Thursday, May 31, 2007

Web 2.0 and JPL (Part 1)

Today at work we had a 3 hour presentation by JPL's CIO, CIO (emeritus) and a system architect talking about JPL's current and future plans for Web 2.0 implementation. It was pretty cool inasmuch as I knew 99% of what they were talking about, and the 1% thing I didn't know (a children's social networking site) I was able to add an observation* to that was very insightful and he hadn't thought of before (despite its tremendous significance).

It will take a few days to write th full summary, and then some more time to condense that into an executive summary. And I may not be able to post it here (for obvious reasons).

*He briefed us on the children's social networking sites Club Penguin and Webkinz. I hadn't heard of either, but neither had anybody else in the room. It turns out that these sites get much more usage per person-visit than such sites as MySpace or Second Life. After everybody absorbed that information I commented that "When these get mashed up with One Laptop Per Child, then things will really begin to happen".

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

from Microsoft to Google?

My first real, good, and real good, PIM was Claris Organizer. I bought it at 1.0 and upgraded every time I could. It was - then and now - a very good piece of software for tracking personal information, and especially for linking calendar events and contacts. When Steve Jobs rejoined Apple one of the things that happened was Claris was killed as an independent company: Filemaker was spun off as an independent and Organizer was left to die. It was shortly sold to Palm, who halfheartedly supported it. It was still Palm Organizer, and was okay but getting old and in need of update. That was at least 6 years ago. Palm made one minor update to bring it up to OS X compatibility, but it was essentially abandoned. I stuck with it as long as I could, but eventually it just didn't work well anymore with the OSX operating system.

At that point I had to move all the information out of Organizer and into something else. I had worked with Now Contact, with Chronos, and with the various Apple software solutions. Nothing was as good, even though Organizer was no longer sufficiently functional.

But in 2004 Microsoft finally revised Entourage enough that it became a very good personal information manager, in addition to being a very functional email client. (Note that it is also a useful news client, so long as you restrict your usenet use to nntp://microsoft.public.*)

There are a few problems with Entourage though. First is that its database is fragile and can break so severely that one can lose a substantial amount of data. Microsoft does not provide any tool to fix or diagnose the database. (In typical Microsoft fashion, they maintain that it is a proprietary and so the customers cannot have any tools to work with on the broken part.) Another problem with Entourage is that it works best as a standalone, almost completely ignorant of anything else on one's computer. Granted it has extensive AppleScripting capabiltiy and there are some fairly capable scripters out there, but the scripts simply don't provide sufficient bridging to the rest of the operating system. (This analysis ignores the pluses and minuses of Entourage when it links to Exchange server.)

Don't get me wrong - Entourage has more data fields than anything I've worked with aside from a custom database. But it is a challenge to get anything in or out, and it is especially difficult to use with anything else (other email, GTD, calendaring, contacts, etc. programs).

Fortunately, it is fairly easy to work with. So when the time came to finally extract my information out of Organizer I chose to move the resulting dirty data into Entourage for cleaning up. I made a project out of all the contact data and laboriously went through all the contacts to eliminate duplicates (would have been nice to do that programmatically!) and fix the data that was broken in the transfer. As I had over 750 entries, this took awhile. I finally finished it a few weeks ago (down to 610 items), and now it's time to make another decision.

I want the information to be available to any of my computers - preferably from the net but at least from my HAN. Entourage simply doesn't recognize that. So I have to move the data either to my gmail account or to Apple's Address Book and then build and configure a server.

Getting the data out will be easy, but getting it out in some form that is easily transferrable will be difficult. I'll have to look for some tool to ease a move to Google. Alternatively I could move all the data to Address Book and iCal, but frankly those two are just too simple. Even Sbook is better than Address Book, and that was built by one guy on his own time.

Also, the latter means I'll have to manage a server. I can do that - and it will provide some other useful services - but I've got better things to do with my time.

I'll study the problem and practice it a bit and see where the study leads me. More later.