Addendum to the review of Scrivener as a note taking program

It has not escaped my attention that there has been some comments on various fora about my review of Scrivener as a Note Taking program, so perhaps some clarification is in order.

I don’t normally group all my notes together, normally they are all grouped by subject in separate files, that is why interconnections between files are so important.

The test with lots of files was just that, a test, load the program until it breaks and see what happens.  If the program doesn’t break then you can be confident in using it for any normal sized set of data, and if the program does break then it usually reveals interesting things about the program.

The comments I made in the review about Scrivener slowing down when working with ten thousand notes was not really a criticism merely an observation.  It is a good thing that Scrivener works at all under these circumstances.

These are not trivial documents, they were downloaded from Project Guttenberg, the smallest is only a few kilobytes but the largest is two and a half megabytes.  The whole collection is around three quarters of a gigabyte.  I used these documents for the test because they were convenient, I had them for another purpose but whilst I was reviewing the note taking programs it was convenient to just import some of them to see how the various programs performed under stress.  The point is to stress the program until it breaks and see what breaks.  First with a hundred documents, then with one thousand, then two thousand, then five thousand and if the program is still working throw the full ten thousand at it.

Scrivener performed very well with three quarters of a gigabyte of notes.  The automatic backups were slow but that was the only effect, this is unsurprising given the amount of data and the fact that saving data to disk takes time.  Searches slowed down but not by as much as one might expect.

With MyInfo the only effect was that that the notes file took a long time to load and save, again unsurprising given the amount of data to be saved and loaded.  But MyInfo doesn’t do automatic backups so it may be that the data is less secure.  Searches were still lightning fast and the overall performance did not slow down noticeably.

At the time I reviewed ConnectedText I only tested it with about a thousand notes and experienced no problems, this was my first review.  ConnectedText is one of the programs I continued to use so later I loaded the full set onto it just to see how it would cope.  With the full set of documents ConnectedText became slow in some aspects of its performance.  Searches in ConnectedText slowed down to the point where using the program was difficult, also it sometimes ran out of memory whilst doing a search, I think the search engine (and probably the rest of the program) is only 32 bit.  Also I put an index of documents grouped by author on one of the pages, the rendering of this page slowed down to the point where it was very inconvenient to view.  But to be fair ConnectedText has some very sophisticated facilities and this was using a facility not present in the other note taking programs.

Memo Master performed quite well with about two thousand documents, I did not test it with ten thousand documents.

WhizFolders was another of the programs I continued to use after the review, until I looked at MyInfo which has taken over from it for everyday use.  WhizFolders performed well with one thousand documents but with ten thousand the load and save times were quite long, searches became slow and there was a few seconds delay when adding a new document.

Debrief Notes slowed down considerably with just one thousand documents.  It is not a good program to use for other reasons and no further testing was done but it would probably have slowed down still further if more documents had been added.

LexiCan slowed down to an unacceptable degree with only four hundred documents.  This seemed to be related to the size of the documents.  There would be less slowing with short documents than with large documents.

Essential PIM is my current e-mail program.  I tested it with a thousand documents and it didn’t slow down very much.  I didn’t test it with any more than that and deleted the documents soon after that.  I don’t use this program for note taking but it can generate links so that I can have links to e-mails from MyInfo and ConnectedText.

Personal Knowbase didn’t slow down with a thousand documents but with ten thousand documents the load and save times went up considerably, much more than would be expected.  Once it was running the performance was good, even with ten thousand documents.

Keynote-NF slowed down with only two hundred documents.  With one thousand documents it became unusable.  The slowing seemed to be proportional to the size of the document rather than their number.  A small number of documents containing high resolution images virtually crippled it.

Microsoft OneNote was not tested due to the lack of a bulk import facility.

MyBase slowed down quite noticably with one thousand documents but also there seems to be a physical limit on the size of the database, if you exceed this limit the program crashes.  The limit is approximately 300 megabytes but it may be lower than this.

_______oOo_______

I hope this clears up the point that I was not advocating that people should put all their notes into one file.

Review of Compendium

Compendium has been under development at the Open University for many years.  Compendium does much more than just Mind Mapping.  It is a free and open source tool for representing, organising and communicating knowledge, processes and arguments.  It may not be as pretty as some of the other mind mapping tools but it is much more capable and functional.

There is one feature which was tried and found not to be useful but was not entirely removed.  In one of the earlier versions there was an e-mail system built in to the program so that different users of the database could send each other messages, but this e-mail system did not connect to the outside world it was purely internal.  It was found that most of the users of the program used external e-mail applications to send each other messages and so this function was removed but on your home map there is still an Inbox which you cannot delete or use to send messages.  It acts like a node and you can link to it.  You can open it but it will be an empty list.  I don’t know why it is still there.

Another thing which appears on your home map is a recycling bin which is where deleted nodes go to die or be resurrected.

Compendium stores its maps in a database so there is no ‘save’ button, whatever changes you make to a map are saved continuously.  By default Compendium uses the Derby database embedded within Java (Compendium is written in Java and you can download the source code) but it can also use a MySQL database.  For home use the database will most likely be set up on your local machine and you will be the only one to have access to it, but it is possible to set the database up on a remote machine and to have many people working on the same database at the same time.  Collaborative editing of a map is possible.

The version I am using is Compendium NG but there is another version, Compendium LD is a fork of an older slightly less advanced version aimed specifically at students and which has been given a more extensive set of node stencils (templates).  Fortunately it is a simple job to install Compendium LD, copy the extra stencils then uninstall it and paste the stencils into appropriate place in Compendium NG.  So then you have the best of both.

VUE is easier to use and has more extensive documentation.

 

Overall score = 23 out of 50

 

1.  Organisation  =  6

Compendium places few constraints on how you organise material.  A Compendium database starts off with one ‘Home’ map on which you can place nodes and connections between nodes (links).  Maps can be as big as you like, the canvas is enormous.  One type of node which is particularly interesting is the Map node.  This type of node contains a new map on a new canvas which can contain map nodes which contain other maps, etc …  Memory is the only limit to the depth to which this can go.  This means it is easy to split up your information into many small easy to understand maps instead of having one gigantic sprawling map.

There is no hierarchy unless you make it yourself, the map can contain floating nodes and there can be as many maps on one canvas as you have room for.  A node may be any one of eleven types selected from a pallet and dragged onto the map, or you can type the keyboard shortcut to create a node at the mouse position, so creating nodes is very quick.  Links are also quick to create, just right click and drag from one node to another.  Links can have a type but they cannot split or join like they can in VUE.

Although there are eleven types of node you can extend this by using what the Compendium team call stencils.  This allows you to roll your own type of node with your own icons.

Compendium also supports transclusion, the same node may appear in different places and when it is edited all the instances of that node are changed.

Nodes can be tagged with keywords which can then be used to search for particular nodes, although using the results of a search is not intuitively obvious.  If you mouse over the ‘views’ column of the search results then a box appears under the mouse with a list of the maps where that particular result appears, clicking on one of these entries will bring up that map.

 

2.  Attachments to nodes  =  4     (would have been higher but for the bug and not supporting universal links)

In Compendium a node is not just an icon with a title in a map.  You can open it to reveal its contents.  There are five basic types of nodes, one of these is only used by Compendium itself and two of the others aren’t particularly useful so when defining a new node type for a stencil (a palette of your own custom node types) the choice is very simple, the node is either a ‘Map’ which contains a new blank map or it is a ‘Reference’ which contains text but which can also link to things.

The other types are Note, List and Movie Map.  The Note type is used exclusively by Compendium but it is just a Reference type without the link field so a Reference node can be used in its place without any detriment.  The Movie Map type is used for displaying video files but these are probably better displayed by linking to the file and using its default application.  The List type is a list of nodes, but this is not very well implemented and it is difficult to populate the list.

Opening a Map node takes you to the map contained within the map node.  Opening a Reference node opens a window containing the contents of the node which are a title field, a notes field, a Ref field and an image field.

The title is the text which appears below the node on the map.

The notes field contains text, there is a bug in the program which prevents it from holding large amounts of text.  The note field can only hold 32 kilobytes of text, if the text exceeds this length then it will only persist until the program is closed.  When you next run Compendium the text will have disappeared, there will be no error messages or warnings, it just isn’t there when you next run the program.  This is quite a serious bug in my opinion, not the fact that there is a limit on the size of the text but the fact that there is no warning when you reach that limit, your text just isn’t there when you next run the program.

So the note field is for short texts only, but 32 kilobytes is more than enough for most purposes on a program like this.  The text is unformatted, just plain text in the default windows dialog box font and size.  The text can be divided into pages but where you put the page breaks is entirely up to you.

The reference field can contain a link to a file or a URL but unfortunately Compendium does not support universal links.  The Image field contains the pathname and file name of the image to be used for the node, if it is blank then the default image from the stencil is used.

There is no way to create a link into Compendium from another program.  Since the maps are all in a database you cannot even use the trick of running the program with a particular file because there are no map files which can be run.

 

3.  Appearance  =  5

Compendium has the appearance of a Unix program, there is some customisation, the interface may be set to some of the styles supported by Java Swing.

The positioning of nodes on the map is set by the user but links between nodes take the shortest path.  In my opinion the maps are not as expressive as the VUE maps although they do come close.

Compendium

 

4.  Ease of use  =  4

Compendium has a very idiosyncratic user interface, it takes a while to get used to it.  It follows very few of the conventions which windows users have grown used to.  There are many things which can be done but which are not obvious or intuitive.  There is no good documentation for Compendium.

You can zoom in and out from the map using the mouse wheel and pan by right click and drag in a clear part of the map.  Zooming out gives you an overview of the map.

Compendium can only have one database open at any time and there can only be one instance of Compendium running at a time so this is less useful than it could be.

There is support for collaborative working but I have not investigated this aspect of the program.

 

5.  Import – Export  =  4

Compendium does not have a comprehensive list of import and export formats, it can export to XML or to a Web page or to a .JPEG file.  It can import an XML file or from a ‘Questmap’ file (whatever one of those is), or there is an option to ‘Import Image Folder into current map’ which copies all the pictures in a folder and pastes them into the current map (which is actually less useful than it sounds).

So maps may be exchanged from one instance of Compendium to another by exporting the map in XML format and importing it into the other Compendium in XML format.  XML format is also useful to see the structure of a map but beyond that I have not been able to import the generated XML file into any other application.

 

Review of VUE

VUE stands for Visual Understanding Environment.  This program comes from Tufts University in the USA.  It was written to allow students to take notes during lectures and to make presentations.

The program stores its maps in disk files which have to be saved manually.

I have not used VUE as a presentation tool and so maybe I have a biased opinion.  To do a presentation with VUE you first have to define a ‘path’, this is a series of slides.  When making the presentation the view of the map will be stepped through this series of slides in ‘full screen presentation mode’.  This facility is not very intuitive in my opinion.

VUE is a very extensive tool with a lot of facilities which are only briefly covered in this review, fortunately you can try it for free, if you don’t like it you haven’t lost anything.  The only niggle I have is that you have to enter your e-mail address into the website in order to download the program, what they do with this data I have no idea, they have not sent me any spam e-mails.

 

Overall score = 26 out of 50

 

1.  Organisation  =  6

The user places nodes on the map in the position they want and makes the connections they want.  The positioning is completely manual, however the program can re-position the nodes if you ask it to.  There is no enforced hierarchy and floating nodes are allowed.  The nodes may be arranged into more than one map on the same sheet if the user lays it out that way.

You could produce organisation charts, family trees and process flow diagrams with VUE as the layout is entirely up to the user but there are no tools aimed specifically at these types of diagrams.

The links can have a type if you set one, this is a label on the link to explain the relationship which the link represents, or anything else you want to put in there.  The links can branch or combine, this is like the ‘type’ of a link acting as a node to which links can connect.  Links act like nodes in many respects, for example you can assign them keywords and categories, they can have a URL, a file or an image associated with them, the difference from an image in a node being that an image file is not displayed on the map but if you click on it then the file will be opened with its default application.

Keywords can be assigned to nodes, you can also assign ‘categories’.  The keywords and categories can be searched, when you do a search the results appear as an outline.  There is a pre defined set of categories but you can add your own if you wish, there are no pre defined keywords.  You can assign categories using an on-line ontological tool called OpenCalais.  I have not had any success using this tool, when I have analysed any of my maps with this tool it just came back with an error message saying “This node does not contain enough meaningful information to be analysed”.

As well as looking at the content of your map as a map you may also view it as an outline.  Maps and diagrams can also be put on different layers which can be switched on and off, this is quite useful to view different aspects of the map at different times.

The main purpose of any mapping tool is to express ideas graphically and VUE does this very well.

 

2.  Attachments to nodes  =  5

The nodes can contain text ‘notes’, the notes can be very big, I placed 1.5 Mb of text in one note, this caused delays in selecting that node and in displaying the note.  This is an extreme test and you should not need to have that much text attached to a node for any practical purpose which I can think of, but it is possible.

The program supports universal links from VUE to another program which means that any node can be linked to a URL or a file on disk or a link to another program.  You can link a node to a piece of text in a word processor file or a document in a note taking program and if you want to attach large amounts of text to a node this is probably a better way to do it.

A node can only have one attachment, if it links to a file it cannot also link to a web URL or have a universal link into another program.  It can only link to one of these things at once.  You can link an image to a node, in which case it is displayed on the map but this also uses up the one attachment which each node has.  But nodes can contain other nodes and each of these nodes may be linked to a file, a URL, an image or may contain a universal link.  This gets around the limitation of one resource per node.

Nodes contained within another node do not form a map within that node but group together like an outline similar to TreeSheets, so you can build an outline within a node simply by dragging other nodes into it.  The writing in the nodes can get very small but VUE has has an interactive zoom tool, when this is selected clicking on a node will expand that node to fill the screen, a right click will return the screen to the normal view.

Although VUE supports universal links to other programs it does not support universal links into VUE from other programs, there is no way to generate a link which will open VUE in a particular file or in a particular position in a file.  The nearest you can come to this is to link to a .vue file from the other program, so VUE will open the file and display it, but this method has some drawbacks.

If you have many programs open at once and you happen to end up back in the note taking program and follow the link back to the .vue file then you will have two separate instances of VUE open using the same file, indeed VUE will open a new instance of itself each time the link is clicked so it is possible to end up with many instances of VUE open with the same file.  If you make any changes to the file in different instances then it is the last one to get saved which will be remembered.

This is not good but there is a way around this with another program called AutoHotKey or AHK.  AutoHotKey is a free batch processing language with the capability to intercept key presses so that you can set up keyboard macros.  However an AHK file is just a batch file, if you don’t set it to look for a key press an AHK script will just run once and exit.  It is a simple task to get an AHK batch file which takes the name and path of a .vue file as a parameter, it then looks to see if this file is already open, if the file is open AHK switches to that instance of VUE and exits, if the file is not open then it opens the file in VUE and then exits.

 

3.  Appearance  =  5

VUE
Maps created with VUE tend to have a plain appearance but this can be an advantage as there is little to distract the viewer from the message contained within the map.  The user interface is uncluttered and extra information is displayed in separate floating windows which may be moved to a second screen if you have one.

Nodes can be coloured and the boxes come in a small but useful selection of shapes.  The links between nodes can be straight or curved (single curve or S curve), with curved links there are handles on the link which can be pulled about to change its shape.

All positioning is manual unless you specifically tell the program to re-arrange your map, if you do tell it to re-arrange your map then you can still pull things about after it has been re-arranged to set it up the way you want it to appear.

 

4.  Ease of use  = 5

The user interface is somewhat idiosyncratic and has to be learnt.  There are keyboard shortcuts for just about everything but these are not programmable.  The visual aspects of the user interface cannot be changed in any way.

There are various floating windows which contain other information which you may want to have handy, the metadata for the selected node and the formatting window are examples of this.  They may be placed on another screen if you have one but if not they need to be placed on the screen you are working on and they are always on top and so at best they will take screen real estate away from your map, at worst they will get in the way.

Overall this is not a bad program to use and especially if you use it regularly you will get to know and come to accept its idiosyncrasies.

 

5.  Import – Export  =  5   (would have been higher if the Import facilities had been better)

VUE can export to a .html file.  When such a file is viewed in a web browser you see a static version of your map which cannot be edited but clicking on a file link or URL will open or launch the file or web page.  Files in such web pages are linked to their location on the local PC, so this is not portable, to get around this VUE can pack the map and all of its attachments in a .vpk file which is a compressed zip file containing the map and any files referred to by the map.

VUE can also export the map as an image in .png, .jpg and .svg formats.  There are also some other export options which I have not explored, like XML and RDF.

There are some methods for importing data and maps into VUE but these seem complicated and not as well finished as the rest of the program.

Idea Mapping software

If you have been following this blog you will have noticed that I have been reviewing Note Taking software.  I have also found a program I like and which has almost all the facilities I wanted in a note taking program, it is not perfect but it is near enough, so now it is time to move on to the natural companion to note taking software, and that is Mapping Software.

By mapping software I mean software for doing mind mapping and concept mapping.  Programs which allow you to express ideas and connections between ideas graphically.

With note taking software there are no good free or open source offerings but the situation is completely different with mapping software.  All the programs reviewed here will be free or open source.  This does not mean that they are sub standard in any way, many of them are more sophisticated than a lot of the commercial programs on offer.

You could try all of these programs for no monetary outlay.  Indeed they are slightly different from each other so one could argue that having several of them alongside each other was justified.  Freeplane for instance is good at conventional mind maps but does not do concept maps very well, IHMC Cmap Tools is very good at concept maps but it would be hard work if you wanted to a produce a mind map,  VUE also does concept mapping and allows you to do presentations and Compendium is a good all round visual organisational tool.  The three I use regularly are VUE, Freeplane and Compendium.

The only thing wrong with having all of these programs installed is that you would be spoilt for choice when it came to deciding which one to use.

What criteria will be used to judge them?

One criticism I received for the note taking program reviews was that I gave too much importance to the visual appeal of the programs.  I think in patterns and in images whereas most people think in words, this is just the way my mind works, translating my thoughts into words is hard work and the need for a note taking tool is a compensation for this (some would say an overcompensation) but the result of the way I think is that the visual aspects of a program are very important to me.

I will split the review into sections each concentrating on one aspect of the program, each section will get marks out of ten then all the marks will be added up to get a final score, if you do not like the importance I have assigned to any aspect of the program then feel free to multiply or divide each section by your own weighting factor to arrive at a figure you agree with.

1.  Organisation

Is the map limited to a strict hierarchy (mind map) or not?  Can it be used to do different types of map, like mind maps, organisational charts, concept maps, process flow diagrams etc?  Does it support floating nodes?  Are the links (edges) typed?  Can you have multiple maps in one file or on one sheet?

2.  Attachments to nodes

Can nodes have attachments?   Can a node be linked to a file? or a URL? Does the program support universal links?  Can a node be linked to a different map?  Can images or icons be applied to nodes?  Can a node hold a note?  If so is there a limit to the size of the note?

3.  Appearance

Does the program look good?  Are the ideas in the map conveyed clearly?  Is the look organic with curved lines or the simple box and straight line approach?  Does the map allow manual positioning of nodes and vertices or does it position them itself?

4.  Ease of use

How easy is the program to use?  Is it obvious how to do things?  Does the view of the map centre on the node in focus or if not can the map be pulled about to get the view you want?  Is there an overview?  Does the program perform sensibly when there are multiple instances of it running?  Does the program support collaborative working?

5.  Import – Export

How easy is it to get your stuff into and out of the program?

Review of Keynote-NF

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

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

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

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

Overall score = 25 out of 60

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

1. Connectivity            =    7

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

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

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

2. Classification            =    2

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

3. Text layout and formatting    =    5

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

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

4. A sense of time            =    0

There is no calendar.

5. Ease of use            =    6

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

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

6. Visual Appeal            =    5

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

Keynote screenshot

Keynote screenshot

Review of Memo Master

This note taking program stores data in a database, there is no save file option, all changes are saved immediately.  There was no significant slowing of the response times when using a file with over one thousand notes.  Memo Master can have several databases open simultaneously.

The program is produced by a German company and the documentation (freely downloadable from their website) is in English but is obviously translated German, a smattering of words remain untranslated.

There is a tree structure to hold the notes (in the documentation Memo Master calls it’s notes memos).  In most of the other programs each note can have descendant notes, in Memo Master this is not the case, you can have ‘memos’ or ‘folders’ rather like a directory structure on a disk drive.  Memos cannot have descendants, folders can hold as many memos or folders as you want to put in them but cannot display any text.  This is unusual amongst note taking programs.

There is a free version available from http://www.jbsoftware.org/memomaster/index.htm , you have to submit all your details to them before they will send you a download link.  The free version starts out as a full version for 30 days then reverts to the free version and a significant portion of the functionality stops working.  The free version is actually quite a capable note taking program in its own right, this would be a good option if you want to find out more about note taking programs but don’t want to spend any money.  The free version certainly beats Keynote.

The one I am using is the Small Business Edition which is £39 or $59 (on 21st April 2013).  To see the difference between the full version and the free version look http://www.jbsoftware.org/memomaster/details.htm .  There is a more expensive version which allows multiple concurrent users and a centralised database.

Overall score = 43 out of 60

Verdict               Worth Buying.

1. Connectivity            =    8 out of 10

As with most of the other programs reviewed here Memo Master can create links in the text to external files, to a folder and to websites.  It can also create links from one note to another, even if the note is in another database.  The program can use universal links generated by other programs to link to notes in those programs but it cannot generate incoming universal links.  Paradoxically it can create a desktop link file which can call up one specific Memo Master note (memo).  I suppose one could set up a folder for these link files and create links to the link files from other programs, but this is not as straightforward as using universal links.  Files can be attached to a memo, the attached files appear in a list at the bottom of the memo.

2. Classification            =    8 out of 10

There is of course a hierarchical tree of notes (memos)

Memo Master has an excellent tagging scheme but they call it a Keyword Index, they also have what they call a tagging scheme which is a coarse classification scheme with about thirty categories before it starts to get cumbersome and difficult to use.

You can assign keywords (tags) to any memo using the keyword index, this is a flat list of keywords.  Once you have assigned keywords you can search for them using quite a sophisticated search engine.  As well as having a full index of all words used in the body text of the memos you can search just within the keywords and you can build up specific queries using AND, OR, NOT and brackets.  The memos also have a ‘description’ field and a ‘comments’ field, you are also allowed to search in these fields so you could use these fields for further classification of your memos.

The search dialog box looks a bit complex at first, more complex than it needs to be but perhaps some better documentation would help.  The search dialog box does allow you to search in the keywords only, I think the search facilities are almost as good as those in ‘Personal Knowbase’, if it allowed you to save named queries rather than creating them fresh each time then it would be equal to ‘Personal Knowbase’.

3. Text layout and formatting    =    10 out of 10

The editor is as good as a good word processor.  It has all the normal text formatting options of a word processor.  It handles tables very well once you have created a table you can drag the cell boundaries about with the mouse, this is the way it should work.  You can set headers and footers for when the document is printed out.

A note can contain a spreadsheet with working calculations, this is not just a gimmick this is a real quite sophisticated spreadsheet program.

You select the type of note when you create it, as well as a text memo and a spreadsheet there is a code memo, this is a programmers editor, plain monospaced text with line numbers and syntax highlighting for a number of different programming languages.

4. A sense of time            =    0 out of 10

Memo Master does not have a sense of time.  There is no calendar.  But bizarrely you can set an expiration date on a note so it gets automatically deleted after a specific date.

5. Ease of use            =    9 out of 10

I find this program very easy to use.  The note editor looks and feels like a high end word processor.  There is no switch between an edit mode and a viewing mode, you can edit at any time and the links appear as links, to edit a link you right click on it and select ‘hyperlink’ from the context menu, a dialog box appears with the link destination and the link text in different fields.

Memo Master has working spreadsheets built in.  It is incredibly useful to be able to have a spreadsheet in a note, this is the ultimate table and list making tool (with the benefit of formulas and calculations).

There are also code memos, these are for writing program code, they have syntax highlighting for many different programming languages.  There is no text formatting in a code memo and the typeface is monospaced (but the font can be set in the options).

There is a slight learning curve but that is true of all complex programs.

6. Visual Appeal            =    8 out of 10

The program has two fixed toolbars arranged one above the other, there is enough width on the small screen of my laptop to have these side by side but they are fixed in place thereby taking up double the height of a single toolbar across the whole screen.  This is a waste of space.

However having said that it is a very good looking program.

Memo Master screen shot

Memo Master screen shot

Apart from this one glaring error the user interface is quite slick and obvious.  This program looks good there are a number of different colour schemes you can select, it is perhaps not as configurable as some of the other programs reviewed here but the choices the designers have made are well thought out and sensible.