In some ways, my life was simpler before I started using a computer. Take the top of my desk, for instance. For the longest time, the most important things on it were a phone, a pen, a pad and a Rolodex for saving addresses and phone numbers.
But I'm computerized now. The pad and pen have been replaced by word-processing software and the phone book by a database program. The telephone is still there, but I usually let my computer do the dialing. As before, there also is clutter, only now it's diskettes and reference manuals.
Is this progress? It depends. There are times when relying on a computer can slow you down, especially when you have to load a separate program each time you want to change tasks. In the old days, I just reached for the Rolodex if I needed to find an address while I was writing a letter. With a computer, it might be necessary to stop what you're doing, save your file, put in special software to get the new information and then stop that program and reload your word processor. That can take several minutes.
Fortunately, there now is software that allows you to switch between tasks at the touch of a key or the click of the mouse. There are actually three methods for users of the IBM PC or the Apple Macintosh.
One is to use so-called integrated software such as Microsoft Works (for the Mac and PC) or WordPerfect Executive (for the PC). These programs perform multiple functions such as word processing, spreadsheet calculations and managing lists of information. They are designed to meet most of the processing needs of executives and professionals.
Another strategy is to use multi-tasking, or switching, software that allows you to load several of your own programs into memory at a time. These include DesqView and Windows for the IBM PC and Apple's new MultiFinder operating system for the Macintosh. In two or three years, this kind of software will be standard for all business computers.
A third method, which has been very popular over the last few years, is to use so-called pop-up programs that are able to run at the same time as your regular application program. Such programs do their work without requiring you to interrupt whatever else you are doing.
On the IBM PC and compatibles, these programs are called terminate and stay resident software. They are so named because the programs can remain in the computer's memory even after they stop operating. That way, they can be recalled at the touch of a key.
On Apple Macintosh, these programs are called desk accessories, named after the old-fashioned desk implements they mimic. You get to a desk accessory via the special Apple menu that appears in virtually all programs. Again, you don't have to stop what you're doing.
Whether for the IBM or Macintosh, such pop-up programs tend to cost less than most other types of application software. They can be a superb value; on both machines, I find myself using these programs very often.
Lately, I've been using Quickdex, a $35 desk accessory for the Macintosh that allows you to store and retrieve addresses, phone numbers and notes while working on another program.
Information is stored on "cards" that appear on the screen. Each record, or listing, is limited to a 3-by-5-inch display area. That's plenty for names and addresses, but limits the program's usefulness for keeping notes.
I use it to store addresses and phone numbers. To access a card, you type in any word, phrase or character that appears on it. That makes it easy to find a record even if you don't know a person's full name. You could enter any part of the first name, street, city, company or anything else. The speed is truly amazing. One of my data files has hundreds of names (more than 43,000 characters), but it can find any record in less than one-tenth of a second.
The program can place the call when it finds a phone number. With the current version, your Mac must be equipped with a modem, but a new version, to be released this month, will use the Mac's internal speaker to generate touch tones for dialing the phone. (An inexpensive adapter or external speaker will be necessary.)
You also can move information between Quickdex and other programs. When I write a letter, I locate the name and address with Quickdex and copy it to the letter. It's just as easy to move information from other programs to Quickdex.
Quickdex stores its data using standard files that can be created or edited with any word processing program. It also can share data with a wide variety of other programs.
Quickdex allows you to work with up to eight windows, or files, at a time. It comes with a file called QuickZip that lets you look up ZIP codes and area codes for most cities and towns. Quickdex is published by Greene Inc., 15 Via Chualar, Monterey, Calif. 93940; (408) 375-0910.
Similar programs are available for the IBM PC and compatible computers. Several months ago, I reviewed Instant Recall, a IBM PC pop-up filing program.