Review by Steve Justice
Look at the interface; most PIMs have a to-do list in one place and an
appointment calendar in another. Above & Beyond places everything on a single
screen. You can see my 11:00 AM class and my 1:00 PM office hours listed on the
screen-shot above: the times for these items, to the left, are underlined, indicating that
these are both "scheduled"; and "fixed", which means that these are
events with definite starting- and ending-times that ordinarily wont change. Other
items on the screen (the letter about my lecture at the University of Hawaii, the letter
to my dean about the Distinguished Visiting Professor salary) are fit into the schedule
around these other, "fixed" commitments. These tasks are scheduled and floating.
Ive entered the time I estimate each will take (you can see that in parenthesis to
the right of each item), and Above & Beyond has worked them in around the
For myself, I think this is brilliant. Perhaps youre different from and more disciplined than I am, but this approach, which forces me to think intelligently about how long each job will take, and then shows me how they might fit in among my other duties, really does wonders in helping me realistically to plan my day. Youre never stuck, by the way, with the schedule Above & Beyond gives you. You can move events around in a day simply by dragging them up and down the list, or move a job to another day by clicking on it and then right-clicking on the date you are moving it to on the little monthly calendar, which can be tucked anywhere on the screen.
But that is only the beginning. The truly unique aspect of Above & Beyond, which Ive seen in no other PIM, and Ive tried dozens, is that it employs what it terms dynamic scheduling. To explain how this works, it will be easiest to refer again to the screen shot. As things stand, Im scheduled to call Geoff Koziol in the History Department at 9:00 AM on Tuesday morning (thats to take 10 minutes) and then write David Baker starting at 9:10 AM (30 minutes for that job). Suppose, though, that I dont haul myself into the office until 9:15 on Tuesday. When I start Above & Beyond, it will have me scheduled to call Geoff at 9:15, and will have moved the beginning of my letter-writing to 9:25; indeed, it will move everything (except the firmly scheduled class and office hours) accordingly. So then I call Geoff, but the call only takes about 2 minutes. I click on that task, hit the spacebar, and its crossed off as done. Now the task of writing the letter to David it scheduled to start at 9:17 and end at 9:47. And if that letter takes me an hour instead of a half-hour to write, the beginning of the next task will have been moved to 10:17. (If that happens, Ill have to reschedule it, because there wont be time to finish before my class begins.) And so on. As a slogan, dynamic scheduling may sound like the worst sort of advertising hype; but its the most helpful and realistic way of keeping track of my day I have ever seen.
And theres still more. (I told you that this program is the most sophisticated scheduler around.) You can create a list of projects, and give each a distinguishing color (these appear as the little colored boxes next to each item), and a list of status designations, and give each of these a different color (these appear as the color of the type in which the task appears.) You can set how much unscheduled time you want left each day, and adjust it on any given day. You can optimize the scheduling, so that items are fit most efficiently into the available time, or balance it, so that items are spread efficiently over several days. Undone items can be automatically carried over to the next day. You can construct a surprise list--when my research is interrupted by a 20-minute visit from a student, I select Student Visit from the surprise list, and its inserted at the time it happened. (This, incidentally, is a very useful way to keep track of when your boss suddenly dropped by and commended some good work, if you need to recall the visit when youre asking for a raise.) There are literally dozens of other ingenious time-management functions in this application, which are, like these, difficult to explain but absolutely transparent when you begin using the program.
Along with the main scheduling window, Above & Beyond includes several small utilities. Ive mentioned the plain-text database, which can hold contact information. Its a little too basic for my needs; but the auto-dialer will recognize phone-numbers in this database, and dial your phone, via your modem, on command. I very much like the timer, designed to work like a stop-watch that calculates charge-per-minute or -per-hour. The screen shot calculates my charges, at my $120/hour consulting rate, for the task being timed.
The mainstream computer press, you may have noticed, regularly complains
of bloatware: applications that grow bigger and more ambitious with every new
release. The chief complaint, and its a real one, is that programs trying to do
everything end up doing everything slowly. But there is another problem with such
software: in trying to do everything, it does nothing particularly well. And so it is
positively a pleasure to review an offering like Above & Beyond, that does just
one thing -- one important thing -- better than anything else, does it quickly, and
requires so little RAM and hard-disk space that youll scarcely notice its
Above & Beyond calls itself a PIM (the PIM for success), but its more focused than the phrase Personal Information Manager has come to suggest, especially that you will now find PIMs offering to be your contact manager, document manager, URL manager, free-form text manager, even your life-plans, leisure-time, and career-goals manager. A&B offers a rudimentary plain-text database that can be used for phone directories and short notes, if your needs are also rudimentary. Its brilliance and usefulness lie in the almost infinitely flexible way it can manage your schedule.
Above & Beyond is tiny in everything but power: it uses less
than 400K of RAM, and occupies about 700K of hard-disk space. Compare this with the 6M of
RAM used by another popular (and generally less powerful) PIM that I could name, and you
can appreciate the achievement of the authors of this brilliant little program.
The evaluation version of Above & Beyond is not crippled in any way.
Steve would like it known that he is not paid his professional consulting fee for writing these reviews.
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