I have conflicting desires. I have been searching for a single security program that would cover everything, so that I could stop running separate Anti-Spyware, Registry protection, and Anti-Trojan programs; but I have at the same time been fragmenting my work-life into various separate segments and moving away from the colossus that is Outlook. I think I have found the answer to my security question now, but thatâ€™s not what Iâ€™m writing about here; rather, I want to say a few words about one aspect of my efforts to break free of Outlook.
Outlook is a mixed bag. Iâ€™ll start by acknowledging that it is an excellent program â€“ I see it now as a suite of programs, a set of very well-considered and well-designed interlinked utilities: calendar, address book, email, notebook, tasklist. Of these, I have mainly used the first three, and that demonstrates one of my reasons for wanting to switch away from it: itâ€™s more than I need; and, as such, itâ€™s bloatware from the start as far as my needs are concerned.
For email, I switched to The Bat!, which can do absolutely everything I need (Outlook could do most of it, but The Bat! does it using far less resources, and it does the bits that Outlook couldnâ€™t do so well â€“ and that Thunderbird couldnâ€™t do at all). Iâ€™m a little uncertain about my calendar at the moment: Iâ€™m inclining to Calendarscope, but still a little tempted by EssentialPIM (I hope to write either a mini-review or a longer piece on Calendar programs in the not too distant future).
And thatâ€™s left me with addressbooks â€“ or, rather, itâ€™s left me without one. The Bat!â€™s addressbook might be enough for most people: it is email oriented, but it allows you to enter personal and business postal addresses, and it gives you a memo slot for each contact, so you could add any further tags you wanted. But it canâ€™t be synchronised with a Pocket PC, and thatâ€™s a fundamental lack for me, as Iâ€™m often travelling and need to be able to carry my addressbook without lugging a laptop.
I posted a thread here at DonationCoder, but received few responses; so I did some searching, and turned up a few programs. The one I think I will be going with is A-book ($29.95, plus $19.95 for the optional PocketSyncomatic, both from Xeletrix.com). Hereâ€™s whyâ€¦
The main interface is clean and simple, well laid-out, easy to understand, and visually pleasing. You can easily remove Toolbar, Statusbar, or Book Tree on the left, and you can elect whether or not to display card details, and where to display them.
Within the Book Tree, you can display nested groups of contacts, which makes it very easy for me to separate out addresses from different regions. Another way I could do this would be by establishing a different Category for each region, and then filtering by Category; but I like the simplicity of being able to see all my Indian contacts in one book, my American contacts in another. This distinction points up a major difference in how A-book and Outlook arrange their data â€“ Outlook is more category-oriented, A-book more book-based.
The properties for each contact can be viewed in Simple Mode, where the information is more compactly displayed, or in Advanced Mode, where it is separated into sub-sections â€“ General, Business, Home, Personal, and Other. Each of these sections is pleasantly and spaciously laid out, with a pleasing choice of colors and a thorough selection of types of information recordable.
It is possible from the main interface window to dial telephone numbers of your contacts, a feature thatâ€™s of little use to me, but may be to some users. And you can send email via your default email program (which is useful to me); where a contact has more than one email address, a dropdown menu allows you to choose which to send to. Printing is easy from the main window, and can be done as a report or a memo, or directly to envelopes or labels.
A-book supports vCard and Comma- or Tab-Separated imports; and itâ€™s possible also to export to each of these formats. A particularly attractive feature is A-bookâ€™s ability to â€˜Save for webâ€™, which allows you to export your contacts as a css formatted html file viewable in any web browser. This will be very useful for me in sharing contacts with colleagues â€“ the instance that comes immediately to mind is when I have had someone cover for me during my vacations, and heâ€™s not had access to my addressbooks in that time, and not needed them the rest of the time.
With PocketSyncomatic, itâ€™s easy to synchronise your addressbook with a Pocket PC. Having to pay $19.95 for the sync is likely to turn off a few customers, especially since itâ€™s free with Outlook; but then Outlook is more expensive ($109 for the standalone according to Microsoft.com, though I know itâ€™s available cheaper than that). What I like about PocketSyncomatic is that you can synchronise specific books â€“ again, you can do something similar in Outlook via categories, but I prefer the mode of organising by books instead of categories.
A-book can be set to start automatically when Windows runs; by default, it starts minimized and sits in your system-tray. I donâ€™t understand why some programs seem to use so much more memory than others while theyâ€™re effectively inactive in the system-tray â€“ no doubt thereâ€™s a technical explanation. (I wish more apps were like Find & Run Robot, for instance, which uses much more memory when itâ€™s active than when itâ€™s taking a break from Finding and Running.)
A-book tends to run at 15-20mb while minimized, which I feel is a bit heavy, but just as it can be set to run automatically, it can also be set not too, and then I can access it when I need it, and close it down when I donâ€™t. This actually is my single reservation â€“ everything else about A-book (when combined with PocketSyncomatic) suits me well, and Iâ€™m very happy with it as a solution to my (lack of) addressbook problem.