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June 2000

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Keep Contacts in the Palm of Your Hand

by Anthony Paonita

Keep Contacts in the Palm of Your Hand A COLLEAGUE of mine has embarked on a quest -- to find the perfect contact manager for her busy lifestyle. She is demanding: She wants her contact info with her at all times. Because she travels a lot, she needs to get access to her contacts on different devices, including a Palm handheld, a Web-based calendar, and both PC and Mac computers. (This is not a hypothetical.)

I've been deputized to help. True confession: I'm a relative newcomer to contact management. I've been blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with the uncanny ability to remember phone numbers after writing them down once or twice. So I've never developed the habit of keeping a little black book. But it's a good thing, as Martha Stewart might say, because I have no prejudices or preconceived notions about how this stuff should work. My only criteria -- actually, our only criteria, is that it should be easy and accessible.

KEEPING IN TOUCH: Shrink-Wrapped Choices
ACT! 2000 (Circle No.: 266) Symantec Corp. $120 Pluses: Every bell and whistle imaginable, such as Palm synch capability, network workgroup sharing; can synch phone numbers with many cellular phones Minuses: Overkill for small-firm/solo practitioner
NOW CONTACT (Circle No.: 267) Power On Software, Inc. $90 Pluses: Low memory requirements, simple interface, Palm connectivity Minuses: Macintosh only

A couple of ground rules: Most of this advice applies to small firm or solo practitioners. People at large firms using InterAction or Outlook 2000's interactive common calendars and contact lists will wonder what the fuss is all about. But those of you without large, friendly and efficient IT and support staffs, read on.

Look Within

You already have a contact management tool just sitting there on your computer's hard drive. Check out, for example, Outlook Express, Microsoft Corp.'s ubiquitous, free e-mail program.

KEEPING IN TOUCH: Internet Freebies
OUTLOOK EXPRESS (Circle No.: 262) Pluses: Low memory needs, good mail client, full-featured address book Minuses: Address book interface slightly clumsy
EXCITE (Circle No.: 263) Pluses: Contacts are easily accessed from any computer on the Internet Minuses: Contacts can only be accessed from a computer on the Internet. Speed varies greatly with connection speed.
YAHOO! (Circle No.: 264) Pluses: See Excite above Minuses: See Excite above
PALM DESKTOP (Circle No.: 265) Pluses: Fast, intuitive, full-featured. Easy-find feature Minuses: Asks for Palm user on first use; little else

Click on "address book" up on the toolbar. In the old days, you basically were given the opportunity to enter someone's e-mail address. But now Outlook Express wants to do so much more. You can enter addresses, phone numbers, cell phone numbers, fax numbers, etc., etc.

In other words, you may already have a virtual black book. Plus you can "synch" your OE contact list with your Palm -- although it took my aforementioned colleague awhile to figure out how to do this.

Debits? The click factor -- you have to start OE up and then click again to gain access to your list. And it's a little unwieldy to navigate. Like using Word to design a fancy page layout, there's a sense you're using a product for a task it's not really designed to do. Don't get me wrong: Outlook Express is a wonderful e-mail client (especially the spiffy Mac version 5). It's just not a dedicated contact manager.

Mac users: Microsoft Corp.'s Macintosh Business Unit promises an upgrade of its Office suite later this year. It will include full integration of Outlook Express and Word, as well as full-featured contact management. Stay tuned.

Go Online

Plenty of companies -- among them Yahoo! and Excite -- provide free services, including e-mail accounts. (My friend's online calendar is on Excite). And what's e-mail without an address list? They provide that, too. It's easy to set up, and then your address book is at your fingertips, wherever you find a computer connected to the 'Net.

Therein lies the problem: To look up someone's phone number, you have to be online. That's not a problem for us with fast corporate e-mail connections, DSL or cable modem service, but it can be a pain for lawyers with dial-up service. Or when you need an address at 30,000 feet. (I defy anybody to really use those airphone connections).

Another downside: These services, even for someone on a corporate network with a T1 line, are slow. Every time you add or edit an entry, your Web browser refreshes the page. It lacks the snappy, quick action of software that lives on your hard drive.

Buy It

It sounds impossibly old-fashioned, I know, but some people actually go out and buy software, even with all the free stuff out there. For Windows users, the pre-eminent contact manager is Symantec's Act! 2000, introduced last summer. (It's often mentioned, for its project management capabilities, in the same breath as Goldmine Software Corp.'s Goldmine.)

Act! 2000 comes with the requisite bells and whistles, such as integration with Microsoft Outlook (the scheduling/share contact manager/networked e-mail version, not the freebie Internet e-mail package), and the possibility to share contact data among workgroups. But is it for you? Probably no -- it's more suited to a corporate, large-group setting.

More on the money, if for fewer computer users, is the Mac contact manager of choice, Now Contact. It, too, lets you organize data however you wish. And it lets Palm users synch data to handhelds. (But beware if you're running OS 9.0.4; as of press time it was incompatible with Palm's synch software. A fix is due soon.)

The Secret

This last feature of Now Contact begs the question, "Do you need a Palm to use Palm software?" It's not a trick question, nor a Zen master's connundrum. That's because the answer is a simple, direct "No."

If you don't have one yourself, ask a Palm user how he or she enters contact info. Chances are, a Palmista will tell you that she types addresses into his or her computer using Palm desktop software, then synchs the data with the handheld unit. For most people, typing names on a computer keyboards is easier and faster than writing it out in the Palm's native "Graffiti" alphabet. (Of course, the new Stowaway portable keyboards are flying off the shelves.)

Even if you never synch, the Palm desktop software, for both Windows PCs and Macs, is a pretty nifty thing. It's fast and doesn't need much memory to run. It's as intuitive to use as any little black book or Filofax.

It's more than a mere contact manager, allowing you to keep a calendar, contact info, a to-do list and jot notes to yourself. Even better, when you hit the "find" command, it looks across all of your info and pulls up relevant entries, from a person's contact info to meetings you've scheduled with the person to a task that involves the person. And it's free.

You can simply go to Palm Corp.'s Web site and download the software. (If you are running Mac OS 9, its in your system software CD in the "CD Extras" folder. If you do have or eventually buy a Palm, so much the better. In that case, you --and my colleague -- would have a contact manager that meets her criteria. Your info would be portable, intuitive and easy to access.

That's all we really need from our little black books, isn't it?

Anthony Paonita is senior editor of The American Lawyer and contributing editor of Law Technology News.

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