The first office suite that I used on a PC (other than my fondly-remembered Commodore Plus/4, which helped put me over the top during my final push at college) is Lotus Smart Suite. It included an integrated electronic planner called Lotus Organizer, which was later spun off as an individual product.
While it is still possible to find and purchase Lotus Organizer, it was inexplicably left hanging by IBM many years ago, and hasn’t been updated since. I was eventually forced to abandon it fairly recently only because I could no longer get holiday updates for integration into the calendar. When that happened, I upgraded my mail program from Outlook Express to Outlook in order to get the full organizer capabilities I need.
And Outlook is pretty good – I’m fully satisfied with it. But Lotus Organizer is still inherently far the better organizer.
First, it helped to draw me away from my paper-based organizer by emulating its style. Graphically laid out just like my old planner, it opened to present me with the day’s events on one side, and the day’s tasks and scheduled phone calls along with a space for notes on the other (a modification from the standard setting shown in the image above). Along the right edge were tabs pointing me to all the familiar sections for contacts, planning, and the like, as well as various reference sections.
Second, just as with my paper planner, I could add and customize folders for specific projects, including project-specific calendars.
Third, it had a still unmatched feature that enabled me to link items from different sections so that I could easily switch between them. For example, I could link the contact entries for the colleagues who were attending a meeting with that calendar entry, and that to a notes entry related to the meeting. At the upper right corner of each entry a chain link icon would then appear; hovering over it with the mouse would drop down a list of the linked entries, instantly reminding me of the various ways their lives intersected with mine and enabling me to quickly move from one to the other to add notes or send an email out to one or more of the participants.
It had (has) numerous other terrific features, as well – from the ability to schedule calls as a special calendar event to exceptional customizing and personalizing capabilities in every section. Moreover, it does the best job I’ve seen with enabling you to make productive use (filtering, combining, searching) of categories and labels applied to entries of all kinds.
On top of it all, that familiar graphical interface makes it so intuitively easy to set up and use that it handily does its job of making your life more organized and efficient, without itself becoming a frustrating bundle of obstacles to its own use.
At first, I would print out calendar and other pages as necessary, and incorporate them into my paper planner when I was at events away from my desk. Later, when I got one of the first hand-held computerized organizer devices, it was a simple matter to sync the two.
The nature of my work accords an inordinate importance to otherwise nominally minor things, such as up-to-date international holiday entries in my calendar. There is no compromising with that, and no reluctance in doing so.
It’s too bad, though. If they updated Lotus Organizer today, it would almost certainly be back in use on my computer tomorrow. One can only wonder why it has been orphaned by IBM, or its ideas by others.