Lotus Agenda 2.0 no longer a teenager

Ever get wistful over some DOS program? I’m part of a loyal crowd that is still using Lotus Agenda, the legendary PIM (personal information manager) that was a personal project of Lotus co-founder Mitch Kapor. You can also see Bob Newell’s page of “Agendabilia” (just coined here in honor of the occasion). His site includes the draft text of the review by James Fallows from the May 1992 issue of The Atlantic [see Addendum #3 below], still a revered document among those of us in what Fallows referred to in a long-ago email as “the Agenda bund.”

Yesterday, as I was making a copy of my planner.ag file, I noticed on the Windows Explorer screen of my PC that it had updated on 8/16/2010, but that almost all of the other files in the APPS directory were last modified on 8/17/1990. That meant that tomorrow — now today, at least for another 15 minutes or so in the EDT zone of the Eastern US — is the 20th birthday of (at least my copy of) Agenda 2.0.

Happy birthday, faithful companion, even as we now contemplate a move to running you in a DOS window, under Windows XP, under Parallels 5.0, on a MacBook Pro with 8 GB of memory running OS X. None of which — especially the 8 gigs of memory — either you or I could have anticipated or even grasped when you were born, or should that be burned?

Addendum (8/18/10): For those of you, like me, who assume that Agenda will never pass this way again, especially given the glacial pace of Chandler, despite Mitch Kapor’s initial efforts, well, there is the faintest glimmer of a hint. Or at least there is Tom Berend, a retired engineer in Toronto, whose blog title hints at what we want to hear: Lotus Agenda Rewrite. Really? One guy, on his own, a few hours a day? And as a Web app at that. Stranger things have happened. And besides, he captured the spirit of Agenda better than anyone else: “…it still amazes me how agile, how PERFECT it is.” Just so.

Addendum #2 (4/8/12): Alas, very late last year, Tom Berend (see first addendum, above) put Lotus Agenda Rewrite on hold. As I read his post, probably on deep hold. As nice as Agenda redux would have been, you can’t fault his arguments.

Addendum #3 (4/8/12): Amazingly, about a month ago in sorting through some old file folders, I found the tear sheets of James Fallows’ review from the May 1992 issue of The Atlantic. For those of you who want the final word, as opposed to the draft text mentioned in the opening paragraph (above), here are the four original pages in all their edge-to-edge glory.

Addendum #4 (7/27/12): Tom Behrend has now removed his blog (formerly at lotusagenda.blogspot.com) and presumably any residual thought of a rewrite with it (see Addendum #2).

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26 Responses to Lotus Agenda 2.0 no longer a teenager

  1. Bob Newell says:

    Thanks for pointing this out, I didn’t realize such a milestone was reached. I continue my interest in Agenda, running with DosBox on a Linux system. Now who would ever have anticipated that?

  2. Tom Berend says:

    Thanks for the ‘call out’.

    I’m progressing slowly on the agenda rewrite, but with increasing urgency. I have returned to university as a student, and my ‘use case’ for my version of agenda is organizing the sources for my thesis. It has some interesting challenges.

    I continue to be in awe of the elegance and skill of the programmer(s) who put together the original Agenda.

    I have been remiss in posting progress on my blog, will get to it again.


  3. Mike says:

    Nice to see that others too still use Lotus Agenda. Alas I made an big error when I once borrowed the manuals: I did not copy the chapters about macros, about STF format, and TXT2STF details. So I may use Lotus Agenda only interactive. Scanns of the manuals had been online some days in 2005 I found out today – who may give me a hint where to find the scanns today? Please!


  4. ja.narciso says:

    I feel right at home here! Agenda users today! I have two books from yesteryears. Let me find the time to scan the stf and txt2stf stuff and get back here. Now my question: how can you run it well in XP natively? I don’t want to continue with VM.

  5. Tom McCann says:

    Glad to see there are still some Agenda fans out there. I was the international product marketing manager for Agenda. I liked the product so much I left Lotus International to go write an Agenda add-on called “Itemize!”. I even did a deal with Lotus International to put my leaflet in the Agenda box! It was also marketed in the U.S. through Bob & lauren Flast’s AgendaWare company.

    I had some success with it (did anyone ever hear of it?) but not quite enough to retire on 🙂 It was properly published – nice brochure, manual, cover, etc. If anyone’s got a floppy disk reader I’d be willing to contribute it for free. It allows you to import just about anything into Agenda.

    On another note, I keep hearing about plans to resurrect Agenda. I wish! It was the most useful program I’ve ever encountered. For me, it was all about categorisation; the PIM aspects were of minor interest. When I saw Chandler I was so disappointed – it was all PIM and no Agenda. Does anyone know of a true Agenda-like product out there? I’d be so grateful to find one.

  6. PJDILIP says:

    How true… a glance at the directory listing caused a momentary sense of deja-vue, as it looks very much like my (and, no doubt, other users’) apps directories…whoever does get to port Agenda onto Windows, please, please, just get the basic engine over (with the Categories, auto-matching, multiple views etc. ) with a few printer drivers, and leave the rest (email, web publishing, etc) for later versions…wonder why Chandler tried too hard …

  7. synfluent says:

    Nice to see others still enamored by the Lotus Agenda application. I am so old that I haven’t contracted the word to just ‘app’ quite yet.

    Like others, I have hoped for a modernized version of Agenda and hoped that Kapoor’s Chandler would be it, but the betas never seemed anything at all like the original.

    I have, however, found a very similar look, feel and approach within the OmniFocus, from Omnigroup, application through it’s contexts and perspectives views.

    I hope that I can find a good DOS box running a 286 and MSDOS 4.11 to have a nostalgic go with 2.0 one last time.

  8. pujoe1076 says:

    Happy Birthday Agenda 2.0…Best App Ever!

    @Tom McCann – I would be interested in your Agenda add-on called “Itemize!” which imports text into Agenda? Can you email me pujoe1076@gmail.com? Thanks.

    @synfluent – Thanks for the on Omnifocus.

  9. I still use Agenda everyday, and keep an aging Thinkpad T30 running Win2K docked for just that purpose. There is nothing as capable and efficient. Files that aren’t enormous can be also be run on the venerable HP200LX, which fits nicely in the pocket.

    Your screenshot of the Agenda directory looks rather strange to me. I still use another Lotus software that I think is magnificent (and never equaled): Lotus Magellan. Agenda, Magellan and 123 seemed made for each other.

    I have looked at some of the other Agenda like programs like Zoot and Omni, but can’t get beyond the interface. One of the strengths of Agenda is the non graphical interface. We are dealing with words and categories, using the keyboard. A GUI seems counterproductive and slow, to me. Pictures and graphics work well enough in Evernote. I think the latter has developed a clean and relatively efficient GUI.

    A couple of side notes:

    My Agenda EXE shows 9-03-99. Was that was the last update?

    Agenda (and all DOS programs) run very well, with good clipboard support, on Ecomstation, which is a continuation of OS/2. The benefit is that it enables us to keep DOS going on new hardware without using VMs.

    Charles Bradley

  10. Pablo Liendo says:

    Hi there,

    Believe it or not I still have a printed original copy of “Lotus Agenda; Working with Definition Files”, Release 2.0. Its first edition was printed 1988. Second edition printed 1989. Third edition printed 1990.

    The following is the Table of Content of that booklet

    Chapter 1 Getting Started with Definition Files
    Chapter 2 Creating Definition Files
    Chapter 3 Using Definition Files
    Chapter 4 Patterns
    Chapter 5 Definition File Commands
    Chapter 6 Converting and Importinf Text
    Chapter 7 Debugging a Definition File
    Apendix A What’s New in TXT2SFT for Agenda 2.0
    Apendix B Structures Files
    Apendix C Quick Reference

    All in all it has 108 pages. I am willing to scan that precious document in my spare time (which is not that much). I should be must gratefull if this community would suggest me where would it be the right place to post that scanned material as soon as it becomes available, lets say one chapter at a time.

    Although it originaly hold a copyright ¿may I asume that it no longer applies? I understand that some time ago Lotus Agenda was released to the public domain.

    Excuse my English but I happen to be a venezuelan physician, living in Caracas, Spanish being my mother tongue, happily using Lotus Agenda since 1992!

    Best regards. Pablo

  11. pujoe1076 says:

    Has anyone run Agenda on Psion PDA’s operating system, EPOC?

  12. Bill Mayer says:

    I started using Agenda with release 1 and still use it daily. It’s hard to believe that nothing has come along to replace it.

    Maybe us Agenda lovers are just a very unique group. When it was still on the market I used to try to convince my friends how useful it was and never had much success at that.

    @Tom McCann – I would also be interested in your Agenda add-on called “Itemize!”. I had once worked on a script that would read comma delimited files and take the column data for items, notes and categories. I had many uses for this but never got it done. Maybe Itemize does some of these jobs.

    I have the original documentation and could scan some of it if there was a place to put it. Any ideas? The macro book and the stf file definitions are the parts that I continue to reference.


  13. JNa says:

    Although Agenda was no real net application, I once made a mill-wide maintenance management and shift-maintenance group failure reporting system for our large paper/board/power-mill combination. Agenda database was in our Novell server and had some 30 users along the LAN. That system served the mill several years and was used also by mill managers because of easy use.
    Later Agenda was replaced by an expencive commercial maintenance management system, which was very hard to use and had not by far the properties of Agenda.

  14. Jorge Navarrete says:

    Does any one know if it is possible to use Lotus Agenfa on a IPAD2?

  15. dar501 says:

    I used Agenda happily for well over ten years for my medical studies and research. In Windows, it seemed to run just fine in a DOS window triggered by a properly configured PIF file. But now with Windows 7 and a 64-bit machine, I can’t get it to work.
    A 2010 blog describes Agenda running in DOSBox (http://takingnotenow.blogspot.com/2010/03/lotus-agenda-and-windows-7.html). However, although I can get the program to run, I cannot open my data file — I keep getting told the pathname (with does not include long filenames) does not exist.
    ** If anyone knows how to open one’s *.ag data file in DOSBox running on Windows 7, I’d be much obliged.
    Not much more I can add to the laudatory comments already posted. It’s astonishing to me (a physician) that so much progress in computer science has apparently not produced anything as clever, useful and elegant as Lotus Agenda. Perhaps it was truly a work of genius.
    Thanks very much.

  16. tom berend says:

    hi dar501

    you have to ‘mount’ the drive that agenda lives on. when you start dosbox, you get a z: prompt, but files are on your c: or d: drives are not yet accessable. you might have to type

    mount c: \agenda (assuming that you have a folder named ‘agenda’ on your c: drive.

    this creates a virtual c: drive that lists the files in your agenda directory. you can then change to that drive and start agenda.

    if this isn’t clear, or you can’t get it to work, contact me at tom.berend (at) cheeseandcrackers.ca and i’ll try to help you get it working.

  17. Paul Prebble says:

    I was an Agenda evangelist in the company I worked for in the late-80s and early 90s. Agenda was unbeatable but extremely difficult to explain to someone who hadn’t seen it.

    If there’s success in the DOSBox front then it might be possible to run it on a BlackBerry PlayBook. That would be useful!

  18. Dominick A Rascona says:

    Dear Tom (Berend)

    Thank you very much. I have been able to use my data file now, running within DOSBox in 64-bit Windows 7. I can also run ag_chk /f successfully to ensure the file’s integrity over time.

    I found success only by installing Agenda directly into the root (C:\Agenda); ensuring that my data file’s name was limited to eight characters (eg. datafile.ag); and locating that data file within the C:\Agenda directory.

    Dosbox works after all, but is still very limiting due to lack of clipboard support!

    So… I’m still looking for a solution that allows clipboard cut & paste. Until then, all my information within Agenda remains “trapped” there unless I run it on an old PC.

    Thanks again,
    Dom R.
    Norfolk VA

  19. Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I used Agenda to create an information base on London. From this I made a custom guidebook called London Secrets. The books were custom in that it covered a particular traveler’s interest, restaurants near their hotel, and special events while they were in London. I have now moved on to Windows 7 and a Pixma printer, but I miss Agenda. I still have the full set of Agenda manuals, just in case The Smithsonian needs them.

    I have retained my interest in London, and “London Secrets” in now a non-custom Kindle book on Amazon.com. The book has also been updated with hyperlinks to web sites, including Google Maps and the follow on street view photos.

  20. T Wacome says:

    I still use Lotus Agenda because it is simple and flexible. I use it on a macbook air under dosbox and it runs great. I also use dropbox because we run a copy on a XP machine at work. IT runs like a multi user system as long as you open it when needed and close it after use. Since it opens so fast in dosbox or XP its fine to leave it closed.

    In the event that both are open at the same time dropbox does a pretty good job of resolving the problem as it names one or both files as having a conflict and leaves the latest one to close with the original name. That can take a half a minute to resolve but it down’t happen that often and usually just is the same file in a different view or something. At worst it may not include items added during that span. As I said though, dropbox does a good job with it.

    Yes, having no cut and past is a pain in dosbox, wish I know a workaround but I’ve got a pretty good one. We make a category note from the main category attached to a text file, also in dropbox called BUFFER.TXT and then have a shortcut to that text file on the desktop of the macbook. It’s easy to paste anything into there quickly and then F9 F5 opens the test file while in Agenda. From there it can be marked, copied, pasted using Agenda F7 or F4 or F3 keys and the F2 (paste). You could also make a quick macro to do it for you, to make an item or something like that.

    Agenda is so unique. For years we have been using it to make web pages. It’s simply a matter of printing to text files and creating views with HTML code between the categories. The HTML code is input by making the code various lines in a category note. Line 1 might have , line two may have etc. The beauty is that the html code gets added instantly and just right (as many as there are items in the view) amount of times. Once per HTML page items like can be part of a header etc and a simple File Print to a text file, from that view makes a html page. We use it to update our web site but it also makes viewing things really easy as browsers present so well.

    It’s also easy to print items to a text file and import into Google Calendar. Google does a good job of not importing the same thing twice.

    I use an iPhone and Siri to add an “appointment” which is just simply a note and then you can sort of sync it back to Agenda as well. This is a bit more tedious, I have to use a macro outside of Agenda to do that, I’m interested in the program that “It allows you to import just about anything into Agenda.” to make that easier.

    I wonder if there will ever be anything like it again, something that with just a very few keystrokes will get you to the information you need and nothing more.

    Evernote and all the cool things out there seem so bloated. If someone made a GUI on a server that looked exactly like the DOS Lotus Agenda screen, I would be happy. If it could be multi user so that both users that opened the file had control over their views it would be great, I picture it sore of like two people working on a google spreadsheet, both can be working on the same or different tabs of the same worksheet, just not the same cell (item, or category) in Agenda case.

    The problem is that everyone that tries to make Agenda work on windows or on the web decides to also try to deal with the programs “shortcomings” and I think they lose the battle because that vision is very subjective.

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  24. Dom Rascona says:

    I received an email 9/2/2015 that there was a new reply/ post about Lotus Agenda (“Lotus Agenda no longer a teenager…”) but the linked website has nothing new since 2012. If there is anything new I’d love to see it. Thanks! Dom R.

  25. otinokyad says:

    Sorry, Dom, but that was a spam comment that Akismet failed to catch while I was on vacation. By the time I reviewed/deleted it, you had gotten the auto-email. For what it’s worth, Akismet is spectacularly good: 99.9% correct on almost 195,000 comments since 2010.

  26. Jens Larsen says:

    I’ve been wishing for an Agenda port to Mac. Running in a DosBox is too clumsy.
    I wrote the folks at Scrivener, asking them to consider doing the job. Scrivener is an elegant and well focused tool for writers. I’m loving it.
    Agenda is an elegant and well-focused tool for information and research. I’d love to love it on my Macs and iPad…
    It’s a puzzle why it hasn’t been snatched up and reworked. But I’m no programmer, so perhaps there’s problems there about which I don’t know.

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