New stuff on the Net for nix

Pros: Your calendar and contacts are as near as a Web connection; many sites let you synchronise with your offline PIM or PDA.

Cons: The Web is slow (really annoying if you juggle a busy schedule); anyone who knows your password can access your account.

Best Use: An excellent organisational tool for people with multiple PCs and/or handheld PDAs.

Personal information management software promises to whip us into shape, and free PIM services are particularly tempting deals. Without a doubt, we favour paid-for desktop programs such as Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Organizer over their online counterparts. These desktop applications' greater flexibility, broader range of print options and faster local software are tough for a Web site to match. Furthermore, PIMs that stay on your hard drive are more secure: of the seven free services we looked at, all provide password protection and (according to them) hacker-resistant sites, but only Zkey.com and Visto.com offer a secure socket layer connection to encrypt data. (Visto.com also provides an optional secure connection just for log-in, where only the password submission page is encrypted.)Many of the seven sites we examined also permit you to synchronise data with an offline PIM. And if you use multiple PCs or PDAs, you can consolidate your various address books in a single location.

AnyDay.com and Visto.com are the strongest of the sites we looked at. Both provide clean, well-designed interfaces and robust downloadable programs that sync up calendar and contact information with a range of PC programs, plus Palm and Windows CE devices. But AnyDay. com takes the crown because of its additional features, our favourite being a first-rate event planner. In addition to scheduling events, it handles RSVPs by letting invitees leave comments, see who else has answered and check a list of things to bring.

AnyDay.com also lets you print schedules, two-month calendars, to-do lists and reminders with a date stamp on each page. It includes a free service, My Accounts from VerticalOne, to help you keep track of information on membership-based sites. To see how many new e-mail messages you've received, for example, or what's changed in your online bank account, click the appropriate link in the VerticalOne summary page.

The well-designed Visto.com comes with a full spectrum of features, including the ability to handle group calendars, integrated e-mail, file storage and sharing and bookmark synchronisation. It also provides a ‘remember me' button that lets you log straight in - just by entering the site's URL. (To log in automatically using a secure socket, type https:// before www.visto.com.) Excite Planner's attractions include a free downloadable version of TrueSync for synchronising with Palm devices, a special feature that will remind you of events by e-mail or pager and a nice notepad tool that you can use to jot down ideas. Unfortunately, however, we found the service's core scheduling features and screen layouts to be unremarkable.

Zkey.com offers a generous 30MB of file space and gives you control over the information other people see when they view your schedule. It also provides chat, e-mail, messaging forums and great tools for syncing up with a PIM. The organiser is a bit tricky to use due to its overwhelming number of features. Plus, the program's frame layout makes printing a hassle.

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