It feels like only yesterday I was staring in disbelief at the first hardcover copies of Dreaming in Code, but now we’re getting the paperback edition ready (for release in early 2008). I’d always wanted the chance to write a new postscript to the book, bringing the Chandler story up to date. The timing turned out to be fortuitous: the Open Source Applications Foundation released what they’re calling the Preview edition of Chandler last week.
I wrote a little about the saga of Chandler Preview back in January, when the OSAF team hoped to have a release out in April. As that date slipped steadily, I glanced at the calendar nervously, because I knew that sooner or later my publisher would have to close the door on any additions to the paperback. But the timing worked out: OSAF got its Preview out just in time for me to see and use it before I wrote up the new material.
For those of you who have been following the work on Chandler, Preview is what OSAF formerly called Chandler 0.7. After 0.6 shipped near the end of 2005 Mitch Kapor and the OSAF developers decided that they would plan the next big release to be a fully usable, if not feature-complete, sharable calendar and task manager with limited e-mail. You can download the result and try it out yourself.
Over the years Chandler has expanded into a small constellation of products — the desktop application, a server (formerly called Cosmo, now known as Chandler Hub), and a web interface to the server. OSAF now offers free accounts on its own Chandler Hub that you can use to sync your desktop and Web data.
On the one hand, of course, Chandler is way later than even seemed possible back in 2002 when it was first announced. How and why that occurred is the heart of my book. So much has happened on the Web and in the software industry since then that people ask, reasonably, what Chandler can possibly do that they’re not able to do already with Google Calendar or any of the other calendar/e-mail/task management offerings out there.
One big tech-industry story this week was Yahoo’s $350 million acquisition of Zimbra — an open-source Outlook replacement that started well after Chandler and delivered working software a lot sooner. Zimbra is impressive and full of nifty features, and its focus on solving a lot of the cellphone-and-handheld coordination issues for people was smart. But it didn’t try to introduce a new way of managing one’s information.
For better and worse, Chandler did. In this area, it aimed higher than Zimbra or most of the other competition; and its grand reach plainly exceeded its grasp. The Preview edition’s Dashboard provides a glimpse of the different way of organizing one’s work that Kapor and the Chandler designers propose. I don’t think it’s either as accessible for newcomers or as tractable for initiates as it needs to be. But neither is it simply an Outlook retread.
Anyone who has tried to organize the work of a small group with software knows that — even with Web 2.0 and Ajax and the best stuff we can throw at the problem in 2007 — we’ve only barely begun to leverage what computers can do in this area. Chandler deserves credit for acknowledging this and setting out to do better. Its setbacks can be chalked up in part to the choices and mistakes its developers made along their long road; but they are also a sign of just how tough the problem really is.
I’m still not ready to adopt Chandler for my own everyday use. But I’m not especially happy with what I am using, either. That means there’s still room for the sort of program Chandler has always been intended to be. The Preview release isn’t yet that program. But for the first time it’s moved close enough for anyone to play with, and see what it might someday become.
[tags]chandler, osaf, open source applications foundation[/tags]
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