HyunKeun Cho CE Agenda 1.0.6.5

Some people need to be able to justify their handheld PC obsession: I do this by convincing anyone who will listen that HPCs are a great help in organising my life, thanks to the built in personal information management (PIM) functionality common to any PDA worth its salt.

However, all PIMs are not created equal.

Mention "agenda" to anyone who has used a Psion 3 or 5 series PDA, and you'll likely as not see a hint of nostalgia cross their face, or find out that they're still using it to manage their life. Without further prompting, they'll wax lyrical on just how effective and efficient the program was. "So simple, but so powerful!" will be the pervasive theme of the outpourings.

Switch now to Windows CE: using Pocket Outlook's Calendar and Tasks seems, in comparison, slightly clunky and never as elegant in simplicity as Psion's Agenda. Psion's Agenda itself was not always a bed of roses: synchronisation was never a high point, and some aspects of time management were stupefyingly absent. Appointments, for example, did not have locations associated with them and synchronising locations to Outlook involved resorting to messy hacks, VBScript macros and specific formats for notes.

Enter stage left HyunKeun Cho, a Korean developer who obviously has a soft spot for the Psion Agenda application and, it turns out, the talent needed to improve the time management functionality of Windows CE for the HPC. Hyunkeun's Agenda CE application aims to combine the best of all worlds. Running on HPC Pro or above (Windows CE 2.11, 3.0 and .net 4.x), with support for SH3 and MIPS processors for CE 2.x, StrongArm and MIPS on 3.0 and the .net CRE, many devices are covered by CE Agenda, currently at version 1.0.6.5.

Installation is achieved through ActiveSync, and requires around 200KB on your HPC. The application will install onto a storage card quite happily, and tries to replace a CE internal file (\windows\pimstore.dll) with an outdated version for no adequately explainable reason (admittedly, I’ve not asked the developer to explain this, but I’ll wager it is to do with support for .net device). This file is around 200KB in itself, which is why ActiveSync application manager reports that CE Agenda is closer to 400KB than 200KB.

At its most simple, the application provides extra interfaces onto Pocket Outlook's information store - all information in your inbuilt calendar and tasks is presented to you in a variety of useful views that are very reminiscent of the Psion's Agenda application.

Figure 1: CE Agenda’s Week view

Immediately visible at a glance are your appointments and tasks for the current week. Common to all parts of the application are the menu down the right hand side, and the “turn page” icons in the corners of the main window which allow you to go forwards and backwards through your agenda. In case you were wondering, this is what a Psion 5mx's Agenda looks like, a screengrab is shown in figure 2:

Figure 2: Psion Series 5MX Agenda Week view

Appointments are shown with their duration, location (an obvious improvement over the Psion!), and appropriate icons showing if they are recurring, have a note attached, or an alarm. A useful option allows word wrap to be turned on, which shows all text of an appointment in the high level window. Of course, if you don’t want this, you can turn it off - flexibility is paramount in this application. Tasks are also shown commingled with appointments, which is an absolute boon if you are used to the Psion way of working. If you look in the screenshot, you’ll see the scrollbar on “today”, which when scrolled would show the tasks and other appointments for the day.

You also get a detailed day view, as below in figure 3, showing you the appointments and relevant tasks for the day. Relevance is determined by date, as only tasks that have a start date or end less than or equal to the date are shown, or tasks that have no dates are shown as "floating tasks". Overdue tasks are highlighted, priority is shown ... In short, everything that you'd expect to see is shown at a glance.

Figure 3: CE Agenda’s Day view

The final unique view is the Time view (figure 4), handily showing a map of your time for the week.

Figure 4: CE Agenda’s Time View

Again, this is an excellent simple “at a glance” view of your appointments and works well. It gives me an excellent overview of my busy time for the day.

The Calendar of HPC2000 does include an Agenda-style view, but is limited when compared to CE Agenda: the Windows CE calendar’s views are purely for viewing only, you cannot add new items, or edit existing items. With CE Agenda, you can. The application makes use of the operating system’s inbuilt PIM facilities, and therefore the add/edit dialogs are exactly as you get within Pocket Outlook. (For CE .Net, I will have to plead ignorance as to what the requesters look like... Feel free to send me a Nexio, or Netbook Pro, and I’ll update the review.)

In summary, this application gives you the advantages that Pocket Outlook has over Psion Agenda, such as a location, with a familiar and significantly more powerful interface to boot. Unfortunately, you do not get the ability to embed objects into an agenda item as the Psion 5 allows (spreadsheets, sketches, full-blown documents...) but that would require significant rewriting of the internals of Windows CE.

The application also supports its own internal appointment file, allowing you to add things (such as holidays) to Agenda that do not appear within Pocket Outlook. A text file is used to maintain these entries, so you need to edit the text file to change the appointments.

Weaknesses? Documentation, or lack thereof, may mean that people are not getting the best out of the application. There are three configuration files that CE Agenda uses, which would benefit from a bit of explanation: for example, memento.inf controls the appearance of the application and allows such useful things as displaying a week number in the week view, or changing font sizes.

Another slight annoyance is that the display can get out of sync with the underlying database, particularly if you delete an appointment on the desktop whilst synchronised through ActiveSync. Cutting and pasting is supported, but a slip of the fingers allows you to create duplicates which then provoke an error. Strange bugs have raised their head, but nothing that impedes using the application, and the developer has been exceptionally responsive to bug reports.

The application is fully functional without registration, but will pop up a message box on every second activity you perform, reminding you that it's shareware. Registration costs $19.95 (£10.5 GBP, €15 EUD, ¥2100 JPY est.), and is performed through Handango. Within 24 hours you should be emailed a specific code tied to your username that will stop the nagging.

Is it useful? Undoubtedly. Is it an improvement on the inbuilt Outlook Suite? Absolutely! Is it under continual development from an enthusiastic HPC user who runs his own forum to support the software? Yes. Should I try it? A big resounding “yes”!

It is not without a few undesirable side effects, and really would benefit from documentation, but the author is obviously keen to improve the product and, as such, it gets a large thumbs up rating from me. Who knows, perhaps the community here can help out on the documentation front?

System Requirements:

HPC Pro, HPC2000, CE4.x .net
SH3, SH4, StrongARM, MIPS, XScale

Rating  
Cost: 3 Star Rating: Average
Usability: 4 Star Rating: Recommended
Built-In helps: 2.0 Star Rating: Weak
Customer Service: 5 Star Rating: Exceptional
Overall: 4 Star Rating: Recommended

CE Agenda can be found at the following URL.
http://www.ceagenda.net/ceagenda/download_e.html

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Nick Latito
Handheld PC Reviews
HPC:Factor