Anyone who reads Dreaming in Code through to the end is going to want to know what happened at the Chandler project in the time since the conclusion of the book’s narrative (it ends at the end of 2005, with Chandler at version 0.6, ready to begin some limited “dogfooding,” or use by inhouse early adopters).
Some of the early reactions to my book have presented Chandler as a total bust and proceeded on the assumption that the project is dead. That’s not at all the case. For the moment, Chandler remains a program that most people aren’t going to download and use, and it’s still not going to break any speed records. But it plainly has made steady progress over the past year. OSAF is now planning what it’s calling a “preview” release in April.
A lot more of the project’s big-picture features are now at least partially implemented — particularly the Dashboard, a sort of universal “inbox” for sorting tasks and calendar events and email according to “Getting Things Done”-style principles.
I sat down with Katie Parlante, Sheila Mooney and Mitch Kapor right before Christmas to get an update on what had happened at OSAF with Chandler during 2006.
Early in the year, OSAF’s managers reviewed their work and decided to regroup once more, with a focus on moving Chandler out of “science project” mode and turning it into a usable product that could also turn into a sustainable business in two years. Their new touchstone principle was to focus on small workgroup collaboration; each decision would be evaluated, each feature prioritized according to how it supports that concept. They also decided to move more of the project’s design work from the face-to-face meetings at the Howard Street office onto the OSAF Design mailing list (the developers’ list was already serving that function for the programmers). They devised a series of target-user profiles to further focus their work. The “dogfooding” — use of Chandler by OSAF staff — continued and expanded a bit through the year. Program manager Sheila Mooney used the program to plan a vacation; designer Mimi Yin uses it to coordinate calendars with her husband.
How does, and will, Chandler differ from the Web-based calendars, like Google Calendar, that have proliferated of late? Its scheme of integrating a desktop app that has a flexible interface with a Web-based tool sets it apart, for one; and, though Chandler is no longer the peer-to-peer product that it once was planned to be, it retains a little bit of that spirit: When you offer to share a calendar with another user who isn’t already using Chandler, that user can respond to an invitation and instantly start sharing your calendar on the Web without ever having to sign up or register for a centralized service.
Katie Parlante, the development manager, says that the “Preview release” will mark “the beginning of a dialogue with users.” Has it been an awfully long time in coming? To be sure. But I don’t see that those frustrations and delays are likely to have any bearing on that “dialogue with users” as long as the program itself has something unique to offer.
The people at OSAF who I got to know while writing Dreaming in Code have told me they feel the book presents a fair and accurate portrait of their work. But I know they also feel that they’re now in a different phase of their work, one that has in some ways left behind the issues and controversies my book reports. I’m still looking forward to checking out the “preview” Chandler in April, and I’ll continue to track the project’s progress here.
For further information, Parlante posted an extensive review of the past year’s work at OSAF.
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