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Personal Information Managers (PIMs) on the Mac for the PC Switcher

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Personal Information Managers (PIMs) rank high on most users' lists of software they use every day. If you're switching to a Mac, you might be worried about the availability of productivity software. Microsoft's Entourage for the Mac works a lot like Outlook on Windows, with only a few subtle differences. There are other games in town as well, in both the commercial and freeware category. Paul Ferrill looks at a number of options for anyone making the switch from the PC to the Mac.
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So you’ve decided to make the jump over to the Mac, but you’re not sure what to do about all your personal information. Keeping track of your calendar, contacts, to-do lists and such is probably one of those jobs that you depend on your computer to manage. Then there’s the syncing with your PDA or cell phone to make all that information available when you’re away from your computer.

The Mac offers a number of different options that will match or exceed the capabilities found on your PC. If you happen to have a cell phone that iSync supports, you’ll find keeping it up-to-date a snap, especially if you have a Mac and cell phone with Bluetooth. We’ll look at several commercial programs that are available for the Mac, as well as a few free ones.

Mac OS X comes with a calendar, iCal, and Address Book built into the operating system. Apple has embraced (or invented) a number of open standards for the interchange of calendar and contact information. iCal tracks appointments and to-do items with an easy-to-use and intuitive interface. iCal uses the concepts of color-coded calendars so you can quickly tell what items go with work or home. You can also publish your calendar either on the .Mac service or to a private server. The to-do items, however, are pretty basic with no support for things like categories.

Entourage

Microsoft Entourage is the Mac equivalent of Outlook. The full suite retails for $499, but you can find it for much less. It handles all of the same Personal Information Manager (PIM) functions as Outlook along with email. Getting your contacts moved over from the PC is not too difficult if you use Outlook. You have to do an export to a Comma Separated Variable (CSV) file and then import it into Entourage. Mapping of fields is not automatic (at least it wasn’t for me), so you’ll have to do a little field matching to make it work. Entourage uses views to help you view types of information—whether they’re contacts, to-do lists, or events—by different categories such as work or home.

Project management gets a big boost from Entourage in terms of the features it adds over Outlook on the PC. When you create a new project in Entourage it will perform tasks such as track files or emails that you have flagged with a particular keyword. You can then create filters to show only items marked with that keyword.

One thing I don’t like about the calendar (see Figure 1) is the way it shows one month at a time. In Outlook, you see a month’s worth of days on a typical calendar, but it allows you to scroll forward or backward by weeks showing you six weeks at a time. Entourage forces you to jump by month and makes it hard to see events that might straddle monthly boundaries.

Figure 1

Figure 1 The Entourage calendar uses different colors to show events in different categories.

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