A Review of Right Note

Right Note by Bauer Apps is easy to use and to understand. It has many useful extra features than a basic two pane outliner/note taker but it also has some limitations which mean that it won’t be taking the prize for the best note-taking program. The interface is a bit cluttered by default but the superfluous icons can be turned off in the options dialog.

I love the many different types of note and the colourful interface and it nearly has a decent tagging system, if it had notes which could be cloned and appear in many places in the tree, a decent calendar with repeating reminders and if it supported Universal Links properly then this would be my ideal note taking application. But it does not have these features and it is unlikely to get any of these features any time soon.

Verdict = Simple to use but not as powerful as some. Potential to be very good and much more useful if a few things were changed. However sometimes an easy to use simple program is all that you need.

40 out of 60

 

1. Connectivity = 5

Right note can have links in its articles which can point to another note in the same Right Note file or to a URL, a file, a folder or a Universal Link. However it provides no mechanism for allowing other programs to use universal links into a Right Note notebase.

So there is only partial support for Universal Links (outgoing). I suspect the support of incoming universal links requires a lot more programming work than outgoing links.

Links are coloured blue with an underline but you cannot just single click on them to follow the link, you have to either double click or press control and then click.

Although a note cannot have attachments there is an ‘attachment’ note type which embeds a file in the notebase and a ‘link’ type note which can point to a file on the local disk (just one file for each attachment/link note). For some types of file a preview of the contents of the file appears in the note. I suppose if you wanted to attach a number of files to one note you would just attach a list of attachment or link type notes as children of that note.

 

2. Classification = 7

The tagging system isn’t hierarchical, just a flat list. But it does have the useful feature that you can refine the search by selecting more Tags, this just does a simple AND between the selected Tags (this AND that) which is all you want most of the time. When you have selected a tag in the Tags panel you can then click on extra tags in the top of the search panel, if you click on another Tag in the tags panel then it will be the only tag selected.

With other programs like Ultra Recall, MyInfo and ConnectedText the searches can be much more sophisticated with combinations of AND, OR, NOT & brackets or a tree to define the order of combination, and in InfoQube you can write an SQL expression to select your results, oh joy!  These complex searches are sometimes nice to have but mostly you just want to locate something by remembering a few salient features of that item and searching for those tags.

The tagging system in Right Note is certainly useful enough for day to day use.

Right Note has many types of note and this might be used to classify information. Also some of the notes may be designated as ‘Folders’. A note designated as being a ‘Folder’ is just the same as any other note except that you can view a list of Folders in a hierarchical tree of their own. It is another option for the classification of information.

As far as classification goes Right Note is just a standard two pane outliner with a flat tagging system. If that is all you need then this program is great but it does not have some of the extra things which make a program much more useful. There is no arbitrary meta-data, the only meta-data a note can have is a list of tags. Again this may not be as much of a limitation as it might at first seem because the meta data can be put in the main body of the note. This approach allows you to search for the meta data but does not allow numeric comparisons (price < 42) only text searches.  Arbitrary meta-data would be nice but I don’t think that will come any time soon either.

The main limitation I find with Right Note is that the trees and outlines are strict hierarchies, an item can only have one parent and this limits the usefulness of the program. As trees get bigger it becomes harder to find one unique place where a note should be placed. As trees get bigger it becomes more likely that there will be several places in the tree which are appropriate for any given note, if the structure of the tree is used to classify notes then you have to choose what you think is the most important category from all the possible categories that the note might fit into. However if the program has transclusion (cloned notes) then the note can be placed in all the appropriate places at the same time. This is not the case with Right Note, a note can only be in one place in the tree.

The ability to have an outline tree as a type of note is also good but not as useful as it might first appear, having a tree as a note type is just the same as placing that same tree as a child of the note, in that way having a tree as a note type is equivalent to a hoist.

All the trees in Right Note suffer from the same restriction, they are strict hierarchies. Notes are restricted to one parent per item and entries can only appear once in a tree. This makes them trees as opposed to directed graphs.

Directed graphs are more useful especially for larger notebases.

 

3. Text Layout and Formatting = 9

The editing facilities of Right Note are excellent, the developer has done a really good job of crafting comfortable well designed text editors for this program. Unicode characters are supported in most of the editors and in the trees.

There are many different note types and some of the names aren’t as self explanatory as they could be, two of the editors are nearly identical and this could be confusing to new users. Yes I know they are based on two different GUI tools but ordinary users don’t want to know about the internal workings of the program they are more interested in editing text.

The available types of note are :-

  • Memo (Plain Text)
  • RichEdit (Word Processor)
  • RichView (Word Processor)
  • Syntax Highlighter (Source Code)
  • Spreadsheet
  • Webpage
  • Evernote
  • Attachment
  • Link
  • Outline
  • Task List

Mostly the rich diversity of note types is a good thing but it has a disadvantage. For instance if you want to store a simple piece of text you can choose either Memo, RichView, RichEdit, Syntax Highlighter or Evernote. Two of these are equivalent (RichView and RichEdit) so one of the pair should be retired and the other re-named, there is little point in having both.

A Memo note is plain text with no formatting.

A Syntax Highlighter note is plain text with no formatting but with syntax highlighting for the language you declare the source code to be in. You set which programming language the note is in by selecting it in a drop down box in the toolbar of the editor, much the same as the text styles in the RichView editor. One nice touch is a thumbnail of your entire note in the top right hand corner of the editor pane, this can be used to scroll to a place of interest in the text by click and drag.

The program supports syntax highlighting for about fifty different programming languages plus ‘Text’, a brief experiment seemed to show there is no highlighting for ‘Text’ but you do have the scrollable thumbnail which could have some advantages for long texts.

The Syntax Highlighter note type ought to have been called the Source Code note type which would be a better representation of it’s purpose in my opinion.

An Evernote type note has all the same characteristics and formatting options as in the Evernote program but in order to use this type of note you must sign up to an Evernote account. All the pages which are of the Evernote type will get synchronised to your Evernote account whenever you go on-line.

RichView and RichEdit note types are both variations on the Rich Text Format but with slightly different capabilities. They are for formatted text. The names are not as well thought out as they could have been in my opinion. Something suggestive of a word processor document would have been better or just RichText.

RichView can contain tables and has better support for hyperlinks and images. This review is being written in a RichView note.

RichEdit supports OLE embedding but cannot contain tables.

I think it was a mistake to have two different types of note with such similar capabilities. This just causes confusion for users. Basically unless you want to embed a file form another program as an OLE object then you can just forget about the RichEdit note type. As a test I tried embedding a small Excel spreadsheet into a RichEdit note and it failed to display (perhaps I was doing something wrong).

The RichView editor has default styles for text and paragraphs which can be easily applied to text so you can set up a customised ‘look’ for the documents and have them all look the same with little effort. Setting up the styles is easy but the paragraph styles could appear a little intimidating until you become familiar with the dialog box, it is a little complex. The option for setting up the styles for both the text and paragraph styles appears in the drop down list at the end of the list.

Apart from these Right Note has spreadsheets as notes. I think this is great! I don’t know about everyone else but most of my use of spreadsheets is as a table. I would say that about three quarters of my spreadsheets have little or no calculations at all, the grid of data is what is useful about it. That and being able to set the background colours, borders and format of cells.

Right_Note_Review_2

A spreadsheet as a note in Right Note

Having spreadsheet type notes is much more useful than it might seem at first. Each of these spreadsheet notes is a fully functional spreadsheet. You can even use them to do calculations with numbers! 🙂  The Spreadsheet note type supports a large number of functions for use in formulas. These spreadsheets are probably suitable for small scale scientific and business number crunching.

Right Note also has outlines and task lists as note types, so you can have an outline within an outline. This may seem innovative but it isn’t quite as innovative as it might seem, it is just a hoist. If you have an outline within an outline this is equivalent to having that outline attached as the child of the parent note and when you are within the child outline it is just the same as if you had hoisted the parent of that outline.

The variation on this theme is the task list which is just the same as the outline note except that it has check-boxes. The addition of check-boxes is quite useful.

There is also a Webpage note type into which you can download and store the contents of a web page and this page is stored as a local copy so you can still view it even if the page on the web is changed or deleted, your local copy remains untouched. It is possible to edit these stored web pages.

This is all very well but special items like mathematical formulas in TeX are not rendered correctly. But it should be able to cope with ordinary web pages that have nothing but text and pictures.

It should be noted that if the web page was generated by a PHP script then it is only the HTML output from the script which is stored so some web pages may not work the same as the ‘live’ version but this same restriction would apply to all systems which store local copies of web pages.

There are attachment notes and link notes, an attachment note may be used to copy a file into the Right Note notebase. The file is stored within the Right Note file. A link note is almost the same except that the file is not stored in the Right Note notebase, the note contains a link to that file on the local file system.

 

4. A sense of Time = 2

There is a very rudimentary reminder system but no repeating reminders and no calendar.

This program allows you to set a reminder on a note, this can be a simple reminder with no date or time or it can have a date and time. If it has a date and time and if the program is running at that date and time then it will bring up a reminder dialog box.  If not then it will bring up the reminder next time you run the program after the date and time.

There is also a ‘Journaling’ mode, if you have ‘Journaling’ switched on then the default title for all new notes is the time and date of the note’s creation. This might be OK for keeping a diary.

 

5. Ease of use = 8

This program is simple and easy to use. Most things in the user interface are where you would expect to find them and most things work as you would expect them to work.

There are keyboard shortcuts for moving notes in the tree and dragging the notes around with the mouse works as you would expect.

There is a limited amount of customisability of the GUI, you can set skins (themes), some of the colours and the font used in the tree. That’s about it. The newer skins are colourful and most of them are good.

You can configure the keyboard shortcuts but you can’t change any of the toolbars.

Apart from having a couple of note types which do the same thing and might cause confusion about which one to use it is a good user interface.

By default there are some superfluous icons in the trees indicating the type of each note, they take up screen space without any clear benefit but they are easy to switch off in the options.

 

6. Visual Appeal = 9

Right Note has a pretty interface. It is colourful and there are several themes to choose from. The default font for the tree and tabs can be set. The user interface is fairly configurable but it is not the most configurable interface I have seen.

Right_Note_Review

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There are a lot of icons with the program which can be used in the program and there is an even larger collection of icons which can be downloaded for free from the Bauer Apps website, this is a single file in the format used by Right Note for it’s icon database. The file is free but is useless to other applications.

These icons can be placed before note titles and assigned to tags and notebooks, but beware, having too many icons on-screen at once can make the display appear too busy and cluttered.

 

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Note Taking Software, back to basics.

There are many note taking programs but there are none which are ideal in my opinion. Many of them do a lot more things that I don’t need and don’t do all the things which I do need. A couple of them do come tantalisingly close to my ideal.

So what do I actually need from a note taking program. Let’s build it up from basics.

I like things to be simple!

What is the simplest note taking system?

A pencil and paper!

But a pencil and paper is not connected, you can’t search a large paper document easily. Organising and re-organising paper documents is difficult even if you have scissors and glue.

It would be more useful if it were electronic and on a computer.

So what is the simplest note taking system on a computer ?

Plain text files!

This is true, but having lots of plain text files scattered about on a hard disk can also be frustrating.

“I’m sure I had that information in a text file somewhere, if only I could remember what it was called and what folder it was in, dammit!”

There are problems with organising and re-organising a body of information which is contained in plain text files. What is needed is a way of structuring them and indexing their contents so they can be searched as a whole.

Keeping all your notes together is a good idea. Being able to add structure to them so that they can be grouped by their salient features is a good idea. Being able to explicitly express the salient features of a note (tags & metadata) is a good idea. Having a mechanism whereby one note can refer to another note (or indeed something outside the program) is a good idea. That is why note taking programs are a good idea.

With a note taking program you can keep all your notes in one place, link them together and define a logical structure, add meta-data to express the significant features of the data, link to other files or websites and search for things which you want to find.

Everything over and above this is either the icing on the cake or superfluous and unnecessary depending on your point of view.

Of course there are programs which provide a myriad of extra facilities and functions but if they fail to provide these basic facilities then they still fall short.

All the extra functions do is obfuscate the basic functionality. I am not saying that programs should not offer extended functionality but if the basic functionality ends up hidden in a sub-menu of a sub menu or in a context menu somewhere obscure then that is a bad thing.

The basic and most often used functions should be in obvious places, the extra functionality can be hidden in obscure places. The developers task is to decide which functions are the most often used and which ones get used once in a blue moon by just a few people.

If a program tries to be all things to all people then what usually happens is the user interface becomes complicated in one way or another.

 

Organisation

Almost all note taking programs organise their notes in either a tree or a directed graph. Most of the other types of organisation are either trees or directed graphs if you look at their topology.

A wiki might be thought of as a free form structure but the notes are connected by links and thus it is actually a directed graph. A mind map might be thought of as different from an outline but they are both trees, they are just displayed differently.

Directed graphs are more useful than trees.

Trees have the problem that as they get bigger it becomes more difficult to place nodes within them, that is, it becomes more difficult to find a single place which is correct for that node. There are usually several places where it could plausibly fit. That is why directed graphs are more useful.

For example, if a node could fit in the tree under the project it is part of or under the person whose responsibility it is or under the problem which the project is supposed to address then with a tree you have to select which is the most important feature of the node. This leads to difficulty in finding the node later when you have forgotten what your original decision was. It also leads to inconsistency of placement.

With a directed graph you can put the node in all the appropriate places simultaneously. If a node in a tree can have more than one parent then that tree is a directed graph. If you can ‘clone’ a node so that it appears more than once in a tree then that tree is really a directed graph.

It should be noted that a clone is not a copy, it is the same node which appears in more than one place.

 

Tags

Tagging nodes to indicate properties of the node is a necessary feature of a note taking system in my opinion. Well thought out tags are very useful.

Hierarchical tagging systems are in my opinion most useful, but few note taking programs have hierarchical tagging systems. Ideally the use of a tag should also imply the node having the parent tag as well (inheritance) i.e. if the node is tagged as belonging to this electronics project then it should also be tagged with the parent tag of ‘electronics’ and if electronics is the descendant of another tag then it should inherit that one too, recursively right back to the root of the tree.

One caveat with this is that when selecting the tags to apply to a node the list should be just a flat list of all the tags in alphabetical order, i.e. the tree should be flattened out.

Tagging systems can become a mess if the user doesn’t think about what the significant features of their data are. If the collection of tags just develops ad-hoc then they will probably be inconsistent with each other and this can lead to confusion.

A tagging system is even more useful if on can refine a search by selecting from a list of tags held by the results of the current search. Similar to the system used by the website ‘Del.icio.us’ before it was discontinued to make way for Pinboard’s subscription service. One alternative to this is if you can build a query using tags combined with AND, OR, NOT and brackets.

Meta-data is just another form of tagging, the meta-data expresses something about the node and as such it should be able to be searched and nodes should be able to be grouped on properties expressed in the meta-data.

One unhelpful characteristic of many programs is that their meta-data is common to all nodes. For example, let us suppose I have a notebase in which I have some notes on a selection of vacuum cleaners in order to choose which one to buy. One of the pieces of meta-data I might define for those nodes is ‘price’ and give each vacuum cleaner a number which represents it’s price. In a well designed note taking program that ‘price’ meta-data would only exist for those items I had assigned it to. In a badly designed note taking program all nodes in the notebase would now have a ‘price’ even where it is inappropriate. This would make the list of meta-data extremely long for every node because every node has an entry for every piece of meta-data defined for any node in the entire notebase.

Tags are all that is really necessary, other meta-data can be placed in the text of the node in a minimalist system.

 

Links

Linking notes together makes them much more useful. The information in one node can refer to information in another node and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The basic link is like a hypertext link and occurs in the text of a node, it refers to another node. Clicking on the link takes you to the node which the link points to. This basic link is all that is necessary in a note taking system. Just with this type of basic link you can build a wiki.

There are usually other types of link in a system, especially if it is structured as a tree or graph. The structure of the tree implies parent/child links and this is used to arrange the nodes on the screen.

In my opinion there also needs to be links where the information in one node needs to cite or refer to the information in another node. There needs to be a mechanism whereby a node can list other nodes which provide supporting or related information. These are sometimes called ‘see also’ or ‘related items’ or ‘reference’.

 

Text

The function of a note taking system is to hold notes, i.e. information. This can be plain text but the necessity of including links to other nodes implies something more than just plain text. And a bit of formatting is quite nice too.

The inclusion of pictures and diagrams is really useful as well. There is an old saying that ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, pictures can aid comprehension and understanding of the information. The inclusion of pictures in the text of a node although not strictly necessary is a good feature to have.

Tables are also quite useful.

 

Conclusions

So my ideal note taking program would not have a lot of extra features which I don’t use but would include the all the basic functionality described in this article.

What would such a program look like?

It would have a directed graph structure presented as either a tree (or many trees) or preferably as a network (map). Each node could appear many times in the network/tree as a clone of the same node.

If the structure is presented as a map then the map should centre on the node which has the focus and if the user moves to a new node then the map should be re-drawn with the new node as the centre of the map, this allows you to see the node of interest ‘centre stage’ whilst still being able to see it’s context.

If displayed as a tree then it would be able to ‘Hoist’ a node so that it becomes the centre of attention and would be able to expand/collapse branches of the directed graph/tree.

Each node would be associated with a pane of text which could contain pictures, diagrams, tables and links to other nodes. Links should be opened by a simple single click just like a web browser. In addition each node would be associated with a list of ‘related’ nodes and/or a list of files associated with that node each of which could be opened by clicking on the entry in the list. Ideally the text pane should be floating so that it can be placed on a second monitor.

There would be a hierarchical tagging system with inheritance which could be searched by clicking on the tag in the tag tree but in which the search could be refined by clicking on further tags narrowing down the selection each time, similar to the system used by the ‘Del.icio.us’ website.

The text of each node would be indexed so that full text searches can be carried out quickly. In addition complex searches would be possible by building search criteria in a ‘search table’ each row having columns defining what is being searched for, what is being searched (node text, tags, meta-data etc.), what the conditions are (greater than or equal to, less than, equal to, text contains, matches wildcard etc.) and what the relationship is to the other search criteria (AND, OR), maybe a tree structure would be more useful here instead of brackets. Furthermore these complex searches should be able to be saved for later re-use. This does not mean that a quick and simple search should not be available as well.

There are a few (very few) programs which come close but there isn’t yet a program which ticks all the boxes for me.

This is a bit more complicated than a simple pencil and paper but I think it would be a lot more useful.

 

InfoQube followup

InfoQube is a complicated program with many capabilities but it is difficult for a new user to understand.

It is very easy for a new user to feel lost, partly this is due to not knowing where everything is but its because the program is capable of doing so many different things, when faced with so many possibilities a new user might think “What the F*&@ should I do now ?”, option paralysis is a well known phenomenon in psychology.

InfoQube is almost completely opposite to Microsoft OneNote, with OneNote the user interface is superbly designed to help the new user and to make the operation of the program obvious.  But the program itself sucks, many of its capabilities are superficial and gimmicky.  They are included just so that the advertising department can tick the box saying it has that capability.  If you use OneNote for any serious work then you come up against its limitations very quickly.  It is a typical product of Microsoft ‘focus groups’ which tend to make things so they are easy for the new user and difficult or impossible for the power user.

InfoQube on the other hand does not have a user interface which is simple and intuitive.  The user interface is very dense.  What do I mean by dense ?  It is packed with sub menus, drop downs and context menus and some of the sub menus have sub menus.  This can be confusing for a new user who doesn’t know where everything is.

There is a lot of depth to this program, but it can be intimidating to a new user. I am still learning and so I am sort of a new user but I don’t feel lost anymore. I was helped a lot by finding the option to customise menus and toolbars and experimenting with what I could and couldn’t move and/or get rid of.

Toolbars can have icons taken out of them and other icons put into them. New toolbars can be defined. The same is true of menus, the menus themselves are fixed but the contents of each menu can be changed. There are a few things in the menus which are fixed and you have to work around these entries but you can almost completely re-arrange everything else.

I was not aware how customisable InfoQube was until I went looking for the command to set up keyboard shortcuts.  In the sub menu there was an entry called ‘Customize’ (pardon the Americanism but that’s the way its spelled in the program).  This is a key feature and shouldn’t be hidden away in a sub menu.  Once I found out what it was capable of I dragged it up one level onto the ‘Tools’ menu between ‘Help’ and ‘Options …’ where I would have expected to find it in the first place.

I then butchered the interface until I was comfortable with it.

I am now using the cut down interface.  I have deleted many of the capabilities of the program, the things I am not interested in.

  • Like Pivot Tables and Pivot charts, since Microsoft Office is no longer installed on my system I can’t use these anyway.
  • Like sending e-mail to InfoQube, someday I may want the capability to send information to my InfoQube database from anywhere or for others to do so but for now I’m not interested.
  • Like Gantt Charts, maybe one day I will have to manage a project and if that is the case then I will be grateful for this capability but for now its something I don’t need.

These facilities are still there, they have just been deleted from the user interface.  If they are ever needed then they could easily be re-introduced.

Without all the stuff I don’t need and with the stuff I do need re-arranged I have a sensible manageable, comprehensible (to me) interface.  Actually I haven’t taken that much out, but in the process of re-arranging things I became much more familiar with where things are.  I have assigned a new set of keyboard shortcuts so that the operations which are common to the other programs I use are now in familiar locations where my fingers can find them on their own without too much thought.

So, what have I got left ?

I have a two pane organiser similar in operation to MyInfo with the columns in the left hand pane similar to Myinfo but it has the dockable panes which can be detached and placed on the other monitor just like Ultra Recall and it has a form of hierarchical tagging similar to ConnectedText.  It has the ability to assign different meta-data to different items like Ultra Recall and the capability to have saved searches like the $ASK command in ConnectedText (except the results appear in a table (grid) not on a page).

The hierarchical tagging is not native to InfoQube but it shows the flexibility of the program that something like this is possible with only the things which are already built in.

I am aware that I am not using InfoQube to it’s full potential but the question is, do I need to use the program to it’s full potential ?  If it does what I need then that is enough and the extra capabilities are there if I ever need to use them.  I didn’t use ConnectedText to it’s full potential either.  So what!  If InfoQube does become my main note taking program then my usage of other parts of the program would possibly expand over time.

If only the linking of pages (placing a link on a page which links to another page) was as good as ConnectedText then I could rebuild my ConnectedText wiki within InfoQube.

Moving lots of data over to InfoQube has highlighted the fact that the import facilities of InfoQube are very rudimentary unless you are importing from EccoPro or Evernote.

This is the reason I have not done a load test on InfoQube, importing a couple of thousand text files is only practical if it can be automated.  I suspect InfoQube would perform rather well in such a test but I cannot say that for certain until I do the test.  If I drag and drop files to the left Pane then all I get is links to the files on disk, the file contents aren’t inserted into the database.

The pace of development of InfoQube is quite rapid and things have changed (for the better) since my review.  I look forward to seeing what new developments are coming.  If there are substantive changes then it may be worth doing a second review.

Software rental brought to you by Microsoft !

I have recently been having problems with my laptop computer.

The nature of these problems is not relevant to this discussion but it did necessitate what Microsoft call a ‘Reset’ of the PC.  I opted to keep all my personal files.  I thought I could re-install the applications I had bought and paid for from Microsoft after all it was the same PC they had originally been installed on and I had bought a valid license key for that computer right !

Wrong !  Microsoft have stopped re-activation of license keys for previous versions of Office software.  This was a copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2010 which I had been forced to buy after Microsoft destroyed my previous laptop with the disastrous Windows 10 upgrade.  I bought this software in September 2016 so I have had just over 18 months use out of it and now Microsoft refuse to re-activate the license key.

For many years Office has been a very profitable product for Microsoft.

Software has different characteristics to normal products, the development costs are high but the production costs are low.  This means that for a small company who aren’t selling very many copies the development costs are a large percentage of the profit for each copy sold but for a large company who are selling a large number of copies the development costs become tiny compared to the profit for every copy sold, particularly at the excessive prices that Microsoft charge.

This is what destroys many small software companies.  However Microsoft are not a small company and they have sold many copies of Office and looking at the differences between Office 2010 and Office 2013 they have done little or no development in those three years.  But now they have become even more greedy than they were previously.

They have moved their business model over to ‘SaaS’ or ‘Software as a Sentence‘.  So they have stopped the service to activate the license key by telephone which means that a license key which needs activation can be activated just once online.  If it has already been activated then it can no longer be re-activated.  They are trying to kill off older versions of Office.  They are trying to force everyone onto the rental version, Microsoft Office 365 because it generates a steady revenue stream for Microsoft.

Be warned, if you have a copy of Microsoft Office previous to Office 365 installed on your machine do not un-install it unless you really mean to get rid of it completely because you won’t ever be able to re-activate it on any computer ever again, not even the one on which it was originally installed!

So what alternatives are there for people who don’t like being milked by Microsoft.

Microsoft Office Professional 2010 consists of Word, Excel, OneNote, Power Point, Publisher, Access and Outlook.

Free Software

Mozilla Thunderbird is a worthy replacement for Microsoft Outlook.  I don’t think there is another program either commercial software or free software that can beat it.

Libre Office Calc can do almost all the things Excel can do but with a quaint old fashioned looking interface.

Libre Office Impress can do almost all the things Power Point can do but again it has an old fashioned looking interface.

Libre Office Base is a very different animal to Access, the user interface is not as good but the capabilities of the database exceed those of access.  The back end of Base is the HyperSQL database.  The user interface is different to Access and will take some getting used to.

Libre Office Draw is not a suitable replacement for Publisher.  It is quite awkward to use, it can produce good documents but it takes a lot more work than in Publisher.  Inkscape however is a lot more capable and although the user interface is not as intuitive as it could be you do get used to it with experience.  If you want a full desktop publishing solution then Scribus is far more capable than Publisher ever was.

OneNote was never a very good solution to note taking, it has a nice graphical user interface that is quite intuitive and it has a lot of features but many of those features were only added to tick boxes in the advertising feature list and they were added with no consideration for how they would be used.  For example OneNote has a tagging system but it is designed in such a way that if you have more than about 30 or 40 tags then it starts to become unusable.

There are many suitable replacements for OneNote both commercial and free.  The free programs aren’t quite as good for note taking as the commercial programs and none of them is similar to OneNote, most of them are similar to two pane outliners.  Treesheets however is quite novel, it is like a spreadsheet for text. Among the free solutions are Treesheets, KeepNote, SEO Notes and Cherry Tree.

Libre Office Writer is not a suitable replacement for Microsoft Word for one simple reason, it doesn’t do Outlining.  The absence of this crucial feature in Writer is what is holding Libre Office back from becoming the Office suite of choice for business and academia.

Outlining is a good way of analysing a problem, divide and conquer, keep on dividing the problem into simpler pieces until the pieces are easy to do.  Businesspeople want to organise documents in an outline, Lawyers want to organise case notes in an outline, students want to organise assignments in an outline.   It is one of the basic tools which helps people to put their ideas into a document and arrange them into a coherent whole.

Microsoft Word has a very good, well designed and easy to use outlining mode and once you have finished organising your document you can go back to the normal mode and concentrate on the formatting and presentation of your document.  But at any time you can switch back to the outline mode and re-organise/re-arrange things.  As an outliner Word is hard to beat.

The outlining feature has been requested many times on the Libre Office forums but the developers at Libre Office say “well we have Navigator and it does the same thing”, no it doesn’t.  Navigator was designed to move about documents and find things, it is not an outliner, it does some of the things outliners do but it is not a fully functional outliner.

Unfortunately if you want to stick with free software you will need a separate outlining program and word processor.  So unless the outliner has very good formatting and printing you will need both programs and there will be problems with re-organising things unless you maintain two versions of your document.

UV Outline is a very good free outliner and The Guide is also quite good.

Commercial Programs

If you are willing to pay a little money then the available options become a lot more numerous.  None of the programs here are rental versions.  When you pay you actually get the program, you don’t have to keep on paying for it over and over again.

For Office suites there is SoftMaker Office, it is quite expensive but at least you get the software indefinitely and don’t have to pay rent (although there is a rental version of the Office Suite as well).  I haven’t used SoftMaker Office so I cannot comment on its performance or features and it is pretty pricey.

For something a little more affordable Ability Office is quite good and this is one I have got.

Ability Office Professional consists of a database, a paint program, a presentation program, a spreadsheet and a word processor.  They claim to be Microsoft compatible and to be able to load and save files in Microsoft format and this is largely true apart from the database where it can load the tables and queries from your Access files but not the forms.

The word processor ‘Ability Write’ doesn’t do outlines, it doesn’t even have anything as functional as Libre Office Write’s Navigator, but as a basic word processor it is OK.

Ability office has some nice features like being able to link data from one document to another so you can have numbers in a table in your Writer document which come from the spreadsheet and this link can be both ways so you can change figures in the table and it changes the numbers in the spreadsheet.  The same links can exist between the database and the spreadsheet and between the database and the word processor.

You can also set up Ability Office to have conventional toolbars and menus and get rid of the ribbons.

The lack of an outliner in Ability Office Writer is a big limitation but there is another solution out there.  Scrivener from Literature and Latte is a word processor designed for authors to write books.  It has a lot of nice features to help in producing long documents and of course it does outlines.  For each project there is a section containing research notes or background information.  If I was writing a long complex document like a thesis then Scrivener would be my word processor of choice for such a task.  If I wanted to produce a quick half page note then Scrivener probably wouldn’t be suitable.  Scrivener is quite reasonably priced.

As far as desktop publishing goes then Serif PagePlus X9 is very good and is also surprisingly suitable for producing long documents.  Serif are heavily promoting their new replacement for PagePlus called Affinity, it looks good on the website but its someting I haven’t tried yet so I can’t give an opinion on how good it actually is.

There are many note taking programs out there for sale.  If you don’t want too many complex facilities and are satisfied with a strict hierarchical structure and no universal links then there is a note taking program called ‘Right Note‘ which is fairly simple to learn and also does spreadsheets as a type of note.

I was going to do a review of Right Note sometime in the future but a preview would be, simple to learn, attractive user interface with plenty of colour and quite useful features but not very sophisticated.  A lightweight!  However sometimes a lightweight program is all you need.

For something with a little more power then you could choose MyInfo or ConnectedText but there are some problems.  The developer of MyInfo is threatening that the next version of MyInfo will be a rental version (Software as a Sentence), if that is true then I won’t be updating my copy.

ConnectedText is very good and very powerful but I cannot honestly recommend it for new users as it is no longer being developed, version 6 (the current version) will be the last.

If you want something with lots of power but a very steep learning curve then you could try InfoQube.  InfoQube is a lot more than just an outlining program or a note taking program but it is a formidable program to learn.  InfoQube also links to and synchronises with Google Calendar.

There is also Ultra Recall, WhizFolders, TreeDBnotes, The Brain and 3D Topicscape. I can’t recommend any of these for a variety of different reasons, but they are all better than Microsoft OneNote.

As far as e-mail programs go Mozilla Thunderbird is as good as any commercial program and it’s free but if you really want to pay some money then Essential PIM Pro is just as good and quite reasonably priced.


There are many alternatives to joining the Microsoft hegemony both free and commercial.  Microsoft are a big company and their attitude seems to be that they can do whatever they want and their users will just have to accept it.

Unfortunately the version of SaaS they have chosen is a very pernicious one, if you stop paying the rent the program stops working completely.  In other words they are holding your documents and files hostage against your future payments.  There are some other companies which have chosen a less aggressive version of SaaS, like The Brain Technologies, if you get TheBrain on a rental deal and stop paying the rent then the program continues to work you just don’t get any upgrades or online services.

So help to promote more diversity in the software marketplace, switch to a non-Microsoft solution today!

#DeleteMicrosoft

Your money would be better in the hands of small software developers than in the hands of a corporate giant that treats their customers with contempt !

 

A Review of InfoQube

Introduction

This program is very complicated. It tries to do everything which Connected Text can do and more but without the markup language so everything is done through a GUI and with tables of properties and context menus but there are so many options and features that it all becomes very messy.

There was once a program called ECCO Pro which arranged data in grids very much like InfoQube. If you are familiar with ECCO Pro and liked it then you will probably like InfoQube, InfoQube is like ECCO Pro on steroids. However in my opinion the program tries too hard to be like ECCO Pro. A personal Wiki (ConnectedText) is a better place for your data in my opinion.

This program has been in development for a long long time, the final version has always been predicted to be six months away. In 2007 it was predicted to be six months away and now in 2018 it is predicted for the last quarter of 2017 but it isn’t here yet, I suspect the website hasn’t been updated and pretty soon it will be six months away yet again. Development seems to be progressing at a steady pace but I suspect that there has been some mission creep because no endpoint has been set. So how will the developer know when it is finished ? I think the answer might be that he will stop when there are no more features to add.

On the InfoQube website it says:-

While in beta, InfoQube is free to download and use. Initial release is planned for Q4 2017.

Each version is fully functional for 90 days, after which time it turns to read-only mode. Simply download an updated version to get another free 90 days. Simple and totally free !

Personal licenses will have a special introductory price of just $49.95

In the meantime … you’ve seen what can be don with InfoQube and you think it has a great potential.

Perhaps you’d like to give us a helping hand … You certainly can:

  • Donate $50 USD or more and you’ll receive a free Personal License ! (PayPal account is not required. All major credit cards are now accepted)
  • Participate in the Community forums
  • Contribute to the Documentation

Spread the word on how great and unique InfoQube is, to friends and in other forums.

Update – 15th May 2018 : The website has been updated, the ridiculous statement about paying for a free license has been removed and the price of a license has been dropped to $30.  And yet again release date is six months from now, but the development of the program is progressing at a fairly brisk pace.  I will wait and see with interest.

The developer is a guy called Pierre Landry from Canada. I don’t know what he means by a ‘Free Personal License’ because if you are ‘donating’ $50 in order to be issued with that free license then surely you are just buying the license for $50 in which case it wasn’t free.

So I tried the program out and decided it was worth further investigation, I made a donation and got a ‘free‘ license. I have tried this program out before but failed to understand it properly, this time however I did get a little further than previously. Try it out if you want but you can expect a very steep learning curve, you practically have to read all the documentation before you start understanding any of it.

InfoQube started out as a program called SQL Notes, this was a GUI front end for the MySQL database but it has developed a lot since then. It is difficult to describe it’s function because it quite literally can do so many different things, it tries to be everything for everyone. Imagine a program written by an enthusiastic and talented programming geek who tries to add every conceivable feature which has been suggested on the forum, all this backed by a very powerful database. Well this is what InfoQube appears to be.

Linus Torvalds once said that Linux developed when his terminal emulator program grew legs. Well InfoQube started out as a GUI front end for SQL and it grew legs and just about everything else, including a kitchen sink!

Score 48 out of 60

Verdict : Very Powerful but not very User Friendly.

 

1. Connectivity = 10

Some programs organise their data as a hierarchical tree. A node can only have one parent. InfoQube is not one of these programs, anything can be connected to anything else, a node can have multiple parents so the organisation in InfoQube is a graph and nodes (or items in InfoQube parlance) can appear multiple times. These multiple appearances are not copies or clones they are the original item appearing in a different place. So InfoQube supports transclusion.

Each item in the database has an area of text associated with it, in InfoQube this is called the HTML pane and every item has one.

The text in this area can contain links and/or the title text of the item can contain or be a link. Each link can link to other items in the database, other grids in the database, URLs, e-mail addresses, folders or files. This program supports universal links, both inwards and outwards. If the link is a universal link then the target program will be opened at the appropriate place. If the link target is an e-mail address then your default e-mail program will be opened on a new mail to the target e-mail address. If the link target is a file then the file will be opened with it’s default application. If the link is to a URL it will be opened in your favourite web browser.

Also you can generate universal links to the items, grids or views within InfoQube. If you right click on an item then go to the ‘Copy’ section of the context menu then one of the items will be ‘Copy items URIs’, if you click on this it will copy a universal link to the item onto the clipboard which can then be pasted into another application. If one of these links is used in another application it will open InfoQube and open the database the link points to and open the item, grid, view the link points to.

Items can have a link in their title so each item in a grid could be a bookmark to a URL. Thus InfoQube could take on the role of storing bookmarks to interesting web pages.

InfoQube can be set up to receive e-mails, it can be set up to poll a mail server and receive e-mails which are then imported as items. This means you can send items to your InfoQube database from a mobile phone or from a computer not running InfoQube and it also means that other people can send you items if you give them the e-mail address.

 

2. Classification = 10

The basic unit of information in InfoQube is an item, items exist independently of anything else. So what I usually refer to as a node is called an item in InfoQube. The basic mechanism for the display of items is the grid, a grid has criteria for the display of items and will display any items which meet those criteria. Items do not ‘belong‘ to grids, you can have an item which appears in no grids.

Normally grids are ‘simple’ which means that any items created in that grid will have a flag in the meta data with the name of the grid and the grid just displays all items with that flag. However you can set up grids with complex criteria for the selection of items (a valid SQL statement which will return TRUE or FALSE) in the ‘grid source’ field. So a grid itself can be a search with the results of the search appearing in the grid.

Having an item which doesn’t appear in any grid is not good and so I wanted a grid which displays all items unconditionally, this proved to be ridiculously easy you just set the ‘grid source’ field to ‘item’ which returns true if the item exists, so it tests each item to see if it exists and so for all items it always returns true.

The program organises items in a different way to most programs. The hierarchical tree is present but it is not the way things are organised, it is there to arrange things in a way which is convenient for humans to look at. Items may have multiple parents so they may appear in many places (even in the same tree) so transclusion is inherent in the system and the hierarchical trees are really graphs.

An item has a title, it also has a page of text associated with it (known as the HTML pane) but an item may have any arbitrary meta data which the user adds. Different items may have different meta data. Usually you create an item in a grid in which case it will have a flag with the grid name automatically (if the grid is simple).

InfoQube has some powerful search facilities using multiple criteria combined with AND plus OR. For number and date fields you can use AND, OR plus the following operators are allowed: <, <=, >=, >, = the powerful search is unsurprising for a program which has the MySQL database engine at its heart.

You can also display a mind map of items from your database but these facilities are rudimentary compared to programs whose primary role is mapping.

https://i2.wp.com/www.sqlnotes.net/drupal5/files/1/images/Gantt8.png

There are various different ways to attach tags or categories to items.

Firstly there are Wikitags, you can add a list of named tags to items which can be searched for and linked to. They can also be used in the selection criteria for a grid.

Secondly you could add meta data to any item which could be a drop down list. The list either has a predefined set of categories or gets populated as things are added to it.

Thirdly you could set up a hierarchical tree (or graph) of ‘categories’ and assign them as parents to the items you want to categorise. Hierarchical tagging is not built in to InfoQube but that is essentially what I have added using the built in facilities of InfoQube.

The way things are organised in InfoQube is very open ended and you can arrange things the way you want them which can be very good if you think about what you need and how to achieve it before you start organising things but a consequence of this is that things can degenerate into a disorganised mess if you don’t know what you want or if the objectives are poorly specified.

InfoQube also does not have the concept of place, things appear wherever it is appropriate for them to appear. InfoQube and ConnectedText are the only two systems which I know of that have this characteristic. Patterns and insights can emerge from the data which were not apparent in the input once the data has been properly classified.

 

3. Text Layout and Formatting = 9

Each item has a ‘HTML pane’ associated with it. This is like a word processor document attached to each item. It is HTML but what you see is a WYSIWYG editor that supports tables, images, diagrams in SVG format. It can hold a copy of a web page or may hold a document formatted in a markup language called ‘Markdown’.

The HTML pane has a competent word processor/editor more than adequate for a note taking program. Links can be embedded in the text and all the usual formatting can be applied.

InfoQube has good facilities for using tables within text on the HTML pane. Cell borders can be dragged about to resize the cells. All the usual formatting can be applied and the cells can contain icons and images as well as text. Just like using a word processor.

 

4. A Sense of Time = 9

Usually this is the section which note taking programs fall down on but not InfoQube which has a very good calendar together with facilities for project management.

https://i2.wp.com/www.sqlnotes.net/drupal5/files/1/images/MonthView.png

The calendar supports reminders and repeating reminders. You can add a date to any item as part of the meta data and these will appear in the calendar. There are some pre-defined dates and durations which can be added to items to tell InfoQube that these items should appear in the ‘Gantt chart’, if you add a Gantt chart to a grid then any items with the relevant meta data will appear in it. Dependencies can be added so that the items will appear in the correct sequence in the Gantt chart.

https://i0.wp.com/www.sqlnotes.net/drupal5/files/1/images/Gantt1.png

‘Gantt charts’ can illustrate a sequence of events and show dependencies, the facilities for project management in InfoQube are not quite as good as Microsoft Project but InfoQube has many other facilities for general information management and organisation which would in my opinion make it far more powerful if it was used to manage a project.

The calendar in InfoQube can be synchronised with the online ‘Google Calendar’ (both ways).

 

5. Ease of Use = 3

Ahh … there had to be a downside didn’t there and to be honest this program has a pretty big downside.

This program has so many features crammed into it that the user interface has become complex and is certainly not intuitive or consistent. There are features hidden away in context menus which if you don’t know about them you might never find them.

Pierre Landry the developer has spent most of his time and effort adding new features to the program but I think there should be some time and effort put into making the user interface simpler and easier, looking at how the features work together. Perhaps take a look at how some other programs have designed their user interfaces. For example the support for universal links has only recently been added and on the forums Pierre was asking users about what the best way to implement the links were not about how they would be used. But the user only sees the user interface, usually they don’t know or care about how it is implemented. It is much better to have a clunky feature with a slick user interface than a slick feature with a clunky user interface.

On the plus side it does get easier with time but you can expect a very steep learning curve, even steeper than for ConnectedText.

You can customise the toolbars and set keyboard shortcuts for any command but the basic problem is that there are so many commands and so many features everything is too densely packed in. This program tries to provide anything and everything you might need but it ends up providing none of them very well. Often it is better to have several programs which are each good at one task than to have one program which tries to do everything.

InfoQube has Visual Basic built in. You can write programs in Visual Basic which have full access to the database. This can be used to customise the database still further but it is a whole new level of complexity to master (especially if you don’t know Visual Basic to start with).

When put under load InfoQube eventually performed very well and did not noticably slow down with a very large database of text files, but importing the files in the first place proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated.  Text files were perhaps not the ideal source of data to import but that was the data I had.  The InfoQube documentation states that it does support database formats like .CSV and Tab delimited files and many other formats but if you try to import a simple text file it wants a specification of how to split it up into fields.  In my case there were no fields I just wanted the text of the file in the HTML pane and the filename as the item name.

 

6. Visual Appeal = 7

The user interface is a pale blue colour with a standard toolbar (not a ribbon). There are no themes and I have not yet found a way to alter the colours of the interface.

Everything else is configurable. Items and grids can have their default colours set but this can be overridden for each item. You can change the font used for each item and include icons in the text.

The various panes which can be displayed can be docked in any part of the main window or they may occupy a floating window of their own. The floating windows can be placed on a second monitor if you have one.

Overall the interface is OK visually but not the best I have seen, and certainly not the worst. However having said that a lot can be done to configure it and reduce the clutter. The icons on the toolbar are configurable so one configuration of InfoQube can look quite different from another.

https://i1.wp.com/www.sqlnotes.net/drupal5/files/1/images/GridColumns1a.png

A review of the ReMarkable tablet

A review of the ReMarkable Tablet

This tablet has had a long and some might say drawn out gestation, the website has built up a lot of expectations that it will be hard to fulfil.  But they are now being shipped.  My overall impression of it is that it is quite good and very useful but maybe not quite as remarkable as the hype on the website would have you believe.

The design

The tablet is 18 cm by 25.7 cm by 0.7 cm but the screen area is 15.6 cm by 21 cm which is just as tall and slightly wider than A5 size.

There are three buttons at the bottom of the screen which are (from left to right) ‘previous page’, ‘home’ and ‘next page’.

One of the claims on the website is that it is almost like writing on paper and the screen is described as being matt.  Well my perception is that the screen is not matt, the screen has a silky sheen which can give slightly troublesome reflections (diffuse reflections) to lighting which is shining down onto the screen from behind the device.

The screen is not black on white but rather dark grey on light grey.  However the contrast is better than many of the e-ink screens I have seen and worked with.  It is comparable with the best e-ink screens but I can’t help but get the impression that the contrast of the screen on the videos on the ReMarkable website might have been artificially enhanced a little.

Writing on the screen is definitely not like writing on paper.  Nevertheless it is much nicer than the slick frictionless writing experience of one of the many smooth glass like tablets.  It is the nicest tablet I have ever written on (but it does nothing to improve your handwriting 🙂 ).  Various drawing tools are available including move, scale, rotate and erase.  Imagine having digital editing tools available for handwritten notes.

It is better to use the tablet in well lit conditions, there is no backlight, e-ink can be viewed from any angle but suffers a lot in dim conditions.

When writing on the tablet there is no perceptible lag, the pen is extremely responsive, the line appears as the pen nib touches the screen, this remains true even when the nib is travelling quite fast.

The tablet can be configured in either right hand (the default) or left hand mode and the writing screen can either be set to landscape or portrait (the default) mode and you can rest your hand on the display whilst writing without any problems however when you are writing near to the bottom of the page it is possible you will accidentally press one of the buttons with your wrist, so far this has happened three times to me and two times the button didn’t respond.  It seems that the software disables the buttons if you have your hand resting on the display but this is not as reliable as it could be.

The Pen

The pen is quite disappointing.  It has the look and feel of a cheap ballpoint pen.  Very light and feels flimsy.

Another problem is that the pen has a round cross section and there is no pen clip so if you put it down on a sloped surface it will roll away.  This could have been avoided with either a pen clip or designing the pen with a triangular cross section (at least for part of its length).

Battery

On the videos on the ReMarkable website they say you can “use it for days without recharging”.  I think that is an optimistic assessment.  If you turn on the WiFi then the battery goes down fairly quickly.  Turning the WiFi off is quite easy once you have found the ‘Device Settings’ screen (tap the rM logo in the top left hand corner of the home screen).  But even so after a full charge and using the tablet without WiFi for an evening’s jottings (several hours intermittent use) the battery was on 75%.  I think the “use it for days without recharging” claim is fairly optimistic.  Perhaps if I were using it as an e-book reader then it would live up to that claim.

The software and hardware

The tablet is running Linux on a relatively old ARM processor but you never see or get to interact with the operating system.

There is 8Gb of storage which the people at ReMarkable reckon will hold about 100 thousand pages, although they don’t say whether that is 100 thousand pages of handwritten notes or 100 thousand pages of PDF documents.  The storage is not expandable.

What this tablet doesn’t have and what would be very useful is some removable storage in the form of a micro SD card slot.  I know there are problems with Linux and removable storage (Linux needs storage to be ‘unmounted’ before it is removed) but there are ways around that.

Another thing which would have been useful and which would have cost nothing to design into the tablet is a hole for a lanyard loop in one corner of the tablet. But it doesn’t have this.

Mostly the software on the tablet runs perfectly but there are one or two rough edges.  The home screen sorts the notebooks so that the most recently used notebook is at the top.  You can sort by other orderings but as soon as you move away from the home screen or switch the device off this setting is forgotten.

Similarly (but even more annoying) when writing on a page you can select which type of pen you want to use and this setting is remembered until you use a different tool or a different page.  When you select the pen tool again it defaults to the pen they call ‘ballpoint’.  It would be better to remember the pen which was last used and default to that.

Apart from these two minor problems the software on the tablet is pretty good.

The software lets you make notebooks or folders, a notebook has a name and consists of one or more pages.  A folder has a name and can hold notebooks, PDF files, ePUB files or other folders.

This is a system of notebooks modelled on physical paper notebooks.  There is no tagging or categorisation so it needs something more to organise the pages, if they could be automatically exported to a PC and made available as compatible bitmaps in a known location in the PC then they could be linked to from other programs and therefore the latest version of the page would be available in the third party program but this is not possible at the current time.

The pages are bitmaps but they are in a strange format, there are one or more ‘layers’ overlaid and a ‘template layer can be displayed as a background.  This makes some advanced drawing techniques possible but makes the raw files incompatible with anything on the PC until they are exported and then they loose their ‘layers’ and the template.

A more compatible format would be much appreciated.

Desktop application and getting files into and out of the device

The tablet can function as an e-reader for PDF files and ePUB files and it works very well in that role.  You can crop the pages of PDF files to eliminate the blank area around the text and this setting is remembered for that file.  This makes reading the files easier.

Bizarrely it cannot display plain text files, this seems a very bad omission to me, there are still an awful lot of files out there in plain ASCII text and it is the simplest format to handle and display… oh well ‽

To get files into and out of the tablet you need to use a cloud storage facility run by the people at ReMarkable and to use it you must create a ReMarkable account which your tablet automatically connects to when it is in range of your WiFi and you don’t have WiFi switched off to save battery life.  All your notes (and PDFs) are uploaded to this cloud storage.

Meanwhile on your desktop PC or on your Android or Apple mobile phone there are apps with which you can log in to your ReMarkable account and all your notes (and PDFs) become available on each device.

The desktop PC app seems a bit rough, it doesn’t handle high DPI screens or multiple monitors well, although it doesn’t fail like many other programs it just has a few window sizing issues.  The desktop app can transfer files to the tablet but it does this through the cloud storage and WiFi.

There is a USB connection on the tablet and when the tablet is connected to a PC by USB then it is possible to open the tablet in a web browser by opening http://10.11.99.1/ and you can see all the files and folders on the device.  You can also drag and drop files onto the web browser screen and they will be copied to the tablet but they will only be copied to the root directory of the tablet no matter which directory is being displayed.  Also the traffic is only one way, pages updated on the tablet cannot be transferred to the PC using the USB connection.

The software for the PC and the web browser connection seem a bit clunky and rough as though they were a hastily set up afterthought.

One of the things I wanted to do with this system is to have the pages of notes available on the PC as bitmaps to be able to paste them (as a link to the original file) in to other note taking programs.  Preferably the bitmap files would be updated whenever the tablet was connected to WiFi but this is not the system they have implemented.

Instead the notes are available only on their application, if you need the notes for an external program then you have to export the pages you want and re-export them each time a page is changed.

Being able to view your notes on a mobile phone is useful.  However the app they provide for Android is not terribly good, you cannot zoom in on your notes so the notes you wrote in a space just bigger than A5 is now scaled to the phone screen size, this could be a problem unless you have good eyesight or you wrote your note with the phone screen size in mind.

One other facility which is overhyped on the ReMarkable website is the ‘Live View’ in which whatever you write on the tablet screen instantly appears on the PC screen.  I can see this would be useful for someone in a business meeting or for a teacher giving a lecture, if the desktop app was running on the PC and the PC had it screen connected to a projector then the students in the lecture theatre could see what the teacher was writing or drawing on the screen of the tablet.  I can think of no other circumstances under which this facility would be useful.

Conclusion

This is a good tablet and has been quite useful so far and I have no doubt it will continue to be useful in the future.

As an e-reader the ReMarkable is good, it would be even better if it supported plain text files.

As a note taking system it is limited by the fact that it tries to imitate paper notebooks so something more is needed to organise the pages.

Worth the money?

Yes .. I think it’s worth it!

P.S.  After having used the ReMarkable Tablet for about ten days the grey sleeve supplied with the tablet has started to delaminate.  The sleeve is soft black plastic on the inside and grey felt on the outside.  I suspect the layer between the inside and outside is cardboard, that is what it feels like now that it has started to come apart.

This means that the outside has become very loose and crumpled, the layers have separated and the sound when you insert the tablet or handle the sleeve suggests that the intermediate layer is cardboard.

I think the sleve is of a very cheap and flimsy construction, if you are thinking of buying a ReMarkable Tablet then save your money and don’t buy the outrageously overpriced sleeve, there are many tablet cases and sleeves available at a much lower price and I think most of them would be better constructed than the ReMarkable sleeve.

 

A different approach to Note Taking

I take a lot of notes. I use them for reference. I use them for speculation about topics of interest. I use them to note down ideas so that I don’t loose them.

Before the digital age I had many paper notebooks and boxes full of index cards.

In those days I used to carry a HP 200-LX computer in my pocket and I thought it was an ideal note taking solution, oh if only I could buy one again, oh the nostalgia …

Whilst I was doing my degree I used to take notes at lectures on paper despite having several digital solutions available. I found that writing on paper helped me recall the material that I was writing much better than if I typed it onto a computer.

The physical act of writing is more visceral, it connects with the consciousness at a more basic level than typing. When typing one can go into autopilot and concentrate on the sequence of letters rather than the meaning of the words, the material gets typed accurately but it leaves little lasting impression in the memory.

But computer solutions are better organised and more compact. If one relies on paper then one accumulates many scraps of paper and old notebooks which are difficult to keep organised or refer to.

What I am looking for it the best of both worlds.  A paper notebook with unlimited pages which can transfer it’s content onto a computer, without many scraps of paper to keep track of, and hopefully without the paper.

Trees generate oxygen for our planet, we should not chop them down to be made into newspapers or chipboard furniture or paper notebooks.

For a long time I have relied on an application called ConnectedText which has served me well for a long time. It is a wiki with many powerful features, but recently I have found it to be less satisfactory than it used to be.

This is because I bought a new laptop and monitor with very high resolution screens.

The advent of high DPI screens and Windows 10 screen scaling has meant that the icons on ConnectedText are now microscopic and the titles of topics are only partially displayed.

The development of ConnectedText has now ceased and so it will probably never be updated and will continue to fall further behind as operating systems change until finally one day some update will break it.

This is particularly annoying for me because some while ago I paid quite a lot of money for perpetual licenses, the developer sold me licenses which would be for life, if there were any new versions of the software I would get an update to my license so I would get the new version for free.

He probably already knew that version 6 would be the last one and I already had a license to version 6.

If the developer has abandoned development it would be better if he were to release the source code as an open source project but I suspect he is keeping it going just to get a little more money from the current version.

I cannot now recommend ConnectedText for anyone wanting a new notetaking solution.

Perhaps it is time for some lateral thinking.

It would be nice if one could have digital paper, a screen on which one could write and draw but which could send these images to a computer and/or recognise the handwriting. Like a paper notebook with unlimited pages, no more stray scraps of paper to keep track of.

There are several possibilities.

One could use an Android tablet.

In my experience handwriting on an Android (a Sony Xperia mobile phone) is awful, the line drops out at random and the screen is slick, there is no friction and this tends to make my handwriting more messy. Also the note taking apps I have tried are cumbersome and awkward to use.

An Android device can also act as an e-reader for PDF and text files.

Despite this Android is not a good solution.

Dr Andus recommends a Boogie board.

I have tried a Boogie board and writing on the screen is much better and it is more responsive than an Android phone. However the Boogie board is not a very good solution for other reasons.

It is a write only solution, this is not what I want.

Once you have written a page or drawn a diagram, once you move onto a new page you can never go back to the previous page. The device stores them but it cannot display them. You can upload the stored pages onto a computer and this is the only way to see one of your previous pages.

The Boogie board is cheap but it is not a solution to the problem.

There is another device by Sharp, the WG-N20 which seems more capable than the Boogie board. It is an electronic notepad. You can look at and edit any stored page, sounds good, but there are problems.

The first big shock you get when buying one is the hidden costs. This is a Japanese import and so the price you see on the Amazon website is not the price you end up paying.

On the Amazon website it boasts free shipping to the UK but the UK Customs and Excise will open your package and impose an import duty on it. The shipping company will then demand this import duty plus an ‘administration charge’ before it will release your parcel for delivery.

The price you end up paying is about one and a half times the advertised price.

The manuals are in Japanese. So is all the text displayed by the machine, on the on screen buttons and in the dialog boxes.

The screen is slick and has little friction but despite that it has a better writing experience than an Android phone or tablet. The screen contrast is not very good, you are writing on a grey screen with slightly darker grey. This tablet needs good lighting to be able to use it adequately and there is no backlight.

The screen is a conventional LCD screen not e-paper. It is not an e-reader, it cannot import or display text files or PDFs.

It is not a good solution.

I have even been into the local Apple store to try out an Apple iPad.

I didn’t get along with it very well, the iPad suffers from a frictionless slick screen and the note taking application seemed to have some fundamental flaws. The iPads are expensive for what you get.

The staff in the Apple store are so full of artificial enthusiasm, everything about their products is wonderful and the fact that the annotations can be in any colour you like more than compensates for the fact that if you insert text the annotations don’t move with the text and are now in the wrong place.

I didn’t agree with the sales person!

I would rather have something in black and white that works properly than something multi coloured that doesn’t.

A random search (a clutching at straws exercise) pointed me at a potentially good solution for note taking which is the reMarkable tablet, but it is not available yet and it is expensive. If the advertising on the website is to be believed then they are trying to produce something which seems to fit almost exactly with what I want.

It is an e-reader, it can display PDF files (and e-pub files but I have no e-pub files), it cannot display plain text files which I think is a bad decision on the part of the designers.

There are an awful lot of legacy text files out there. But to be fair the text files could be printed to PDF files but this will increase their size.

Which brings us to the question of storage. The reMarkable tablet has 8 GB for storing documents and notes and drawings. This may seem like a lot but it’s only 100,000 pages. I can envisage filling that, maybe not very quickly but it is possible that I might be able to fill it up. There is no expansion, no SD card slot and the USB socket seems to be only for charging.

Once the storage is full you will have to either delete something or transfer something to a computer to make room for new items.

It is also big, just a little less than A4 size, 18 cm by 26 cm (7 inches by 10 inches). This is good for reading but definitely not pocket sized. What is needed is a small version which I could put in my pocket, 5 inches by 7 inches would be ideal, I wouldn’t use this as an e-reader just as a notepad.

Although it is not ideal it is far better than any other solution I have yet discovered so I ordered one. At the moment (in June 2017) there is a 33% discount on pre orders but I will have to wait five months, current delivery schedule is October but that keeps going up because demand is greater than their production rate.

If they had a pocket sized version then I would probably be ordering both the big and small versions, especially if they could transfer notes and documents between them.

I will write a review of it when I get it.