The Arabesque Vision

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A Discussion of Personal Information Management on May 17, 1993
EccoPro

Since personal computers began to proliferate in offices, PC users have longed for software applications to make their workday tasks faster and easier. Spreadsheet software was the first category to fuel the sale of large numbers of computers. Database software and word processing applications followed, prompting the sales of millions of personal computers.

These three primary categories of application software have for years represented the vast majority of PC software sales. One or more of these three applications is installed on virtually every PC used in a business environment today. Their common thread is that they made tasks performed by office workers easier and faster. As a result, workers got more work done and the quality of their work improved.

Yet, virtually from the outset, owners of PCs have longed for what many of them view as the real promise of the personal computer – tools to make their lives easier to manage and more organized. This category of software, referred to as personal information management (PIM), has seen dozens of products introduced over the years. Few have survived over the long haul and fewer have attained even modest market penetration. Borland’s Sidekick was the first widely used PIM. Years later, Lotus Development made a splash with the introduction of Agenda, which drew thousands of adherents only to be killed by Lotus to make way for Lotus Organizer. Polaris PackRat broadened the PIM feature set. To this day, the PIM category remains a fractured market.

With the introduction of Windows 3.0 in 1990 came new hope for the PIM category. With its multitasking, graphical user interface, Windows seemed a worthy platform to rekindle the desires of users still in search of the “perfect” PIM. The PIM category remains one of the most desirable software categories, not because of the amount product sold, but because no one has produced a product that begins to satisfy the large pent-up demand for a flexible yet powerful PIM.

One of the reasons that no single developer has emerged as dominant in the PIM category is explained in the very nature of the product. It is a personal information manager, meaning that what may be pleasing to one user may not work for another. In their efforts to provide both structure and flexibility, most PIM products have come up short. It is equally challenging to produce a product that is easy to use, yet cannot be quickly outgrown.

For most consumers, paper-based organizers are the PIM of choice. Though lacking in many regards, they have one overwhelming advantage – ease of use and the ability to make them adapt to how you work. Anyone who can write can use a paper-based organizer. What’s more, they are highly portable, can be used anywhere and accommodate a variety of information organized according to your needs. Where they fail is in their inability to relate the information by arranging it in a meaningful and usable context. The information you need is written somewhere in your organizer, but you won’t necessarily be able to find it quickly.

It is in the latter area that computer users for years have felt unfulfilled. They want all the information they have traditionally kept in their paper-based organizers, but they want to use the power of the PC to make that information meaningful and therefore more useful. They want this information, when viewed in different contexts, to help make their lives more manageable and their work more meaningful and productive. While there is a certain amount of value in raw data, i.e. phone numbers, recurring appointments, prioritized to-do lists, it is attempts to integrate the data that continue to spur the development of new PIMs.

Today’s PIM Environment

Today’s PIM environment is populated by a number of applications. Despite their various approaches to the problem, all have a common attribute. They all use a database metaphor. While they function well as filing systems, they do not handle unrelated bits of random information well. Because of their database roots, virtually all of today’s PIMs are form based. Unfortunately, information doesn’t come to users organized in neat forms. Nor are forms the easiest way to enter information into a PIM.

Today’s users are bombarded by random bits of information ranging from contact names and phone numbers to appointments and reminders. This information comes from many directions, including other applications such as electronic mail. Users not only want to be able to record this information quickly and easily, but they then want to be able to organize this information in ways that are meaningful and contextual.

The PIM category has never realized its full potential considering the pent-up demand that many industry observers believe exists. No PIM product has ever achieved the kind of market acceptance of a best-selling core application.

The Arabesque Team Shares a Common Vision

Arabesque Software Inc. founders Pete Polash and Bob Perez share a common vision. Since their involvement in the early days of the personal computer industry, they have searched for “the perfect PIM.” It was their belief in the potential for the PIM category that brought them together.

“In my everyday work, I’ve always wanted something that would handle tasks, information, outlines and give me a chance to categorize and cross-reference this information,” said Polash. “I tried a lot of programs on the market, but nothing seemed to do what I wanted.”

It isn’t enough, however, to merely record diverse information so that it can be retrieved later. This information must be cross-referenceable for it be relevant. This requires a new breed of PIM.

Polash and Perez shared an interest in intuitive products that provide usable power for people. If you can’t get the information into the PIM easily, no one will use it. Most PIMs gather information and create lists. But simple lists have little meaning. Arabesque sought to create a PIM that reflects the user’s natural sense of significance as the information comes in and is organized and viewed. The information is built up in its own natural form.

The lack of a truly good information manager has limited the true potential of personal computers. Arabesque believes users are hungry for a PIM that will simplify the administration of their lives.