A blog post

Working with Commence

Posted on the 12 September, 2018 at 2:31 pm Written by in Technology


Screen capture showing Commence with my calendar, contacts and research references windows open

“Commence” (or “Commence RM”) is a program in the somewhat quaint category called PIM – a personal information manager. Now, why would I need a personal information manager? It was big news almost thirty years ago, running the newly developed Windows operation system, at that time called “Current”, developed by IBM engineers. But today?

My method was to use the program in my own way. I liked the “personal” element, even if Commence mainly was developed in a commercial direction, as help for sales management. I used it as a researcher. I built my own research literature reference database in Commence long before Endnote came along.

I bought the first version of Current (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Current), not least due to an enthusiastic review (I think it was in PC Magazine) – this is not only personal, it enhances the power of the user, in line with “the PC revolution” – a term still very optimistically used at that time.  But I have not regretted, since.

After some quarrels (“why do you need this when we have Outlook”, etc)  I’ve usually been able to get my employer to pay the cost of upgrading. I have succeeded in convincing my managers that this is an advanced tool that I need in my work. Why? I have a lot of extra information along. Not just the capability of e g Outlook to connect meetings and times. The PIM category was created from the ground up to support four main categories of information – time, meeting, note, to do. Current / Commence does this from the start, it is built around this core. So it is possible to use “as is”, and it can be tuned and developed, for further benefit.

So what is the plus, and the minus? Minus first: expect a learning curve. Yes, you can set up your own databases, and get them connected to the calendar function of the program, or other data bases, when needed. But it takes some time to learn how to do this, and some of the user interface, for example for setting up “Agents”, programmable functions in the program, is not very good. The big plus is that it works. Once you have set up something successfully, it seldom breaks down due to bugs. The program is very stable. It is also remarkably fast. Searching through the data is very quick (and you can do a search through all your data bases).

Some concepts must be learned – Commence lets you set up a database under the term “Category”, and each category has “items”. So my literary database has books and papers as items. You can connect categories to each other. My “Music Works” category has connections to my “Artist” category.

When you learn the basics of it, and have set up a few of your own databases – you will discover that Commence is extremely flexible, in the ways you can work with it. For example, I have 3000 items in my book base, 1500 in my music database, and 500 in my product base. Database items can be imported into Commence, or created there.

How can I get the information from each of these bases / items? Not just by opening the program and having a look, from a quite good user interface. But also from other programs. I can use an old but still functional mechanism in Windows called DDE (dynamic data exchange).

So from a Word macro, for example, I can ask for an item, or list of items, from the Commence database. You can also use the Commence API, and program it, from some other type of code, in Visual Basic, for example. If you know how to use Commence, and the basics of a programming language like Visual Basic, it is not very difficult to extract or input information in Commence. Commence also has “scripting” options, so that you can get some data base behaviour for free – fill in this field, and that field will also be filled in, and similar. And as mentioned, you can have Agents that are called from other programs (or from within Commence) to perform batch operations – a series of commands.

So for flexibility, the program scores top – just like it did at the start. It is a kind of “Lego”. You get a lot of building blocks.

Even if it requires some effort to learn and to adjust for personal needs, the program has given me real improvements reducing time for “look-up” type of work. It is like having some extra pockets, for information.