Like many PC power users, for many years I've used Microsoft Office Outlook for its email and personal information manager (PIM) functionality. Outlook is powerful and uniquely designed for these tasks, but it has one problem: If you use more than one PC, copying Contacts, Calendar items, tasks, and other data from an Outlook installation on one PC to an Outlook installation on another PC can be laborious. After struggling with this problem, I've turned to what I suspect will be for many people a solution from an unexpected place. That's right; I use MSN.
Specifically, I subscribe to a service called MSN Premium, which costs $14.95 a month and doesn't provide any sort of dial-up or broadband Internet access. Instead, MSN Premium is designed to work with whatever Internet access you already have. You can also get a lot of the email and PIM features I'm about to describe if you join MSN Dialup ($21.95 per month) or get MSN through your broadband provider.
Here's what you get: In addition to a Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE)-type browser called MSN Explorer, which includes obvious links to MSN services and other unique features, MNS Premium provides a feature called Dashboard, which sits on the edge of your screen and gives you a place to store links to email, Calendar items, MSN Messenger Contacts, MSN Alerts, news headlines, weather, and a range of other information.
My MSN Dashboard is attached to the right side of my screen at all times and is pretty sparse. I use only the weather, Calendar, Messenger, and Alerts panes. But the functionality the Dashboard provides is excellent. First, I can see scheduled meetings and other Calendar items on my screen, at all times. Because other windows can never cover the Dashboard, it's always visible, and I don't need to use annoying reminder dialog boxes (although I can, if I want to; MSN Premium also provides email-based reminders, which is a nice option).
MSN Premium PIM lacks a few of the more advanced Outlook features, and although I do occasionally miss those features, the one thing I really love about this solution is that it works on any PC. All I have to do is install the MSN client software. And if I'm using a PC in a public place where I can't install the software, no problem. All that information is available via MSN Hotmail on the Web. That means I can access my PIM data at any time, from any location, even from a Pocket PC or other Web-enabled device.
Here's another neat MSN Premium feature: Because I travel a lot, my wife often asks me to forward my travel information. But because I now use MSN Premium's shared Calendar feature, I don't need to do so anymore. She can see my Calendar, side by side next to hers, in either the MSN client or in Outlook. It's the best of both worlds.
I still use Outlook for email. But now that MSN Premium is available, I use it exclusively for Calendar data, and I've never looked back. If you use multiple PCs, MSN Premium is a solution worth examining.