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COMPUTER FILE / LAWRENCE J. MAGID

The Cutting Edge: COMPUTING / TECHNOLOGY / INNOVATION : SideKick Is What We All Want to Be: Slim, Adept

March 01, 1995|LAWRENCE J. MAGID

Philippe Kahn, chairman, founder and former chief executive of Borland International, started his career creating small, inexpensive and easy-to-use software programs. The first version of SideKick, introduced by Borland in 1984, fit on a single 360K disk and had several major features, including a mini word processor and an address book.

Over the years Borland got a lot bigger and so did its products, some of which weigh more than the portable computers some people run them on. Its database programs--Paradox and dBase--are complex and sophisticated tools that appeal more to application developers than regular computer users.

But Borland found itself in over its head, unable to compete effectively with Microsoft Corp. and losing money hand over fist. In January, Kahn resigned as Borland's CEO, although he remains chairman of the board.

A few weeks later, he resurfaced with the announcement of a new software company. Unlike Borland, which is now focused on tools for software developers, Starfish Software is committed to providing consumer products.

The company, according to Kahn, plans "to focus attention to the features that people use 80% of the time rather than bloat the products with features that people don't need." He calls it "slimware." To that end, he's committed to going back to what he did during the early days of Borland by creating products that fit on a single floppy disk.

Starfish, which has 35 employees, is working on products for Microsoft's as-yet-unreleased Windows 95 operating system. In the meantime, the company has gotten a jump-start by acquiring two products from Borland: SideKick for Windows and Dashboard. SideKick is a personal information management program, providing a calendar, schedule, telephone and address book and other handy features for organizing yourself.

Dashboard, which Borland acquired last year from Hewlett-Packard, is an alternative to the Windows Program Manager and is used to launch other Windows programs. Starfish doesn't plan to upgrade Dashboard until Windows 95 comes out, but it has just released a new version of SideKick for Windows.

The original SideKick was one the first and most successful personal information managers, but the field is now crowded: Lotus Organizer 2.0, Novell's InfoCentral, Polaris Advantage and Almanac for Windows are some of the more prominent entries.

But the new SideKick 2.0 is slick. It not only ships on one diskette but, because it's so compact, it can be economically distributed via modem. Users can download it via CompuServe (Go Starfish) or the Internet's World Wide Web (http://www.internet.net) for $29. You can also order by phone by calling (800) 370-8963.

Once installed, SideKick takes up just under three megabytes of hard disk space. Lotus Organizer 2.0, by contrast, comes on three disks and takes up nearly nine megabytes of hard disk space.

SideKick 2.0 has three major modules: card files, a calendar and notes. All three are integrated so you can, for example, write a form letter in the notes feature and use your mouse to drag in a name and address from the card file to have the program automatically create a "mail-merge" document. The same process works when setting up an appointment in the calendar. Just locate a person in the card file and drag the name into a slot on your schedule.

It's also very easy to locate any person or note. A search feature lets you find any word that appears anywhere in your database. Even if you can't remember the name of a person or business, you can locate it by street, city or any other string of text.

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The card file is quite flexible. Although most people will use it to keep track of names, addresses or phone numbers, it's really a general purpose database that can be used to track books, software, videos, or any other type of list. You can easily modify your data to include special "fields" such as spouse's name, birthday or whatever. Unlike some PIMs, you can type in long data strings such as a comment or a description of an item. You can also easily link long notes to items in the card file.

The calendar is quite nice. You can display your calendar in day, week, month or year view. The calendar also lets you type or paste in long notes to describe the purpose of an appointment. I sometimes use that for directions to a meeting or information about a person who's coming to visit me. The calendar can sound an alarm to remind you when the appointment comes up. Unlike other personal information managers, SideKick doesn't have to be running for you to hear the alarm.

The note file is basically a miniature word processing system that has an indexing system that allows you to quickly locate a note by subject or by searching across notes for words that appear in the text.

The program's drag and drop feature allows you to drag in a name, address and phone number from the card file into a note.

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Computer File welcomes your comments. Write to Lawrence J. Magid, Computer File, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, or message magid@latimes.com on the Internet or KPVN58A on Prodigy.

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