At this time of year, I'm usually scratching around for a new calendar system to track family occasions, business appointments and the like.
Over the years, I've tried much of what's on the market. I started out in the paper world, where I was day-timed, day-run, Franklin-planned and at-a-glanced.
Later I moved on to computers, where Schedule-Plus, GoldMine and Outlook, among others, crossed my PC screen. These software calendars were certainly easier to edit than their paper cousins, but carrying your PC everywhere you go isn't practical.
After that, I tried Internet calendars like Yahoo! Calendar and some others (at least one of which is in the dot-com graveyard by now).
These had the big advantage of being viewable from home, work or even from the road. But they still required constant access to an Internet-connected computer, which, even in this hyper-connected era, can be maddeningly hard to find when you need it.
My years of searching for a solution to the calendar problem may be finally coming to a close, however. Because now I carry around a little hand-held computer called a personal digital assistant, or PDA.
You may know these devices a little better as Palm Pilots, because Palm Inc. and its compatibles hold far and away the largest market share in the hand-held market.
Palm itself has already shipped more than 10 million units, and that's without counting what must have been a tremendous holiday season. Palm compatibles like the Handspring Visor and the Sony Clie are also catching on.
But Palm and its compatibles aren't the only players in the hand-held market. My PDA, at least for now, is one of the "other kind": a so-called Pocket PC running an operating system developed by Microsoft.
Had I purchased the device myself, I probably would have leaned toward the Palm platform because I generally give an edge to the market leader. But the Pocket PC was a gift, and I was glad to receive it.
For those of us who live by calendars, these personal digital assistants are a godsend. They take the flexibility and convenience of software calendars and add a crucial new element: portability.
You just never know when you'll be called on to set up an appointment, call a business contact or jot down a crucial errand. Yet you can't be glued to your PC all day. It's a big world out there; you've got to be able to get around.
These hand-helds -- roughly the size of a transistor radio, and much thinner -- let you do just that. And because they connect easily to your PC, your information is always up to date.
As for which is better, the Palm or the Pocket PC, only you can be the judge. It looks like the Palm vs. Pocket PC debate is shaping up as one of those primal fault lines, like Apple vs. Windows/Intel, or Netscape vs. Internet Explorer.
But for the simple jobs of managing your calendar, your address book, to-do lists and miscellaneous notes, they're not all that different.
For a long time I resisted getting one of these snappy hand-helds, thinking that they're really only useful for people who travel on business a great deal. Now I'm sorry I waited. Just moving between home, office and around town is all the "travel" you need to make carrying your electronic calendar worthwhile.
Of course, nothing's perfect. I still worry that the battery will run out, or that I'll lose the thing. I wish the screen were brighter
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