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Summary:

I took an unintended trip down memory lane last night.  It started innocently enough (as they usually do) when I was going through the The Great Software List.  There are so many great programs in this comprehensive list and I was scanning them when something caught […]

Ecco_cal_orig I took an unintended trip down memory lane last night.  It started innocently enough (as they usually do) when I was going through the The Great Software List.  There are so many great programs in this comprehensive list and I was scanning them when something caught my eye that created an instant flashback.  Looking through the list of note taking apps and PIM apps the author’s descriptions said similar things for several different programs.  He referenced how these programs offered similar functionality to Ecco Pro.  Talk about a program long forgotten.

Ecco Pro was a program that when it was introduced in the 1990’s defied categorization.  It was a PIM program, no, it was a note taking program, no it was a project manager, no it was an outliner, no, maybe an organizer.  The truth is Ecco was all of those things and more and that was probably the downfall of the program.  Ecco was so customizable that each user could tailor it to fit the way they work.  You could change almost everything with this program and have your information displayed any way you wanted.  This total flexibility turned off many new users as they were often overwhelmed by the program.  But Ecco allowed  users to save their views layouts in template files and diehard Ecco fans shared those templates in Ecco forums.  This helped get newbies going with the program and also demonstrated how much you could really do with this programming masterpiece.

NetManage, the company behind Ecco Pro, went out of business in 1997 and Ecco Pro went with it.  I stopped using it shortly after that because my data was just too important to risk on an unsupported program.  Like all cool programs that fade away it was eventually forgotten even though I have never run across a program that can do as much with personal information as the late, great Ecco Pro.  I haven’t even heard a mention of the program in years so I chalked it up as another great program ahead of its time that faded away.  Or so I thought.

My journey last night got me to thinking so I started searching online for any mention of Ecco Pro.  I thought I might find some historical stuff but I was instead completely surprised.  It seems that Ecco Pro is alive, if not well.  There is an entire community of diehard Ecco heads out there that not only still use the program but are actively designing templates to share with others.  The last version of Ecco Pro is available free and downloadable.  It is a fitting tribute to a great program that it can survive seven years with no development and no programming support.  Needless to say I downloaded and installed it if for no other reason to bring back those fond memories.

I have to tell you this program still rocks!  There is no better program I’ve seen for letting you customize exactly what data you want to keep, how you want it organized, and how to present it to you for viewing.  One of the original diehard Ecco template masters, Wil Ussery, is STILL designing templates and sharing them on the Yahoo Group that is dedicated to Ecco Pro.  I installed his latest template that was created this month and it is a complete implementation of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology.  The old standby Ecco Shooter is still there too.  Just take a look at the screen shots to see how far this ancient program can still be pushed.  I don’t know if I will actually use Ecco as my data is firmly entrenched in the Outlook/ OneNote arena but if Ecco could handle ink I might seriously try it.  What a great program and so far ahead of its time it was doomed for failure.  It was a great trip down memory lane.

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All screens are from the Getting Things Done Template by Will Ussery

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  1. I was so dependent on Ecco Pro, and shortly after the PalmPilot, that I bought an external Zip drive to carry it around. Back in the day, Ecco Pro was one of the few programs that you could actually install and run off of portable media. The Zip Drive was my answer to a job that didn’t offer laptops.

    I suppose a USB drive could do the same trick today.

    From time to time, I visit the Ecco Pro forums around the net, and wonder where this product could have gone over the last decade, had the company not died.

  2. It’s really too bad that the source code for great apps like these just disappears when the companies go out of business. Image what might have happened if NetManage had open-sourced it when they died. Or if all companies were required to escrow their source somewhere (in order to receive copyright protection for the binaries) so that it could be released sometime after they failed, assuming no one bought the asset.

    There would be so much more great software in the world, because the old stuff wouldn’t fade away.

  3. I haven’t really researched if the source is available somewhere. Have you looked for it, Shawn?

  4. Fred Beiderbecke Friday, November 19, 2004

    I’m real curious to hear about your results with the inking. I’m not tabletized yet, but I’m hoping to be in the next couple of months.

    Fred

  5. Just to clarify — NetManage did *not* go out of business. They just discontinued Ecco, and have not shown any interest in opening the source, for whatever reasons. There have been a few attempts to approach them about purchasing / opening the code, but as far as I know to no avail.

    They *do* still offer it as a free download, though: ftp://ftp.netmanage.com/pub/support/pub/utilities/EC401/

    Instructions on getting it to install properly on WinXP are at: http://www.compusol.org/ecco/

  6. I have used Ecco Pro on my Tablet PC and it works fine. The program isn’t ink-aware (obviously), but the new TIP in SP2 makes entering info with the pen fairly quick and easy, just like any other non ink-aware Windows app out there.

  7. Todd, do you use a special template with Ecco or one you developed?

  8. Paul, I sure thought NetManage went out of business. Why did they drop Ecco then?

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