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Author Topic: Addressbook Software Mini-Shootout  (Read 14512 times)
superboyac
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« on: February 03, 2006, 05:23:37 AM »

Addressbook Software Mini-Shootout

I've been wanting to do this for quite some time, and so here it is.  Ever since about 2000, I've been on a constant hunt for the perfect addressbook software, and while some come pretty close, none of them come SATISFACTORILY close (personally speaking that is).  I have a fairly strict set criteria for what I am talking about, and here they are:

--The software must be lightweight and minimal on resources (I think most of us here expect this from any software)
--The UI should be as simple and efficient as possible.  No convoluted processes to do simple tasks, and none of that Mac-like bubbly interface which takes up a lot of space without doing much practically.
--The program should be strictly an addressbook.  I'm not looking for a PIM or note-taking utility or any of that other stuff that typically comes bundled with addressbooks or contact managers.  This is strictly an addressbook.  Names, telephone numbers, email addresses, etc. and that's IT!
--Ability to store at least a couple of pictures for each entry.
--Ability to add custom fields.
--A filter-as-you-type search that filters your contacts as you type each letter.  Just like the quicksearch in The Bat!, the PowerMarks search feature, Evernote's search feature...it's becoming quite popular now for a lot of programs
--A phone-dialer
--Good import/export capabilities
--Ability to auto-recognize and standardize the formats of certain fields, like phone numbers.  For example, whether you enter a phone number as xxx-xxx-xxxx, or (xxx) xxx-xxxx, or xxxxxxxxxx, it should convert to some standard that you pick.
--When a contact information is displayed in the summary pane, the information should be automatically laid out in an efficient manner.  Blank fields should not be shown, and each field should not be simply displayed in a separate line.  For example, combine first and last name together so it looks like a full name; put the phone numbers in the upper-right hand corner.  Put some addresses below in the lower left-hand corner.  My point is, use the space as efficiently as possible.  Don't simply just list them in a column and not use some space on the right side.  I'll talk about this more in the programs I mention below.

And here are a couple of features that you won't find in any software, but I think would be great for an addressbook software.
--A sophisticated relationship feature that will allow you to link certain fields together when needed.  For example, people in the same family that have the same last name should be able to be linked to a common last name, so that you don't have to edit each last name seperately.  Also, if I say that someone is the husband of someone else, then the wife's entry should automatically add him as the husband also.  Same goes for shared phone numbers, so if 5 people in the same house share a number, that number should be linked, and not entered seperately for each person.
--The other feature is a way of entering contact information into other programs (email messages, documents, etc.)  Some kind of hotkey which would bring up a menu at the cursor position, where you can choose a contact and automatically insert the text at the cursor.  For those of you familiar with clipboard managers, it would work the same way.  I use ARSclip, and I can hit a hotkey which brings up a list of the things in my clipboard, then I just pick one and it is inserted at the cursor.  So, the addressbook software can do the same for, say, email addresses or something.

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I've probably tried dozens of these programs, and there are way too many to even list.  But most of them are pretty crappy, and a lot of the others don't really offer anything special, and there are others that do way more than just an addressbook, and some others that look like they were written 20 years ago.  That being said, let me give a brief summary of some of the notable addressbook softwares I have come across:

One of them is called Handy Addressbook.  This program is very simple, fast, and does the job pretty good.  You can enter all the information you want, and you can also add custom fields.  It has a quicksearch feature, but it only goes by the first letter in the last name (or was it the first?  I don't remember).  Either way, it's pretty useless, because let's say you have 7 names that start with "S", it would jump to the first name, and then you'd have to manually scroll down to the one you want.  A lot of these addressbooks do it that way, which isn't really helpful.  All it does is jump the highlighted selection around.  To do a real search, you have to click on a search button, which opens a seperate window, and brings up search results inside that.  I don't like that...it's too slow for something like an addressbook.  Addressbooks should have filters which quickly filters the master list down to the search results, not bring up another window or merely jump the highlighted entry around.  Another thing I didn't like about Handy Addressbook is that you can't add pictures to the entries.  One of the good things about it is it has this Server component which allows you to share your database from a central computer.  Another thing I like about Handy (and all good softwares should do this) is that when it display's the contact information, it will only display the fields that are not blank, so you won't see a bunch of empty fields.

One good freeware addressbook is Phonedeck, from the same guy who did KeyNote.  This one is pretty simple and fast also.  However, the interface is a bit inefficient.  The quicksearch feature is like Handy, where it just jumps around using the first letter of the name...lame.  It supports custom fields which is good.  No picture support.  It's an old piece of software anyway, and a lot of the program feels a bit outdated.  Like I said, it's not very efficiently laid out, by my standards.  But it is relatively powerful, especially for freeware.

One of the interesting programs I came across is HiContact, from GemX, the makers of TexNotes.  This program doesn't exist anymore, but it was kind of cool.  It had a really nonfunctional interface, but I will admit that it was beautiful.  It didn't have any good search capabilities, nor did they make it easy to navigate through address with either the keyboard or mouse.  What was different about the program was they put an unusually heavy emphasis on it's ability to store pictures with the contact entries.  It wasn't just an afterthought like a lot of the other programs that support pictures.  You could zoom in on it.  I think it even had that cool zoom effect that follows the mouse cursor like in Screenshot Captor.  It was just fun and different.  It's layout was also particularly colorful and html-ish.
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Now, I'll get into the two programs that I think are the best that is out there right now.  Again, these programs are good but they are still a ways off from being good enough for the extremely picky...like me (and you hopefully!).  The two I have chosen are A-book by Xeletrix, and CardScan.

I won't get too detailed about A-book since m_s did a very comprehensive review of it here at DC already:
http://www.donationcoder....um/index.php?topic=1155.0
But I will add my thoughts about it.  A-book is a very good program.  It can do just about everything you need an addressbook to do.  Most of my criticism about it is about subtle functionality issues and other nitpicky items.  It has PLENTY of fields for each entry for addresses, phone numbers, even family members (however it doesn't do any complex linking as mentioned above in my wish list of features).  It also can store a picture for each entry.  However, for some odd reason, you can only see the picture if you double-click the contact to go into it's field-editing dialog.  It doesn't show it in the summary pane, which I felt was kind of dumb.  Another thing about the summary pane I can't stand is that it uses a separate line for each field.

None of these fields (address, number, name) are particularly long, so it doesn't make any use of the width of the screen, and makes the list much longer than it needs to be.  However, the UI in general is very nice, and highly customizable as far as colors, arrangement, and size is concerned.  And while it doesn't have the filter-as-you-type feature I love, it's search routine is pretty fast, and relatively efficient.  One excellent aspect of A-book is it's ability to configure your data in categories with trees and subtrees.  And one entry can be shared in several books, but it still is only one entry so it makes good use of linking.

For example, the same person can be in a "friends" book and "coworkers" book, but it's still just one entry.  One bad part of A-book is that if you have a bunch of contacts that have the same phone number or address (like coworkers) and that number changes, there's no quick way to change them all at once.  This is where my complex relationional linking thing comes into play.  Another bad thing is that you can't add any custom fields to the program.  It's not really a big deal because it has so many default fields, but still, it would be nice.  Of course, like all good addressbook software, it won't display empty fields in the summary pane.  Another aspect of A-book I do not like is that it is (I think) html based or java based in it's programming.  I know that it's summary pane is controlled by html (or xml) because you can change the look of it using xml templates.  I never like java-based programs (or html, I don't know, I'm not a programmer) because they are always slower and bulkier than C++ coded programs (you programmers know what I mean).  For example, as you click on different contacts, there's always a little delay before it appears in the summary pane.  It's annoying.  I hate clicking on something and noticing a delay before the action.  That's why i don't like the fancy fade effects in XP and the menu animation stuff.  But now we're getting personal.


Ok, on to CardScan.  CardScan is great, great piece of software.  Unfortunately, it is not available as just software.  It is one of these software that comes packaged with the hardware they are trying to sell, which in this case is their business card scanner.  So, unless you are willing to spend a couple hundred bucks for an addressbook software (albeit, a good one), then you're out of luck.  Of course, this its biggest drawback.  But I will still review it from a software's standpoint.

My favorite thing about CardScan is that it actually has the filter-as-you-type "QuickSearch".  I love it, you type in a couple of letters of the name, or the first few numbers of the telephone number, or just the city or zip code, and immediately the list filters down to a few contacts and you can quickly find the person you're looking for.

That is highly functional, efficient, and everything that a contact manager search feature should be.  However, I will mention that it's keybaord navigation is not very developed, so you after typing in the quicksearch letters, you have to use the mouse the rest of the way.  But that's ok, I don't think it's geared toward the poweruser market.  While the program is kept up to date, some parts of it still feels a little Windows 95-ish.  The data entry form is very old-fashioned.  It has a ton of fields, and you can add custom fields, although in a pretty convluted way, and only two types of fields like phone numbers and email addresses.  It doesn't have any kind of family members fields like A-book.  You can tell this software is geared towards businesses and not for personal use.  It does allow you to store two pictures per entry, BUT only if you use the scanner that comes with the software (or another scanner).  You can't import pictures that you already have on the computer or anything.  Part of this is because the two pictures are really meant for the front and back of the business card you are scanning, and the software does some OCR stuff to fill in most of the fields.  Also, unlike A-book, the program seems to be written in C++ so everything responds instantaneously.  Also unlike A-book, it's summary pane efficiently organizes the contact info to make good use of the space, I really like that.

However, it doesn't have the complex tree, sub-tree organization that A-book offers as far as categorizing your contacts.  But it kind of makes up for this by being able to have multiple files (contact databases) open at once.

----------

Well, that's about it for my mini-shootout of addressbook software.  I feel like I'm kind of an expert in this area, if I knew how to program, I'd write a really good addressbook software.  I hope mouser or someone will eventually take on this project.  I think that the programming in Screenshot Captor and FindandRunRobot can be used in an addressbook program.  For example, the filter as you type search in F&RR can be used, and the multiple pane layout of SC can be implemented in a contact manager sort of way.  Whatever the case, it's software that really isn't done right yet in anything available right now, and maybe that's because not enough people need or want it, but I think if people saw a good one, they'd use it.
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m_s
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« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2006, 05:30:36 AM »

Wow!  What a fantastic review!  Thanks, superboyac! (And thanks for nod, too.)
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rjbull
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« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2006, 06:00:14 AM »

Addressbook Software Mini-Shootout

I've probably tried dozens of these programs, and there are way too many to even list.

Pity, because it begs the question: did you try AZZ Cardfile,  http://www.azzcardfile.com/

I saw this mentioned in the Yahoo! Group PowerToolsSoftware, mentioned by someone who said it had "immediae entry search," which I think is what you mean.


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mouser
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« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2006, 08:50:32 AM »

fantastic.
you know witha  little bit of work and combined with m_s's stuff on A-book, and maybe a quick commentary on other programs saying why they don't quite make the cute,  this would make a great full dc review..

i wonder if superboyac or superboyac and m_s could be convinced to team up and flesh this out into a full review? i think you're half way there already..
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nudone
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« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2006, 09:58:43 AM »

excellent, it would be a shame if this didn't eventually make into the real review section.
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superboyac
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« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2006, 04:54:48 PM »

fantastic.
you know witha  little bit of work and combined with m_s's stuff on A-book, and maybe a quick commentary on other programs saying why they don't quite make the cute,  this would make a great full dc review..

i wonder if superboyac or superboyac and m_s could be convinced to team up and flesh this out into a full review? i think you're half way there already..
True.  I wanted to comment a bit more on other programs and on other features, but the article was getting pretty long as it is.  I wouldn't mind polishing it up with m_s for a full review.
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superboyac
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« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2006, 05:00:34 PM »

Pity, because it begs the question: did you try AZZ Cardfile,  http://www.azzcardfile.com/

I saw this mentioned in the Yahoo! Group PowerToolsSoftware, mentioned by someone who said it had "immediae entry search," which I think is what you mean.

Yes!  You're right.  AZZ is a great program also, I used it for years.  It does have the immediate entry search, which is great.  I even think it's the first program where I noticed that feature.  However, it only searches the titles of the cards, not the actual contents of the card.  So, assuming the title only includes the contact name, that's all you'd be able to search.  If you want to search the card contents with AZZ, you have to use a seperate search dialog which opens up another window, etc.  Not worth it.  Also, AZZ is a bit too freeform for an addressbook, there are no fields.  So you wouldn't be able to do some of the more complex things with it.  The difference with CardScan's search and AZZ's is that CardScan's filter will look at every single field.  If you notice in my screenshot, I just typed in an area code, and the list shortened down to the contacts that have that area code.  You can do anything...zip code, street name.  That's what makes it so powerful.
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rjbull
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« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2006, 03:43:28 AM »

superboyac,

Sounds like AZZ got the mix right in the sense that if you had immediate search on the whole record, you'd get too many "false drops."  Think of trying to look up someone called Theodore - how many times does one use the definite article?  The lady who mentioned AZZ Cardfile in PowerToolsSoftware actually said that she used it for quotes/one-liners/short paragraphs, so it looks like she implicitly agrees.

You obviously need a heavier-weight, more structured program...
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superboyac
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« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2006, 07:33:23 PM »

superboyac,

Sounds like AZZ got the mix right in the sense that if you had immediate search on the whole record, you'd get too many "false drops."  Think of trying to look up someone called Theodore - how many times does one use the definite article?  The lady who mentioned AZZ Cardfile in PowerToolsSoftware actually said that she used it for quotes/one-liners/short paragraphs, so it looks like she implicitly agrees.

You obviously need a heavier-weight, more structured program...

I think you're right.  AZZ got it right for the purpose they were trying to achieve, which is a general note accumulating program.  But for an addressbook, I think you want it like CardScan, to search all the fields.  Let's say, for some odd reason, you know 10 people named Theodore.  Most likely, if you have 10 people who are named Theodore, you have a pretty big overall list of contacts.  Therefore, you'd want to just type Theodore, and immediately shorten that list down to the 10 people.  But you'd want to be able to do the same for anything, even phone number.  Like, let's say you knew someone's number started with 398- but you didn't know the rest, it would be nice to just type in 398 and get the list in front of you.  It's just more powerful that way.  I'll never say no to more power, because you can always turn features off, but you (as the end-user) can't add features.

AZZ is a great program, it used to be one of my favorites.  But I've now come to need a more specific and powerful program.  As I've moved to more powerful note-taking programs and addressbooks, I've slowly come off of AZZ altogether.  It's just part of my evolution as a poweruser.

Have any of you checked out EverNote?  It's a cool, quirky program that reminds of of a suped up version of AZZ.  It also has the filter-as-you-type feature that works on any word anywhere in the notes, but it's interface is pretty interesting and unique.  And it's free, to boot!

If you can't tell, I'm in love with the filter-as-you-type feature.  I'm immediately attracted to any program that has it, and more and more programs are using it.  PowerMarks, EverNote, CardScan, Essential PIM, Directory Opus (so cool!), Find and Run Robot...that's all I can think of for now.
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« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2006, 04:49:42 AM »

AZZ got it right for the purpose they were trying to achieve, which is a general note accumulating program. 

I liked - still like - Memory Mate for DOS as a "random notes" program.  Simple, clean interface, very fast and just enough power.  But it didn't really make the transition to Windows  Sad

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knew someone's number started with 398- but you didn't know the rest, it would be nice to just type in 398 and get the list in front of you.  It's just more

Memory Mate has simple but useful Boolean searching.  When you've done a search, it's like you have a small stack of qualifying 5x3 file cards in front of you, though you can only read the top one and have to page through the others (but a well-designed search will limit the stack to only a few).  If you want to see several cards at once, Info Select for DOS did that with immediate searching.  Which begs the question, have you considered pushing the financial boat out and trying Info Select for Windows?  It's $249.95 and isn't shareware, though there's a 30-day money-back guarantee.  Link here: http://www.miclog.com/

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powerful that way.  I'll never say no to more power, because you can always turn features off, but you (as the end-user) can't add features.

Agreed, with the proviso that the power features have to be organised so they don't put off the novice.  Or indeed anybody who needs to get the job done, but doesn't have lots of time to learn.

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Have any of you checked out EverNote?  It's a cool, quirky program that

Just had a quick look at the Web site, and was put off by the size.  The free version is an 8.4Mb download, the payware one 18Mb.  It's not just the download time and hard-disk footprint, I tend to expect that programs that size are going to be slow to load, which puts me off using them.

I mentioned to kfitting on another thread that there are lots of Keynote-type outliners now - and that's getting a problem in itself, because they aren't mutually compatible and you don't want to commit to the "wrong" one.

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If you can't tell, I'm in love with the filter-as-you-type feature.  I'm immediately attracted to any program that has it, and more and more programs are using it.  PowerMarks, EverNote, CardScan, Essential PIM, Directory Opus (so cool!), Find and Run Robot...that's all I can think of for now.

And Total Commander  cheesy  depending on how you set it up, and that's how I've set it up now as being most intuitive.

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superboyac
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« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2006, 10:30:49 AM »

Quote
Memory Mate has simple but useful Boolean searching.
Yeah, I remember this program a little, it was very cool.  There were some very interesting ideas back in the day that have really stood the test of time.

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Which begs the question, have you considered pushing the financial boat out and trying Info Select for Windows?  It's $249.95 and isn't shareware, though there's a 30-day money-back guarantee.  Link here: http://www.miclog.com/
Oh yeah!  I tried InfoSelect a couple of times over the past two years.  It was pretty good, but if you read the beginning of my review for this addressbook software, I mentioned that I am now at a point that I want the addressbook to just be an addressbook and nothing else.  InfoSelect does everything under the sun.  It was too much for me to use it as an addressbook, and I felt like the other features were done better individually on other programs.  I am always highly skeptical of all-in-one solutions to anything.  It's just a personal philosophy.  I don't like all-in-one printer/scanner/copiers, I don't like all-in-one software solutions.  I'm more of a pic one and do it right kind of guy.  That's not to say I don't think any of them are good, I'm just skeptical.  It's hard enough to be the best in one area let alone many areas simultaneously.

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Just had a quick look at the Web site, and was put off by the size.  The free version is an 8.4Mb download, the payware one 18Mb.  It's not just the download time and hard-disk footprint, I tend to expect that programs that size are going to be slow to load, which puts me off using them.

I mentioned to kfitting on another thread that there are lots of Keynote-type outliners now - and that's getting a problem in itself, because they aren't mutually compatible and you don't want to commit to the "wrong" one.
You know, I agree with you about the size thing, but the program runs pretty light.  The reason why it's big is because it has this sketchpad in it where you can draw and paint.  And the pay version is much larger because it has an OCR engine to translate the handwritten notes in the sketchpad.  But Evernote, is not really Keynote-type.  Evernote is good for entering a bunch of random notes in, and finding them very quickly.  It has some unique auto-filtering features also.  Keynote is totally different.  You can't find things as fast in Keynote, but you have the power to organize notes very well in Keynote.  I love Keynote, what a fantastic program.  If Keynote would just resume being actively developed, I think it would leave a lot of other programs in the dust.  I'm kind of leaning towards Mybase as a note collection utility, because it has some features I'm looking for, but Keynote overall was still a little better in many ways.  Between you and me, I think there's a whole bunch of people who would get quite excited if Keynote started becoming actively developed again.  When is this mystery open-source version going to be ready?

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And Total Commander  cheesy  depending on how you set it up, and that's how I've set it up now as being most intuitive.
TC has filter-as-you-type?  I didn't know that!  I love TC and used it for a couple of years.  Then I discovered Directory Opus, which does so much more, and I eventually stopped using TC.  Although, there are still a couple of things I wish Dopus did like TC, but I harp about that on their forum.
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superboyac
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« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2006, 10:40:49 AM »

Wow, I jsut went to Keynote's site and read the post from OCtober that the author put up.  I think it deserves a link:
http://www.tranglos.com/free/closedown.html

It's very sad.  With the shutdown of Keynote, I think the software world has lost a great talent, an innovator and pioneer, and, in many ways, a kind of genius.  Although it sounds like he will use his talents in other places, it really sucks that Keynote won't be developed anymore.

By the way, can anyone here read Polish?  There's a link in his message where he explains why he can't go on with KeyNote, but it's written in Polish.  Can someone give a brief summary?  It sounds very interesting and heartfelt.
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« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2006, 12:14:06 PM »

superboyac, we discussed it here: http://www.donationcoder....um/index.php?topic=1312.0
it touched a real nerve with many of us programmers, very heartfelt..
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superboyac
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« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2006, 04:09:49 PM »

Thanks mouser, I don't want this thread to go off-topic but that news was sad to me.  I know only us computer geeks will understand this, but a guy like that hanging his hat up evokes similar feelings to a famous athlete retiring.
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« Reply #14 on: February 08, 2006, 04:14:44 AM »


Quote
trying Info Select for Windows?
Oh yeah!  I tried InfoSelect a couple of times over the past two years.  It was pretty good, but if you read the beginning of my review for this addressbook software, I mentioned that I am now at a point that I want the addressbook to just be an addressbook and nothing else.

Sorry, forgot that...   embarassed

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InfoSelect does everything under the sun.  It was too much for me to use it as an addressbook, and I felt like the other features were done better individually on other programs.  I am always highly skeptical of all-in-one solutions to anything.

I can't make my mind up.  While I can see that there's a good case for small individual programs working better for their specific objectives, I then have to remember which program I stored which bit of information in.  And there's always an overlap - addresses, fine, but many people will want something more like a contacts system, with more notes, for example.  One of my e-contacts has a constant mantra: "horses for courses..."   Cool

I suspect, though, that Info Select as it now is tries to to do far too much.   I'd be more interested in the equivalent of a straight port of the DOS version, at a much lower price.

Evernote
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You know, I agree with you about the size thing, but the program runs pretty light.  The reason why it's big is because it has this sketchpad in it where you can draw and paint.  ...  Evernote is good for entering a bunch of random notes in, and finding them very quickly.

Speed of finding random notes is good, but I don't need the handwritten notes/sketching abilities.

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I love Keynote, what a fantastic program.  If Keynote would just resume being actively developed

Sadly, looks like it won't, but check out posts by kfitting on sucessors/similar programs.

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TC has filter-as-you-type?  I didn't know that!

Options, Operation, "Quick search (current dir)" section, Letters - _w_ith search dialog checkbox.

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« Reply #15 on: April 14, 2007, 07:30:50 PM »

This thread is quite dated, but I wanted to add that I came across a German blog that has always been very critical of Plaxo and some months ago published a post about how Cardscan - without transparency for the users of the program - sends out phoney emails to people in your address book and uses spammers' methods like web bugs and the like. Just like Plaxo.

For anyone who can make use of German, the post is here: http://miedl.net/2006/11/24/plaxo-cardscan-und-co-die-virale-totalberwachung-findet-nachahmer-und-verbreiter/

The owner of the blog, Wolfgang Miedl, has always suspected Plaxo to use these methods to collect email addresses with the intention to sell them at some time in the future.
I had no possibility to check the validity of these warnings, but wanted to inform the fellow members nonetheless.
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