RealTime IT News

Has Time's Time Come?

PALO ALTO -- Taking a meeting has never been so complicated.

At least that's the sense you get listening to the array of software designers and industry thinkers discuss the challenges of time management and calendaring in today's increasingly mobile society.

"A meeting is really a transaction," said Yori Nelkin of Timebridge. "You may be free, but you only want to meet if others are there, or if the meeting is at a certain time, and if there will be certain materials there [or if other criteria are met]."

These were some of the issues speakers wrestled with at industry analyst Esther Dyson's first When 2.0 conference, held on Tuesday at Stanford University.

Corporate calendars are nothing new, but speakers at When 2.0 talked about expanding the accessibility and relevancy of electronic calendars to consumers as well as to corporate users. One speaker noted, for example, that users rarely use corporate calendaring tools to schedule or coordinate their personal events.

"There are some 300 million users of [Microsoft] Outlook, but it's an enterprise focus; there's zero of everyone else," said Mitch Kapor, president of the Open Source Applications Foundation. OSAF is developing Chandler, a personal information manager. In the 1980s, Kapor designed Lotus 1-2-3, considered the first killer application to drive sales of the IBM PC.

Some think calendaring could be the next killer app. "You are five times more likely to attend an event if it's on your calendar," Dennis Trumba, vice president of marketing at Trumba, told internetnews.com.

OSAF has scaled back its original goal of bringing out multiple applications in one package in order to focus on calendaring. "We've learned that if you have enormous vision, it's impossible to do in one release," said Kapor. "We're calendar-focused, because we think it's a killer feature to be able to easily share calendars."

Host Dyson agreed. "The innovation in calendaring is on the consumer side; the enterprise side is relatively static."

While some speakers derided Microsoft Outlook, Ray Ozzie, the software giant's CTO, said it continues to make progress. He said the forthcoming Office 12 has "a very significant transformation of the UI and usability. There are no menus, which is an interesting, bold risk." Office 12 isn't due until after Microsoft's Vista OS ships later in 2006.

It may well take a bold risk to get more people to use electronic calendaring for their planning. A show of hands among even the sophisticated entrepreneurs and software gurus at When 2.0 showed most still rely on paper for business time-management tasks. And Dyson, who writes frequently about bleeding-edge software advances, admitted she uses Microsoft Word to keep her calendar of appointments.

In a small demo area, several companies showed pre-release versions of calendar and scheduling programs, as well as updates to shipping products.

Zimbra is, like Chandler, an open source project, but the Web client and server software developer is focused on corporate applications. The company said it's targeting Fortune 1000 companies, particularly in financial services, retail and manufacturing, as well as higher education.

With support for Outlook included, the browser-based client includes search, shared calendar, and mail that is integrated with contacts and calendar. It's also cross-platform, supporting Windows, Apple and Linux systems. In the e-mail client, which accepts RSS feeds, a mini-calendar view is anchored to the app for a quick view of scheduled appointments.

Rather than manage events already planned, Renkoo focuses on making events happen. "We bring friends together in the process," CEO Adam Rifkin told internetnews.com.

He said services like Evite are for larger group functions that already have a fixed time and place. With Renkoo there is, among other features, a real-time voting mechanism, so people can decide on a time for lunch, movie or other gathering. The original planner can decide when to rein in the votes and chatter in order to set the details of where and when. Renkoo also accepts SMS text messaging, and it's experimenting with links to instant messaging services as part of the site.

While many of the vendors were optimistic that they could break new ground on the consumer side, at least one attendee was skeptical.

"These things are great if you're an extrovert," said Chris Nesladek, a user interface designer for Intuit . "But you're only organized if you have responsibility. For a lot of 18- to 24-year-olds, having a calendar or updating your schedule doesn't matter.

For young and old alike, Dyson had this comment worth considering in a recent edition of her Release 1.0 newsletter: "You can't create time. You can only steal it, reallocate it, use it or waste it."