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PIM and/or contact management software

Song Tan tan at mol.biol.ethz.ch
Fri Mar 24 11:57:46 EST 1995

In article <3k4uie$k3k at surz03.HRZ.Uni-Marburg.DE>,
klieber at papin.HRZ.Uni-Marburg.DE (Hans-Georg Klieber) wrote:

> I am having the same problem of finding suitable software
> for personal information management in my lab work.
> Any hints much appreciated.

in response to a posting from dtinker at mail.eskimo.com (Donald Tinker):

>I've recently evaluated a couple of PIM/contact management software 
>programs.  The ones I looked at heavily emphasized collection of 
>business-related info.  I've found it dificult to adapt those programs to be 
>useful in a lab setting.  If you are a practicing scientist _and_ use a 
>PIM/contact manager for keeping track of tasks, time and contact info _and_ 
>you are happy with the software, would you please e-mail with the name of the 

>If there is sufficient response to this posting,  I'll summarize and post the 
>results.  This topic may be of interest to other scientists.

Sorry that I didn't respond to this earlier, but I'm just catching up on
bionet newsgroups now.

I've been using In Control from Attain for the last 2 years to keep track
of lab tasks and as a supplement to my lab notebook.  Simply put, In
Control is fantastic.  It's essentially a very good to-do list manager,
with hierarchical outlines.  Only available for the Mac as far as I can
tell.    To-do list manager integrates well with calendar.  Decent
searching capabilities.  Reasonably quick.  Simple macro capabilities to
automate frequently used series of commands.  Not too expensive (about $85
from mail order places).

I use In Control in two ways:  firstly, to plan my experiments and tasks I
have to complete.  The hierarchical to-do list is just made for this. 
Each experiment is a new top-level item.  Individual steps of the
experiment are then listed as second level items, and if necessary third,
fourth etc level items (works very similarly to the program MORE).  I can
check off each item or task as I complete them.  I can set alarms to
remind me to complete a task at a particular time.  I've set up a macro
for In Control to show me all tasks I have yet to complete today, and
another one to show me all tasks for tomorrow.  Everyone knows how useful
it is to plan experiments ahead of time and then to simply check things
off as you complete them.  But what I didn't realize until I used In
Control is that having the computer keep track of things and reminding you
when you need to complete a task means that you don't have these details
cluttering your mind during the day.  So it's easier to have several
different experiments running at the same time.  

The other way I use In Control is as an archival tool.  Say I want some
information about an experiment I performed about a year ago.  In the old
days, I would have had to go searching through my notebooks.  Now, I can
open the appropriate In Control file, say the file for all experiments in
1994, do a search and find the experiment within a few seconds.  If I need
more info than is in the In Control file, I simply go directly to my
notebook and look up the entry by the date.  Note that using In Control
doesn't eliminate my lab notebook. 

The same people who created the Macintosh database program FileMaker
created In Control and it shows.  Both programs have very good, simple and
intuitive user interfaces and both have a certain elegant quality to

The one weak spot of In Control is its contact management:  there is very
little to offer.  Basically, they want you to lookup information from a
Filemaker Pro database.  But that's o.k. with me, since I need a good PIM
for the lab, and my contact management requirements are very simple.  

I've looked at most of the main PIMs available for the Mac:  Now
Up-To-Date, Claris Organizer, Arrange and a few others.  None match In
Control for the hierarchical to-do list management or the simple yet
powerful interface.  All of these other programs I've mentioned have
better contact management features, so if that's very important to you,
then you may want to look at them instead.

Attain just sent me a mailing announcing that they now offer In Control
For Workgroups, so that you can share scheduling information on a
network.  I'm not going to upgrade to this since I use In Control as a
PIM, with emphasis on the Personal bit.

So if you're a scientist active in the lab and you have easy access to a
Mac, I strongly recommend In Control.  Really works best if you have your
own Mac on your desk in the lab so that it's always available.  

Oh, best of all, there's a demo available on the net.  Check out your
favorite Info-Mac archive (the URL below is for the Swiss Info-Mac
archive, but I guess you should try a site closer to home):


This is fully functional demo (about 1 MB), except that you can only add 5
(I think) new items to a document.  

Standard disclaimers apply:  I have no connection with Attain Corporation
except that I am a happy user of their product.

Song Tan
Institute for Molecular Biology and Biophysics
ETH-Honggerberg (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)
8093 Zurich, Switzerland
email:  tan at mol.bio.ethz.ch

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