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A New Agenda

Kapor hopes Chandler will draw droves of converts but says he knows how fickle the software business can be. The seminal Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet was the must-have application that did more than any other to launch the personal-computer revolution. But Kapor, who founded Lotus in 1982, left the company five years later to lead On Technology, which had less success. He quit the software world altogether in 1990, when he cofounded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-civil-liberties group that filed, and won, some of the earliest cases involving privacy protection and free speech online. After that, Kapor became a philanthropist and investor, hitting it big with founding investments in Real Networks, the Seattle-based streaming-media giant, and UUNET (now part of MCI), which runs the largest privately owned chunk of the Internet’s backbone network.

Now he’s back to his first love, software design. He thinks most of the “productivity” programs available to workers and consumers today are too complicated and inflexible. Case in point: Kapor and his wife Freada Kapor Klein, who leads a small sexual-harassment consulting firm, wanted to use the calendar-sharing feature of Outlook to coordinate their schedules and those of their assistants. But to do so they had to install and administer Microsoft Exchange, a heavy-duty server program for corporate messaging and collaboration Kapor calls expensive and hard to maintain. “It’s total overkill and it’s horrible,” he says.

That experience was on Kapor’s mind as he considered reviving the ideas behind Agenda, a database and information organizer that was his Lotus swan song. Agenda automatically stored free-form database entries-such as “Call Alice on Friday about the Australia trip”-under multiple categories, such as phone calls, Alice, Australia, and Friday. It then recalled the entries at the appropriate times-for example, when the user reviewed Friday’s to-do list. Even though Agenda ran on Microsoft’s original DOS operating system, requiring users to learn many typed commands, devotees raved about the program’s ability to sort related data from disparate sources. But the program never sold well, and Lotus abandoned it after Kapor left.

Kapor thinks Agenda was merely ahead of its time. And because so many of the ideas that keep our lives and businesses humming are now shared over the Internet, he believes that any program that revives some of the principles behind Agenda should be, first and foremost, built around the Internet’s killer app: e-mail. Despite the Internet revolution and the tremendous amount of money and energy invested in creating software for it, the main interface to your computer-the desktop-looks much as it did the first time you used a computer that featured graphical icons, even if it was a Macintosh in 1984. But with Chandler, Kapor envisions e-mail as the main interface with computers, with entities like calendars, contact managers, instant messaging services, and file folders grouped around it.

“People spend enormous amounts of time in their e-mail; we’re totally e-mail-centric. It’s the hot ticket in productivity applications,” Kapor says.

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