For years, one of the standard Linux email/PIM (personal information manager) clients has been Evolution. Evolution can do it all: email, calendar, Microsoft Exchange servers, contacts, appointments, to-do lists, notes… it’s a great program, and if you’re looking for a replacement for Microsoft Outlook, Evolution is as close as you’ll get in the Linux world.
But not everyone needs the power of Evolution. Some people – such as myself – simply need an email client for email. I don’t need a huge, monolithic program to keep track of every bit of my life. I love the fact that it’s out there, and that different parts of Evolution interact with each other, but… what if I only want a calendar application? What if my email client (Thunderbird) already keeps track of my contacts? What are my options?
Thanks to the people at OpenedHand, there are three new options for people such as myself. Simply named Contacts, Dates and Tasks, these tiny programs were initially designed for the portable market, but have been released for the GTK desktop, and provide much of the basic functionality one could want out of such programs.
Contacts is, as the name would imply, a simple address book. It can keep track of names, addresses, phone numbers, email and other such information. Because it was designed for the handheld market, the Linux version is still a single-window program, even when adding a new contact. There is room to upload a user photo, for a more visual representation of the contact information, but it is not necessary. Once added into the address book, contacts may be searched, so – if for instance – you wish you quickly produce a list of all the contacts who live in a certain town or state, Contacts does this easily. One of the nice things about Contacts (and all the OpenedHand applications, to tell the truth, is that they use the Evolution Data Server backend. Because of this, if you already have used Evolution and keep your contacts stored, this program can access that database, and any changes made via Contacts will appear in Evolution’s address book, and vice versa.
Again, the name reveals the purpose of this little piece of software. Dates is a simple calendar application, allowing a user to input an appointment into the calendar, and then view the calendar in a variety of ways, from all the appointments on a single day to the entire month at a glance. Entering an appointment is as simple as clicking the “New” button (or double-clicking on the day you wish to add the appointment to, and entering in the information, such as giving the appointment a name, and designating start and end times for the appointment, if applicable. Dates can be customized by adding different calendars, so that work appointments show up on the list designated by different colors, so a work appointment can easily be differentiated from a school event, for instance.
At the moment, Tasks is the least mature of the three programs. In truth, it is currently little more than a list which can be added to and completed tasks checked once finished. It has no reminder feature available, so if you forget to check your to-do list, Tasks will not remind you. In the future, I would guess that Tasks will include some mechanism to remind users of impending tasks, especially since Tasks currently allows users to designate the priority of a task, as well as when the task needs to be finished. A simple daemon, along with a pop-up message would be sufficient for most users, and would be a welcome addition. In spite of the program’s relative “youth,” it is still easy to use. Tasks are easily entered, and the interface – as of all the programs – is pleasing to view.
In time, I would imagine that these simple applications will be widely used, as they provide a large set of features while taking up relatively little space. Add to them a simple email client that is in some way interfaced to them (similar to how clicking “Address” in the Mac email client brings up the system Address Book), and in my mind, you would have a winning combination. The programs might not quite be ready at the moment, but development has been rapid in recent months, and I personally am looking forward to what the developers come up with next.