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

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