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|By Isaac Leung © January 2002|
ExCal is IBM Employee Written Software (EWS) and is available free of charge.
I think it was meant to be an example of OS/2 programming, demonstrating total integration
with the OS/2 WorkPlace Shell (WPS). It comes as a .ZIP file less than
500kb, containing the core of the files along with some installation scripts and
Installation is accomplished by running the EXCINST.EXE that is included.
You can specify the path to place the files in, and that's really all it needs to know. Once installed, ExCal doesn't even use an executable file! It only consists of a .DLL and a help file totalling about 750kb or so.
So how do you run it? Well, ExCal becomes an extension of the WPS, it's just
another folder object, although one with very special capabilities. But you don't
have to worry about that.
Just have a look at the program folder that ExCal installation creates and it looks like just another application. Along with the main application, there is a "To-Do" list, Address Book and templates for Places and Events.
Some main features
The main ExCal interface is very clean and simple. Calendar on one side, and the list of appointments, reminders and to-do's on the right. The selected day is shown on top of the right side, along with the current time.
You can use the menus to add an appointment, or right-click on the background,
or drag 'n drop one of the event templates on to ExCal. And that's the way it should
be, the application should allow you to work the way you want to work. Most
of ExCal's look is customizable via drag 'n drop, so you can change font and colours
to whatever you desire.
Events can be sorted by Name, Time or Priority. By default, it's sorted by Time. In the left Calendar pane, dates with events are underlined.
All the basic functions of a PIM are available. Meetings can be scheduled for
anytime, and can be recurring if necessary. Recurrence can be from daily, weekly,
monthly or annually, but cannot be more sophisticated, such as "every 3rd month".
If you wish, the option to popup a reminder is available.
Events have just so many features are crammed in here! Each event has the ability
to associate attachments with a particular item, and be able to open selected attachments
(e.g. you can have 10 attachments, but have only 1 of them open). For example, you
could schedule a meeting at 10am. At 9:45am, you'd get a reminder of the meeting,
and at the same time, it might open up the Freelance presentation which you're going
to give, and that WordPro document for taking meeting minutes. Handy, eh? Not even
MS Outlook seems to have the capability.
When a reminder pops up, you can close it, have it "snooze" for a set
amount of time, or until a specified time. Even better, ExCal doesn't have to
be "open" for reminders to occur! How much would you pay now? But
wait, there's more! ExCal doesn't have to be open, and you can set recurring alarms
with attachments. Now, the attachments could be virtually anything including
an application (I tested with PMCalc). This means that it's possible to use this
as a simple task scheduler (e.g. for backups). If you're still keeping score, it's
ExCal:2, MS Outlook:0.
When you create an event, it's always from the default list of "Events"
templates that is provided, but you can always create your own event templates.
(e.g. Poker night with the guys).
Each event has its own special properties. For example the "Afternoon Meeting" template by default starts at 1pm, the one for "Morning Meeting" is the same but starts before noon. You can specify a different default time for your own custom templates, as well as the default location, alarms, attachments and icons. So, for "Poker night" (for the record, I have no idea how to play poker), you could default it to be in the evening time, at Bill's garage, have a card icon, and open up your current bank statement too. :)
Each event is always associated with a place. The problem is, you can only pick
from the list of available places that are in the "Places" template folder,
which are pretty generic. Fortunately, this is a small limitation, as you can add
as many new "places" as you want. You can do this by simply by dragging
off a "places" template, which it has handily created in the OS/2 "Templates"
folder. For example, I've created a new place for my local bank branch which I've
called "Scotiabank". (There are also templates for Person and Event items).
The "Properties" page of any place has several fields, including Name, Address and Notes. And on page 2, a Contact Name and Phone for each place and seating capacity. As with any regular OS/2 object, there is also an "Icon" tab to the properties. In theory, you could drag 'n drop a thumbnail photo or mini-map of the actual location to represent the place. Hey, if you're going to make thing graphic, might as well go all the way! Microsoft Outlook? Umm....no. All you get is a single line field to type in the location. There are no properties or anything associated with the location. Is this a big limitation? Well, the company I work at has "given" e-mail addresses to each conference room (we have a lot of them) so it can be properly booked through Outlook. "Encoded" in each e-mail address is the name of the room, the location and seating capacity, just so it can be easily booked and referenced. So you tell me if these are features that people want!
The Address Book is very basic. It's just a tabbed notebook, alphabetical order.
Each entry, you can record Name, Phone, Address and Notes. The Phone field accepts
anything you can type in and contains multiple lines, so you could enter different
lines for cell, business or home if you wish.
To create another entry, just right-click to pop-up a menu, and select "Create Person" or drag 'n drop the "Person" template from the OS/2 Templates folder. One nice thing about this address book (also similar to IBM Works), is the possibility to have an icon associated with each entry. So yes, you could create a small photo-icon of each entry! Again, not a feature available in MS Outlook (geeze, strictly as a PIM, and not e-mail program, Outlook is starting to look a bit weak vs. a 4-year old, free program that sneaks in under 1MB, eh? ;)
No, ExCal didn't come away clean when it comes to annoyances and gripes! One thing that did annoy me a bit was that you can only set times in 5 minute increments (e.g. 4:00pm or 4:05pm, not anything in between). While it's unlikely that anyone would need that kind of resolution, it seems to be an unnecessary limitation to be placed on meeting times.
Another limitation seemed to be the "To-Do" list. It is possible to
create "to-do" items in both the specific "To-Do List" as well
as in the main ExCal application. However, changes in one aren't reflected in the
other. I think this is a rather serious deficiency. Changes in one should be reflected
in the other, but if that's too difficult to implement, a better way would've been
to disallow "To-Do" items in the main ExCal application. Right now, to
avoid forgetting about items, the best would be to just avoid using the "To-Do"
list altogether, so you can be sure that all items are right in front of you, in
the main ExCal folder. And actually, that's not too bad of a solution either...
The left Calendar Pane shows the current month and is hardly configurable at
all! The week starts on Sunday (some people around the world start the week on Monday),
and weekends are denoted with a blue background. None of the colours or fonts can
be changed except for the main background. The monthly view is not too bad for me,
but it would've been nice to be able to change it to weekly or yearly view as well
for those that want it.
Despite being a very old application that doesn't seem to have been touched in a long time, there aren't many bugs and it is still a very capable piece of software, especially if you don't have complex scheduling needs. Reminders came on time and the calendar seems correct, so no obvious Year 2000 bugs that I can see. When you look at it closely, there are a lot of nifty features not found in many other PIM's. With low system requirements and being free, it's pretty hard to ignore! It at least deserves a good, long test drive.
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