<img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/don-oct03-datelens-compweek.gif" /><br /><br />"Hey Martha! Take a look over here. Got us here another one of them Pers'nl Info Mangers Reviews. Cain't unnerstan' what all the fuss is about...it's jess another way a lookin' at the same ole stuff" And you know, I can relate to what he's saying. But DateLens, by Windsor Interfaces, provides a completely different way of looking at your appointment data and one I think other PIM vendors (including Microsoft) should seriously look at. It might not be everyone's kettle of fish, but see for yourself....<br /><!><br /><i>In the last few years I must have seen and played with dozens of different PIMs - all touting to be the </i>best of breed<i>, </i>more intuitive<i> and </i>providing greater integration of all the PIM functions<i>. And I found most of them to be just too hard for my poor addled brain to deal with. There were too many features, too many ways of doing the same thing, and buttons that were too small for my eyes and pudgy fingers to activate. Now comes along DateLens from Windsor Interfaces, Inc.</i><br /><br />DateLens focuses on the Calendar function alone - there is no integration with Tasks or Contacts, or even the ability to see them within DateLens. The interface as been described as 'organic' and I guess that's about as apt a description as any. Windsor Interfaces describes it as a "...fisheye representation of dates coupled with compact overviews" which is also accurate, but I think you really have to see it in action to understand what this means. I won't go into a big, detailed description of the interface, except to say that all the transitions are animated, so that you can really feel the drill down into greater levels of detail, or the sliding over of the weekday information to see what's happening on the weekend.<br /><br /><span><b>Interface</b></span><br />Half the fun of using DateLens is discovering what each of the controls does. Although it makes use of standard Windows icons for minimizing, tiling and maximizing screens, the actual functions performed are quite different. That's not to say that the results are unexpected - they make a lot of sense. But it isn't what we normally see in a Windows environment.<br /><br />There are basically five main views:
- <li>Individual appointment;<br /><li>Daily view;<br /><li>Weekly view;<br /><li>Monthly view; <br /><li>Three-month view.
But this isn't all of them! There are lots of combinations of these views presented as you drill down through successive levels of detail, depending upon where you started and how far down you go.<br /><br />Here are examples of the two extremes. First, the three month view:<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/don-oct03-datelens-3mo.gif" /><br /><i>Figure 1: DateLens Three Month View</i><br /><br />There's a lot of information compressed into the available landscape here. Some may not find this too useful but for me, it works. When I'm on the phone trying to book a meeting or dentist appointment months in advance, it gives me a quick perspective on where my free time is. Notice too, that it uses the same colours and formats as the desktop version of Outlook to display used time (blue for busy, purple for out of office, white outline for all-day appointment).<br /><br />...and here's the individual appointment view:<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/don-oct03-datelens-appt.gif" /><br /><i>Figure 2: DateLens Individual Appointment</i><br /><br />This is quite a bit different from what we're used to seeing in Pocket Outlook. For me, this is the most utilitarian of the screens provided. All the stuff is there, but I wouldn't have devoted so much landscape to the notes associated with an appointment.<br /><br />Moving between the views is accomplished by tapping entries or icons in the current view, or by selection of one of the icons at the bottom of the screen. Each of these views is considerably different from what we've become accustomed to seeing from Pocket Outlook. And the animated transitions between each of the views are quite startling at first, but quickly become comfortable and almost expected. I found it a little disappointing going back to Pocket Outlook after working with DateLens for a couple of days.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/don-oct03-datelens-day.gif" /><br /><i>Figure 3: DateLens Daily View</i><br /><br />The Daily view includes a four-way arrow framework which works pretty much the way you'd expect - right arrow for next day, left arrow for previous day, down arrow for next week, and up arrow for previous week. They've even programmed the input pad on my iPAQ to perform the same functions.<br /><br />Once you're out of daily view, DateLens switches into more of a booked/available time display mode, using coloured bars to show where appointments are booked. The colours used are even the standard colours used in the desktop version of Outlook! Personally, I find this more useful than trying to display appointment details. When I'm looking at the weekly or monthly overview, it's usually because I'm on the phone with someone, trying to find a time when we're both available.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/don-oct03-datelens-week.gif" /><br /><i>Figure 4: DateLens Weekly View</i><br /><br />The Home icon in the top left always takes you back to the current date using the default view selected in your Preferences.<br /><br />It took me a while to discover what the month tick box on the left column did (it actually lets you select multiple months to display at one time), since there is no Help documentation provided with DateLens. In most cases, it's not really needed since everything presented is pretty straightforward. There were times, however, that the impatient detail geek in me wanted to read somewhere exactly what I could do, rather than exploring.<br /><br />A Find function is also provided which will let you search for appointments which fall into specific categories (Birthdays, Parties, Holidays, Doctor's Appts, Meetings, Trips, or Conflicts) or search for any word within the text of the appointment. It appears that the category search is using certain keywords to find possible matches, rather than the categories field in the Outlook database. In my case, when I searched for Doctor's Appts, it found all the appointments where I had 'Dr.' in the appointment subject - pretty smart! Found results are highlighted in yellow and seem to be limited to within three months from the current date.<br /><PAGEBREAK> <br /><span><b>Can I Change What it Looks Like?</b></span><br />Yes, you can. DateLens comes with a Preferences panel, but as you can see, the scope of what's available is somewhat limited.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/don-oct03-datelens-prefs.gif" /><br /><i>Figure 5: DateLens Preferences Panel</i><br /><br />DateLens also provides what they call a 'Mondrian Skin', which is available from the View menu.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/don-oct03-datelens-mondrian.gif" /><br /><i>Figure 6: Day View with Mondrian Skin</i><br /><br />I'm not exactly sure what the significance of the colour change is, but according to Miriam-Webster's Dictionary, 'Mondrian' refers to "Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan (1872-1944), a Dutch painter who developed ‘neoplastic’ aesthetic involving reduction of paintings to elements of straight lines, primary colors, noncolors". Sorry, not being versed in such things, I can't explain it either.<br /><br /><span><b>Installation</b></span><br />DateLens requires the .Net Compact Framework to run. Those of you with Pocket PCs running Windows Mobile 2003 already have this installed in ROM. Otherwise, a copy can be downloaded from <A HREF = "http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&familyid=1f62a2a3-7282-4ba9-b26b-2267e972501d" target = "blank">Microsoft</A> or <A HREF = "http://www.windsorinterfaces.com/datelens-download.shtml" target = "blank">Windsor Interfaces'</A> Web site. With all the applications being built on .Net these days, it's almost essential to have it installed on your Pocket PC.<br /><br />Installation of DateLens is a little different from normal in that you can directly download the appropriate .CAB file for your processor right from Windsor Interfaces' Web site. Then, simply execute (double-tap) the .CAB file on your Pocket PC and installation proceeds from there. Unfortunately, this means you don't get the chance to tell the application where you want it installed, so there's no way to tell it to move to a CF or SD card if you're short on memory. On the plus side, it appears DateLens only needs 104K once installed, so it can usually fit into main memory somewhere.<br /><br />Once installed, you'll find the DateLens icon in your Programs folder from the Start Menu. When tapped, be patient, it takes a while for DateLens to load. I noticed this same behaviour on other applications built on the .Net Compact Framework, so it may have something to do with program initialization. Then, depending upon the size of your appointments database, there will be a further delay while DateLens loads all the data. On my iPAQ 2215, with about 1500 appointments the whole process took about 20 seconds. Not a huge wait, but not something I'd want to go through each time I accessed the program. Fortunately, as per Microsoft standards, tapping the X in the top right just puts the program aside rather than shutting it down, so subsequent accesses are quite speedy.<br /><br />Once you’ve gotten past the initial load, transitions between views in DateLens are quite crisp and there’s little noticeable delay as you move from month to month, ahead or back through multiple years. I did experience one crash in the week that I was working with DateLens, but I was able to simply restart the program again with no loss of data.<br /><br /><span><b>Gotchas</b></span><br />As mentioned before, DateLens is not (yet) a full PIM, nor does it try to be one. But there are a couple of other things which would be good to have in the next release:<br />
- <li>Only calendar/appointment data is displayed. Tasks which have due dates or contacts associated with an appointment are not shown.<br /><li>Not all fields in the Outlook appointment database are available to update. Specifically, I couldn't find anywhere to specify a Category for an appointment.<br /><li>There are some functions within Pocket Outlook that are not supported. For instance, on a Recurring Appointment, if you select to modify just this appointment (not the series), you can't alter the reminder time or the privacy flag.<br /><li>If the find function doesn't find any matches, there's no notification that nothing was found - other than nothing has been highlighted.<br /><li>Lack of help documentation.<br /><li>There's no way to tell DateLens to install to anywhere other than the programmed location.
<span><b>Where to Buy</b></span><br />DateLens is available from <A HREF = "http://www.handango.com/brainstore/PlatformProductDetail.jsp?siteId=311&productId=81748" target = "blank">Handango</A> for $15 USD. [Affiliate] A trial version which will work for two weeks is also available there.<br /><br /><span><b>Specifications</b></span><br />Windsor Interfaces provides versions of DateLens for all almost all the processors used in handheld computing: ARM (Pocket PC 2000 & 2002 - StrongARM and XScale processors), ARMV4 (Pocket PC 2003 - StrongARM and XScale processors), MIPS, SH3, X86, and WCE420x86. There is also a PC Desktop version available, but this is unsupported.<br /><br /><span><b>Conclusions</b></span><br />The user interface used by DateLens is intriguing and definitely shows considerable research behind the display and interaction. Will it replace Pocket Outlook as my primary Calendar View? Not yet.... While I'm not a fan of over-featured PIMs trying to do everything including taking out the garbage for me, there are still some features missing and a certain level of integration which I need to really make it a complete replacement.