to an event, or to multiply events into regular or irregular repeats. A variety of schedule presentations should make it easy to track events and trends over time. Oh, and it should be easy to use. This combination of requirements have challenged many software makers (and paper day planner makers), but one in particular has mastered the task.

One of the most asked questions in online forums concerns replacement calendar/contact software. C. E. Steuart Dewar (CESD) created PimlicoSoftware and developed the leader in that field--Datebk5. This review can't do justice to its power and breadth, but we'll do a quick fly-by.

First note that Datebk5 is more than a scheduling application. It incorporates complete MemoPad and ToDo application functionality, thus possibly replacing three built-in Palm apps. It takes the MemoPad function beyond the built-in with a restore button that undoes everything in an editing session--a real life saver. DB5 also has a most-recent function for addresses. That's pretty good bang for the buck. Second, it uses the built-in Palm Datebook database, making it 100% completely compatible with the built-in Palm Datebook/Calendar application.

The opening day view screen looks very much like the day view in the built-in Datebook. That's intentional. The underlying design philosophy for Datebk5 is that when it does what the built-in does, it does it pretty much the same way unless there's some overriding reason not to do so. That eases the transition for new users, making them instantly productive. There are a few notable differences, however. Icons can be associated with events and categories, making identification of events easy in the weekly and monthly views. Datebk5 even supports high density icons under OS 4.x, and the difference is dramatic. Like the built-in Datebook, events are directly enterable and editable in the day view for outstanding convenience.

Besides icons, events and categories can be highlighted through the use of color, both foreground and background. These prove highly effective in all views, especially monthly and yearly views where key days can be quickly spotted. The color priorities are well thought out and explained in the manual.

Also in the day view, DB5 can display a resizable split screen with todos, addresses, or memo list. These can be filtered by category and other characteristics for display. Todos/tasks can also have icons associated, which again helps ID individual entries in other views, and can also appear integrated in the day view. DB5 offers eleven distinct calendar views, selectable from the view bar in the lower left of the screen. One of the most powerful tools in DB5 is the custom view. The user defines and customizes these to filter and tailor the screen to display only the information of interest at a particular moment. A few of my favorite standard views are pictured below. Note the use of icons and color to capture important information at a glance. The action icons to the right of the appointment lines that denote notes, alarms, repeats, etc., are active, bringing up their setting dialogs or notes when tapped. Many of these settings come up on the command line when activated inside DB5. Almost every menu item has a command-stroke/graffiti shortcut.

Flexibility is Datebk5's hallmark. Global preferences are presented in a tabbed format, and each view is customizable individually. It can control the handheld's alarm system, time zones, and interface with third party apps like alternative address books. In fact, the newest version has built-in special support for PhoneMagic 1.30. You can have DB5 bring up the contact program of your choice by entering its creator ID in the preference settings.

Besides basic and repeating events, DB5 uses floating events (hybrids of appointments and todos) that move with time until completed. Fonts, from tiny to huge, can be selected on hi res devices in most displays, including in OS 5 devices from PalmOne. Categories can be given unique color schemes, icons, and be filtered across displays, making them a very powerful tool.

Powerful linking fulfills another of my listed requirements, and is basic to any contact manager. In Datebk5, events can be linked to a large number of address book entries, memos, or todos, or combinations of them. I use this to list all meeting participants, especially in recurring meetings, so that I have their information instantly available if a particular meeting should change. Each appointment can be logged to the address book entry along with descriptive text in a note, providing a history of events concerning each contact. Highlighting a name in an event and tapping the link icon will search the address book for that individual so their entry can be linked. These, together with other features, make Datebk5's contact management superior to other apps that are sold as contact managers.

One of the most powerful and unique features Datebk5 sports is the ability to categorize datebook entries. I've already alluded to that, but here's a powerful application of that capability. You can categorize entire schedules by individual, enabling the tracking of multiple people's calendars across devices. For example, a husband and wife, both using DB5, could beam their calendars to each other to synchronize their schedules. Both calendars are fully editable, unlike Palm's DualDate. Using programs like PocketMirror or DesktopToGo to Hotsync with MS Outlook, you can even synchronize the categories to the desktop. The latest Contacts app from PalmSource also handles categories, albeit in a rudimentary way. It doesn't come close to DB5’s power and flexibility.

Other features include built-in, context-sensitive help for virtually every screen and dialog box; advanced notice for appointments and todos; templates to speed regular appointment entries; saving tailored list view data to memos; and advanced beaming. Datebk5 comes with a 100+ page manual that not only explains each and every feature, but also provides practical applications for key features. CESD sets the industry standard for support, visiting the Yahoo! forum virtually every day. That's where the beta preview versions can be obtained. CESD's betas are generally more stable than other companies' re lease versions.

Datebk5 continues to support every Palm OS device on the market as they appear. This includes the T3 DIA, portrait, landscape, etc., as well as Treo 600-series navigation. OS 6 support is already in the works. CESD has spent an incredible amount of time reverse engineering PalmSource's buggy data manager patch that links the new Palm conduits with the legacy Palm PIM databases. This resulted in an incredibly stable and reliable schedule, task, and contact application.

Unfortunately, this brief review has barely touched Datebk5's power and feature set. At $24.95, Datebk5 is a steal and all proceeds go to wildlife conservation. In fact, Gorilla Haven recently accepted their first resident, Joe. DB5 played a significant role in bringing this dream to fruition.

My business life literally revolves around Datebk5’s incredible power and flexibility. I cannot recommend any application more highly than Datebk5!

Pros:

Easy transition from built-in Datebook

Easy to use

Extremely configurable

Very powerful

Tremendous connectivity between appointments, contacts, tasks, and memos

Cons:

Doesn't make my lunch for me—yet!

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