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Getting organized

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 15, 2003
(Issue 2133, CSI - Crime Scene Investigation)

It's a guy thing, I suppose, but that seems a weak excuse.

The fact remains I forgot my brother-in-law Ernie's birthday.

Okay, I didn't actually forget it – I never knew it was coming.

Or gone.

It's been like this for as long as I can remember. Even now, I couldn't tell you my father's birthday without looking it up. I know my brother's birthday is in late September, but not thespecific date. My parents' anniversary? August something.

And so I keep meaning to get organized. I'm in my 40s, and it's getting a bit humiliating.

After the latest embarrassment of spending the day after Ernie's birthday at his house without so much as a "Happy birthday," I decided to actually do the organizing.

I don't have a personal information manager anymore. I don't use Outlook, and the latest version of WordPerfect Office doesn't seem to have an organizer included.

So I looked to the Web.

Portals are us

The various portals seemed a good place to start.

Portals are pages you can customize – typically, you can add news, sports, weather, etc., to your portal. Pick the news you're most interested in – say, tech stocks, the San Diego Chargers and country music – and the latest stories on those items will be displayed on your portal whenever you visit and sign in.

The first portal I visited, Netscape's Netcenter (, indeed has a calendar. A nice one, too, which can track birthdays year to year so you don't have to keep entering them.

But other parts of the Netscape portal were buggy – like when I tried to add the minor league Dayton Dragons to my sports coverage, it then replaced all my National League entries with the Dragons.

I like my old hometown and all, but not to the exclusion of the Reds and Padres.

(Just tried it again, and now it's working fine – maybe it was when I added the minor league team before the major league ones ...)

Yahoo also has a portal you can personalize as your home page ( Again, once you've signed in, you can set things up the way you want them.

Microsoft's MSN portal also has an area where you can personalize your options at – but as you have to create a .NET Passport to access it, and as I refuse to have a Passport account until Microsoft institutes the same reasonable privacy protections as their competitors, I can't vouch for the options available.

Lycos' portal ( calls its' calendar the "Reminders" chart; the Opera browser also uses the Lycos portal as its default portal.

The features

Both Netscape (which is also the default portal page for Apple's Safari browser) and Yahoo allow you to edit the calendar – and designate events as repeating (so I won't forget Ernie's birthday again). And if you don't log in every day, you can have a reminder e-mailed to you at a point in time you choose – a week ahead of time, or two weeks, or whenever you want.

Lycos allows you to add events, but they don't show up on the calendar itself – you have to go back to the events listing to see them. I also didn't find a way to have a notification e-mailed to you reminding you of events; you have to log in to the Lycos portal to see them.

Other calendars

Surprisingly – or perhaps not, given Outlook's dominant market position – a search of Google didn't bring up any more customizable online calendars/planners.

Of course, there aren't many personal information manager applications out there anymore. A decade ago, that was a crowded arena. Today, Outlook has driven most of the competition from the field.

Unfortunately, Outlook has the same security issues as the rest of Microsoft Office; thus, it's not installed on my computer.