Battered by hard times, yuppies may be vanishing, but personal information managers -- the software equivalents of the young professional's appointment calendars -- are proliferating.
These programs keep lists, set priorities for projects, automatically dial phone calls, serve as address books and offer reminders of appointments.
One of the first examples of this kind of software was Borland's Sidekick, which included a calendar, address book and phone ** dialer.
Another early example was Tornado Notes, a text data base for the IBM PC that worked like an electronic shoe box, storing and retrieving thousands of jotted notes.
For some software industry executives, these programs, also called personal organizers, hold out the promise of extending personal computing to the millions who have yet to find a use for a personal computer.
But there are stumbling blocks. These programs run comfortably on today's six-pound notebook computers, but that is still an unrealistic weight to expect someone to lug through airports or to the grocery store.
Some believe they will not be universally useful until they run on palmtop computers that use pens to enter data. Moreover, battery life on today's notebooks is barely three to four hours.
Finally, there is the problem of reconciliation: What do you do after you copy your appointments from your desktop computer to your portable, take them on the road, add new ones and then wish to update your home-base machine? So far nobody has a perfect solution.
"Personal organizers are essentially bit players now," said Mark Eppley, founder of Traveling Software. "It's not a mainstream market." Mr. Eppley has built a multimillion-dollar business designing software to help people shuttle data between different computers.
The goal, Mr. Eppley said, is software and hardware that will automatically perform reconciliation as soon as the portable computer is placed next to the base machine. Infrared or wireless communication could make this possible in two or three years.
Software designers are certain that when the hardware finally LTC catches up and is smaller, lighter and cheaper, personal organizers will become one of the hottest software categories.
Encouraged by the success of Apple Computer's new Powerbook portable series, there were at least a dozen such programs at the San Francisco Macworld show last month, with many different "metaphors."
There are programs that imitate calendars, programs based on the idea of an address book, programs based on lists or outlines, even programs that dial a radio pager to notify you of an appointment.
Everyone seems to have his or her own method of getting organized, so the most useful programs are the ones that can be personalized. This can be risky, because extreme flexibility and power can make learning difficult.
Lotus Development Corp.'s Agenda, for example, was given high marks for innovative features but was originally hard to learn.
For the Macintosh, two new programs, Daymaker from Pastel Development Corp. in New York, and In Control from Attain, in Cambridge, Mass., are list-oriented organizers that are remarkably flexible.
Daymaker gives you dozens of different views, or windows, into different categories, like calls to return, appointments or tasks. You can view information by the month, by the week or with a list of individual items that can be sorted in many different ways. Each item can be expanded to work as a text-processor window.
In Control is based on an outline metaphor. It permits you to view a set of tasks either as an outline or in table form and has a wide variety of searching and sorting features.
A more conventional approach is used by the author Danny Goodman. At Macworld he demonstrated Connections, a second-generation program based on the newest version of Apple's Hypercard program.
When Hypercard was introduced, Mr. Goodman wrote one of the first programs designed for it. Called Focal Point, it was based on the metaphor of an appointment book, with many software features.
Now with a new company, Concentrix Technology Inc. in San Mateo, Calif., Mr. Goodman has gone a step farther toward integrating calendar, contact management and notetaking. Connections also comes as close as possible to effortless reconciliation, doing it automatically once computers are connected via a network.
In the IBM-compatible world is The Far Side calendar from Amaze Inc.
It is designed to work like an appointment calendar and includes a daily cartoon from "The Far Side" cartoonist Gary Larsen.
The two best-known programs for IBM compatible users are Packrat from Polaris Software in San Diego and Current from IBM. Packrat is now in version 4.0 and works well with Windows.
It has 13 modules and can even be used with the Windows Dynamic Data Exchange feature, meaning that it can automatically
exchange information with other Windows programs. Current is another strong Windows-compatible contender, but its future is in some doubt because of IBM's decision to disband its personal computer software group.