Who?

Hi there I am Paul, I live in England.  I work in the NHS.  I like computers and I don’t like the American bastardisation of the English language.  Politically I am  Socialist.  I am also an Atheist.

14 thoughts on “Who?

  1. Great reviews of note-taking software. I’ve also been interested in note-apps for years and after considering many of them, I finally settled on MyInfo. Have a look at it. An update next year promises to ensure it will support extremely large databases (1000s of gb) and offer cross-platform capabilities. Also, a new beta version of MyBase is being tested that will support far larger databases.
    Very cool that you’re socialist- many of us are still out here. It seems far too many people, especially in the USA, have forgotten that Socialist means “someone who believes in society and the importance of society”, and this likely includes a belief that society should try to take care of people in it.

  2. Very useful site for reviews of note taking software. Thanks. Have you considered Evernote? I’m curious how an online solution would compare with application software. I like Evernote because it’s easy to get to from many computers and devices, but I’d like the power of something like Ultra Recall.

    • Solutions which involve a connection to the internet are not really very practical for me. They may be fine for many people but I need to keep all my data on my laptop so I don’t usually consider online solutions. This is because of where I work.

      I work in a crypt three stories below ground. Don’t get me wrong, the crypt is large, dry, warm and well lit, it is a pleasant place to work apart from the lack of windows. The crypt has very thick steel reinforced concrete walls, secure access and no mobile phone signal or WiFi. All the computers in the crypt have been locked down by an IT department which could teach the KGB a thing or two about paranoia. I am not allowed an internet connection for my laptop in the crypt and my work desktop PC in the crypt is very strictly controlled both in terms of the software it has installed and what I am allowed to do with it.

      Evernote looks very good but I haven’t ever used it so I can’t pass any judgements.

      Sorry.

  3. This is a very good resource and reviews of note takers – wonderful!!

    I see you are still reviewing note managers. I looked at around 200 of them last year, and as you seem to like the same things I like (I settled on Ultra Recall as a “best so far” as well, after seeing Essential PIM and MyInfo too). I thought the following five might be useful – it’s my notes on some key contenders, and a couple you may have overlooked (all Googleable).

    Zoot XT – one of the few that’s very configurable and very actively developed and responsive. One to watch. Not using as beta still has issues that would impact me (mainly unicode tags) and I need a manual (he’s been promising one for ages but this time round says it’ll be done in a while and sounds like he means it. Could be a year till production-quality but probably will take the crown when it is – final version should be very powerful indeed.
    Noted issues – not fully Unicode/i18n yet (try Japanese/Hebrew in tags), search is limited (power apps tend to attract power users who want to get access to Boolean and regex without “guided forms”), manual outdated.

    InfoQube/SQLNotes – also beta, also very actively developed and powerful, everything from triggers to calculated fields to custom UI is possible. Slightly unusual paradigm will suit many but not all – treats all items as “just items” so instead of folders, you set up filters (in effect) to show the relevant items based on their fields, or properties, or templates etc. As such the usual “tree” is replaced by an indented/bulleted list of items, which works but may not suit everyone. Heavyweight and very suited to many purposes, paradigm probably gets a “love it or dont like it” response by users. Usable as it stands even though beta.

    Clibu (AKA Surfulater Next Gen.) – now in beta, not yet testable as it’s released to beta testers only. Judging by comments of author’s blog over the last 3 years should be worth looking at when available to public later this year.

    Cherrytree – I’d like this to be my favourite but it isn’t. It ticks all the right buttons – free/open source, active development, powerful, even multiplatform – but somehow for me the “devil is in the detail”, it misses the mark in small but crucial ways. Maybe author will fix them. Main issue I have (on Windows v0.32 April 2014) is simply that the rich text editor isn’t reliable – Home/end on wraspped lines unintuitively doesn’t go to start/end of current line if it’s a wrapped paragraph but goes to start/end of logical line, which could be many lines up or down; undo/redo has played up (undos + redos doesn’t always get you back where you started); configuration options are limited; and no multi-parent yet (what you call “transclusion” in Ultra Recall: all the other 3 above have it).

    The text editor issues are a real shame as the editor is coded in Tk (ie TkInter) and recoding those would be easy. But Ultra Recall’s rich text handling widget just works while (for now) CherryTree’s just doesn’t. I will point this out to the author. If he fixes it then I’d say take a look, it’s very good and has a lot of ability and scope, and is the best one for “open source + crossplatform + active development” right now, but until those are fixed I found Ultra Recall better and smoother.

    MyBase – Good candidate indeed, one of few to have powerful search, and a whole lot of good stuff. But doesn’t do tabs (only cascaded/overlapped MDI windows), and UI just doesn’t always behave as one might expect, renames aren’t updated and synced between label view and tree sometimes, can’t find a way to see “last modified/last viewed” fields, can’t customise toolbars, etc.. overall polish was lacking for that “it just works” feel, for me anyway. I ruled it out in the end, more than one key usability point I need missed out.
    .
    Efficient PIM was also one on my list to re-look at but I haven’t yet.

    • I’m not planning to review any more note taking programs unless they offer something better than Ultra Recall. The bar has been set fairly high.

      There are some programs which I took a look at but have not reviewed, amongst these were Zoot and InfoQube. I didn’t really get along with Zoot which seems to treat notes like e-mails. InfoQube is strange, I have no doubt that it can do some wonderful things but it tries to do everything which is possible in ConnectedText but without the scripting language. It is hideously complex.

      I really ought to do reviews on Cherry Tree and KeepNote because although they are less powerful and less useful than Ultra Recall they are free and open source. KeepNote in particular performed very well in the load test. But for now these are a low priority.

      I have already reviewed MyBase.

      Thank you for reading my blog.

      • That makes sense, thanks!

        One comment for info only on your reply – Zoot XT seems a *very* different beast “redone from the ground up” from its predecessor, I didn’t get that “notes feel like emails” from the current version either, it feels like finally notes are being handled as notes, and it’s “done properly”. Plus v7 so far seems exceptionally configurable anyway. But not worth a review until it’s formally released with help files.

        So I emailed the author, he says the manual/documentation is now being done imminently/as we speak but might take a bit of time to complete, and an advanced/regex search feature will make it in by the release version. I think it might be worth not judging v7 by its predecessor when it’s finally released — it’s shaping up to be the only program I’ve seen that might take the crown from Ultra Recall; the way it’s heading as a beta, I am curious to see the eventual documentation and find what it’s capable of but that might be a few months yet. But no question he plans to get there.

  4. I like your reviews. Before I bought Lexican I used Treepad, both for the purpose to easily publish my texts as a (complete = including navigation) website. I changed to Lexican because its documents are and can easily be exported to word-documents. But Memomaster was then also in my shortlist. I’m also using Evernote, mainly for the purpose to transfer data from one computer to another and to my smartphone. And also One Note (available at my work place). I came to this conclusion: I don’t need a tool which keeps my notes. Because my notes are not only texts but also diagrams, excels, sourcecodes, audio and many other formats. I am looking for a tool that can keep links (or groups of links), keywords, other attributes as last used, author, categories with a great search function. Do you have any suggestions?

    • I don’t think there is a perfect program out there for taking notes.

      But Ultra Recall is as close as I have yet discovered, it supports images and links to external files. Word documents and Excel spreadsheets are viewable within Ultra Recall as OLE objects, I have been able to get GraphViz working within Ultra Recall. Any arbitrary type of file may be stored in the database (as opposed to linked to the database), if it is stored in the database and it is a file that Ultra Recall doesn’t know how to handle then when you open that note you are presented with a link, if you click the link then a temporary copy of the file is created outside the database and is opened by the default application.

      The metadata is the best of any program I have reviewed. You can add arbitrary metadata to any of your notes, if you were to add a text string attribute entitled ‘Author’ to some of your notes then you could search for an author using this attribute and the search would ignore any note which didn’t have this attribute. The search facilities are very good and it can search huge amounts of data very quickly. The attributes ‘Date Created’ and ‘Date Modified’ are system attributes and are created by default (in fact you cannot get rid of system attributes), they can be used in searches.

      The notes are stored in an SQL database and are not accessible independently of the Ultra Recall program. You can export all or a subset of your notes to web pages (HTML files).

      There is another contender which comes close and that is MyInfo, MyInfo takes a different approach to metadata. Any attribute created is given to all notes in a file so the most practical approach to this is to keep different types of data in different files. MyInfo has a more pleasing aesthetic than Ultra Recall and the searching is just as good. The embedding of arbitrary files is not as well handles as in Ultra Recall.

      The rate of development seems to be faster for MyInfo so it may well overtake Ultra Recall at some point in the future. The developer ( Petko ) is very friendly and helpful.

      Both MyInfo and Ultra Recall have 30 day free trial versions.

      There is anothe program called ‘KeepNote’ which is free and open source. It is far less powerful than Ultra Recall but it is free. All the notes are kept as independent HTML files is a directory structure which is identical to the tree structure within the program so you can get access to your notes using a web browser, there are no keywords and no metadata. KeepNote performed very well under a heavy load.

      By the way, I have no connection with Kinook Software, this is not an advert for Ultra Recall, just my observations.

  5. I have had a similar journey with my finding the perfect note taking tool. In recent years, have used mindmaps, wikis, Evernote and EssentialPIM.
    EssentialPIM does most of what I want to do.
    Some key elements missing include:
    1. Not having the ability to sort tables from within a Note. Lots of Notes Taking programs have the ability to add Tables but they usually stop there and don’t give you the ability to sort on column headings. Keep lots of data and want to be able to compare and be able to easily link to other notes, files, etc. (kind of like a note taking/worksheet combo sort of program). Right now I just use LibreOffice Calc and EPIM separately.
    2. When adding an Image within a Note, I would like the ability of being able to have the image as part of the background of the Note where I can link different Notes (or links, files, etc.) to sections of the Image where if the window were maximized the links will stay linked to the same place on the Image. Think of similar to what an imagemap does where you can embed links, other images, files, etc. to different parts of the image. This would be extremely useful for me in landscaping projects. So far the only program I have seen that has this capability is Vorg Express, but it has not been updated in many many years (and will not be updated I’m told) and has limited functionality in other areas.
    The large majority of Note Taking programs that I’ve reviewed (including EverNote) seem to be stuck in a 1990s mindset with their functionality and interface or either the programs are cobbled to only give you similar functionality as all the others.
    My preference for finding my perfect Note Taking tool is that it works in Windows, has strong import/export capabilities and encryption, is open source, and can sync with an Android app.
    Yeah, I know I’m dreaming….

  6. EPIM is Ok but the note taking section is very limited and underpowered. I use EPIM with MyInfo, they can both limk anything to anything else so it works quite well for me. As fo getting a program which can share notes with an Android app, there is EverNote or there is a little known note taking program called Notecase Pro http://www.notecasepro.com/ which has a version which runs on Android and I believe you can share notes between the program running on Windows and on Android. I have not tried it out but it might be worth a try.

  7. Hi Paul
    I’m Jean-Louis, retired computer engineer, retired socialist too btw, and still active atheist for all to see, here in Paris France.
    I’m very impressed with your insight, good sense, and thoroughness with note taking and mgt software – your blog is full of precious gems, thank you !!! no doubt some idea management app sits behind all this, not a real human being (don’t you have an app for taking the Turing test in your cornucopia ….. ? :-{) )
    Well, may I ask you for some advice before I get started with my own project, if you’d be so kind as to read on and gratify me with a quick answer I could put to good use ? I DO need some kind of mini-Wiki or note organizer, BUT for a particular purpose. Here’s what it is:
    Over the years, I’ve collected about 2,000 mostly handwritten letters from before the email era (1970s and 80s), plus zillions of subsequent emails, produced by 2 family members who’ve written to each other almost daily for several decades, and I would like to create a thesaurus of the best excerpts from that mountain of words, covering numerous topics ranging from family affairs to literature to politics to academia to daily life, etc….. I imagine there will be about a dozen main topics at the most, plus a few hundred tag words (like names of actual people and places, plus detailed references which won’t qualify as “major topics”, such as: money, love, death, travel, wedding, …..), and of course D/M/Y dates and author (A or B) of the letters. Each excerpt which is fit to go into the database will thus be qualified by these identifiers/attributes. Beyond this, I’ll need some hyperlink facility to chain discussions spanning multiple letters, some kind of (hierarchical ?) structure to identify and concatenate multiple excerpts belonging to the same original letter (maybe just the obvious author/date ID). A “cloning” facility would be nice, in order to allow for a reshuffling of texts subsets into one or more “sideways” views. And last but not least, I imagine at some point I’d like to daisy-chain and print some of these re-assembled sets in the traditional, linear fashion, with some/all hyperlinks “developed” or “collapsed” at will.
    In view of your vast experience with MyInfo, Connected Text, Ultra Recall and the like, and my total ignorance and unwillingness to get involved in any scripting or actual wiki development, which product do you think I should go with, and what recommendations or caveats would you have for me, provided this message hasn’t yet exceeded your interest for my own personal endeavours.
    Thank you so much for your help.
    Jean-Louis Tancerman
    reply to: harriet@wanadoo.fr

    • Dear Jean-Louis
      This is a large task you have set yourself. But no doubt you will find it interesting. All those hand written notes will be time consuming to transcribe, OCR doesn’t usually do very well with handwriting. There is a program which is supposed to be able to transcribe handwriting and that is CharacTell, I haven’t had occasion to use it myself but a friend of mine said it was good.

      As to the program you could use for your note database, ConnectedText would seem like a good fit to your needs but be warned it is a steep learning curve and a difficult program to use until you get used to it. As a computer engineer you should be able to cope with it. Try downloading the documentation it is a .CHM file which is just the Welcome Project exported to a .CHM file. In ConnectedText each note database is called a project. The Welcome Project is a ConnectedText note database which is installed by default and serves as the documentation.

      Pages are written in a ‘source code’, a markup language which is what you edit when you are composing a page. When you switch back to ‘view’ mode then the page is rendered and all the markup language is interpreted, the commands are executed and you see the result. Pages are also rendered whenever they are viewed, i.e. when you follow a link to another page the page is rendered and then shown. It’s usually so fast that you don’t notice it.

      The reason for choosing ConnectedText over a hierarchical note taking program is firstly your need to ‘chain’ letters together, links are easy to create in ConnectedText. Next you can place each letter in multiple categories, categories themselves can be placed in categories making them sub-categories. As for the need to clone letters or parts of letters, ConnectedText has a facility called ‘inclusion’, a topic may be included in another topic (but this includes the whole topic). Inclusion may also be applied to ‘named blocks’, a block of text within a topic may be given a name, several blocks from different topics may be given the same name,when the command to include that block name is rendered then all the blocks with that name are gathered together and included in the topic.

      You mentioned your need for reshuffling of texts subsets into one or more “sideways” views, I also need different views of subsets of my data, they are ‘outlines’, in ConnectedText you can have as many outlines as you need but you can only have one of them open at any one time, the one I have open at the moment is the subset for my blog, all the other things which are irrelevant to the blog are absent from this view. Each outline is a hierarchical tree containing links to topics within the database and they can be re-arranged just like any outlining program.

      As for printing these subsets, well ConnectedText can only print one topic at a time, but there is no limit to the size of a topic and that topic could include the entire subset of topics you want to print in the exact order you want to print them in. But you could also export a filtered subset of topics to either HTML or CHM as a sort of E-book. The Welcome.chm file is just an export of the Welcome Project.

      If it seems that I am biased towards ConnectedText there is a good reason for that, I am. Yes MyInfo or Ultra Recall will roughly do what you want and they will be easier to use but you will have to make compromises, you will have to alter the way you organise your data to suit the program. Alternatively ConnectedText is a blank slate, you alter the way the program handles your data to suit yourself, there are few constraints and multiple ways of achieving the same result. But some people can find a blank slate intimidating and ConnectedText is more difficult to learn.

      I hope this helps.

      Regards

      Paul J. Miller

  8. What note taking program do you use nowadays? I have used MyInfo for years, but I am attracted to the features you talk about in your review of Ultra Recall. Thanks for your time and your great reviews.

    • At the moment I have several note taking programs on my machine, but the ones I use are MyInfo and ConnectedText, but mainly ConnectedText. Ultra Recall does have some technical advantages over MyInfo but they are pretty similar, MyInfo has a better user interface and is easier to use and so I think it wins if you compare the two IMHO. Petko will be bringing out MyInfo 7 at some point, although there doesn’t seem to be a time scale at the moment the alpha version is being tested out at Milenix.

      ConnectedText is much more powerful than either of them but very different.

      Recently my laptop was destroyed by being updated to Windows 10 (which mis-identified the video hardware and installed the wrong drivers) so I had to purchase a new laptop. My new laptop has a very high resolution screen which causes some problems with many programs. Ultra Recall and ConnectedText did suffer some scaling issues but MyInfo scaled perfectly to the new screen. Which is why I uninstalled Ultra Recall, it is now no longer on either of my machines.

      I have kept on using ConnectedText despite the scaling issues simply because it is so powerful and so useful, but it would be better if the developer could sort out the issues with high DPI screens, I’m fed up with the microscopic icons in the toolbar and having half the tiltles sliced off. I believe he is working on the problem.

      Hope this helps.

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