Review of MyBase

This note taking program stores its notes in a database, however there is a save changes item in the file menu, I don’t know how often the database gets updated without using this menu item.  There was a noticeable slowing of the response times when using a file with over one thousand notes, especially when launching the program and saving a note.  There is also a limit of 300Mb on the size of the file, this is easy to exceed if you put all your notes in one database.

The answer is to split your notes into several databases but the problem with this is that MyBase cannot link a note in one database with a note in another database, this is a serious limitation. You can have more than one database open at once but you cannot create links between notes in different databases.

This program does not support universal links.

In some ways this program is the closest to being the perfect note taking program but it has some severe shortcomings with the way it fails to link things together which make it less useful than some of the less perfect programs.

The program costs $59 from the MyBase website (price correct at 14th June 2013).

Overall Score  = 41 out of 60

Verdict    So near and yet so far.

1. Connectivity            =    4

A number of different types of links are available but the program only supports these, it does not support universal links either in or out.  There is no way to create a link to a note in a MyBase database from outside the program.

You can insert a link to a file on the local file system, or to a folder on the local file system.  You can insert a link to another note in the database you are using but it cannot link a note in one database with a note in a different database.

You can create a link to a URL on the web or to a Mailto address, but it checks the format of these links rigorously and if you try to alter it to represent a universal link then the link is automatically converted to plain text and no longer functions as a link.

Each note can have a list of files attached to it, it can also have other notes from the same database attached to it as ‘Related Items’.  The attachments list also includes a list of symbolic links, these are the other places where this note appears as a transclusion and is automatically created.

The failure to be able to link things together is the most significant problem with this program, if this program did support universal links (supporting universal links into a database would automatically give it the ability to link to a note in a different database) then it would be the most awesome note taking program around and would blow away the competition.

But it doesn’t, oh well …

2. Classification            =    7

This is the only one out of the programs reviewed here to support hierarchical tagging.  In this program tags are called labels.  This means that there are two hierarchical trees.

The first one is called the outline and this is the same hierarchical tree which almost all of the note taking programs reviewed here have, but this one also supports transclusion (which they call Symbolic Links) so that a note may appear at more than one location.  No need to decide whether it is more appropriate for a note about the history of science to be filed under science or history because it can appear under both.  This is a really good feature.

The other tree is a list of tags or keywords, with many of the other programs if they have a tag list then it is a flat list.  But this program has a hierarchy of tags so you can have a tag for ‘science’ which is a sub tag of ‘physics’ if you define your tags like that.  Inheritance is not implemented but this is easy to do and actually gives you more control over how to tag something.  With a tagging scheme the note appears wherever it has been tagged in the tree, but it may appear many times.  No need to decide whether it is more appropriate for the note about the history of science to be labelled (tagged) as science or history because it can be labelled as both.

The point of tagging something is to find it again and so the search facilities are very important.  The search facilities in MyBase are not that good.  The advanced search has AND, OR and NOT for searching in the notes and in their titles but this does not apply to searching in the labels (tags), that is just a simple OR of any label you select, i.e. the note will be selected if it has any of the labels you selected to search for, this is not usually what you want.

You can also search within notes using ‘regular expressions’.

One interesting feature is the ability to search in the file attachments.  This searches in any file or web page that appears in the attachments list.

There are also facilities to search the local file system and to search for notes with a particular icon.  In short this program has a lot of search options but only a few of them are actually useful.

3. Text layout and formatting    =    7

The text formatting whilst not up to the standards of a word processor is quite good, all the usual effects can be applied, font, size, bold, italic, colour and line spacing.  Table handling is very rudimentary.  Pictures can be inserted into notes and re-sized.

4. A sense of time            =    8

This program has a calendar and you can link notes to specific dates.  You can set a reminder on a note so that you will be reminded of that note on the date which you set.  You can also set the reminder to repeat.

5. Ease of use            =    7

This is not the easiest of programs to use and it is certainly not very well documented.  The documentation (if you manage to find it) consists of one very long web page holding an incomplete version of a manual for one of the previous versions of the program.  This program is not very configurable.

One thing which you can change is the background colour and font of many of the panels in the interface.  This is useful to distinguish their functions, they all start off with a white background and a very small sans serif font which means that sometimes it is not obvious at first glance which panels you are looking at.  The different background colours solve this problem.

6. Visual Appeal            =    8

Not the best looking of the programs reviewed here but certainly not the worst.  The toolbars are a little too busy, but then there are lots of tools to display.

screenshot of MyBase

screenshot of MyBase

Review of Microsoft OneNote 2007

OneNote is part of the Microsoft Office suite.  It has many of the features of the other note taking programs but is not as useful as some of them because more work has gone into making it look pretty than has gone into getting the functionality correct.  Using OneNote one gets the impression that many of the features which have been added were added for the specific purpose of ticking a box in the advertising.

This note taking program stores its notes in separate files, each notebook is a folder on the hard disk within which the notes are stored.  I was unable to conduct the test of a notebook with over one thousand notes because Microsoft OneNote does not have a bulk import facility.  To get all my notes into OneNote I would have to open each note (I have them stored as .RTF files) individually and copy and paste it into a note.  There is also no bulk export so that once you have a substantial number of notes in OneNote you are effectively ‘locked in’, because the more notes you have the more effort it would be to change programs.  You can have multiple notebooks open at once.

The version I was testing is Microsoft Office OneNote 2007 (because that’s the one I have).  This is not the latest version.

There are some advanced facilities within this program, like OCR on pictures and images and recording of audio clips for spoken notes but in my opinion this is only a good program if you have a small number of notes, if you have a substantial number of notes I would imagine it is not so good.  I cannot say this definitely because I have only used this program for a few weeks some years ago (apart from the work I did to prepare this review).  I regard this as a toy note taking program, so this will be a biased review but it portrays my honest opinion.  I have tried to be fair.

I don’t know what the price of OneNote is.  I checked on the Microsoft website and the only option which seemed to be available was ‘Buy with Office’ and of course only the latest version is available.  I don’t know if it is available separately.

Overall score = 39 out of 60

Verdict       I don’t like it but I know a lot of people love it, good if you don’t mind being locked into the Microsoft hegemony.

1. Connectivity            =    8

This program supports universal links, however it calls them Hyperlinks.  Within OneNote you can hyperlink to specific pages within any OneNote notebook, it supports hyperlinks to files on the local file system and of course hyperlinks to URL’s on the internet.

If you generate a ‘hyperlink’ to a page in OneNote and then paste it into another program then what is pasted looks exactly like a universal link to a OneNote page, and works exactly like a universal link (so why the non standard nomenclature).

You can also use OLE to embed files within a page, but this only seems to work well with other Microsoft products.  OLE should have been great for displaying the output from one program within another but unfortunately it has not been so good in practice.  This is because it has to be correctly implemented at both ends for it to work properly.  The program displaying the result needs to implement the OLE client correctly but also the program sending the data has to implement the OLE server correctly.  There are many many programs out there which either don’t implement the OLE server correctly or don’t implement it at all.

Microsoft products unsurprisingly implement both the OLE server and client correctly.  So you will be able to embed Excel spreadsheets, Power Point presentations and Word documents within OneNote pages and it all works as expected.  But don’t expect to be able to embed the output from <insert random small company name here> programs in your OneNote pages.

OneNote also works with Microsoft Outlook to send and receive E-mail.  So you can send a page or put a received E-mail into a page but only if you are using Microsoft Outlook.  It seems like all Microsoft products are deliberately designed to work with each other in such a way as to try to lock you in to only using Microsoft products.  I don’t have Microsoft Outlook as my default mail client and when I tried to ‘send to email client’ it opened my default mail client and then brought up an error message in a dialog box.

2. Classification            =    3

There is a tagging scheme of sorts.  It is just a flat list and it is in a drop down box so don’t expect to be able to have thousands of tags, it gets cumbersome with any more than forty or fifty tags, so this is for broad classifications and as such it is not particularly useful.  Blocks of text can be tagged individually and the tags appear as small icons to the left of the text.  There are no keywords.

3. Text layout and formatting    =    9

The text layout and formatting are exemplary.  The only thing I didn’t like is the fact that all the text is in boxes on the page.  The box only appears when you mouse over it.  Doing it this way makes moving text around on a page very easy but I would prefer a simple page similar to that of a word processor, however having said that it is possible to make the box as big as a page and then in effect what you get is a simple page similar to that of a word processor.

Table handling is excellent, just what you would expect from a word processor.  Pictures can be pasted onto a page and everything works as expected.

Although OneNote does not support spreadsheets in notes you can use OLE to embed an Excel spreadsheet if you have Excel installed on your system.

4. A sense of time            =    0

OneNote does not have a sense of time.  There is no calendar.

5. Ease of use            =    9

Microsoft have a lot of experience at designing user interfaces and this program is an example of a simple and intuitive user interface.  Everything works as expected.

6. Visual Appeal            =    10

This is one of the better looking of all the note taking programs reviewed here.  They manage to cram in a lot of functionality with little wasted space.

screenshot of Microsoft OneNote 2007

screenshot of Microsoft OneNote 2007

Review of Keynote-NF

Keynote was one of the first note taking programs to use a hierarchical tree as its organisational paradigm.  It is still around and if you just want a simple hierarchical tree organiser for a small number of notes then it still holds its own against the more modern competition.  It is free and open source and it is one of the best free note taking programs around.

This note taking program is file based, that is it stores its data in files.  There was a very significant slowing of the response times when using a file with only two hundred notes.  A file containing one thousand notes was virtually unusable.  The slowing of the response time seems to be proportional to the size of the file rather than the number of notes, thus a file containing many small notes might be faster than a file with fewer notes containing lots of text or large graphics.  I managed to almost cripple a file which only had twenty notes by putting a moderately sized (3 megapixel) picture in each note, the speed was almost unusable.  Keynote can only have one file open at once.

There is no tagging scheme.  But Keynote does support transclusion so one note can appear in many places.  Also external files can appear in the tree as notes and can be edited.  These are known as ‘virtual notes’.

Keynote is free and Open Source and is available from http://code.google.com/p/keynote-nf/ .  This would be a good introductory program to use if you are interested in finding out what use a note taking program might be to you but don’t want to spend any money.

Overall score = 25 out of 60

Verdict   Not as good as some of the others but you can’t argue with the price!

1. Connectivity            =    7

A note may contain a link to a file or a link to a URL or to another note, the other note can be in another file.  The file links are ugly, and it could not access a file located in one of the Windows 7 libraries however creating a link to the same file through it’s normal address on the disk worked.  Web URL’s work as expected.  Keynote does not support universal links.  The inability to work with Windows libraries is a problem but it is understandable given the vintage of this program, it cannot be expected to be compatible with standards which weren’t even written when the program was released.

An interesting feature of Keynote is its support for transclusion, if it were not for the other limitations of this program this would make it a ‘must have’ especially as it is free.  Transclusion is implemented as ‘virtual notes’ which is a note that is a clone of another note, but if you edit one of them the edits also show up in the other note because they are the same note.

A ‘virtual note’ may also be an external file, so it takes up no space in the file, if you edit that note you are really editing the external file.

2. Classification            =    2

The only form of classification a note gets is its position in the hierarchical tree.  There are no keywords or tag lists in Keynote.

3. Text layout and formatting    =    5

There are the usual basic editing facilities, font, font size, colour of letters, bold, italic, superscript, subscript, alignment, indenting and bulleted and numbered lists.  You can even include pictures but if you put too many pictures in your notes the speed of response will slow down dramatically.

Keynote has only the most rudimentary support for tables, you can import a table from another application into a keynote note but after you have imported it the only thing you can change is the contents of the cells, you cannot alter the size of the cells or the borders or anything else about the table.

4. A sense of time            =    0

There is no calendar.

5. Ease of use            =    6

This program is reasonably easy to use, all the toolbar icons and buttons have tool-tips and all the buttons work as expected.  There is no switch between edit mode and viewing mode, you just start typing.

There is no documentation apart from the example note file and the .CHM file which is in the program folder after installation.

6. Visual Appeal            =    5

The program looks somewhat dated.  You can change the default fonts for various parts of the screen display but this program is not particularly configurable.  The panel to the right of the text area holds some useful functions but I couldn’t see a way of switching it off in the options dialog.

Keynote screenshot

Keynote screenshot

Hanging on

As we get older does the dull routine of daily life destroy our vital spark or do we eventually loose our vital spark and just fall into a dull routine because it’s more comfortable?

I am in a rut.

The rut goes round in loops so that if I travel far enough along it I get back to the place I started from but every time round it seems shorter.  Seeing the same things, the same few paths open to me and reacting in the same ways to them.  Reliving the same few days over and over with only minor variations.  Following the social norms to fit in with other peoples expectations.  Hanging on in quiet desperation every day trying to maintain the same façade, to keep up the disguise, pretending to be someone I’m not, trying to fit into a mould of the wrong shape, trying not to upset the people around me and all the time acting as though if I just make it through today then things will be better tomorrow.

But tomorrow is always just the same and so it goes, on and on.

When was it that I lost my dreams and aspirations?  Maybe it was when I realised I was not living my dreams because I was living my nightmares.