Most people think of a personal information manager (PIM) as a combination address book and calendar, such as Outlook. Info Select 7.0 from Micro Logic may call itself a PIM, but it's actually an app of a different color. This handy, reasonably priced program collects almost any kind of data, such as images or URLs, sends e-mail or Usenet messages, and creates outlines, all within a customizable interface. Info Select also acts as an all-in-one file manager, word processor, database, outliner, e-mail program, and Web browser. If you need a structured application only to recall your appointments and store contacts, then Outlook 2002 remains your best bet. But researchers who need to take notes, archive and track diverse information, save Web pages, and collect clippings should give the nearly $150 Info Select a try; Outlook can't match Info Select's serious archiving capabilities.
Installing Info Select took no time at all, and we found it easy to import all of the data from our earlier Info Select versions, as well as from other applications, using standard import formats such as TXT and CSV. Once you're up and running, you establish the skill level at which you want to work; Info Select's Easy, Basic, Standard, and Advanced settings determine which features are available and their complexity. For example, the Easy level, which is meant for learning the basics, does not include the Email or the Template menus on the toolbar.
Info Select's interface itself is versatile, allowing you to customize the toolbars and background colors and create new templates (or customize the ones that are supplied) for frequently used forms. In other words, you can remake the look and feel according to your needs.
Info Select can easily integrate calendars, files, ticklers, and just about any data using a common outline-based interface.
Info Select's simple configuration process, aided by the inline help and tutorials, lets you get familiar with the app. The well-constructed series of Supplied Topics offer the most help and serve as starting points. There's no wizard to step you through the process, but you may not miss it--dialog boxes pop up, and you fill in the appropriate blanks.
Info Select's outlinelike pane sits on the left side of the screen, providing an organized overview of a wide range of your data. You create your own Topics, the main outline headings. Under each Topic, you can add new information in a number of different formats: a Note; a Calendar; a Database; images that are tweakable from within the program itself); or a URL, which will in turn load a Web page; among others. As you highlight an item on your outline, the corresponding information appears in the main window on the right.
Once you've set up your basic structure, you're free to customize the interface any way you want. It's easy to add, delete, or move any section. For example, just press the F11 key to add a new Topic or move any part of the outline with a simple click and drag. It's a good way to get organized.
While Info Select is highly versatile, we're most impressed by its search capabilities. When you press the F5 key, a dialog box appears. You enter search terms here and narrow your search by selecting various criteria, including Boolean (Yes, No), neural (sounds like), and date changed. You can set the search to include your Web cache, file manager, or simply your outline structure. After the search, a grid consisting of small, red squares displays the number of hits and steps you through the results.
Because Info Select gives you access to every item on your hard disk (files and apps), you don't have to switch from program to program while working on a single project. It's convenient to fire off a message or search through e-mail without leaving Info Select. Similarly, you can browse the Web straight from within Info Select, but don't expect the kind of features you'd find in Internet Explorer.
Info Select's search capabilities give you an idea of how all of your data is related.
How you get along with Info Select depends on whether you like working with outlines. We found the e-mail and Usenet newsgroup modules somewhat unwieldy in this format. The powerful searches and features, such as Hot Spots (which provide links to items buried deep in your structure) and pop-up "ticklers," provide useful aids, but if you're not good with the outline paradigm, keep using a more traditional PIM and consider Info Select as your clipping/search mechanism.
The Transporter, another nifty Info Select feature, makes it easy to import data from other programs. As long as you have Info Select running while you're working in another application, simply select data from within that app and use Transporter to copy it into your Info Select outline.
The File Manager data type lets you associate the contents of your hard drive with specific projects or contacts.
Other processes are a little more complicated. For example, if you want to create a database, you need to understand the basics of database structure first. In other words, once you understand Info Select's methodology, you can get it to perform any trick you need. Fortunately, there is a great deal of information about this and other features in the comprehensive help files.
Info Select also comes in a downloadable, separately sold Palm version ($69.95) that syncs with its desktop sibling. Of course, not all of the features, such as calendars, convert easily to the mobile version, but thumbs-up anyway for on-the-go access to Info Select. Even without the desktop version, Info Select for the Palm is a wonderful productivity tool.
Info Select offers fairly solid CD-based help. For example, when you first launch the program, a Getting Started box lets you choose from a list of common tasks and offers advice accordingly. However, Micro Logic's Web-based support includes only a bare-bones FAQ file and a form to send e-mail to the tech-support crew. On two occasions, we obtained accurate and easy-to-follow answers to our query in less than 24 hours. Unfortunately, at $35 per half hour, telephone support (available only on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET) is very expensive.