Last week we explored the new possibilities the Macintosh Palm Desktop 2.1 software brings to Palm handheld owners and Claris Organizer users. This week Jeff Carlson takes a tour of the advanced personal organization software, pointing out some of the more confusing bits for Palm handheld users. Also this week, Adam and Tonya go grocery shopping on the Internet via the new HomeGrocer.com, and we report on Adobe’s big announcements at Seybold.
Adobe Announces InDesign, Acrobat 4.0
Adobe Announces InDesign, Acrobat 4.0 — At last week’s Seybold show, Adobe Systems previewed its forthcoming publishing application InDesign and Acrobat 4.0. InDesign, widely known by its codename K2, is a new page layout program aimed at the high end publishing market dominated by QuarkXPress. Although InDesign won’t offer a radical departure from the interface of other page layout programs, it will feature multiple document views, unlimited undos, sophisticated typographic controls, extensive scriptability, and a modular design that provides expansive opportunities for third party developers to develop InDesign add-ons. InDesign won’t replace PageMaker, which Adobe intends to refocus toward business users. Adobe says InDesign, which will require Mac OS 8.5.1 or higher with at least 48 MB of RAM, will be available mid-year at a list price of $700.
Adobe also previewed Acrobat 4.0, due to ship later this month at a list price of $250 (Acrobat Reader 4.0 will be freely available). Acrobat 4.0 will offer improved PDF annotation features, text editing, and the ability to edit images in PDF documents via user-selected graphics applications. Acrobat 4.0 will also enable users to create PDFs optimized for a specific purpose, from on-screen use to printing at a high-end service bureau. However, the Macintosh version of Acrobat 4.0 will lack many new features in the Windows version, including digital signatures, the capability to convert Web sites to PDF, and integration with Microsoft Office. Adobe plans to release these features for the Mac in a future update. [GD]
Groceries in the Mist
Since Tristan was born in January, Tonya and I have been leaving the house less frequently. We can’t escape midwife and pediatrician appointments, but we’ve cut down on shopping – or rather, shopping that we can’t do via the Internet. I’m not talking about books or CDs, but the true necessities of life – food and drink, which we now buy through HomeGrocer.com, an Internet company based in Bellevue, Washington. As much as we like Amazon and My Yahoo, HomeGrocer.com is well on its way to influencing our lives more than any other Internet-based business.
HomeGrocer.com opened in May of 1998, and their concept is simple. You order your groceries on a Web site, pay with a credit card, and have them delivered at a time you’ve chosen. HomeGrocer.com currently serves only the Puget Sound area, but I’m sure they plan to expand. If you live near Seattle, you can try HomeGrocer.com, and if not, look for similar services near you.
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Shopping — HomeGrocer.com will eventually charge a $35 per year membership fee, though they currently waive it to attract customers. Once you’ve logged in to the site, you see a page divided into four sections with frames. The top horizontal frame provides navigation and an ever-present Quickfinder search field. Searching is quick, although the searches are broad, so if you search for "vermouth," you’ll see results with words like "Vermont" in their descriptions.
The left vertical frame contains Lists, Recipes, and Products. You browse through categories and see items and search results in the middle vertical frame. And finally, the right vertical frame contains your cart, the items you’ve said you want to buy.
HomeGrocer.com lets you make your own lists of items that you buy regularly and maintains two lists for you automatically: Last Shop, which records items you bought the last time you shopped, and My HomeGrocer.com, which records everything you’ve ever bought. These lists are especially useful if you buy roughly the same food each week.
The third section in the left frame, Products, contains all the products HomeGrocer.com carries, broken down into categories. Many items appear in multiple categories, so you aren’t forced to guess the proper one.
When you view an existing list or start browsing the products, you’re essentially searching HomeGrocer.com’s database. The middle frame displays the results of those searches, either a collection of items (listed with size and price) or an individual item that you’ve clicked for more detail. Details vary by item, although they always include name, size, and price. Pictures are often available, and occasionally nutritional information as well. Ideally, every item would feature both a picture and full nutritional information, including ingredients.
Buying items is easy, just click the Buy button next to an item to add it to your cart in the right frame. The cart is currently sorted randomly, but HomeGrocer.com plans to fix that soon. Each item has a field next to it where you can change the quantity of each thing you want to buy. After you change the number of items, you must click the Update Subtotal button at the top of the right frame to change your subtotal. When you’re done, the Checkout button in the right frame takes you to a confirmation page where you pick a delivery time and add any special instructions. A final click confirms the order and you’re done.
Shopping for a week’s worth of groceries took us about an hour the first time or two, but that time has dropped as we become more familiar with the HomeGrocer.com site and products. Since merely driving to and from the grocery store takes us 40 minutes, using HomeGrocer.com is a huge time savings. That’s important for us these days, but it’s also good because the Internet businesses that have done well are those that give you time.
Selection — Everyone asks us about HomeGrocer.com’s selection and produce. Their selection is good, certainly comparable to normal grocery stores. It tends toward prepackaged food and well-known brands, but you can request missing items. I asked them to add 16 ounce cans of Minute Maid frozen orange juice and Huggies newborn diapers, along with ground pork and bulk spices. Three days later, I received email telling me that they’d added the orange juice and diapers and were working on the other requests. It’s best to ask for specific items – requests like bulk spices tend to throw them.
People are suspicious of buying produce through HomeGrocer.com because the idea of someone else picking out your lettuce is initially dubious. But it turns out that HomeGrocer.com’s produce is as good or better than produce at a normal supermarket, although it doesn’t compare to the vegetables at a farmer’s market we frequent in the summer. In a supermarket, the produce is tossed on the shelves, pawed over by shoppers, sprayed by those scary little water jets, left out in non-refrigerated displays, and then driven home in your non-refrigerated car. In contrast, HomeGrocer.com’s produce goes straight from their refrigerated warehouse to the refrigerated truck to your kitchen, with minimal handling.
I do think HomeGrocer.com can go farther with specialty items, large sizes, and obscure products. Shelf space in a supermarket is important, so slow-selling speciality items don’t receive much space, whereas (in the U.S. anyway) most supermarkets have an entire aisle devoted to oddly colored breakfast cereal. Since HomeGrocer.com has essentially no limitation on shelf space, they should be able to offer a wider selection of uncommon products.
Although it’s never guaranteed, HomeGrocer.com occasionally just gives you additional stuff. Your first order gets a bag of free produce, and our driver also gave us a baguette. Another time, we received 50 1-cent makeup stamps to account for the new U.S. first class letter postal rates, and for Valentine’s Day, they gave us daffodils. Small touches like this cost little and help ensure customer loyalty and strong word of mouth. HomeGrocer.com also encourages word of mouth references by giving the referrers $20 of free groceries for each new customer. Heck, if just a few TidBITS readers list us as the reason for signing up with HomeGrocer.com, TidBITS could be directly responsible for putting food on our table!
Prices — HomeGrocer.com’s prices are comparable with the more expensive supermarkets in the area. You can find cheaper prices if you drive around and shop sales, but then you have to factor your time and mileage into the cost. For minimizing costs, it’s important to avoid the delivery fee, which HomeGrocer.com waives if you order more than $75 of groceries. When we’re near $65, I buy a bottle of wine or something we’ll use eventually. Even though we tend to bulk up our order to hit $75, we do almost no impulse buying, which lowers our weekly grocery bills.
Delivery — The delivery process works well. HomeGrocer.com has a fleet of trucks painted with huge peach logos. You pick a 90 minute window for your delivery; so far we’ve been able to choose a delivery time the next day, though it’s not guaranteed. Even after you’ve scheduled a delivery, you can add or remove items until 11:00 PM the night before the delivery.
We’ve been impressed by HomeGrocer.com’s delivery people. They have all been bright, personable, and chatty. Delivering to our house is tricky, since we live at the end of a very steep, mile-long, one lane road. The drivers have all treated it with good humor; we even received a card from one driver thanking us and neighbors who had helped her turn around for being so understanding.
Finally, it’s more efficient to have a single truck delivering groceries to a bunch of people than it is for everyone to drive to the store. One driver commented that she’d driven 76 miles for 7 stops in a rural area (10.9 miles per stop), but another driver had that day done 18 stops in 42 miles (2.3 miles per stop). Even considering that the trucks get worse gas mileage and pollute more than commuter cars, I suspect these trucks are better for the environment.
Audience — HomeGrocer.com isn’t for everyone. If you can’t hit $75 per order, the $10 delivery fee may not be worthwhile. If you aren’t home to receive orders reliably, you can pick them up at HomeGrocer.com’s warehouse or have them delivered to your work, but if that’s not convenient, you’re out of luck.
Some groups should investigate HomeGrocer.com or similar services. I’ve seen references to HomeGrocer.com on a multiple sclerosis resources Web page, and anyone who’s homebound could benefit from grocery delivery. We started using them because we didn’t want to traipse around a grocery store with a baby, but I’ve also heard of parents who prefer HomeGrocer.com because it’s easier than keeping children away from the candy in the checkout line.
No matter what your specific situation, if you’re reading this, you’re probably sufficiently Internet-savvy to consider a service like HomeGrocer.com. You might as well – I think it’s a foregone conclusion that the Internet will become the preferred marketplace for commodity items. After all, how many people enjoy shopping for basic groceries?
Moving Back to the (Palm) Desktop
Purchasing my PalmPilot a few years ago ended my flirtation with Mac-based personal information management (PIM) software. I experimented with Claris Organizer, but abandoned it because it couldn’t synchronize with the PalmPilot. Although Now Synchronize could transfer data between the handheld and Now Contact/Up-to-Date, it was buggy and unreliable.
That left me with Pilot Desktop 1.0, the software portion of the Pilot MacPac (which also included the serial adapter required to hook the Pilot’s cradle to a Mac), but the program’s glacial performance, gray Windows-like interface, and steep memory requirements ensured that Pilot Desktop acted only as a backup of my PalmPilot’s data. As a result, I almost never viewed my schedule or looked up contact information on my Mac; grabbing the information from the handheld was always faster and easier.
Since installing Palm Desktop 2.1 (see "Palm Desktop Marks Return of a Familiar Organizer" in TidBITS-469), I’m not reaching for my PalmPilot as often. Now I’m looking up addresses and checking my calendar using either Palm Desktop or the Instant Palm Desktop menu. I’m using my PowerBook’s modem to dial phone numbers, and I’m viewing and sorting my personal information in ways I’d never considered. Like an amphibian that exists comfortably either on land or in the ocean, I’ve partially migrated back to the desktop while retaining the advantages of accessing my data on a handheld device.
Palm Desktop appeals to two main camps of users: Palm device owners whose only option has been Pilot Desktop 1.0 and users of Claris Organizer, upon which the new software is based. Both parties (and anyone else for that matter) can download the free software from Palm Computing’s Web site; Apple also mirrors the files.
Confusion Is Only Skin Deep — If you’re used to Pilot Desktop 1.0, Palm Desktop 2.1 may seem overly modular and scattered at first. But give yourself a few minutes to grasp its way of thinking and you’ll be glad you abandoned the gray tones of Pilot Desktop.
One source of confusion for Palm device users is that Palm Computing kept Claris Organizer’s names for the four modules that correspond to the four main Palm applications. In Palm Desktop, Date Book is known as Calendar, Address Book is called Contact List, the To Do List becomes Task List, and the Memo Pad is known as the Note List. Palm device users would appreciate more consistency, but once you mentally match up the names the confusion disappears.
Another source of confusion is Palm Desktop’s multiple window interface. Pilot Desktop 1.0 (and Windows Palm Desktop 3.0) keeps all of its functions in a central window, but the Mac Palm Desktop uses a separate window for each module and displays records in their own windows. You could stack windows like Mah Jongg tiles, but arranging the windows to your liking and then saving the window positions works better, especially when linking records (see below).
These Are the Days — I use the Calendar module most often because it provides the most information in one window. You can choose between Daily, Weekly, and Monthly views (which all share the same window). In the Daily view, the day’s calendar runs in a column down the left side of the window, with an advancing bar at the far left indicating the current time. A second column displays your Task List for the day. Clicking the Tasks column header moves completed items to the bottom of the list. The weekly view displays the same information, but stacks each day’s schedule above the list of tasks. The Monthly view arranges the days in a typical calendar grid, with appointments listed on each day by their time, and tasks listed with a preceding bullet.
You can click the arrows in the upper-right corner (or press Command and the right or left arrow keys) to display past or future dates. The plus and minus buttons in the Weekly view choose how many days to include in the view. Double-clicking the date at the top of the page brings up the Go To Date window, from which you can jump to any date.
The calendar can also create Event Banners, which equate to repeated untimed events in Palm’s Date Book application. Although you can set any appointment to repeat during a variety of increments (daily, weekly, every other week, etc.), an Event Banner shows up as a single event stretching across multiple days, without an attached time.
Several features in the Mac Palm Desktop aren’t available in the Windows version or even in the Palm OS. Each appointment can be assigned to a category; if you’ve associated colors with your categories, the resulting multi-hued calendar makes it easier to differentiate events without having to read each appointment’s description. The downside to the implementation of categories in Palm Desktop is that you’re limited to one master list that covers all modules; on the Palm device, each application can have up to 15 separate categories.
Making Contact with Addresses — Palm Desktop Contacts can store more information than the Address Book’s contacts on your handheld. For example, a long-requested feature for Address Book is now partially available: secondary addresses. Since the Palm Address Book contains fields for only one address, people often created two records to store work and home addresses. Now you can store all of that information within one Contact record in Palm Desktop. The secondary address, as well as information in fields such as Web site, Age, and Birthday, are stored as attached notes on the handheld.
Palm Desktop supports auto-completion of information in many fields. When typing phone numbers, it doesn’t matter whether you include hyphens, periods, or spaces, since the numbers will convert to your preferred phone number style. And last, one of the Contact goodies I most appreciate is the Birthday field, which computes a person’s age if you supply their date of birth.
Icons placed next to specific fields offer additional functionality. Clicking the envelope icon next to the Email field creates a pre-addressed blank message in Claris Emailer, and the icon next to Web Site field opens that field’s URL in your Web browser. You can customize the actions attached to these icons with AppleScripts residing in Palm Desktop’s Scripts folder. Although Palm Desktop should have used Internet Config for email and Web services, it’s possible to extend Palm Desktop’s functionality via custom scripts (which could in turn support Internet Config).
Palm Desktop’s Find feature, accessible in any module, is especially attractive. When searching for a contact, it can display results as you type any part of a person’s name or company title, which I far prefer to waiting for a search to execute.
Tasks, Notes, Lists, and Filters — Palm Desktop’s Task List and Note List are straightforward. Tasks can include a priority on a five-point scale ranging from Highest to Lowest, a completion date, and category. You can create repeating tasks and assign them reminders. Notes feature Title, Date, and Time fields in addition to the note text, a category pop-up menu, and a button for time-stamping comments in the text.
You can manipulate Palm Desktop’s lists in useful ways. Clicking a column heading sorts the list according to the contents of the column. This applies to all modules, not just Tasks and Notes, meaning you can view your Contacts by last name, company name, or other field. To rearrange the columns, Option-click a heading and drag it to a new location.
Better yet, Palm Desktop lets you to filter your information. Each column header includes a pop-up filter menu in which you can define and save criteria for selecting the column’s contents, such as all your friends who live in Idaho or who are in a certain category.
Attached to Attachments — If you’ve synchronized your Palm device’s data and played with Palm Desktop a bit, you’ve no doubt run into one of the bigger brain-twisting elements of the new Palm Desktop. What happened to attached notes? Under the Palm OS, you can create a note from within a record that includes miscellaneous information. When you open Palm Desktop, however, those notes aren’t immediately apparent because they’re stored in the Note List. Looking at the Note List for the first time can produce a moment of organizational panic: in addition to the records you entered in the Palm’s Memo Pad, you’ll find dozens of records marked "HandHeld Note:" then the name of one of the Palm’s built-in applications.
This organization is in fact consistent with the way Palm Desktop stores its information internally and is the product of the program’s capability of linking any record with any other record. If a record contains a link to another record, you see a paper clip icon with a down-pointing arrow. Clicking the icon displays a menu of items linked to the record, plus options for creating new attachments. When you choose a linked item from the menu, it appears in its own record window.
Let’s say you want to add driving directions to a friend’s new house. First you’d open his entry from the Contact list. His contact card displays in its own window. Choose New Note from the paper clip pop-up menu; a new Note window appears for you to type the driving directions in the main text field. Before you close the window, be sure to enter the following in the Title field: "HandHeld Note: Address Book". (If you don’t, the note appears as its own record in the Memo Pad after you perform a HotSync.) After you close the window, the paper clip pop-up menu displays the number one to indicate that one note record is attached to that contact record.
You can link to existing records using drag & drop. Make sure both records are visible (in this case your friend’s contact record and an existing note), then drag the gripper icon located in the upper left corner of the contact record window to the other record. You’ll hear a click sound indicating that the records are now connected. You can also use the paper clip pop-up menu to attach an existing item to any record: Palm Desktop opens a floating window in the lower right corner of your screen from which you can drag your current record to any other item. This is often easier than pre-arranging your windows before establishing a connection between records, since you can hunt around for your other item while the floating window is open.
Change Your View — Since I don’t usually want to see all of the HandHeld Notes when I view my Note List, I take advantage of another aspect of Palm Desktop’s filtering capabilities. The View pop-up menu in the upper left corner of the Note List window enables you to save the current state of your list. So, I’ve created a memorized view called No HandHeld Notes that hides any note containing HandHeld Note in the Title field. The View feature also lets you save the current sort order, column arrangement, and window positions. Similar View menus also appear on the Contact List and Task List – they’re a great help.
Printing and Playing with Others — Although Palm Desktop’s printing capabilities aren’t as robust as those in Now Contact and Now Up-to-Date, they’re better than those in Pilot Desktop 1.0. Palm Desktop offers good control over what data gets printed and handles a variety of output formats, such as Avery labels, envelopes, or Day-Timer insert sheets. If you’re bringing information in from another program, Palm Desktop’s Import feature enables you to specify which Palm Desktop fields correspond to the incoming data. Be careful when importing – large data sets can cause performance to slow to a crawl.
Better than the Alternative — There are a few things missing from this release which I hope Palm Computing will address. Palm Desktop doesn’t support private records, so although your hidden records are invisible on your Palm device without a password, they’re available for viewing on your Mac. I’ve set up my memorized view for the Notes List to hide private records, but that’s not particularly secure. If you’re more concerned about unwanted eyes accessing your data, consider using a Palm-based encryption program.
A good addition to the Palm’s overall functionality is the capability to display alarms on your Mac; however, if you don’t want this feature (the alarms appear as system-halting modal dialogs), you must disable the entire Instant Palm Desktop extension. I would also like to see an indication on Calendar records that shows whether the item is a repeating event or includes an alarm, as the Palm Date Book program does. Finally, there are persistent reports that HotSyncing doesn’t work with Keyspan serial port expansion cards.
Given the significant increase in functionality from Pilot Desktop 1.0, plus the improved conduit architecture enabling third-party developers to access Palm device-based data, Palm Desktop is a winner on my Mac. It’s now one of the few applications, such as my email client and Web browser, that’s permanently active throughout the day.