Essential PIM: A Simple Yet Capable Personal Information Manager

By Joseph Moran | Posted October 25, 2005

For those of us that use a computer to keep personal or business information organized, a Personal Information Manager, or PIM, could be considered essential. Perhaps that's why EPIM Ltd. chose to call their Personal Information Manager Essential PIM. The program isn't designed to provide the detailed contact management you'd find in a comprehensive PIM like ACT, but it is a simple and capable personal information manager that can serve as a useful alternative to tools like Microsoft Outlook.

Interface and Features
Anyone familiar with Outlook's layout should quickly become comfortable with EPIM's interface, as there are many similarities in presentation between the two programs. The four EPIM modules are Schedule, To-Do, Notes and Contacts, mirroring — albeit with slightly different names — four of the five Outlook components (e-mail being the notable exception). Like Outlook, EPIM provides a "Today" screen that displays the day's appointments and ensures that all action items are front and center.

The EPIM database supports multi-user access so you can place its database file in a networked folder for sharing, and EPIM supports over twenty different languages. On the minus side, EPIM's lower right corner is occupied by a gratuitous digital time display that looks like it was lifted from a $2 wristwatch. This integrated clock seems like a waste of real estate considering that the time is always available from the Windows Tray, and the blinking of the colon between hours and minutes can be distracting. What's worse is that you can't turn it off.

Far more useful is the fact that you can configure EPIM to minimize solely to the Windows Tray, and you can create a custom hotkey to quickly restore it — a feature that saves a bit of clutter on the Taskbar.

EPIM lets you import existing data from Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express or the Windows Address Book (WAB). We didn't have any problems importing several years' worth of data from Outlook on our test system. And if you currently use another PIM, you can import information into EPIM using the standardized CSV (comma separated values) format.

Notes
Work (and indeed, life) can often produce fragments of data that may not be easy to categorize but that you nevertheless still want to keep handy, and Essential PIM's Notes component can make this easier. What makes this component most useful is not necessarily the ability to save scraps of simple text, but its support for rich text, which allows you to easily add items like bullets, colors, and other formatting elements to your entries. Notes can also include embedded files or links to files, and can keep related pieces of information together with hierarchical groups of notes. (The ability to organize information hierarchically and attach files to items is something that is available in most EPIM modules.)

Managing To Do's, Contacts and Schedules
Some of us live or die by our 'to do' lists, and EPIM has a number of useful features that can help you keep better track of outstanding tasks. You can assign a category color to each task entry, which lets you better identify the nature of the item at a glace. For example, you can highlight tasks that require travel or advance preparation, as can phone calls or personal entries. (There are nine pre-defined categories, but you can also add your own.)

You can subdivide complex tasks into smaller subtasks and drag and drop items to create hierarchical lists. If you frequently delegate chores to others, EPIM's ability to assign tasks to individuals in your contact list may be helpful.

Contacts and Schedule
Contact lists are the cornerstones of most PIMs, and Essential PIM gives you a fair degree of control over how to organize and view your contacts. For example, you can simplify the display by listing an individual's work and personal contact information on different pages, and you can associate a JPG or BMP photo with each contact (assuming the person is willing to provide one).

EPIM's scheduling component provides a set of basic features such as the ability to schedule recurring appointments and set reminders for them. Although you can add file attachments (like a meeting agenda) to any appointment, hotlinks are surprisingly not supported in this particular module. Therefore, if you want to include say, a URL for an online meeting, you have to copy and paste it into your browser rather than executing it directly from the calendar.

Data Protection
To protect your valuable data, you can create backups of your database file. By default, EPIM automatically performs backups every 24 hours and will retain the last two versions of the database file (it will save up to 10 versions). While the backup schedule can be modified, its flexibility is limited — you can choose an interval of between one and 120 hours (five days), but it isn't possible to specify backups to take place on a particular day or time. EPIM databases can also be securely password-protected using 128-bit AES encryption technology.

EPIM Portable Edition
If you travel extensively and don't carry a computer with you, you might want to consider the Essential PIM Portable version, a self-contained version of the application that the company says works directly off a USB flash drive so that it can be transported easily between multiple systems. Essential PIM Portable is a separate $39.95 product, though it is available as a bundle with the standard version.

An important caveat — people who rely on (or are planning to buy) a PDA or smartphone may want to consider the ramifications of using something other than Outlook as this may make synchronizing data between the handheld device and PC difficult if not impossible. If this isn't a concern, however, Essential PIM is a solid product that will be appropriate for people looking for a capable and low-cost PIM, and it may be of particular interest to people who are considering abandoning Outlook due to security concerns.

Essential PIM supports all Windows versions from 95 up through XP. Registering the software costs $29.95, which buys you program updates for one year (or until the release of version 2.9, whichever is longer). Registered customers also get e-mail support as well as a 30-day money back guarantee. You can continue to use the downloadable 30-day evaluation release past the 30-day mark, but you will lose access to several important features.

Pros: Easy to use, straightforward interface; offers hierarchical of notes and tasks

Cons: May not synchronize with PDAs or smartphones; superfluous time display

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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