Review of Ultra Recall

This is yet another note taking program which I missed first time around.  I thought that my search was over when I found MyInfo, I thought that I would not be able to find anything better, but I was wrong.

Ultra Recall is a note taking program from Kinook Software in the USA.  It stores it’s notes in an SQL database so there is usually no need to save the file, the database is updated continuously, there is a save button but this just saves the current document.  The current document is always saved when you change documents.

You can have many databases open simultaneously, by default they are all opened in different windows but the program can be configured to open them as tabs in one window.

The results of the load test were impressive, with ten thousand documents in one file there was very little slowing of the program and the searches were very fast.  I got the impression that I was testing the capabilities of the SQL database rather than the program, Ultra Recall is just acting as the front end to a very powerful database engine.  That is not a criticism, this is the way it should be done, when opening or closing a file containing ten thousand documents there was very little delay, this probably means that it doesn’t load the whole database into memory at once.  This program should be able to handle anything anyone could throw at it, for instance someone doing research involving lots of scanned documents, these could be either copied into the database or stored as links to the local file system.  Then text, links and other metadata could be associated with each image to build them into a coherent whole.  The metadata in Ultra Recall is especially useful as you can define what metadata should be associated with each document.

The files created by Ultra Recall were quite big, for the ten thousand text files imported into a database the size of the file was roughly twice the size of the raw data.

For me this program is the closest to being the perfect note taking program of all the programs reviewed in this blog.  If someone had set out to build a program with the best bits of Scrivener, MyInfo and Connected Text then the result would probably have been something like Ultra Recall.

I am currently using version 5.1 of Ultra Recall Professional.

The program costs $99 from the Kinook website (price correct at 22nd February 2014) this is more expensive than the other programs reviewed except here except for MyInfo but in my opinion it is worth the cost.  There is a half price version which has some useful facilities removed so look at the comparison chart and if these missing facilities are not important to you then buy the standard version, you will still be getting an awesome program.

Take note that the program reviewed here is the professional version so if you get the standard version not all of the facilities I talk about will be available to you.

 

Overall Score  = 55 out of 60

Verdict    Exceedingly good.

 

1. Connectivity            =    10

Ultra Recall supports universal links, the links out are very good, you can link to another application and include parameters which could specify which file or document the program is to open.  You can link to an application file (in which case the file is opened with its default application).  You can link to a web or E-mail address or a folder on the local file system.  The program has a web browser built in.  Microsoft Office documents may be linked in to Ultra Recall documents and be displayed within the program using OLE.  You can link out to just about anything.

Ultra Recall also supports universal links into itself from other applications.  There is a menu command called ‘Copy Item Command Line’ (or Ctrl+Shift+I) which copies a universal link to the clipboard ready to be pasted into another program.  When activated this will open Ultra Recall at the beginning of the document which was linked.

Dragging and dropping a file from windows explorer into Ultra Recall has different effects depending on what type of file it is and where you drop it.  If you drop any file into the text area then this creates a link to that file, the file is still in its original location on disk and when you click the link it will open the file using its default application.  However it is possible to configure Ultra Recall to open Microsoft Office programs within itself using OLE (to do this you must have Microsoft Office installed on your system).  This means it is possible to have a spreadsheet as a document within Ultra Recall, the only other note taking program I know of to be able to do this is Memo Master.

If you drag a file into the tree area then the behaviour is different.  If it is a file that Ultra Recall understands like .txt or .rtf or .docx (and maybe some others which I have missed) then the file will be copied into a document and will be just like any other note.

If it is a file type Ultra Recall doesn’t understand then the file is copied into the database and the document just shows one or two links, one to view the file the other to edit the file.  If you choose to view the file then it is copied to a temporary area and opened with its default application.  If you choose to edit the file then it is copied to a temporary area and opened with its default application but when you return to Ultra Recall the new version of the file is automatically saved and replaces the file stored within Ultra Recall.

There is a browser add-on which is installed when you install Ultra Recall, this either links or copies web pages into Ultra Recall.  So Ultra Recall can have either a live (linked) web page within its database or a copy of a web page as it was when it was copied.  Note that the linked web pages won’t work if you don’t have an internet connection.

PDF files can be either linked or embedded into the database.  When you open the file it is displayed in the main editing window and all the keyboard shortcuts work as expected (Ctrl+, Ctrl-, Ctrl4 etc…. ).

 

2. Classification            =    10

Ultra Recall can assign tags to documents.  One of the problems with tags is that the list of tags can become very long, the longer the list gets the less useful it becomes.  A way around this is to have the tags in a hierarchical tree to provide them with some context by grouping them.  This is not done in Ultra Recall but the tagging scheme it does provide is still quite good when compared to some note taking programs.

There is a hierarchical tree which is used to organise documents and this is where things get interesting because Ultra Recall implements transclusion.

In the traditional hierarchical tree a document appears in one position in the tree so you have to decide which characteristic best describes the document and ignore the other characteristics.  There is a problem where the document could be filed under two or more different branches of the tree, the tree becomes less useful because it becomes more difficult to find things.

The transclusion scheme implemented by Ultra Recall allows you to clone a document so it can be placed in two or more different locations in the tree, these documents are references to the same document and if you edit one then the changes appear in all of them.  Cloning a document is easier to do than in MyInfo, just drag and drop within the hierarchical tree with the Alt key pressed, the document appears in both the new location and the old location.  In MyInfo the document itself was cloned but it was awkward to keep any child documents of the clone in sync.  If you added a new child to one of the duplicates then it had to be manually added to the others.  In Ultra Recall this is all automatic, the document is a true duplicate so that any changes like adding or deleting a child document are automatically duplicated in all the clones.

Transclusion allows the hierarchical tree to become the tagging system.  Documents can be assigned to as many positions in the tree as appropriate.  Documents which are duplicated have a small arrow in the bottom left hand corner of their icon.

UR locicall linking + lineage search

This image was copied from the Ultra Recall forums website.

Documents have a rich set of metadata associated with them, these are called attributes.  Different items in the database can have different metadata (unlike MyInfo where all items in a file had to have the same metadata).  You can define your own metadata to suit your own purpose.  Some of the metadata is fixed (the system attributes) but the rest you can change, delete or add to as much as you want.  In practice the system attributes don’t get in the way.

The attributes are grouped according to a naming scheme which you define.  The default attributes are ‘System’ but when you define a new attribute you have to decide which group to put it in by choosing an existing group or typing a new group name.

The user defined attributes can be of many different types; as a string of characters, a number (floating point or currency), date and/or time, logic value (yes/no, true/false), reference to another document or (with the character string) you can define a list of possible values for the attribute (an enumeration) and you could even have this as a drop-down list, you can restrict the possible values to the list or allow the user to type new values which get added to the list.

So for instance if you had a collection of notes about various books you could give them all an attribute called ‘Author’ and another called ‘ISBN’ and this would allow you to search on author or search for notes on books, if you search for the existence of the attribute ISBN then you would only find those documents which had an ISBN.  You could define a ‘Template’ for ‘Book’ which already had Author and ISBN attributes defined so that it would then be easier to add notes on books to the database.

There is also an attribute called ‘Item Notes’ which holds notes about the document, this could be a description of the document or a synopsis of the document or anything else you feel is appropriate.

‘Templates’ are like prototype documents, a document is defined with a predefined set of attributes and also optionally a form to display some or all of the attributes.  You create a new template by defining a new document in the templates folder and you can define a form to display some of the attributes in editable fields above the main body of the document itself.

There is a default set of templates which comes with every new database.  There are two types of template in the default set, the core templates and the derived templates, the core templates cannot be deleted but some of them can be changed to a limited extent.  The derived templates may be edited or deleted as you see fit.

When a new document is created you are offered a drop down list of the templates which appear in the templates folder in the same order as they appear in that folder, so you can put your most used template at the top.

You can control what items appear in a newly created database by defining a database called template.urd and saving it in the same folder as the program.  This is then used instead of the default as the prototype database.

Of course having all these ways of classifying documents would be useless unless it helps you to find the document you wanted to look at.  Ultra Recall has a lot of ways to search for documents, there is full text search of the body text of the documents, or you can search within the keywords or the attributes or within a single attribute (all documents which don’t have that particular attribute are excluded from the search) or using a combination of the above.

Searches can set a list of criteria to meet and the relationships between the criteria may be defined using AND & OR, these criteria may be nested which effectively plays the same role as brackets.  Very complex criteria may be defined for a search.

Searches may be defined and saved as items within the hierarchical tree, when you select this item the search is performed and this gives you a virtual list of items which is automatically updated as the characteristics of the items change.  This is very powerful.

This is the most comprehensive and useful search facility I have found in any note taking program and is at least as powerful as those in MyInfo and Connected Text.

 

3. Text layout and formatting    =    9

The text editor is WYSIWYG all the usual effects can be applied, font, size, bold, italic, colour and line spacing.  Table handling is excellent, once you have created a table you can drag the cell boundaries about with the mouse, this is not common amongst this type of program.  Pictures can be inserted into notes and re-sized.  The text editor supports unicode characters.

There is no switch between edit mode and view mode, edit mode is on all the time, this is good, I found having to switch on edit mode quite obtrusive in Whiz Folders which is one of the reasons I no longer use Whiz Folders.  There is a spell checker which by default is in American English but you can download a dictionary in a large number of alternative languages including British English from the Kinook website.

There are several different screen layouts available, pressing F11 expands the central editing window to fill the entire window apart from the scroll bars, the menus and the toolbars.  This is not quite as good as the distraction free writing mode of Scrivener but it’s almost there.

 

4. A sense of time            =    8

This program has a calendar and you can link documents to specific dates.  You can set a reminder on a document so that you will be reminded of that document on the date which you set.  Repeating reminders can easily be set.  The settings for repeating reminders are not quite up to the standards of Thunderbird (the free E-mail program) but they are far ahead of any of the other note taking programs except for Essential PIM Pro.

Ultra Recall is quite capable of being used as a scheduling program for setting appointments, reminders and managing tasks.

 

5. Ease of use            =    9

Ultra Recall is quite easy to use and seems quite stable, despite throwing thousands of text files at it and doing lots of experimenting with its features I have not managed to get it to crash yet.

One trick I found is that I can open a document in an external editor, this opens a text document in ABI word, this enables me to view one document whilst editing another.  This is equivalent to the floating windows facility in Connected Text and MyInfo.

The keyboard shortcuts are all configurable so you can set the functions to be where your fingers expect them to be.  This is especially important to me because I have several other programs which I use on a regular basis and I find it inconvenient to learn a whole new set of keyboard shortcuts for each program.

The user interface is well designed and very configurable.  The fonts of many parts of the program may be set to your choice.  The toolbars and menus are configurable.  The screen layout of the placement of different window panes is configurable.  There are six screen layouts and you may switch between them, I have not yet learned how to define these layouts (apart from Layout 1 which is what you are adjusting when you pull the panes about on the screen) so I just switch between 1 and 2.  Layout 2 is the main editing pane maximised and all the other panes folded out of the way.

The only thing which is not able to be set is the background colours of the panes.

 

6. Visual Appeal            =    9

There are sixteen different skins which can be applied to Ultra Recall, I am using a skin called ‘Office 2010 Black’ which I think is quite attractive.  The skins range from quite attractive to awful, but different people like different look’s, what I find attractive you may thing is hideous.

The point is that this program is very configurable and the appearance may be tweaked to suit yourself.

 

Ultra Recall

 

 

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