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Old 10-15-2003, 05:00 PM
Don Tolson
Thoughts Media Review Team
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 749
Default Life Through a Fisheye Lens -- DateLens 1.02 Reviewed

"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'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....

In the last few years I must have seen and played with dozens of different PIMs - all touting to be the best of breed, more intuitive and providing greater integration of all the PIM functions. 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.

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.

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.

There are basically five main views:
  • Individual appointment;
  • Daily view;
  • Weekly view;
  • Monthly view;
  • 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.

Here are examples of the two extremes. First, the three month view:

Figure 1: DateLens Three Month View

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).

...and here's the individual appointment view:

Figure 2: DateLens Individual Appointment

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.

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.

Figure 3: DateLens Daily View

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.

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.

Figure 4: DateLens Weekly View

The Home icon in the top left always takes you back to the current date using the default view selected in your Preferences.

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.

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.

Can I Change What it Looks Like?
Yes, you can. DateLens comes with a Preferences panel, but as you can see, the scope of what's available is somewhat limited.

Figure 5: DateLens Preferences Panel

DateLens also provides what they call a 'Mondrian Skin', which is available from the View menu.

Figure 6: Day View with Mondrian Skin

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.

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 Microsoft or Windsor Interfaces' Web site. With all the applications being built on .Net these days, it's almost essential to have it installed on your Pocket PC.

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.

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.

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.

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:
  • Only calendar/appointment data is displayed. Tasks which have due dates or contacts associated with an appointment are not shown.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If the find function doesn't find any matches, there's no notification that nothing was found - other than nothing has been highlighted.
  • Lack of help documentation.
  • There's no way to tell DateLens to install to anywhere other than the programmed location.
Where to Buy
DateLens is available from Handango for $15 USD. [Affiliate] A trial version which will work for two weeks is also available there.

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.

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.
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Old 10-15-2003, 05:07 PM
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 1,049
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Wouldnt work for me, I am more into simple PIM's, and this one looks as if it is too much on a small screen as it is.
We need someone who is creative to offer a pim in a way that is simple so we can have that "ah ha" moment. :wink:
"Do not try. Do or Do Not. There is no try"Yoda, Empire Strikes Back
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Old 10-15-2003, 06:29 PM
Join Date: Feb 2002
Posts: 17

I've tried the program and while it's not there yet it shows a lot of promise. This is definately a new way to look at an interface for the PPC and for Windows (check out the company's PhotoMesa photo viewer, too). I think we will see more of these kinds of interfaces in the future, for both PPC and Windows. In fact, I'm starting to see interface movement like DateLens and PhotoMesa in other Windows products (a Canon digital camera interface to name one). I think it's great to see people pushing the boundaries . . .
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Old 10-15-2003, 09:54 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 110

I use it, like it, but it has some serious shortfalls:

1. The enter a new schedule item interface is a pain. The data entry area covers up the required tabs to enter in time. Plus, you can't click on a time and create a new scheduled item like the standard interface, you still have to enter it in (several extra clicks to get rid of keyboard area, click on when tab, then enter in the time).

2. The location for the enter a new schedule item is not a drop down.

3. You have to realize that a little itty bitty arrow in the 1 or 3 month view means that there is a scheduled item but it doesn't fall between 9am and 5pm thus really invalidating the month or 3 month at a time view (IMHO).

4. It takes about 2-3 mb of memory to run

5. It is super slow on a 1910
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Old 10-16-2003, 04:20 AM
Join Date: Aug 2002
Posts: 593

Hasn't Pocket Informant had this type of interface for awhile now?
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Old 10-16-2003, 05:03 AM
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Posts: 5,616

PI has a similar interface but it doesn't do three months at a time like this one does.
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Old 10-16-2003, 06:27 AM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 481

Originally Posted by Thinkingmandavid
Wouldnt work for me, I am more into simple PIM's, and this one looks as if it is too much on a small screen as it is.
I thought so also but I used it for a few days and realized that this guy made great use out so little space. I would probably use it more if it were in a PIM but it is working nicely for me outside the PIM � each day I find myself using it more and more.

The developer seems to put more of the overall picture on the screen at one time through the use of an expanding and collapsing metaphor which I like very much. The drill down and information retrieval is very quick (least amount of key strokes needed to retrieve data).

The three month startup screen works well for me even though the number of months should be able to be set through option settings. I�m working with appointments in the current month, planning out the coming month and seeing what I did the previous month so three months is good. I can get to data in any of these months almost instantly.

Jeff -
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Old 10-16-2003, 04:24 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1,911

I won a free copy of this from PDA Coprs. Havn't installed it yet and I don't think I will. The built in calendar works fine for me.
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Old 10-17-2003, 02:05 AM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 111

I really like this application and would use it if it were a bit more polished. It seems to be a little slow (Ipaq 3835) and I've gotten it to crash twice in the past 2 minutes I've been using it. I really like all the animation though. I really wish more applications made use of it like this one does.
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