Review of LexiCan

This note taking program is file based, that is it stores its data in files.  There was a significant reduction in response times when the file grew to just a few hundred notes or a couple of hundred kilobytes, this is very poor in my opinion.

When you open this program it takes a very long time before even the splash screen appears, this is annoying.

LexiCan has some serious issues which hamper its use, most of the other programs can have multiple databases or files open at once.  LexiCan can only have one file open at once and when you open another file it automatically closes the file you had open.

This program is produced by a German company, it has been translated into English.  However some of the more obscure menus and dialog boxes are still in German and if you get an error which happens frequently the error message which comes up is always in German.

This program does support transclusion which is a feature that few of the other programs support.  Transclusion is the feature whereby one note can appear in several places, not as a copy but separate instances of the same note.  If you edit one of them then it changes all of them.

This program is available from http://www.lexican.net/ , there is a free version available which is fully functional but only allows 30 notes.  The program costs 39.90 Euros (at 28th April 2013).

Overall score = 33 out of 60

Verdict               Almost worth buying, but not quite.

1. Connectivity            =    6

This program cannot generate a universal link, it is not possible to link into a specific article in this program, the only thing you can do is start the program.

If you paste a universal link into LexiCan the link will appear in the text but if you click the links nothing happens, to open the link you have to use a context menu which appears when you right click on the link, then it takes a very long time to open the link.

The program keeps a list of all the files you have linked to so it is easier to link to a file if it is already on the list.  If you view the list you will see that any files which have been deleted, renamed or moved have a red icon next to them.  Apparently it checks for the existance of each file when start the program, this could be one reason why the program takes so long to start up.

You can create links to files, to web pages, to other notes (articles) in the same file, to a folder or to a reference.  A reference is biblographical reference, a place to put all the details of a book or article, but there is no link to the book or article if you have it as a file on your computer.

2. Classification            =    6

There is a tagging scheme which is just a flat list, but the problem is the search facilities.

Tagging is only half the story, the whole point of tagging things is to be able to find them again.  The designer of this program forgot that.  The search facilities are inadequate and that is what lets this program down.  You can search for words in the notes (articles) or in the titles or within a single article or in the tags, what you cannot do is search using a combination of these methods.

3. Text layout and formatting    =    8

The editing functions are good.  They are as good as some word processors.  Table handling is excellent.  Pictures and graphics can be inserted into the text.

4. A sense of time            =    0

This program has no calendar or any sense of time.

5. Ease of use            =    6

This program is quite easy to use, if you ignore the clutter of the screen and if you can remember which ribbon contained the icon for the function you wanted to use.

The frequent errors were a problem and the fact that the dialog box which is displayed in response to an error is always in german so you have no idea what the error was or what to do about it unless you can speak German.

6. Visual Appeal            =    7

This program uses the styling of a modern word processor, everything looks the part.  It has a ribbon instead of conventional toolbars and so there is a lot of wasted space on the screen and this restricts the size of the editing area.  You cannot turn the ribbon off completely and go back to conventional toolbars, most of the time the ribbon is sparsely populated but it takes up a strip the height of the ribbon across the entire screen with about half of it empty.  The note (article) is in a window in the middle of the screen with many panels displaying various other information around it, on a small screen the amount of space left for the article window can get very small indeed, I ended up switching various things off and having the ribbon automatically disappear when the mouse wasn’t over it, this is all very well but it does increase the hassle of using this program

LexiCan screen shot

LexiCan screen shot

Review of Debrief Notes

This note taking program is file based, that is it stores its data in files.  There was a significant slowing of the response times when using a file with over one thousand notes.  You can only have one file open at once.

This program looks like it was put together by a committee, it has lots of features but it looks like there was little consideration for how those features might be used together to produce a good workflow.  Also there seems to be an assumption that you will only use Debrief Notes and have all your notes and information within one file without linking it to any other program or any external file.

On the positive side the developers have done their best to make this program have all the facilities you might need and have come up with ingenious ways of getting around the lack of links.  One note may appear in many contexts, but this is not true transclusion.

The first organisational structure is folders which contain notes.  A note may not have notes as decendants, only a folder may contain notes.  But there are many ways to arrange these notes.  The notes get a calendar date which defaults to the date of creation but can be set to any date.

There are also ‘Action Items’ which are basically a to do list, you can give them priorities and deadlines and associate them with notes.

There are also ‘Cases’ which are a group of associated notes, Action Items, Contacts and any other items you want to associate.  There are also ‘Outlines’ which are lists of notes arranged in a particular order with the sort of numbering scheme you would expect in an outline.  There are also ‘Note Decks’ which are just a group of notes arranged in an arbitrary order.

One note may appear in many different Cases, Outlines and Note Decks.

There is also a contacts list with all the fields you might expect.  There is a To Do list which allows you to assign tasks to other people.  If a task is assigned to another person then it appears on a separate list.  You can assign deadlines and expiry dates to To Do list items and associate other notes with them.

The program also generates a daily note automatically if no note has been generated for that day, this is the Daily Notepad and is meant for collecting random jottings for that day.  If you don’t put anything in it then it remains as an empty note for that day.

If all of the above seems complicated then there is a good reason for that,   it is complicated!  This is not an easy program to use, the various features and ways of doing things don’t fit together to create an easy workflow.  It could be that if I used this program for a long time things might get easier, but I don’t think I will bother.

This program was written some time ago and that is visible in the user interface.  Debrief Notes seems like a dead project with no active development, the last update (version 2.4) was released in 2005.  If you try to get in touch with the developers there is no reply, apparently this program has been sold to another company who are still selling it but not developing it.

The program is available from http://debriefnotes.com/ for $39.95 (on 28th April 2013) with a cut down version for $29.95.  There is also a free version which has most of its functionality disabled.  If you are thinking of going for the free version then you would be much better off getting Keynote which is free and Open Source and is available from http://code.google.com/p/keynote-nf/ .  Another alternative is the free version of Memo Master which is just as capable and far easier to use.

Overall score = 20 out of 60.

Verdict               Total waste of money.

1. Connectivity            =    1

There is almost no connectivity in this program.  You cannot insert links to anything within the text, if you do then they appear as plain text and clicking on them has no effect.  There is no way to refer to another note from within a note, rather you create groups of notes, there is no way to refer to a note in another file.

There is a ‘Library’ into which you can put references to books, publications or websites.  You might think that the ‘Reading List’ associated with this library might allow a link to the file if it is a file on your computer but it doesn’t.  There is a field for the file location but this is just a text field.  The only link which can exist within this program is if the ‘Library’ reference is a website then a small green arrow appears next to the field for the location, if you click this arrow then it opens the website in a browser.  Why could they not have done this for files as well?

That’s it!

2. Classification            =    2

Surprisingly there is a tagging scheme in this program and it is hierarchical.  You may tag a note with as many tags as necessary.  Where it all falls down is the use of these tags to select notes, you may select one tag at a time and the notes associated with that tag come up in a list.  This is not terribly useful.

3. Text layout and formatting    =    4

Debrief Notes has very basic text formatting of font, size and colour as well as Bold, underline and italic.  It does not support tables or graphics of any kind.

4. A sense of time            =    5

This program have very good sense of time, notes may be associated with dates.  There is also a To Do list called ‘Action Items’, presumably items which need action.  The program will notify you of any action items which are due or overdue when you start it up.  The method of linking notes to To Do’s seems to be overly complex and not as useful as it could be.  For instance I cannot see any way to set a repeating To Do, which probably means you have to set each one individually.

5. Ease of use            =    4

This program is not easy to use and has many quirks and inconsistencies in the interface.  There is a good documentation file but it is quite large and might take a while to read.

6. Visual Appeal            =    4

This program is not visually attractive and the user interface is quite abstruse.

Debrief Notes screen shot

Debrief Notes screen shot