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Kapor's open source ‘spreadsheet for the mind’

In, er ... Python?

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Mitch Kapor thinks the world needs another PIM – and he might be right. He's funding development of an open source PIM that promises to "be in the spirit of Lotus Agenda" - more of which later - with the help of one of the key programmers behind the Macintosh, Andy Hertzfeld, and a small team of very experienced developers.

It's called Chandler, and is co-ordinated by the Open Source Application Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit funded by Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development and author of the 1-2-3 spreadsheet.

It draws on a number of other open source projects, including Jabber and Mozilla, and is bound together by Python. The San Jose Mercury has an interview here. Chandler is only a prototype, but Kapor promises to deliver much of the basic functionality of Microsoft Outlook - contacts, email, calendaring - plus replication, with the ease of use you don't readily associate with Outlook.

So far, so familiar - and you might think this is a rerun of Eazel if that's all there is to it. But the desire to follow-up on Lotus Agenda makes this intriguing. Agenda was a pet project of Kapor's, who together with Jerry Kaplan, wrote the product and released it to a baffled world in 1988.

Agenda was, and is unique: optimistically billed as a "spreadsheet for the mind", it was a free form text database that allowed users to add entries and reclassify them later, on the fly. Views and category hierarchies could be added at any time, so it was an incredibly flexible tool; one that more recent mind mapping or brain storming software hav,e despite their graphical elegance, never quite managed to mirror.

Agenda proved a little too flexible: version 2.0 in 1990 added extra templates, but despite performing stalwart service in news bureaux and police investigation rooms, and on this author's computer until well into the 1990s, it was never revised. Lotus made the software available as a free download in 1996.

Only one PIM attempted to emulate part of Agenda's appeal, ECCO, and although other PIMs including Outlook have gradually added the ability to apply multiple categories to data, it's a cumbersome business.

Such an ambitious project faces many potential pitfalls: to wean users off their mail client for example, it must be very good indeed. And as veterans of Lotus Symphony (or Jazz on the early Macintosh) will know, the other parts of what is essentially a software suite must also deliver added value. And many people store their phonebook on their most personal device - in my case, a phone.

But if it offers us only part of what made Lotus Agenda's appeal so insanely great, it will be very welcome indeed. ®

Related Links

Chandler at OSA Foundation
Lotus Agenda, by the design team
Lotus Agenda FAQ

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Hertzfeld spills all about Eazel

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