PIM is one of the more controversial parts of the full Plasma Desktop, do we need it?
Linux has the internet pretty well covered, in both the server and client space. It has not one, but several office suites to choose from, all using the internationally recognized and adopted open-source file formats. Even the gaming barrier has been broken. So why aren’t we seeing faster adoption, especially in the corporate world? Most corporate IT people will tell you it’s due to the lack of an enterprise-grade PIM.
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What PIM needs to do in 2013
Like it or not, we’re becoming smothered with information, the world is moving faster all the time, and if a company (even many individuals) hope to stay on top and be competitive, they need to manage information and time. To do this efficiently requires more than just the old trusty mail program and a calendar. We have so many more ways now that we communicate, with email, social media and instant messaging. To be efficient you need to be able to stitch information coming from many sources into a coherent, usable whole. The old adage that time is money is truer now than ever before. The more efficient the software you use is – the more it can do work for you – the better you will be at staying on top of your game, and the more time you’ll have for what’s really important. This is as true for the work-at-home individual as it is for a corporation.
Like it or not, we’re becoming smothered with information, the world is moving faster all the time, and if a company (even many individuals) hope to stay on top and be competitive, they need to manage information and time. To do this efficiently requires more than just the old trusty mail program and a calendar.
Let’s do an example, something really simple and basic. I’m an executive, and I get an email from a client I’m trying to entice into a juicy contract with my company. He wants to meet with me to discuss it next Monday at 10 o’clock. With the traditional method of separate email client and calendar application, I now have to open my calendar app, go to Monday and create an event. Not hard, but it takes a minute or two. Wouldn’t it be better if I could just click a button and have an appointment created automatically? Wouldn’t it be really great if the appointment in my calendar was also linked back to the email for reference? Even more, if it was somehow also linked to my contact information for that client, any notes I may have written concerning them, any emails, instant messages or social media exchanges we may have had before? Note that this is how the competition (Microsoft Exchange) works, and realize how hard it would be to entice businesses to take a step back in functionality and convenience.
Let’s add to this. My reminder pops up Monday morning, say two hours before the meeting. I click the email link and it pulls up the mail. Click another button and it pulls up the entire thread. With just two mouse clicks I now have all the email conversations I’ve had with this client to refresh my memory, in just a few seconds. In that same view I also see I have some notes attached to some of our exchanges. Remember, time is money. The old way: the reminder pops up, I have to open my email program, search through the hundreds of mails I receive to find the one I want, then search again for anything relevant, etc. What a pain.
This is just some of many scenarios that KDE PIM was designed for. Actually, I should say, re-designed for. Originally it was made up of disparate programs, each one doing it’s own thing and working only with itself. While this time-tested method may have been fine for some individuals, it couldn’t scale to the enterprise, and it wasn’t future-proof. Increasing demands made the developers add communication between the applications until the architecture simply couldn’t handle it anymore: concurrency issues and excessive memory usage forced them to re-think their approach and build what we have now.
The state of PIM on Linux
One of the most popular email clients around is Thunderbird. It’s a truly great program, but it’s just an email client. The first thing a lot of users do after getting Thunderbird is install the Lightning extension, to give it calendaring ability. They make a great duo for many users, and that’s all they want or need. Not exactly a PIM, but it does the job for many individual users. In a corporate environment it’s almost useless without more plug-ins, and overcoming the problems of getting it to work with different servers. Recently the Mozilla developers felt they were heading to a dead-end with Thunderbird, and with their focus more on Firefox and their web OS, Thunderbird’s future is still on shaky ground. It’s an excellent program, with a huge user base, so I don’t foresee it’s demise any time soon. Evolution is another contender, more in the PIM category than Thunderbird. From what I can see on their website Evolution is currently not very actively developed, and their architecture (Evolution DataServer, EDS) is just not up to today’s, not to mention the future’s needs.
Do we really need more email clients? One of the things FOSS certainly has a wealth of is email clients. There’s most likely one out there now to fit every taste and desire, and more popping up it seems all the time. While this may be good for user choice, it’s also (I believe) one of the weaknesses of FOSS. A talented programmer comes up with an idea, or a need. He or she presents the idea to an existing project, feeling it would be a great attribute for it, only to have the idea rejected by the project community. What all too often occurs at this point is the programmer, sure their idea is a good one, goes off and recreates the original project with their idea included. And what we end up with is just a slightly different twist on the same thing. In the topic here, what we get is another mail client. Maybe it handles POP3 or IMAP better, maybe it presents our mail in a new, fanciful way, or maybe it stores our mail in a more efficient manner. Rarely does it do ALL of those, and at the end of the day all we really have is another email program. We’ve reinvented the wheel yet again.
In the enterprise world KDE PIM is the only one of the FOSS PIMs that is used by Kolab Systems AG, a leader in FOSS groupware.
KDE PIM seems to be the only FOSS project working on technology that will eventually go beyond just the PIM itself. For the individual user it’s already incorporating the web, making our web-centric social lives more a part of the desktop, with support now for Facebook and more social media – as well as IM – coming soon. It’s taking a once disparate bunch of interactions and turning them into a coherent, cohesive experience. In the enterprise world KDE PIM is the only one of the FOSS PIMs that is used by Kolab Systems AG, a leader in FOSS groupware. It’s their cross-platform desktop client of choice. Whether you’re using Linux, Windows or MacOS, if you want to use Kolab for your groupware needs, they recommend using the Kontact suite. The default Kolab Desktop Application in fact is KDE Kontact. KDE PIM is also the only desktop PIM client that they will professionally support.
Where to go next
KDE PIM is breaking new ground. If you want to help, visit the project page for contact infromation. Not a programmer? Try it and report any bugs or problems. Be constructive with comments or complaints. Trust me, they already get truckloads of sarcasm and trolling, it doesn’t help anything.