PackRat 6.0 was no keeper, but 6.1 is worth saving

Pros and
+Drag-and-drop simplicity for e-mail and document management
– Printouts need polish

Real-life requirements:
Win95 or NT 4.0, 16M RAM, 8M free on hard drive

In 1993, Polaris Software Inc.’s PackRat was the government’s personal
information manager of choice. But many users moved on because PackRat 5.0 for Microsoft
Windows had bugs, slow response and an imperfect interface.

Since then, PackRat had almost fallen off my radar screen. I’m glad to say Version
6.1 is far more reliable than 6.0. I’ve used the standalone version for nearly a
month without a single crash.

Registered users of 6.0 can download 6.1 free or get it on disk for $15. A network
version for group scheduling also is available at about $700 for three users.

The rather limited documentation—two 50-page booklets—follows the current
trend of using online help files. Technical support also is limited. Users get 30 days of
free telephone support starting with the first toll call. Support by e-mail, CompuServe or
fax is free.

After the free phone support expires, you can choose from several paid support options,
the least expensive being $24.95 per single-incident call.

Polaris Software describes PackRat as a complete information manager, and it’s
true that the package can track nearly any type of information. Besides the usual
calendar, phone list, to-do list and address book, it has databases for time tracking,
document management and e-mail.

You access all this information through a tabbed folder interface. PackRat displays 14
folders by default—more than you can see on screen even at high resolution. And you
can customize folders to display certain information.

Like previous versions, PackRat 6.0 has macros for integration with other programs such
as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Corel WordPerfect, and Lotus WordPro. These macros are
quite useful in tracking documents.

If you draft a letter using a name from the PackRat phone book, for example, the letter
automatically attaches to the phone book record. You can retrieve the letter instantly by
selecting the recipient’s name in PackRat and clicking the History button.

PackRat always was a strong information manager, and the new version is no exception.

The most notable improvement is the inclusion drag and drop.

When you drag a name from the phone book to the calendar, for example, an Add Record
dialog box pops up to specify whether to put the name with a contact list, a meeting or a

PackRat has the usual Day View, Week View and Month View options. You can print a
schedule from a number of predefined templates, although I thought the printouts lacked
the polish of other PIMs.

In defense of PackRat, though, you could fashion your own output template using the
Report Editor.

PackRat’s Alert features also have improved. You can schedule up to 10 reminders
for a single event. If an event with attached Alert items must be rescheduled, each Alert
item automatically readjusts by the same time increments relative to the new date and

Data import is vital to users considering a switch to a new PIM. Instead of trying to
import native proprietary file formats from many different programs, PackRat does
versatile, adaptive ASCII import.

You choose between importing data or importing a list. For data, you can select which
form to import to, such as a phone book or contact list.

You then assign each field of the imported data to a field on the import form.

In practice, I had no trouble importing phone book data from Ecco Pro from NetManage
Inc. of Cupertino, Calif. I didn’t do as well with to-do lists. I could transfer the
description of each to-do item but not the schedule.

The problem might have been Ecco’s inability to export all the relevant fields
rather than PackRat’s inability to import them.

As for e-mail management, PackRat 6.1 users can get to their Internet, intranet and
local e-mail at a mouse click.

The program automatically logs all outgoing and incoming messages, including attached

Changing a PIM is never easy or fun. If you’re happy with a competing product, I
doubt that you’d want to change. But if you work in a previous PackRat version, I
recommend this upgrade.

The deeper you get into PackRat, the more you find. As a combination PIM, contact
manager and e-mail manager, it’s hard to beat.

William M. Frazier, a PC hobbyist, is the postmaster of Ocean Shores, Wash.


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