An app ahead of its time: Lotus Agenda

Edited some content on 08.20

I have finally located the missing manuals of “Lotus Agenda”. The program has ceased to exist for almost 30 years, and some loyal users were still using it a few years ago. IMHO, this is the mother of all text-based info management program running on… MS-DOS!. It has been position as the lotus spreadsheet of text-based info (Mitchell Kapor is the developer, so that’s obvious), but only exists in the market for a few years. It is because most first time users think that the learning curve is too steep due to the “advance” concept of auto-tagging is too “complicated” and “difficult” to understand. And, 640k memory is simply not enough for the program (it was common for Agenda users needing to reboot MS-DOS frequently and lots of file corruption - including me). To DT users, I think the quick-start guide is a fun and impressive read for a program ahead of its time.

How it works: you enter a piece of text (Agenda calls it item), the app recognises the phrase and date/time within the text automatically and will auto-tag (Agenda calls it category) the item based on (a) exact or approximate text-match (50%) or by short name, (b) by any phase determined by user (d) by any additional conditions (e.g. auto-tag only apply to items in/not in certain other categories). All matching can be preset or in an ad hoc manner. The match can be acting on the text alone, or apply to the note attached within the text. The workflow is smooth and fast (once user picks up the learning curve).

For example, if you type “I have a meeting with Susan with ABC Corporations at tomorrow 3 pm”, the app will automatically tag “Susan” under category “Person”, “ABC Corporations” under category “Company”, “Meeting” under category “Activities” and the date/time of meeting under category “Project Date”. If “Susan” is a name that is seen for the first time, auto-tagging will work for all current and future items once user enters “Susan” in “Person” category. Categories/sub-categories can be easily re-arranged in any combination by row and col (Lotus Agenda calls it a view) by the user. User can preset the tags (or metadata, depends on how you see what a category manager is), or add new ones on the go. User can also write macros (Lotus like). It’s a general info platform for personal- or sales/mkt-info (an out-dated term), document-mgt (can import files in batch - quite advance in its days), accounting, or anything.

In sum, Lotus Agenda is a pivot table of info that is based on three elements: item, category, and view. DT is the best info-app I have ever seen, but I have seen no app other than Agenda doing auto-tagging in such an elegant manner. I am dreaming of configuring DT into something like that one day (just personal fantasy).

The quick start guide is a fun and impressive read (I think). The user-guide is a “really” good read. (I have the full set of documentation retrieved from public domain from user guides to macro to file settings manual). I tried to contact Lotus/IBM for copy right for posting the manual, there isn’t even a way for me to check it out. If you are interested to take a read, PM me. Or you can visit maintained by die-hard retro-computer users that never use Mac or Windows. Lotus (IBM) allows anyone to download Agenda, the program can still run on Mojave under dosbox at 640x480 resolution.

PS: (1) the way the Agenda’s manual discusses category may inspire some users on tagging/grouping.
(2) It would be also fun to read the manual of DT1! But I can’t find it anywhere…


Very cool! I’d be interested for sure. It would be fun to check out in the moments between working and… umm, working :stuck_out_tongue:

I LOVED Lotus Agenda!! I was so sad when it became obsolete. I still have the manual and my little discs – sometimes think I should find an old PC and get the data out so I could look at it – ancient history by now!

I particularly liked the elegant auto tagging feature. I built my tag list ahead of time, so it was thought-out and specific, making it a very convenient, fast way to cross-reference – I didn’t have to think of what tags to use and type it at the bottom. I could just type in "Napoleon invaded Russia in June 1812… " and “Napoleon”, “Russia”, and “1812” would all get automatically tagged.

If that feature were combined with DTs ability to recognize terms in any document, it would be fantastic.

Anyway, thanks Mitch Kapor; the program was way ahead of its time. And thanks for the link, “ngan” – I’m going to download it and see what it looks like.


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Oh my goodness. I can’t believe this is here! I was the Documentation manager for the first release of Lotus Agenda. I don’t even have a copy. I would love to see one. And to connect with you and Bob Newell.


I came into the industry in 1989 and I remember people raving about Agenda, which might possibly have been legacy software even then. I never knew all this about Agenda’s capabilities. Yes, it sounds like it would be considered advanced software if it came out even today – kind of a hybrid between Fantastical and Cardhop.


Welcome @DocandDoc
Nice to have you here :slight_smile:

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