A comparative review of four note taking programs

A comparison of four note taking programs

If you have been following this blog you will know that I have been searching for a good note taking program for a while now.

I thought I would share my notes on note taking programs with anyone who was interested, and for several years I have been sharing those notes in this blog.  However when I first started I made a big mistake.  When I started reviewing note taking programs I thought the programs I found were pretty good and so I gave them good marks out of ten.  But I went on finding better and better programs (and some bad ones) so the scores became compressed into the top end of the range.

By now however I have seen most of the programs which are available and can give a more balanced assessment of them.  So for this note taking review I decided to compare the four programs I actually use on a day to day basis to take notes.

Two of them are my main note taking programs and I am slowly transitioning from one to the other, one is only still in use because I have an archive of older notes on it which I sometimes refer to and one is still in use because it’s cute and has some really great and novel features, but I won’t say which is which.

I was going to include Ultra Recall in this review but I don’t use it much these days, the implementation of tables is abysmal and the pace of development is glacial (this wouldn’t matter if it had all the features it needs and if the features it does have were well implemented but sadly this is not the case).  So I decided four is enough.  By the way, the tip for rendering on a high DPI screen (revealed later) works wonders for Ultra Recall, the graphics become very clear and sharp, however the text in the menus becomes tiny.

The four contenders (in alphabetical order) :-

This review will not give scores out of ten but just compare the programs to each other on the following criteria which I think are relevant :-
  • Writing
    • The comfort of the writing environment
    • The presentation of the text for reading purposes
  • Retrieval
    • Search
    • Favourites
    • Navigation
    • Tagging
  • Big Data
    • Database or File
  • Transclusion & Linking
  • Screen Presentation
  • Ease of Use

So, let’s get started, this will be a long review.  Sorry about that.

 

The comfort of the Writing Environment

If you do a lot of writing then it is essential to use a program you are comfortable with.  Most people are familiar with WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) word processors and they have a lot of merits but it is easy to get distracted when using such a system, to become enamoured with the formatting and presentation rather than the content.

Beware, if the message you are trying to convey is not clear and unambiguous in plain text then no amount of fancy formatting can compensate for this.

One of the alternatives is to use a ‘distraction free’ writing environment.  This is essentially just a plain text editor which takes up the full screen.

Another alternative is the use of ‘styles’, these enable you to not think about the formatting, the formatting just happens, all you have to do is to select the element you are working on (this is a heading, this is a paragraph, this is a bulleted list) and that element is formatted appropriately and consistently.

One further refinement which is quite nice (but not essential) is the ability to load or select different style sets.  This means that the formatting of a document can be completely transformed without any changes to the content just by selecting a different style set.

ConnectedText

ConnectedText definitely does not have a WYSIWYG editor.  There are two modes Edit and View, when in View mode the source code of the page is interpreted and all the commands are converted into the content of the page.  In Edit mode you are in a plain text editor in which you write the source code for the page.  It is relatively free from distraction and if you choose the font and colour scheme of the editor correctly the results can be very comfortable to work with.

The one thing which I found incongruous about editing in ConnectedText is the commands which are embedded in the text.  They interrupt the flow of thought in the work.  Which is why I didn’t usually add them until I had finished the composition.

One nice thing about this system is the ease with which you can add a link to a page which doesn’t yet exist.  If you want a link to [[Page Name]] then you just type the name and enclose it in double square brackets.  If this Page Name doesn’t exist yet then following that link creates a new empty page with the name you specified and opens it for editing.  That is quite neat, and it doesn’t interrupt your flow of thought.

Tables can be quite awkward to program (yes you need to program a table in the source code) but you can get good results with some effort.  There is a table dialog but it is less than adequate.  Cell background colours are set by commands in the source code of the page, very powerful but not very user friendly.

Building a page in ConnectedText is more like programming a web page than editing a document, for anything which is a bit complex you will be editing the source code then swapping back to view mode to check the results then going back to edit mode to correct your mistakes then back to view mode to check if you got it right, and so on and so forth.  It is an iterative process.  It does not have the immediate feedback which you get from a WYSIWYG editor.

InfoQube

The InfoQube editor is very comfortable to work with.  It is a WYSIWYG editor with styles available in a drop down box, at least it is on my system, this program is very configurable and so you can compose your own toolbars with just the commands you need.  The ability to select from a number of .CSS files allows you to change the look of the document as you wish and the choice is remembered for each individual document.

The editor can be in a floating window which can be placed on a second screen and can occupy the whole of that screen with only a small amount of screen taken up by other things (just the toolbars on the top and left hand side), this is fairly close to being distraction free.

The document pane (the editor) can contain various different formats of document but the default is a HTML document whose format is set by a .CSS file.  You can have a number of .CSS files for different purposes each with different fonts, layout and colour schemes.  I tend to use a very plain one for composition and switch to something fancy once finished.

The implementation of tables in InfoQube is adequate but you cannot define the background colours of individual cells without delving into the HTML source code of the page.  Borders of cells can be dragged but the results are sometimes not what you expect because InfoQube ‘intelligently’ re-sizes the other cells to accommodate your changes and sometimes ‘intelligent’ can be quite dumb.

MyInfo

MyInfo has a WYSIWYG editor with styles selected from a drop down list.  Despite this I don’t think the writing environment is as good as InfoQube.  The editor feels cramped by all the elements around it, the properties panel can be dismissed but the tree panel cannot.  You can open the content of the document in a floating window but this is not editable.

The table implementation is quite good.  You can drag cell borders around and the results are as expected.  Cell background colours can be set but this command is hidden away in the ‘Tables’ menu, although the program is quite configurable and you could place the command on a toolbar if you wish.  I did this as soon as I discovered it.

Right Note

The programmer of Right Note did a good job with the editor which is excellent.  It is a WYSIWYG editor with styles for text and for paragraph.  The paragraph styles are similar to text styles but have additional parameters which control how the paragraph will be laid out (spacing and margins, etc.).  However these same styles are used throughout the notebase.  You can define as many styles as you want but having too many might get a little cumbersome to select.  They are not style sets so you cannot change the formatting of a document on the fly.

The editor cannot be in a floating window and so has all the same screen real-estate problems as MyInfo.

The table implementation is quite good.  Cell borders can be dragged about and the results are as expected.  Individual cell background colours cannot be set but the overall background colour of the table can be set although this option is hidden away in the ‘Table Properties’ dialog.

 

The presentation of the text

Once you have finished your magnum opus what is it like to read it.  This section is all about the comfort of the reading environment and the facilities which exist to help you absorb information.

Having multiple documents open simultaneously for reading is useful especially if they are in floating windows.  It is sometimes very useful to be able to refer to one document whilst reading another.

ConnectedText

In ConnectedText you can have multiple floating text planes open for viewing.  You cannot edit these panes they are solely for reading.  Each viewing pane has an edit button.  The edit button opens the page being viewed in the main editor and the floating pane is closed.  Although each reading pane is locked to one document (as it should be) the hypertext links on the page still work so one can navigate to another document using the links on a page.

The ability to select a .CSS file for each project (wiki) allows you to vary the look of the text but only one .CSS file can be used at any time so all the pages of the Wiki look the same as each other unless you include explicit formatting commands within the pages which defeats the object of having a .CSS file in the first place.

Overall ConnectedText is a very good reading environment, the experience is somewhat akin to browsing the web but without the adverts.

InfoQube

In InfoQube you can open multiple document panes in floating windows.  By default they are editable which means that you can have more than one instance of the same document open for editing.  The question then arises, what happens if you make different edits in different instances ?  The answer is one of them will be saved the other one lost.

The command to open a new document pane is buried in a sub menu of the ‘View’ menu of the main program which is not as useful as it could be.  So I put the command on a toolbar and now it is more accessible.

Also the command to lock a pane to a particular document is in the ‘View’ menu of the document pane (there are two sets of menus and two sets of toolbars each of which must be configured separately).  It is called ‘Lock Item’ which doesn’t really describe it’s function very well.  In my opinion it should have been called ‘Lock Pane’.  Anyway it can be placed as an icon on the document pane toolbars.

A document pane locked like this is not locked for editing it is just that the pane is locked to showing one particular document.

One really neat feature is that if you have many floating document panes open and lock all but one of them then that one becomes the default viewer, if you click on a new item then it is displayed in that pane.  If you have more than one unlocked then InfoQube cycles through each unlocked pane in turn as you click on new items.

Once you have the configuration of the toolbars sorted out the setup becomes quite useful.  You can conveniently view multiple documents in multiple floating panes and refer to one document whilst viewing another.  The floating panes can be configured to take up the whole of a screen for convenience of reading or tiled for access to many different texts.

I do think that if multiple instances of the same document are opened then the first one should be opened for editing and subsequent instances should be opened as ‘read only’, but that’s just my opinion.

Overall InfoQube is an excellent reading environment.

MyInfo

In MyInfo you can have multiple floating text planes open for viewing.  You cannot edit these panes they are solely for reading.  The edit button in the floating pane opens the document in the main document pane of the program window and the floating pane is closed.  Although each reading pane is locked to one document the hypertext links on the page still work so one can navigate to another document using the links on a page.

It is sometimes better to read a document in a floating pane than read it in the main window, this is because you can position them anywhere on any monitor and they can take up the full screen.  Documents read in the main window are limited to a subsection of the window.

Overall MyInfo is quite a good reading environment.

Right Note

Right Note has no floating panes and you can only have one document open for viewing/editing at a time in the editor pane of the main window which is a subsection of the main window.

 

Retrieval

There are four general strategies for getting the information you want and these are Search, Navigation, Favourites and Tagging.

In a personal note taking program the person who organises the information is normally the person who retrieves the information and when searching your archive you are generally searching for a specific item which you already know is in the archive.

This often makes searching easier.

Navigation to the location of the data is the way most people prefer to retrieve their data even when extensive search or tagging facilities are available.  People remember visually where their data was and with a hierarchical tree structure they can classify things into groups which are easy to remember.  Navigation generally requires less verbal attention and more visual attention.  Usually when searching people are in the middle of a task which requires verbal attention i.e. composing a piece of text.

It is easier for people to split their attention between two tasks if those tasks require different types of attention.  That is why it is easy to have a conversation with your passenger whilst driving but difficult to have a conversation with someone whilst reading.  This is why navigation is so popular.  The person can keep concentrating on the verbal task whilst navigating to the data they want more easily than if they are trying to formulate search terms whilst also concentrating on the verbal task.

A list of Favourites is not a list of favourites, these are probably not your favourite documents, they are an arbitrary list of the documents you think are most important or noteworthy to you at the time, the ones you want to be able to locate quickly.  And this list will probably change over time.

Tagging is the attachment of meta-data to a document to indicate some salient characteristic of that document.  These may not be just tags but includes all the meta-data associated with that document, or even the absence of such data.

For a really useful note taking program all four of these facilities should be available.

ConnectedText

ConnectedText has some on-the-fly search facilities, they are not complex and can not be saved for re-use.  However complex searches are usually built into the source code of a page and these can be extremely complex and they are automatically saved with the page.  The results in view mode are presented as a table which displays a list of pages which match the search criteria, each entry in the table is a link to that page.

Navigation is done by following hypertext links on the page.  There is no tree, but other parts of the program contain trees which may be used for navigation in place of the tree of a two pane note taking program.  The wiki in ConnectedText is analogous to a network of web pages which the user designs and the experience of using it is similar to browsing the Web except without the adverts.

Outlines are possible in ConnectedText but the titles within the outline need to be linked manually to the pages within the wiki.

Another type of outline is the ‘Table of Contents’.  If a page is built with more than a few headings in the body of the page then it automatically gets a ‘Table of Contents’ at the top of the page which lists all the headings used in that document.  Each of the entries in the table of contents is a link to the heading it represents.

There is a list of ‘Favourites‘ which are called ‘Bookmarks’.  This is not a simple list, it may be organised into a tree.  The list can contain named folders which can contain bookmarks and folders.  This is quite a neat innovation.

There is a hierarchical tagging system but it is not called a tagging system.  The tags are called Categories.  There is a command which can be placed on a page which places that page into a named category, category pages themselves can be placed in a category so that category becomes a sub-category of the category it has been placed in.  The resultant tree can be navigated and double clicking on a particular category will bring up a list of all the pages in that category.  The $TREE command can also retrieve a list of pages in the category and all sub categories (recursively).

Furthermore in the Categories pane there are checkboxes next to each category, if you tick an arbitrary set of checkboxes then there are icons at the top of the pane which bring up either the Intersection (AND) or the Union (OR) of all the categories ticked, as a list of pages which meet the criteria.

Arbitrary named meta-data may be associated with each page as text strings, dates, numbers, logic values (True/False) or drop down boxes containing lists of values which may be exclusive (only one of many) or non exclusive (n of many).  This meta-data may be used in searches or displayed on a page or used in calculations (pages may have a Python script associated with them which runs every time the page is rendered).

This text does not represent all the sophisticated features provided by ConnectedText, it is just the start, but suffice to say that all four of the facilities necessary for finding your information are very well represented.

InfoQube

InfoQube has good search facilities.  There is an ‘Omnibox’ which searches for a text string in the text contained in the Title or in the Document pane of an item.

There is also a ‘Live Search’ pane which does much more, and an ‘Advanced Find’ dialog which can search for a text string in arbitrary fields.

There is a Favourites list in InfoQube but it is just a flat list with no separators or grouping.  However you can make a grid and call it ‘Favourites’ (or whatever) and set the ‘grid source’ (more on this later) to ‘Favorites’ and the entire list of Favourites appears in the grid and you can then arrange the entries into a hierarchy and as it is a normal grid it is amenable to all of InfoQube’s tools for managing items in grids.

The arrangement of documents in InfoQube is not like other note taking programs.  An InfoQube notebase has ‘items’ and ‘grids’, an item is the basic unit of information, it has a title, a document pane which may or may not contain a document and it has a set of meta-data.

A grid is just a table of items, it is a filter which shows those items that meet the requirements for membership of that grid.  It can be thought of as a database query.

Items exist independently of grids and is possible to have an item which doesn’t appear in any grid.

Each grid acts like a two pane organiser the navigation is simple as the items in the grid can be arranged into a hierarchy, so an item can have a number of ‘child’ items and this list may be expanded or collapsed just like a two pane organiser.

A grid can have a simple ‘grid source’ which is just a flag to say that the item is a member of that grid, all items with the flag set appear in the grid (this is the default).  A grid may also have a ‘custom source’ which is an SQL SELECT statement or the name of an existing flag, all items meeting the conditions of this statement are included in the grid.  This is similar to inline queries in ConnectedText or saved searches in MyInfo.  Setting a Custom Source field for a grid can be a little complex for people who are not familiar with SQL (like me, but I am learning).

The contents of a grid like this get updated automatically when any item is changed.

Tagging in InfoQube has recently been updated to have a hierarchical tagging system and it has become extremely useful.  Simple AND/OR type selections are very easy to do via the ‘Live Search’ pane.  If more complex searches are required then a grid with a ‘custom source’ may be used and the criteria for selection can include Tags.  InfoQube has very powerful search facilities.

This text does not represent all the sophisticated features provided by InfoQube, it barely scratches the surface, but suffice to say that all four of the facilities necessary for finding your information are well represented.

MyInfo

MyInfo has very good search facilities which can be used to build complex searches based not only on the content of the documents but also on the meta-data associated with the document and the tags.  They are called filters in the program documentation.  Filters (searches) can be saved for later re-use.

Navigation is easy with a tree associated with each ‘Topic’ (a MyInfo file is called a topic).  You can hoist a branch of the tree so as to focus your attention more narrowly.  You can have multiple ‘Topics’ (files) open simultaneously.

There is a list of Favourites which may be organised into sections, but it is still just a flat list.

There is a tagging system which is quite good.  It is a flat list.  A drop down list of possible tags appears as you start to type a tag name and the list diminishes as you type.

User defined meta-data can be added, but the meta-data is common to all documents in the ‘Topic’ (file) so if you add a piece of data to one document that piece of data also exists for all documents whether it is appropriate or not.  The software developer states that if you have documents representing different things which require different meta-data then they should be in different files (topics).

Right Note

Right note has simple search facilities which can find a string in the body text or the title of an document.

Navigation is very simple in Right Note.  documents are arranged in several trees and you can hoist a branch of a tree.

Right Note has a list of Favourites which is just a simple flat list although the target of the link can be in a different Right Note file.

The tagging system in Right Note is a simple flat list which displays all the documents which have a specific tag, however this list can be refined by selecting more tags in another panel which then does an AND between all the selected tags.

 

Big Data and the underlying file structure

All the programs ultimately store their data on a disk but some do this by saving the notebase to a file and others do it by using a database program to store the data.  The big difference is that for a file storage you have to explicitly save the notebase at which point it gets written to disk.  With a database the data is usually written to disk continuously as it is changed and so there is no command to save the notebase, it just happens in the background without user intervention.

There are some other differences.  Generally databases are more reliable than file storage and can handle larger amounts of data.

For the load test I import text files into the notebase and see how it’s performance deteriorates.  I have a set of about nine and a half thousand text files downloaded from the Project Guttenberg website which I generally use for this test, these are not trivial files, they range in size from a few kilobytes to two and a half megabytes with an average length of about sixty kilobytes.

This is a severe test and a lot of note taking programs would either fail or slow down to unacceptable levels.  However this is a comparison of the note taking programs which I have found to be the most useful and reliable.  A bad performance when loaded up to this extent does not mean that a program is not useful for normal note taking purposes.

ConnectedText

ConnectedText uses a database in which to store it’s data. There is no need for the user to save the document as it is continuously kept up to date.  Each page is saved when you go from edit mode to view mode.

ConnectedText slows down quite considerably as the number of pages (documents) increases particularly with searching. Search and Replace operations were particularly hard hit and slowed to a crawl.  ConnectedText does not maintain an index of the words used in the wiki.

For databases of less than two thousand long documents or a lot more than two thousand very small documents you should not experience many problems. Few people have the need for more than this.

ConnectedText can open multiple wikis simultaneously.  They appear as multiple tabs so switching wikis is very easy.

InfoQube

InfoQube uses an SQL database as it’s storage mechanism and there is no need for the user to save the document as it is continually updated on the disk.

I was not able to carry out the load test as there is no way to bulk import text files, each one would have to have the text copied and pasted individually.  So no information is available at this time.

InfoQube can open multiple notebases simultaneously however each one is opened in a separate instance of the program.

MyInfo

MyInfo saves it’s data as a file which the user has to explicitly save.  The files took some time to import, but after they had finished importing there was very little slowing of the performance.  The places where it did slow down was on loading or saving the file (unsurprisingly), especially when the file was encrypted.  There was a slight delay when doing a search of all documents but nothing which would cause problems.

The size of the file increases rapidly for the first few dozen documents but does not increase so rapidly for larger numbers of documents.  I think the programmer possibly has some sort of word index for searching the notes, this will have a much larger increase in size for words which were not already in the index but will only increase in size by a small amount for words it already knows.  The searching in MyInfo is very fast compared with many of the other programs I have reviewed in the past.

MyInfo can open multiple notebases simultaneously, they appear as tabs so switching notebases is very easy.

Right Note

Right Note uses file storage to save it’s data.  The user has to explicitly save the file to disk, although sometimes (like after importing text documents) the program automatically saves the notebase for you (whether you wanted it to or not).

Some aspects of the performance slowed considerably beyond two thousand documents.  Right Note does maintain an index of words used in each document however the search times went up noticeably with thousands of documents.  The hardest hit was navigation which became slow with quite a noticeable delay in displaying a tree with two thousand documents in it.

When the texts were split up into sections (split by Author and genre) the performance improved considerably, searching was still just as slow but the display of a trees improved considerably.

Right Note can only open one notebase at a time.  If you open a different notebase then the current notebase is closed, you are prompted to save any changes if necessary.

 

Transclusion & Linking

In a hierarchy everything has a place and this can be a problem if there are many documents in the hierarchy.  A hierarchy can be viewed as a tree with documents as the leaves, as the number of leaves on the tree increases the number of places where an item might legitimately be placed also increases.  That is why transclusion is important, transclusion in this sense means the ability to place an item (document) in multiple places at once.  These are not just copies of the item, they are the same item appearing in different locations so if one is edited then all instances of that item change, if a new child item is linked to one of the instances it is linked to all of them.

Transclusion changes a Tree into a Directed Graph which is much more useful.

Universal links (or URI links) enable a link in one program to point to specific content within the documents of another program.  It also allows other programs to have links into specific content within the files a program.

ConnectedText

In ConnectedText there is no tree, pages exist and can be linked to so a link to a specific page will appear wherever it is placed.  This is a wiki and transclusion comes automatically.

ConnectedText can generate incoming Universal Links to pages within ConnectedText, but you can only link to a page not a place within that page.

ConnectedText can link to files, folders, e-mail addresses, web pages and Universal Links generated by other programs.

InfoQube

InfoQube is very flexible with respect to the layout of trees.  Documents (items) can appear in multiple places in a tree and in multiple trees.  Also the links to those documents are duplicated so if you add a child item to one instance it is automatically added to all instances of that document.  This is transclusion done correctly.

InfoQube can generate Universal Links to content within InfoQube, you can link to various things within InfoQube like the Calendar, the Surface (a sort of mind map thing) or a specific document (but not to a position within that document).

I have placed an icon on one of the toolbars to generate a Universal Link to the current item.  InfoQube didn’t have a suitable icon but InfoQube has an icon editor built in so you can roll your own.

InfoQube can link to files, folders, e-mail addresses, web pages and Universal Links generated by other programs.

MyInfo

The programmer of MyInfo missed the point of transclusion, the program can ‘clone’ nodes (documents) and if you edit one then all instances change but the child links from that node can be different for each instance of the document.  When you clone a node it is cloned without it’s children.  You can add the child links in but if you subsequently change any of them the links on the sibling clones are not changed.

These are not true clones.

MyInfo can generate Universal Links to content within the MyInfo file it can also use Universal Links to link to content within other programs.  The incoming links point to a specific paragraph within the document (the paragraph containing the cursor position when the link was generated) which is rather neat.

MyInfo can also link to files, folders, e-mail addresses and web pages.

Right Note

In Right Note the trees are strict trees no element can be duplicated.  There is no transclusion whatsoever within Right Note.

Also Right Note cannot generate Universal Links so it is not possible to link to specific content within Right Note.

Right Note can link to files, folders, e-mail addresses, web pages and Universal Links generated by other programs.

I believe that a new version (v 4.8) has been released which does have a full implementation of Universal Links but as I bought my license more than a year ago I am not entitled to this upgrade without paying for a full license again or getting their Lifetime Upgrade License which is nearly twice the price of a full license.

 

Screen Presentation

Things have to be presented well and be aesthetically pleasing for me, if not then it detracts from the overall experience of the program.  This is one of the reasons I have a laptop with a ridiculously high resolution screen (3200 x 1800), alas few programs can take advantage of this high resolution.

Most programs have fuzzy edges as if they were drawn on a lower resolution screen and then the pixels were scaled and interpolated to fit on a higher resolution screen.  The effect is slight but noticeable.

Before Microsoft introduced screen scaling with Windows 10 they made sure most of their applications were able to take advantage of it.  Only then did they release the new ‘improved’ Windows Presentation Foundation API to the outside world and all the other developers out there were left playing catch up.

There is a trick which can be applied and it works with some programs but not with others.  Pierre Landry the developer of InfoQube told me to try setting the ‘High DPI scaling override’ to see what happens.

To quote his post :-

With v110, try this:
  1. Close IQ
  2. In Windows Explorer, right-click on infoqube.exe > Properties
  3. In the Compatibility tab, click on Change high DPI settings (should be there unless you don’t have a recent version of Windows 10)
  4. At the bottom, select System (Enhanced)

The results were spectacular, but not just for InfoQube.

ConnectedText

ConnectedText has a problem with high DPI screens.  Some things would be rendered at their correct size and some things would be rendered at the correct number of pixels which meant that on a high resolution screen the icons were microscopic and the titles of pages were rendered with only the top half visible because the title bar scaled to the size of the pane manipulation icons which were now microscopic.

It also had a problem with fuzzy edges.

Applying Pierre Landry’s high DPI tip made no difference to the fuzzy edges, but it did cure the problems with the icons.  The icons were now drawn at the correct size and the page title bars were now correctly rendered.

For ConnectedText it is better to set the high DPI override to ‘System’ rather than ‘System (Enhanced)’ because the ‘System (Enhanced)’ setting slows down the rendering of the pages noticeably.

Being able to set a .CSS file improves the viewing of pages and with the settings of the editor you can make a comfortable distraction free editor to work with but the disconnection between edit mode and view mode is still incongruous to me.

The icons and toolbars are configurable so the user interface can be customised.  ConnectedText also has many themes which change screen colour schemes and toolbar backgrounds.

You can customise the different panes used to display various things in ConnectedText so this gives you an instant unconscious prompt as to the function of the pane if you set the background colours to be different for each function.

InfoQube

InfoQube is one of the most configurable programs I have used, except that it doesn’t support themes.  Panes can be viewed and arranged on the screen in virtually any configuration.  Panes can become floating and may be placed on a second monitor.  You can also dock panes into various sections of the main window.  This program is extremely flexible.

You can make your own toolbars or re-configure the existing toolbars, you can re-configure the menus.  Although InfoQube has a very dense user interface this may be simplified somewhat by taking out the bits you don’t need.

InfoQube also had a problem with fuzzy edges.

Applying Pierre Landry’s high DPI tip sharpened up the edges.  InfoQube now renders at the full native resolution of the high DPI screen and the text is incredibly sharp even at low point sizes.  It now has stunningly sharp graphics.

The editing experience is excellent, my preference is to have the document pane taking up the full screen just above the laptop keyboard with the rest of the program full screen on the second screen.

The ability to set a .CSS file for each individual document is also really good.

In InfoQube you can use Internet Explorer 11 mode to render the HTML documents, this means that the .CSS files can include Linear Gradients and drop shadows.  This may seem like a novelty but it is actually useful.  Having a vertical gradient as the background colour to a page gives the user an unconscious visual cue as to how long the document is and where they are in the document.

The result is stunningly sharp and clear documents with excellent formatting in a WYSIWYG editor in a full screen almost distraction free view without the effort of having to format everything being edited.  What more could one ask for?

MyInfo

The aesthetics of MyInfo are good.  The editing area is a subsection of the screen which is not good.  The graphics are slightly fuzzy which is probably an artefact of the way screen scaling is handled by the program.

Applying Pierre Landry’s high DPI tip made no difference at all to the fuzzy edges.

There are no skins (themes) so the user interface can be any colour you like as long as you like pale blue.

The aesthetics of text editing are OK, you can set the background colour of a page and the default font.  The background colour is the same for all pages in a file.

Meh.

The icons and toolbars are configurable so the user interface can be customised quite a lot.

Right Note

In Right Note you cannot re-configure the toolbars or menus, they are fixed.  You can move the toolbars around to a certain extent but this is quite limited.

Right Note also has lots of skins (themes) some of which are very pleasing to the eye.

In the default configuration there are a lot of ugly icons, one associated with each document which also take up a lot of space and serve no useful purpose.  But it is easy to switch off these icons in the ‘Options’ dialog.

Right Note also had a problem with fuzzy edges.

Applying Pierre Landry’s high DPI tip sharpened up the edges quite a lot.

There are settings for the background colour and font of the documents but this is for all documents and if you change it these things are changed in all documents.

Editing in Right Note is quite good but the editing pane is always a subsection of the screen, it cannot be detached into a floating pane and moved to another screen.

There are named styles for both text and paragraphs which can be customised and added to but this would become cumbersome to use if you had too many of them.

 

Ease of Use

How easy are these programs to use.  This breaks down into two components, how easy is it to learn and how easy is it to use once you have become used to it.

All four programs allow you to configure the keyboard shortcuts so if there is a particular set of keys that you are used to using you can set any of the programs up to match what you are used to using.

ConnectedText

ConnectedText is difficult to master.  The basics are easy enough to learn but then when you are familiar with the basics there is a markup language which is every bit as difficult as any programming language to get your mind around.  Sometimes the syntax is obscure and arcane.

There is a very good help file which comes with the program and is itself a ConnectedText wiki and this serves not only as documentation but also as a demonstration of techniques.

ConnectedText is a wiki and so you have to adjust your thinking a bit as it is a different kind of program from the two pane organisers.  For some people (myself included) it takes a while to ‘get’ ConnectedText.

Easy to learn, difficult to master.

InfoQube

This program is so packed with features that the user interface is very dense.  Until you become familiar with where to find things there are many times when you feel lost, this is the same for any complex program but perhaps InfoQube is a bit more complex than the average complex program.

Once you have learnt the basics of InfoQube the learning curve becomes less steep especially when you find out how to re-configure the user interface.  But the problem is that the first part of the learning curve is especially steep for someone who is unfamiliar with the program and this is a big barrier to new users, but if you persist the rewards are well worth the effort.

Re-configuration to place the commands you need where you can find them is essential in my view.  Different users will want different configurations but one of the beauties of InfoQube is that it is so configurable.

Also there are one or two concepts which you need to learn which will make everything else fall into place.  Like the relationship of items to grids.

Unfortunately the documentation lags behind the actuality of the program because of the pace of development and the vast amount of material there is to cover.

It took a while to get my mind around InfoQube, I am still learning and there is still a long way to go.

MyInfo

MyInfo is about in the middle.  It isn’t the easiest to use or learn but it is not the most difficult.  It has all the feature you would expect of a competent two pane organiser.

Right Note

This is the easiest of the four programs to learn and to use, but that is because it is the simplest.  It is not as powerful as any of the other programs in this post.

 

Conclusions

As far as a comfortable writing environment goes InfoQube gets my vote.

Also for a reading environment InfoQube with it’s great .CSS files with the linear gradients and razor sharp graphics also gets my vote.

Looking at Retrieval MyInfo has the best Search facilities closely followed by Right Note. Both these programs build indexes of words within the notebase and this makes searching very fast.

Navigation has to be a joint first for three of the four programs, InfoQube, MyInfo and Right Note.  Navigation in ConnectedText is somewhat different to the other three and it takes a different mindset to become good at.

InfoQube has the best Favourites list, but only if you put the Favourites list into a grid.  If you don’t know this trick then the best Favourites list is in ConnectedText.

The new tagging system in InfoQube is just as effective as the Categories system of ConnectedText although this may change as the tagging system in InfoQube is still being developed.  So as far as tagging goes at the moment it has to be a joint first between ConnectedText and InfoQube.

Overall as far as retrieval goes, taking everything into account I would say it was a joint first between ConnectedText and InfoQube.

If you have vast amounts of data then the first prize must go to MyInfo but the tests on InfoQube could not be performed because of the inadequate import facilities.

Transclusion & Linking is difficult but it has to be a joint first between ConnectedText and InfoQube.

As far as the presentation on screen goes InfoQube with it’s razor sharp graphics and detachable floating panes is without question better than the other three.

But if you want something that is simple and easy to use then Right Note might be the right one.

Other Factors

There are other things to be taken into account.

The developer of MyInfo is in the process of writing version 7.  The current version is version 6 and this is the one looked at in this post. The new version might have great things to offer and might be a lot better than the one I have but his current plans are to release the new version as SaaS (Software as a Sentence) i.e. a rental version.  If this is the case then I will not be upgrading my license.

ConnectedText is no longer being developed.  The current version is good and still works just as well as it did when it was released.  The problems it had with high DPI screens have been largely sorted out but it still has the fuzzy edges.  It has a lot of good things to offer and the bugs which have been found have been fixed but the fact remains that it is no longer being developed and this may cause problems in the future.

The pace of development for InfoQube is frenetic.  In the last six months it has acquired Universal Links, CSS sheets for the Document pane, Google Calendar synchronisation (both ways) and a hierarchical tagging system.

New versions are being released every few days.  The pattern usually goes that a new version with a new number is released about once a month which has some major new feature, the interim releases which follow clear up bugs which have been found in the major new feature until it is working flawlessly.

The pace of development in Right Note is fairly steady and it does have some splendid features, like spreadsheets.  Think of it, a note can be a spreadsheet!  This is a very useful feature.  Also it has a fairly decent tagging system.  If you buy a license you get free upgrades for a year, after that you have to pay for any new versions or bug fixes.  It is a good program which is simple to use.

I think there is a new version of Right Note which has introduced full support for Universal Links.

 

The bottom line

Taking everything into account if I had to choose just one program from the four and give up the others I think it would be a close run decision between ConnectedText and InfoQube.

They are very different programs and each one does things that the other cannot but these are mainly the features I don’t use.  For example, all the project management and Gantt Chart stuff in InfoQube and the named blocks and all the CAQDAS stuff in ConnectedText.  Looking at the features I do use the capabilities seem fairly similar.  But they are very different programs.

However looking to the future the development of ConnectedText has stopped.  There will be no new versions or new capabilities, this is OK as the features it already has are pretty comprehensive.  If we are very lucky any new bugs which are found will be fixed, but I think this unlikely as the developer seems to have abandoned the user forum.

InfoQube however is under rapid development by a developer who listens to the users of his program and tries to provide them with what they want.  In one sense this is bad because it has led to a vast jumbled mish-mash of features which take some time to comprehend, and it leads to a complex user interface.  In all other senses this is a good thing because everyone is getting what they want.  It really is everything and the kitchen sink’, whoever heard of an icon editor in a note taking program?  But on the other hand I did find it useful to have a built in icon editor in InfoQube when none of the existing icons met my requirements.

But it makes for a very steep learning curve, and I am still finding facets of the program which I was unaware of.  The very steep initial learning curve presents a barrier to new users which is unfortunate.

Pierre has tried to make InfoQube everything to everyone and on the whole he has succeeded.  It is a very open ended program which the user can adapt to solve many different problems.

And it is still under rapid development, who knows what next year will bring, or even next month.

Pierre Landry deserves our support !  He is doing a phenomenal job.

Taking everything into account if I had to choose just one program from the four and give up the others I think it would have to be InfoQube.

 

Search over.

 

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Ribbons, screens and links

Why ribbons?

A few of years ago Microsoft started putting ribbons on most of their applications and trying to promote them as a good idea, “this is the future” they said and many people believed them. On a lot of applications the ribbon is optional, you can choose to have the traditional menus and toolbars but on Microsoft applications the ribbon is mandatory whether you like it or not. But on a small screen a ribbon is a really bad idea, it takes up far too much room. If you use the keyboard shortcuts a lot then this is just wasted space.

The reason Microsoft are so enthusiastic about ribbons is that they see the future of computing in small mobile devices with touch screens, like the Microsoft Surface. With a touch screen you prod the screen with your finger. With a finger you have much less precision than if you are using a mouse or even a stylus, so the icons have to be bigger and have to be spaced further apart.

So the ribbon should have been optional on mobile devices with touch screens but instead Microsoft chose to impose it on everyone. It is puzzling why they have caught on as much as they have, I think this is partially due to the novelty value and partly because Microsoft are such a big company with a disproportionately large influence over the computing community that anything they do becomes a standard so they do not have to pay any attention to common sense or ease of use.

How to tame the ribbon on Microsoft Office

You can make the ribbon less obnoxious on Microsoft Office programs. At the top far right of the screen just below the window controls is a blue circle with a white question mark in it. This is next to a white up arrow. If you click on this up arrow the ribbon goes away until you click on one of the menu tabs at the top of the screen, then the ribbon you have selected appears until you have used it and then it goes away again. There is also something called the ‘quick access toolbar’ which isn’t used very much by most people.  It is usually at the very top of the screen but in the options there is a ‘quick access toolbar’ tab with a tick box to put it below the ribbon, from this screen you can also select which commands go on to the quick access toolbar.

I have put many commands on there, if I find that I am having to use the ribbons a lot then I put the commands I need onto the quick access toolbar and so it has grown until now it is almost all the way across the screen and it only takes up a small amount of vertical space. Microsoft are very good at designing user interfaces so I suspect this is deliberate and how the interface is supposed to be used but it is not obvious and a lot of people just don’t use the quick access toolbar at all.

High DPI Screens

I recently had to buy a new laptop because Microsoft destroyed my old laptop. When Microsoft destroyed my old laptop in the upgrade to Windows 10 (an upgrade which I did not instigate or desire) I needed to buy a new laptop. The one I chose has a very high resolution screen, the resolution is 3200 by 1800. I thought that having a high DPI screen would be a good idea, now that I have been using it for a while I think that perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea. The picture on the screen of the laptop itself is very clear and incredibly sharp but at a scaling factor of 100% the text is un-readably small, currently I have it set to 200% and this is still a bit small.

The problem is the scaling of text in applications. If the application doesn’t scale the text properly then you get microscopic text or on some programs the text does scale properly but the toolbar icons are microscopic. And some programs have not got the idea that a computer can have two different resolution screens, so windows and dialog boxes are scaled correctly on the screen that they were drawn on but if you drag them to the other screen some programs re-scale the dialog box or window properly, some programs don’t scale the dialog box so it becomes very small, some programs make the window or dialog box disappear whilst other programs just crash.

The problem is the new ‘Windows Presentation Foundation’ which is an API for rendering text and images on a computer screen. Somewhere between Windows 7 and Windows 10 it has been updated to include new features to handle the scaling of text and GUI elements, so programs which use the new features in the API need to be re-written, or at least the GUI needs to be re-written.  The change is not trivial, it isn’t just like compiling to a different library, the changes cannot be done automatically so the code needs to be edited manually to include the new features.

Of course all the Microsoft applications handle this correctly, as you might expect, but other programs sometimes don’t handle it quite as well. This has meant that some of my favourite programs either don’t work properly or are completely unusable on my new laptop.

I tried out a few of the programs I have been using and which I have used in the past using my laptop with it’s high DPI screen and a 1600 by 1200 monitor plugged into the HDMI port of the laptop.

Compendium

Compendium ignores any scaling factors you have set on your screen and draws its user interface at the native resolution of the screen. The text and icons are microscopic and the program is unusable without a magnifying glass.  On the external monitor things are scaled to the same size but the pixels are bigger so that even with a magnifying glass it is unreadable.

WhizFolders

WhizFolders scales everything correctly and works as expected.

VUE

VUE ignores any scaling factors you have set on your screen and draws its user interface at the native resolution of the screen. The text and icons are microscopic and the program is unusable without a magnifying glass.  On the external monitor things are scaled to the same size but the pixels are bigger so that even with a magnifying glass it is unreadable.  This has left me looking for a new mapping program, I relied on VUE quite heavily.

CMAP Tools

Because I can’t use VUE on my laptop anymore I revisited CMAP Tools, a program I tried a while ago, but alas CMAP Tools ignores any scaling factors you have set on your screen and draws its user interface at the native resolution of the screen. The text and icons are microscopic and the program is unusable without a magnifying glass.  On the external monitor things are scaled to the same size but the pixels are bigger so that even with a magnifying glass it is unreadable.

Scrivener

Scrivener draws most of its user interface correctly but the icons in the toolbar are now small and the text in the binder panel looks cramped, it has been drawn at the correct scale but too close together. This can be solved by switching fonts to a font which has a larger line spacing, Calibri worked on my system.  The toolbar icons in Scrivener were too large, having them much smaller is a little tiresome but not as bad as it would have been if the icons had started out at normal size, this problem is trivial.  Scrivener works well on a high DPI screen.

TheBrain

TheBrain scales its user interface correctly but cannot handle having two screens with different scaling factors.  If any of the panels are put into a floating window and dragged to the other screen then the program crashes if the scale factor is different on the two screens.  If the scale factor is the same on both screens then everything works as expected.

MyInfo

MyInfo scales everything correctly and works as expected.  Embedded OLE objects are rendered at the correct scale.

Ultra Recall

Ultra Recall scales its user interface correctly and works as expected apart from one problem.  Embedded OLE objects are rendered at a ridiculously large scale.  The developer said that he is using Internet Explorer to render the objects within Ultra Recall and so cannot do anything about the scale factor at which they appear.  However developers of some other programs seem to have been able to do this correctly.

ConnectedText

Unfortunately ConnectedText has some problems with high DPI screens, the icons on the toolbar become microscopic and the titles of topics show only the top half of the text.  Apart from those problems it works correctly.  I still use ConnectedText despite the problems.

Essential PIM Pro

This is a curious one.  I was using Essential PIM Pro 6 which had all sorts of problems with scaling when I was forced onto Windows 10, so I wrote to the developer telling him what the problems were and he wrote back saying that ‘Unfortunately there is no way to overcome this problem’ which I assumed to mean that he wasn’t going to do anything about it and started looking for a new e-mail program but then just a couple of weeks later Essential PIM Pro 7 came out which solved almost all the problems.  He could have told me that the new version was coming out and to wait a little while but for some reason he didn’t.  There is still a problem with some of the text in some of the panels and dialog boxes looking too cramped, this could be solved by switching fonts but you cannot change the interface font in Essential PIM Pro like you can in Scrivener.


So, which laptop should I have bought?  Well I think there is an optimum screen resolution for each screen size, you want it high enough that the individual pixels are not visible but not so high as to cause the scaling issues detailed above, and for the external screen you want it to have enough pixels so that you can set the scaling factors to be the same for the two screens.  So the external monitor should be high resolution. But I am stuck with the monitor that I have (1600 by 1200) unless I want to purchase another one.

For a screen which is 13 inches between diagonally opposite corners I think the optimum resolution would be 1920 by 1080.  If the screen were bigger then the resolution could be higher to keep the DPI (dots per inch) the same.

Universal Links

I sometimes get e-mails about the blog and sometimes people put comments on my posts.  One thing that has been asked more than once is :-

“What is a universal link anyway?”

A universal link is a link to specific content within the file of an application.  For instance Essential PIM Pro allows you to copy a link which will point to a specific e-mail in a specific database created in Essential PIM Pro.  This can be activated from another application and will not only start up Essential PIM but open the specific e-mail to which the link points.

There is a protocol which the application needs to register with the operating system when it is installed, once registered if the operating system receives a link of the correct format it will pass the link to the specified application.

As an example of what they look like a link to one of the e-mails in Essential PIM looks like :-

epim://D:\Data\EPIM\Pauls.epim/mails/544385275277860595

the bit up to the :// is the string which is registered with the operating system, the rest is application specific.

As another example a link to a topic in my ConnectedText notes looks like :-

ct://Potek/HD%20Clone%20Notes

again the bit before the :// specifies the application to which the link points but the rest of it is almost human readable once you realise that ‘%20’ is the space character.

So a universal link is like a URL but it points to specific content within a specific application on the local machine.

Long Term Usage review of ConnectedText

You might be aware if you have been following my posts on note taking software that I have been searching for the ideal (ideal for me) solution for capturing and developing ideas and organising notes.

During this time I have spent a lot of time using various programs and a lot of money on acquiring the programs I thought were satisfactory.

Now I have decided to standardise on just one program. ConnectedText.

Overview

I have now been using ConnectedText on and off since 2012. I have been using it more extensively since the advent of version 6 which introduced some significant improvements. During this time I have looked at many alternative note taking programs, the best of which were MyInfo and Ultra Recall.

My overall impression is much more favourable than in my previous review, now that I have been using it for a while and have learned to live with it’s little quirks it has grown on me. Of course I recognised the enormous power when I first used ConnectedText but it seemed difficult to use and I wondered whether it was worth the effort. It took me a while to ‘get it’ but now I see that it was well worth the effort.

ConnectedText is different from almost all the other note taking programs which I tried out. It is a wiki and essentially what you are doing is building a website, except it’s not on the Web it’s in your computer.

This is not a novel approach, the World Wide Web itself, if you ignore the advertising, can be seen as a rich and imperfect set of notes belonging to everyone and to both a greater and a lesser extent Wikipedia is the same.

With the World Wide Web there is nobody in overall control, this means that the great majority of the data contained therein is irrelevant and of the stuff that is relevant some of it is wrong. Wikipedia is more useful because of the efforts of a great many volunteers who try to ensure that articles posted are of interest to others and are accurate.

With ConnectedText you have your own intranet, where you can store notes. This is very useful, the markup language allows a great deal of flexibility in the way notes are classified and linked together. If you want a taste of the language then download the Welcome Project from the ConnectedText website.

Limitations

The program is not perfect by any means. But many of the limitations of the program are understandable for a program of this type. If there was a WYSIWYG editor it would be overburdened with toolbars full of buttons and numerous menus, it would be even worse than Microsoft word. There is a program called Info Qube which has gone down this route and the user interface is hideously complex.

It is a simpler approach to have the functionality of the pages defined in a markup language but this does have consequences for the editor.

The Editor

When I write I don’t like things disrupting the flow, the markup language does disrupt the flow but not as much as one might expect. The ‘edit mode’ of ConnectedText is just like a plain text editor with only a few distractions. Pressing F11 expands the text editor pane to fill the entire window, this is close to a distraction free environment. So I just write and don’t think about the markup until later.

For more complex pages which are not just plain text I still find it irksome that to edit a page you have to enter a different mode, where you write the ‘source code’ for your page. You will not see the results until the page is rendered i.e. you go back to viewing mode. This decreases the interactivity of the program.

But there is a way to ameliorate this, somewhat. Starting with version 6 you can open a floating window containing a read only copy of a page. You can have as many of these floating windows open as you can fit on your screen. This is so that you could refer to one page whilst reading or editing another. But the page in the floating window can be the one that you are editing, so you can see the ‘source code’ and the results at the same time in different windows. The floating window is not updated automatically but you can update it manually to see what effect your edits have had. This makes things easier for editing and is not as awkward as constantly switching between modes but it is still somewhat cumbersome to save the page you are editing and then have to use the mouse to right click in the floating window and tell it to update itself. I wish that there were a way to automate this so that it could be just one keypress.

I still think edit mode is ugly but it doesn’t seem as ugly as when I first started using ConnectedText, but I have changed many of the settings from their defaults, I found an excellent article on setting up ConnectedText here.

Import

The export facilities of ConnectedText are excellent but the import leaves a lot to be desired. If you take the simple approach and just cut and paste into ConnectedText then the results are often not what you would expect, any formatting is either lost or messed up and tables don’t come through very well.

Import of text files is possible and works well with plain text.

It is also possible to import .RTF files although it often gets the formatting wrong and does tend to mess up tables.

The most compatible import format in my experience is HTML, this format tends to get the formatting right and to get the tables correct. This is unsurprising since HTML is also a markup language. The best way I have found of importing a Microsoft Word document into ConnectedText is to save the document in the ‘filtered HTML’ format from Word then import it.

ConnectedText needs better import facilities.

Tables

Table are usually not very pretty in ConnectedText. It is possible to get them to look good with time and effort but a standard table is ugly. Once you have produced a table you cannot just drag the borders of the cells around like you can in a good WYSIWYG editor, tables have to be planned in advance or they look cramped with only just enough room allocated to the contents of each cell.

When creating a table in ConnectedText you don’t get any impression about how it is going to look until it is actually rendered.

In my opinion this is one of the worst features in ConnectedText.

P.S. Added 12th March 2015

I have learned a lot more about CSS files in the last three weeks and have found that it is possible to get the default formatting of ConnectedText tables to be a lot better than the formatting which you get with any of the CSS files supplied with ConnectedText.  In fact the rendering of the entire wiki can be improver beyond recognition with a good CSS file.

Memory Usage for large databases

Whilst reviewing each of the note taking programs I did a stress test which consisted of loading more and more documents into them until they failed. I have a collection of approximately 20,000 texts downloaded from the Project Guttenberg website. These range in size from a few kilobytes to three megabytes but the average is about 60 kilobytes.

Most programs failed with the full set of documents. Two which did not fail were Ultra Recall and MyInfo, for these programs searches remained lightning fast and navigation did not slow down. I expect that these programs maintain an index of words contained it each document (called a Trie).

ConnectedText did slow down quite considerably with 20,000 documents and sometimes crashed because it ran out of memory, particularly with indexing and searching. Search and Replace operations were particularly hard hit and slowed to a crawl but also the memory usage went up dramatically during these operations.

With ConnectedText open on one monitor and the Windows Task Manager open on the other I sat and watched the memory usage slowly climb towards two gigabytes, it never reached that far, it would run out of memory when it got close. My laptop has four gigabytes installed but ConnectedText is probably a 32 bit program and so can only address two gigabytes.

However this is an extreme test. I expect that if the average size of document was a lot less then the performance would have been a lot better, even with the large documents of the stress test ConnectedText performed well with two thousand documents except for the searches and search & replace operations which did show significant slowing.

For databases of less than two thousand long documents or a lot more than two thousand smaller documents you should experience no problems. Few people have the need for more than this.

P.S.  Added 22nd February 2015.

The Latest update to ConnectedText (6.0.12.35) addresses these issues.  The bug which caused the consumption of memory during a Global Search and Replace has been found and eliminated, also the memory usage for 64 bit computers has been raised to 4 Gb.  This eliminates most of the complaints raised in this section.

Advantages of ConnectedText

ConnectedText is very powerful. Most of the power of ConnectedText comes from its markup language. But it is also very flexible in the ways you can structure your Wiki and in the ways you can link things together.

Classification

Some types of data have a very clear and obvious structure to them, others do not. If you are merely wanting to record details of some data which you already know the structure of then it is perfectly reasonable to define the structure in advance.

An example would be contact details. You already know about names and addresses so you can plan a structure to your data which is most convenient to you.

But there are other problems for which the structure of the data is not known and for these problems it would be a mistake to define a structure for the data in advance. Defining the structure of the data too early might impose an inappropriate structure which might limit the ways in which you think about the data.

Such a problem might be writing up some research or the writing of a thesis which by its nature it is an exploration of new ideas and new research. Most discoveries are not made whilst performing the experiments, they are made during the organising and writing up of the notes, this is where ideas come together in ways which produce flashes of insight which were not apparent from the raw data. Imposing a structure too early might mean that you miss something significant later.

In my opinion this is where ConnectedText is at its best. You can just dump all the raw data in there and classify it organise it and re-organise it, because you can have the same data represented in many different ways simultaneously and just switch between the different views.

Connected Text has very powerful facilities for classifying things. Pages can have category, attribute and property commands embedded in the markup language. A page which contains a category command assigns the page to that particular category. Properties and attributes are similar to each other and both assign a value to a variable which is associated with that page. The only difference is that attributes are displayed as part of the page whilst properties are invisible in the text in viewing mode.

Assigning categories, properties and attributes is only half the story. Once you have a set of pages classified like this you can write queries to select the pages you want to see. Each category has an automatically generated virtual page which contains links to all the pages in that category. The categories are hierarchical so a category can be a subcategory of another category.

A page can contain a query which selects pages with certain categories properties or attributes, when this query is run it will generate a list of links to pages which fulfil the selection criteria. If selecting on a property or attribute any page which assigns anything to that property or attribute is considered to ‘have’ that property or attribute. However queries can also select pages which have a property or attribute equal to (or less than, greater than or not equal to) a specific value. Also the result can be sorted according to the values in a property or attribute.

For instance you might have a set of pages with the category ‘Task’ with an attribute ‘Priority’ and a date associated with each page. You could then have a page containing a query to display tasks which would display a list of all pages in the category ‘Task’, this list could be sorted by priority or by date. The page would be automatically updated each time the page is rendered.

Pages can include other pages (either the whole page or just a part of the page) so a page can be a patchwork of parts of other pages, if any of the source pages change then any pages which include that page also change. When used with ‘named blocks’ using a query to select which blocks are included in the page has made ConnectedText very useful for CAQDAS.

Connectivity

Basically you can connect anything to anything else. All the links are embedded in the text of a page so you don’t connect a note as an entity, you embed a link in the text of the page. The link can be to another note in the wiki or to a note in another wiki or to an external file or to a URL on the internet. The fact that the links are embedded in the text makes them both visible and editable, nothing is hidden. In view mode if you click a link to a file then the program will run that file just the same as if you had double clicked on it in file manager.

Creating a link to a page in the same wiki is easy, you just put the name of the target page within square braces like [[Target Page]] , if the target page exists it is linked to, if it does not then the link appears in red when you go back to viewing mode. But if it does not exist then when you click on that link a new empty page with that name is created and opened in edit mode for you to start writing. This method of creating links on the fly does not interrupt the process of writing when you want to refer to a page which does not yet exist.

The program has a menu item entitled ‘Copy as link’ which copies a universal link onto the clipboard which can be pasted into another Connected Text wiki or into any other program which supports universal links. When activated this link will open Connected Text if it is not already running and direct it to open the page which is the target of the link. So you can link to specific pages within other Connected Text wikis.

Connected text also supports universal links to and from other programs, so I can link to a specific E-mail or contact in my E-mail program from within Connected Text.

There is also a set of ‘Bookmarks’ just like a web browser, you can bookmark favourite pages within your wiki and jump to them.

Adaptability

I was once told on the ConnectedText forum that there is no ‘incorrect’ way of using ConnectedText. Whatever way works for you is correct. Indeed this program is very versatile.

I found an implementation of much of the functionality of ‘Lotus Agenda‘ (an organiser which I once used back in the days of DOS) written in the ‘ConnectedText’ markup language on the Taking Note blog. I am now using this to implement Dave Allen’s GTD method of organising tasks.

The Hierarchical tree is a classic model for the organisation of data. There are many note taking programs which base their whole organisation model on hierarchical trees. The big mistake most note taking programs make is to only allow a page to appear at one location in the tree, but sometimes it might be appropriate for a page to appear in multiple locations. For instance if you have a research project which needs equipment to be bought, does the record of these purchases go under the project or under finances? The answer should be both but often a program will force you to choose which is the most appropriate location. As the tree expands this problem gets worse.

The programs Ultra Recall and MyInfo allow this type of cloning of pages.

ConnectedText also has trees in the form of outlines. Dragging a page to an outline inserts the title of that page and a link to the page into the outline. There are two types of outline available in ConnectedText, there is one generic outline which is saved with the project automatically and another which you explicitly create (but you can only have one of these open at once). The outline allows the same page entry to appear in multiple locations.

You can have as many outlines as you want and each one can give you a unique view of your data. So ConnectedText can function as a classic two pane note taking program based on a hierarchical tree.

Hierarchical trees are very useful but they are not the whole story.

Some note taking programs rely on Tagging (sometimes called Keywords or Categories), Personal Knowbase is an example of this type of program. This is also a good approach to searching for the data you wish to find if the search and filtering is well implemented. Most of the programs I have reviewed (including Personal Knowbase) use a flat model for the categories, it is more useful to have the tags in a hierarchical tree as implemented in the program MyBase, so that a category can have subcategories. This is the approach taken by ConnectedText.

Some note taking programs allow the association of arbitrary metadata with a page, this is useful for searching and filtering of pages, generating sorted lists of pages which meet arbitrary criteria or seeing information about pages.

Ultra Recall allows you to define different arbitrary metadata for each individual page within the database. Scrivener and MyInfo allow arbitrary metadata to be defined but it is common to the whole database. For ConnectedText the metadata is defined within the markup for that page and so it can be unique.

So ConnectedText has implemented all of the most useful aspects of information organisation from other note taking programs, but they are more useful when used together.  There are other aspects to the program like being able to generate directed acyclic graphs on a page as well as normal graphs, being able to embed Python scripts within a page and have it execute each time the page is rendered, you can even put musical staves along with their notes on a page although this is one facility I have never used.

Conclusion

ConnectedText is not as pretty as some of the note taking programs I have reviewed but if you are happy with the aesthetics of the program then I know of no other program which can match its power and flexibility.

 

Long Term Usage Review of Note Taking Programs

I have looked at many programs which organise notes and build a personal knowledge base.  Many of them were not worth keeping installed on my computer for various reasons.

Of all the programs I have looked at three stand out as being better than the others in my opinion.  Of these three there doesn’t seem to be a ‘best’ program they are all good, but in different ways.  The three programs which remain installed on my system are ConnectedText, MyInfo and Ultra Recall.  I have been using ConnectedText for about two years, I have been using MyInfo for about a year and Ultra Recall for about ten months (as of December 2014).

Ultra Recall and MyInfo

Ultra Recall and MyInfo are very similar to each other and so it is easier to compare the two.  They are both note taking programs which put documents into a tree structure.  The layout of the user interface and the structure of the collection of documents is preset by the programmer and although there is some flexibility you cannot change the basic structure as you can with Connected Text.  Ultra Recall allows more flexibility in the layout of the user interface than MyInfo does.

There is no scripting in either program.

Ultra Recall is technically superior to MyInfo but MyInfo has a much better user interface, it is easier to use and so it is the one I find myself using for day to day note taking despite the fact that I feel I ought to be using the more powerful Ultra Recall.  This blog post is being composed on MyInfo the same as the rest of my blog posts.

I just find MyInfo nicer to use than Ultra Recall.

Cloned documents on Ultra Recall are true clones, if you add a sub document to one of the clones on Ultra Recall then the other clones also get that sub document added to them.  On MyInfo child documents of a clone have to be kept in sync manually which can be tiresome.

When using a 2 gigabyte database containing 20,000 documents they both perform well, searches are lightning fast but MyInfo takes a much longer time to initially open the file.  I don’t usually have this many documents in my database, I just use a few texts from Project Guttenberg to test how these programs will cope if I ever do get that many documents.

Ultra Recall handles embedded OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) objects better than MyInfo.  By OLE objects I mean Excel spreadsheets and Word documents.  OLE objects can be problematic for programs.  For an OLE link to work properly both the server side and the client side need to be implemented properly.  Ultra Recall have implemented the OLE client properly.

Microsoft products have both server and client working properly, this is unsurprising since they wrote the standard.  Other programs are less successful.  If you try to embed an Open Office Calc spreadsheet in Ultra Recall then it doesn’t work because Open Office have not implemented the server correctly.

So there are very few programs other than Microsoft Office applications which will work with OLE.  MyInfo is able to embed documents from Microsoft Office applications via OLE but there are many caveats and restrictions so it is not that useful in practice.

The tagging interface on MyInfo is much better than Ultra Recall.  MyInfo also handles tables better than Ultra Recall and it can display meta-data in columns next to the tree which is quite useful.

The meta-data in MyInfo is communal, that is every document in the file has the same meta-data, this encourages you to split up your data in separate files, but you can have many files open at once in tabs just below the toolbars.

With Ultra Recall each document can have different meta-data, this has the advantage that you can keep different types of data in the same file but has the disadvantage that the meta-data can become disorganised.

Ultra Recall also allows many files to be open at once.

 

Connected Text

ConnectedText is completely different to either Ultra Recall or MyInfo.  It is a Wiki engine, it contains plain text in it own markup language styled by a standard HTML CSS file.  The markup language contains many directives for classification and linkage and can also contain scripts using the Python programming language.  There are also queries which may be placed on a page, that page will then display the results of the query.

The interface consists of the main window displaying your page (or editing your page) plus a number of other windows which may be displayed or not depending on whether you want to see them or not.  They may be docked within the main window or floating.  You can even place them on another monitor if you have one.  The layout of the interface is very flexible.

MyInfo and Ultra Recall organise their documents into a hierarchical tree structure.  At first sight this is lacking in ConnectedText but that is not the case.  ConnectedText does ‘outlines’ which can be filled with links to ConnectedText pages in a hierarchical tree structure,  in fact you can have as many different trees as you want, each one giving you a different perspective on your data.

Connected Text is very very powerful, but not very intuitive or interactive.  It has a separate viewing and editing mode so what you see is not what you get.  The program takes a lot of learning to be able to use it fluently.

There is a trick which can be used to make ConnectedText a little more interactive, it allows a ‘floating window’ to be opened so you can view one topic whilst editing another.  But the topic in the ‘floating window’ can be the topic you are editing.  It won’t be updated continuously but every time you hit the save button on the toolbar the ‘floating window’ will be updated.  So you can see the effects of your edits in semi-real time.

The structure of the collection of documents is whatever the user wants it to be, although most times it does end up looking like web pages on a website.  This analogy is apt because working with a ConnectedText wiki feels very much like maintaining your own personal website, except that the facilities available are far more powerful than HTML.  The pages can often be more graphical than MyInfo or Ultra Recall which tend to be plain text.  But to achieve this takes more work than in Ultra Recall or MyInfo.

Tables have to be thought through beforehand and carefully programmed, this is usually an iterative process.

With too much data the performance of Connected Text falls considerably and searches on large data sets become very slow and the program sometimes runs out of memory (no matter how much memory you have in your computer Connected Text version 6.0 will only use 2Gb).  This test was with just 10,000 documents and the program was floundering, MyInfo and Ultra Recall were performing very fast searches and suffering no loss of speed of navigation with a database of twice that size.

ConnectedText also has a lot of plug-ins, there is GraphViz for drawing directed graphs which I use quite a lot and is very useful.  There is Ploticus which draws graphs, which I have used but not that much.  There is TeX for rendering mathematical formulas and a map plug in for getting Google Maps and displaying them in a page (you need an internet connection for this to work).

The most useful plug-in of all must be Python, you can write scripts in Python and they get run whenever the page is rendered.  Also the internals of the ConnectedText database are available for use in Python.

There is so much depth to this program, I have been using it on and off for about two years now and I am still learning what it is capable of.  Be warned if you get ConnectedText the learning curve is very steep.  But it gets easier with time.

 

The Conclusion

I think that at some point soon I will uninstall Ultra Recall.  Technically it is better than MyInfo but MyInfo is just so damn convenient and useful.  They both perform the same function so I can’t justify keeping them both, and keeping them both in sync is very tiresome and so the Ultra Recall database has fallen behind I now no longer bother to update it.

As to which one is the winner between MyInfo and ConnectedText …

I don’t know.

They are both extremely good.  But they are so very different.  Whilst the databases I had in Ultra Recall and MyInfo were just copies of each other the database in ConnectedText is quite different from the one in MyInfo.  The programs work differently and different things are possible in each.

I still haven’t decided.

Maybe I will keep both.

A Cornucopia of Programs

Information Tools

I have not posted in a while (I’ve been busy) so I decided to do something special.  This is a list of all the information tools I could have found in my search for the perfect note taking program.  This is just a list, these are not reviews, just a few remarks on my impressions of the program.  I haven’t even tried many of them so being on this list is not an endorsement it just means they exist.  Not being on the list doesn’t mean anything either, it only means I must have missed it.  Some are free and almost all the others have a free trial period.

The prices were correct in October 2014, after that they may change.

 

My Personal Preferences

Out of all the note taking programs which I have tried Ultra Recall and MyInfo are undoubtedly my favourites.  Ultra Recall is more powerful and is probably the one I should be using but MyInfo has a better user interface and although it is not as powerful it is easier to use and the information you want is easier to find in MyInfo.  I ought to be using Ultra Recall but the program I find myself using on a day to day basis for general organisation tasks is MyInfo simply because its easier.  This blog post is being composed in MyInfo.

For serious writing Scrivener is unrivalled.

If I wanted a Wiki then Connected Text is the tool I would use.

For drawing concept maps, organisation charts and just laying out ideas graphically to sort out my thoughts VUE is the tool which I use, for mind maps I use Freeplane.

 

So.  What is available?

 

Note Taking Programs

Ultra Recall

Usage       Regular
License     Commercial
Price          $99  or $49
Website    http://www.kinook.com/UltraRecall/

This is a very powerful note taking program with a lot of facilities.  It can handle very large amounts of data without a slow down in either the navigation or searching.  Arbitrary metadata may be associated with any item in the database.  A full review is here.

Although Ultra Recall is very powerful I can’t help feeling that this is a program which keeps adding feature upon feature until the simple things you used to do are no longer simple, and the whole thing starts to feel overwhelming.

 

MyInfo

Usage       Regular
License     Commercial
Price          $99.95  or $49.95
Website    http://www.milenix.com/myinfo

This is a powerful note taking program with a lot of facilities, it is not quite as powerful as Ultra Recall but it is more user friendly.  Tagging/Keywords are much easier to use and searching is easier.  It can handle very large amounts of data without a slow down in either the navigation or searching, but the opening of a large file does slow down.  The metadata is the same for all items in the database but multiple databases with different data sets and different metadata may be open simultaneously.  A full review is here.

WhizFolders

Usage       have used in the past
License     Commercial
Price          $49.95  or $24.95
Website    http://www.whizfolders.com/

This is a classic two pane organiser with a hierarchical tree.  It does have tags (keywords) but it feels like they were added as an afterthought.  Editing is a little awkward as you have to switch between edit mode and view mode.  It has little to recommend it over MyInfo or Ultra Recall except for the price. There is a review.

Essential PIM Pro

Usage       Regular
License     Commercial
Price          £26.88
Website    http://www.essentialpim.com/pc-version

This is an E-mail program with a calendar and reminders, it has tasks which may be given deadlines and it also has a hierarchical note taking section.  There are no keywords or tags but there are a limited number of categories (editable) which may be assigned to all types of items.  Linking (both in and out) is very good.  It is also available for various platforms, there is an android and iOS version available, the different versions can share data.

The note taking section is not as good as some of the note taking programs in this list but note taking is not the primary purpose of this program.

Memo Master

Usage       used to use this
License     Commercial
Price          £39.00
Website    http://www.jbsoftware.org/memomaster/details.htm

Memo Master is a two pane organiser.  It supports spreadsheets as one of the types of document instead of just text documents.  There are many facilities but a lot of them are well hidden in the interface, this makes it awkward and tiresome to use, but it does tick the box in the list of features in the advertising.  The user interface feels like it was designed by someone who never had to use the program.

There is a free version of this program with a lot of the facilities disabled, but annoyingly the menu entries and buttons for these parts of the program are still there.  If you click on one it brings up a dialog box telling you that you need to buy the full version to use this feature.

Right Note

Usage       never used
License     Commercial
Price          $59.95 or  $29.95 — £40.78 or £20.37
Website    http://bauerapps.com/rightnote/

I have never used this program, not even the free trial version but it looks good on their website.  This is a two pane organiser with a very colourful user interface.  It supports spreadsheets as one of its document types.  I don’t know how easy it is to use so I will not pass any judgements but it’s probably worth taking a look.

Silver Note

Usage      Tried it out
License    Commercial
Price         $49.95
Website    http://www.silver-note.com/

This may well be a good program when they get it finished but at the moment it is a beta test version being sold as a finished product.  There are no import facilities.  The drawing tools are buggy.  However this program shows great promise.  It has a novel hierarchical tagging scheme which is truly innovative.  I wish them good luck with their development of this program.

Debrief Notes

Usage       Tried it out
License     Commercial
Price          $39.95
Website    http://debriefnotes.com/

This was one of the most awful restrictive badly designed programs I have ever had the misfortune to use.  The user interface looks like it was designed in the mid 1990’s with a Borland style, don’t get me wrong many user interfaces built using the Borland tools were very good, it just depends on the programmer who designed it.  I only mention this as an indication of the vintage of this program.  No development has gone on since that time.

This program makes the assumption that you don’t need to link in or out (no you can’t even have a link to a file on the local file system) and that you will use their program for everything.

This program is no longer being developed it is just being sold.

KeepNote

Usage       Tried it out
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://keepnote.org/

This is a free and open source note taking program.  It is a three pane organiser, the pages are formatted in HTML.  This program performed very well under load, it can handle very large data sets easily, the navigation did not slow down but the searching did slow down in proportion to the size of the data set.  This program does not have keywords/tags and has very few advanced facilities but it does perform well as a very basic (simple) organiser and it is free.

Keynote NF

Usage       Tried it out
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    https://code.google.com/p/keynote-nf/

This is a free and open source note taking program.  It is a two pane organiser, the pages are rich text format.  This program did not perform very well under load, it slowed down considerably with a moderate data set, the navigation slowed down in proportion to the size of the data set, a few very large items could slow it down just as much as many small data items.  This program does not have keywords/tags and has very few advanced facilities but it is free.

SEO Notes

Usage       Not used
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://www.seonote.info/

This is a very basic free two pane organiser with very few facilities.  I have not tested this program, reading the documentation was enough to convince me that there were much better offerings out there which are free.

The Guide

Usage       Used to use it
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://theguide.sourceforge.net/

The Guide is a simple two pane hierarchical outlining program with no keywords or tagging.  I used it as a writing tool some years ago but there were some instances where it lost some of the text, I think there is a bug or two in there somewhere.  Even when working perfectly it has little to recommend it over some of the other free outliners (like KeepNote).

Personal Knowbase

Usage       Used to use it
License     Commercial
Price          $49.95
Website    http://www.bitsmithsoft.com/product.htm

This is a strange program, there is no tree, the tagging scheme is how you locate the items you want.  This program has one of the best tagging schemes that I have seen but it’s a bit of a one trick pony.  Although the tagging scheme is excellent the editing of notes is not very good and there is no support for tables or images in items and only very basic formatting of text.  This program is no longer under development, for the past few years there have been only very few updates and these are only maintenance updates (fixing bugs).

TreeDBNotes

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          $34.95 or free for a very limited version
Website    http://www.mytreedb.com/treedbnotes_pro.html

I have not tried this program but it seems like a fairly ordinary two pane organiser with a hierarchical tree in the left pane and the item content in the other pane.  The paid version does have tagging but I don’t know how easy this feature is to use.

Leo Editor

Usage       Not used
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://leoeditor.com/

Leo is a plain text outliner and organiser which is also an IDE (integrated development environment).  This was written by programmers for programmers, the people who designed it definitely use it the user interface is well designed but a little esoteric.  Leo was written in python and it works well as a python IDE.  Python scripts can be associated with any outline item.  Leo is very powerful but not very graphical.

AM-Notebook

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          29.95 Euros
Website    http://www.aignes.com/notebook.htm

AM-Notebook is a two pane organiser, but with a few extras.  It has spreadsheets as one of its item types and it has diagrams as one of its item types.  It also has a Calendar, todo list and contacts list, these features are very similar to Microsoft outlook features.  There is no tagging or keywords.

AskSam

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          $395.00 or $149.00
Website    ?

This program used to be the biggest (and one of the more expensive) two pane organisers around but its web page seems to undergoing maintenance, but it has now been undergoing maintenance for a couple of years.  Now I get an error message when I try to go to the page.  Version 7 is the most recently released version.  It has lots of features but it’s very expensive compared to Ultra Recall.

Black Hole Organizer

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          $24.95
Website    http://www.starresoft.com/bho.htm

This is a three pane organiser like KeepNote.  I have not tried this but it seems to have a lot of good features including user defined metadata.

MyBase

Usage       Tried it out
License     Commercial
Price          $59.00
Website    http://www.wjjsoft.com/mybase.html

This is one that I have tried.  It has a lot of good features but there are also some bad features, like the linking not being very good, it doesn’t support universal links.  One of the good features is a hierarchical tagging/keyword system.  It does not handle large data sets very well, there seems to be an upper limit of 300MB on the file size.

Surfulater

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          $79.00
Website    http://www.surfulater.com/

I have not tried this program but maybe I ought to have done, from the information on the website and a review I read the main emphasis of this program seems to be collecting copies of web pages into a database which can then be viewed offline at a later date even if the web page has changed or no longer exists.  Of course you can also take notes with it.  The web clippings are arranged into a hierarchical tree.  There is also a hierarchical tagging scheme, which seems surprisingly good.

EverNote

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          Sign up for free or paid account with a monthly subscription
Website    https://evernote.com/

This is an online note taking solution.  You need to get an account to use it.  If you always have a connection to the internet then it is probably a good idea but if like me you spend a large percentage of the day without a connection then it doesn’t look so attractive.  There are versions of this program for android and iOS and you can share data between devices.  It is possible to get a ‘Premium Account’ which you pay a monthly subscription for.  If you have a Premium Account then you can download your notes onto your computer or phone or tablet and use them without a connection.  But you are paying each month for the privilige.  In my opinion ‘software as a service’ is a BAD idea, you rent the software, if you use it for a long time then you end up paying far more than if you had bought a high end piece of software to do the same job.

Zoot XT

Usage       Tried it out, didn’t like it
License     Commercial
Price          $99.00
Website    http://www.zootsoftware.com/

Zoot is an unusual program, I am not a fan of it but you might like it.  It is a not taking software but it also includes an e-mail program, an RSS feed viewer and a web browser amongst other things.  It treats your notes just like e-mails to yourself.  The user interface is complex and I didn’t get along with it very well.

LexiCan

Usage       Tried it out, didn’t like it
License     Commercial
Price          39.90 Euros
Website    http://www.lexican.net/

Yet another two pane outliner.  This one has some limitations.  There was a significant reduction in response times when the file grew to just a few hundred notes or a couple of hundred kilobytes, this is very poor in my opinion.

When you open this program it takes a very long time before even the splash screen appears, this is annoying.

LexiCan has some serious issues which hamper its use, most of the other programs can have multiple databases or files open at once.  LexiCan can only have one file open at once and when you open another file it automatically closes the file you had open.

This program is produced by a German company, it has been translated into English.  However some of the more obscure menus and dialog boxes are still in German and if you get an error which happens frequently the error message which comes up is always in German.

Noteliner

Usage       Tried it out
License     ?
Price          Free
Website    http://www.noteliner.org/i/Main.html

This is a single pane outliner but has an optional second pane which can be displayed or hidden.  This program is free but not open source.  This program has a lot of hidden depth to it, for instance I didn’t realise until quite recently that it does Gantt charts.

Total Text Container

Usage       Tried it out
License     ?
Price          Free
Website    https://sites.google.com/site/totaltextcontainer/Home

This is a quirky little program which does a lot of different things but which also has some bugs.  It is free.  It has many different item types including spreadsheets and diagrams.  There has been no development of this program for a long time.

Cinta Notes

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          Free version or a $39.00 uncrippled version
Website    http://cintanotes.com/

Cinta Notes stores its notes in a chronological order but in the Pro (paid for) version you have a good tagging scheme with a hierarchical tag tree and so you can gain access to your notes organised in a way you define using this tree.  This is a plain text organiser.

Cherry Tree

Usage       Tried it out, undecided
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://www.giuspen.com/cherrytree/

This is one of the better free and open source note taking programs.  There is a tagging scheme but it is not terribly useful.  There is syntax highlighting for a number of different computer languages.  Images can be pasted into items.

AllMyNotes Organizer

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          $25.50 or Free for a version with limited capabilities
Website    http://www.vladonai.com/

A standard two pane organiser but with a quirky colourful interface and a number of different ‘skins’ which change the appearance of the user interface.  There are lots of customisation options.  No tagging scheme but items can have alarms attached to them so that they will remind you of their alarm at a given time in the future (if you are running the program at that time), or as soon after that as they can run.

The website seems to run a perpetual ‘limited time offer’ just for your country (wherever you happen to be from).  This offer has been running for several years now, I don’t know what the limit on the time is but I don’t think there is any need to rush!

Idea Rover

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          $89
Website    http://www.idearover.com/

This is a standard one/two pane outliner which is supposedly pitched towards academic writing, it has special facilities for what they call ‘structured citation extraction’ whatever that is.  In my opinion it doesn’t have anything to recommend it over Scrivener which is cheaper and better.

This program has an awkward interface with a large ‘ribbon’ of icons across the top of the screen, on a small screen (a laptop) this could get annoying.

Linked Notes

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          Free version or a $19.95 uncrippled version
Website    http://www.linkednotes.com/default.aspx

A very basic two pane organiser program with no tagging and nothing to recommend it over one of the free organiser programs like Cherry Tree or KeepNote.

Notecase Pro

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          It’s complicated
Website    http://www.notecasepro.com/

A two pane organiser program with lots of facilities.  There is a tagging scheme.  Files can be attached to items and alarms can also be attached to items to bring up a reminder at some point in the future.  There is a spell checker and there is a version for Android.

It might well be a good program, I have not tried it out.  The prices start low but there are many different prices you can pay for this program depending on the platform, the upgrade options, and whether you want it for more than one platform.

Microsoft OneNote

Usage       Tried it, didn’t like it
License     Commercial
Price          It’s complicated, there is a free version but it isn’t really free.
Website    http://www.onenote.com/

This is Microsofts offering in the genre of note taking programs.  I used OneNote 2007 for a while.  The more recent versions have become less useful as Microsoft moves more towards the ‘Software as a Service’ business model.

My comments here refer to the 2007 version.  The user interface is slick and well thought out, it follows all the standard windows conventions.  However many of the features aren’t as useful as they could have been, I think that many features were added in order to tick boxes in the advertising, this program is full of gimmicks which don’t really add to the usability or usefulness of the program.

For example, it has a tagging scheme but the entries are in a drop down box so when you get more than about thirty tags/categories selecting one becomes very awkward.

All the text on a page is in boxes.  This is very different to using a word processor, it is a sort of hybrid between a word processor and a desktop publishing program.  It ends up being not as good as either of them.

Writing Programs

Scrivener

Usage       Regular
License     Commercial
Price          $40 for Windows, $45 for Mac (Mac version is more advanced)
Website    http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

Scrivener is in my opinion the best word processor around.  It supports not just the creation of a document but also the organisation of the notes and research for that document.  It may be used as a note taking program although this is not it’s primary purpose.  The interface is well thought out, this program has the feel of a program designed by someone who uses the program rather than by someone who’s job it is to design a program.

yWrite 5

Usage       Tried it out, didn’t like it
License     ?
Price          Free
Website    http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html

yWrite 5 is free but not open source.  It tries to be the same sort of composition tool as Scrivener but is not as good in my opinion.  Whereas Scrivener is just as good for academic writing as it is for fictional writing yWrite 5 is locked in to fictional writing.  Scrivener has a free format note taking section for research and you can organise it the way you want but yWrite 5 has sections for notes on characters and scenes and has a chronological order in which the scenes take place.  This may be OK for fictional writing but it cannot be changed if you do not want to organise your notes in this way.

SuperNoteCard (Mindola Software)

Usage       Haven’t tried it
License     Commercial
Price          $29
Website    http://www.mindola.com/index.php

This program tries to mimic note cards used by some authors to organise information.  The note cards can be very large in that they can hold an enormous amount of text.  There are many facilities for organising research and background material for the story.  It can also be used for non fiction writing and as a note taking program as the ‘factors’ and ‘categories’ can be edited to suit your own way of organising things.

Having said this I can’t help feeling that although this program is very good at what it does Scrivener does it so much better.  However Scrivener is more expensive than SuperNoteCards.

Wiki Programs

Connected Text

Usage       Used to use it regularly but has decreased recently
License     Commercial
Price          From $39.95 up to $114.95
Website    http://www.connectedtext.com/

Connected Text is a desktop Wiki.  It is incredibly powerful, there is a markup language which is relatively easy to learn the basics of but has a lot of depth so that you can perform extremely useful and complex processing of text.  But the depths are not that easy to learn.  There is an edit mode where you edit the source code for the page and a view mode where that source code is executed and the resultant page is displayed.

If you are a tech head who is completely at home working with a command line interface then you will probably like Connected Text and you will get one of the finest pieces of Wiki software ever written.  If you like doing things with a graphical user interface and like to see what you are going to get without having to switch modes then you will find it uncomfortable.

One of the major drawbacks is that you cannot cut and paste formatted text from another application and paste it into Connected Text without it looking completely different.  The style pages are formatted with is controlled by a .CSS file and formatted text will be stripped of its formatting when you paste it.

ZimWiki

Usage       Never used
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://zim-wiki.org/

Zim Wiki is a simple wiki without a lot of the facilities or the complexity of Connected Text.  It is still a useful program, it is written in python and so you can run it on both Linux and Windows.  Zim Wiki is free and open source.

WikidPad

Usage       Never Used
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://wikidpad.sourceforge.net/

Wikid pad is another free and open source simple wiki without much of the power or the complexity of Connected Text.  It runs on WIndows, Linux and Mac.  The appearance is like a two pane organiser with the pages listed down the left side of the screen and the selected page displayed on the right.

Mapping Software

VUE

Usage       Regular
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://vue.tufts.edu/

VUE or Visual Understanding Environment is a way of setting your ideas out in a graphical way.  It is free to download from Tufts University.  It does most of what you need and very little of what you don’t need.  The user interface is simple but it has a lot of depth.  One thing it doesn’t do is print out the maps to PDF files.  However a Mac will do this natively and a Windows machine can do this if it has a PDF printing program (like PDF Creator) installed.

In my opinion this is one of the best mapping programs around, I use it regularly.

design VUE

Usage       Tried it out
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/designengineering/tools/designvue

Someone took the source code of VUE and added the IBIS relationship types and icons from Compendium to it.  This program does all the things which VUE does but may be used to produce Argument maps as well.  This program comes as an executable JAR file rather than being an installable EXE file.

Compendium

Usage       Used to use it regularly, not so much recently
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://www.compendiumng.org/

Compendium by the Open University must be one of the best open source free mapping tools around.  It is easy to use once you get used to the quirky user interface.  The user interface shows it’s Unix/Linux heritage and does not conform to Windows conventions very closely.  The maps produced are easy to understand and the program has an over abundance of features.  This program feels like it was designed by a committee.  On the maps there are several different types of node including a ‘Map’ node which contains a map. When you open this node you are taken to a new map.  This means that large maps may be split into chunks.  This is quite a useful feature.

Compendium also has a tagging system, nodes may be tagged and the tags may be grouped into folders.  Sort of like a semi hierarchical tagging system.  The tagging system is quite useful.  Compendium also supports transclusion (cloning) which is also useful.

Compendium is let down by a couple of issues, one trivial and the other is a limitation on usefulness.

The trivial issue is that nodes containing text are limited to 32,767 characters of text.  If you put any more text than this into a node then it will only exist until you close the program.  When you re-open the program that text will have disappeared.  No warnings, no error messages it just isn’t there any more.  I class this bug as trivial because very few people will put 32 thousand characters (about 10 to 15 pages of A4) into a node.  But it is something to be aware of.  The text would be better split up amongst several nodes.

The limitation on usefulness is that there are no links in to the program and it does not support universal links.

CMAP Tools

Usage       Tried it out
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://cmap.ihmc.us/

CMAP Tools is a concept mapping program from IHMC (the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition) in Florida.

In the documentation there is a heavy emphasis on collaboration and the sharing of maps.  There are several public servers which can store your CMAPs so that they might be shared with others and IHMC provides the server software so that you can set up your own private server so that maps may be shared within an organisation.

CMAP Tools when used with the server software supports simultaneous collaborative editing of maps so that several people can edit the same map at the same time.  It also has facilities for placing annotations on the map, making suggestions and setting up discussion threads (similar to a bulletin board or forum) to facilitate communications between separate users/viewers of the same map.  Of all the programs reviewed here this one probably has the best facilities for supporting multiple users.  Compendium is the next best and it’s multi user facilities are not as good although it comes close in my opinion.

There are versions of CMAP Tools for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.  A portable version is also available which can run from a USB memory stick.

CMAP Tools is free to download but you must first provide your details and a valid E-mail address.  I have not received any spam E-mail from IHMC.

CMAP Tools is a good program but in my opinion for individual use VUE is even better.  CMAP Tools is probably better at fast layout and capture of ideas but VUE is more expressive.

Freemind and Freeplane

Usage       Often
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://freeplane.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

Freemind and Freeplane are free and open source mind mapping programs.

Freeplane is a fork of FreeMind which was one of the first free mind mapping programs available. The developers of FreeMind had a disagreement about the way in which FreeMind was to be developed and so some of them left and started Freeplane.

The programs are pretty much identical apart from one or two extras you get with Freeplane, like being able to embed universal links.

At the moment both programs have the same file format so maps may be exchanged freely between the users of both programs but this is not guaranteed to continue as the programs continue to be developed along different paths.  For me this is not an problem as I only use Freeplane, but it might be a problem for some people.  The file format used by FreeMind and FreePlane has become something of a standard, and can be imported into many other mind mapping programs, including some on the iPad and iPhone, and some browser-based, on-line mind mapping services.

These programs only do mind maps, they do not do cognitive maps.  The nodes are in a strict hierarchy and although you may create floating nodes and ad-hoc connections between nodes it would be possible but very cumbersome to construct a concept map this way.

These programs are easy to use, most of their interfaces are very simple and obvious in their functionality but there is also a lot of depth to the programs which are not obvious at first glance.  There are many advanced features, like the scripting and node attributes, which are available but do not clutter the user interface.  There are keyboard shortcuts for most common functions so that once you have learned the shortcuts you can use this program almost without reaching for your mouse.

There are versions of FreeMind and FreePlane for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

Scapple

Usage       Never used it
License     Commercial
Price          $14.99
Website     http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scapple.php

Scapple is a mapping program similar to VUE.  I have never tried it out because VUE is free and this is $14.99 but the  video  looked very good, it seems well thought out and easy to use.  It is from the same people who wrote Scrivener and so it should be good.  It is available for Mac and Windows.

Inspiration

Usage       Tried it out
License     Commercial
Price          $39.95
Website    http://www.inspiration.com/Inspiration

Inspiration is a mapping program.  It allows other types of map besides a mind map.  Mind maps are limited to a strict hierarchy but Inspiration allows links which break the hierarchy.  It also has other ways to view the data so your map can also be viewed as an outline.

This is a well thought out and competent program but it is commercial.  Freeplane does the same thing and is free.  Inspiration does have a few extra bells and whistles but these are not particularly significant and are mainly gimmicks.

MindRaider

Usage       Used to use it regularly
License     ?
Price          Free
Website    http://mindraider.sourceforge.net/

MindRaider tries to be everything.  It is a mapping tool which is also an outliner and a wiki.  One of the problems with it is that it tries to cram too much onto the screen.  There are many panels around the central map and so the map is smaller and the screen looks cluttered.  On a small screen like a laptop this can be a problem.

The map is innovative in that it keeps the map centred on the selected node, very few mapping programs do this.

The notes which can be stored in nodes are plain text.

MindRaider could be quite a useful program but I must admit it is not a program I have used for any length of time, I installed it and tried it out but got frustrated with the small size of the map and all the panels clustered around it and so it fell into disuse and was eventually uninstalled.

This program is no longer being developed.  This is not a problem as long as changes to the operating system or updates to various components of the software environment don’t break the operation of the program, remember what happened to ‘Cayra’.

Blumind

Usage       Tried it out
License     Open Source/GPL
Price          Free
Website    http://blumind.org/

Blumind is a very simple and very basic mind mapping tool.  It is free to download but its facilities are uninspiring.

Instrumind Think Composer

Usage       Tried it out on two different machines, it failed!
License     Commercial
Price          $149.25 to $49.75
Website    http://www.thinkcomposer.com/

Instrumind Think Composer looks like a very interesting program, the documentation is long and detailed and shows off some very impressive capabilities.  Pity about the program.  I installed this program and ran it and the screen looked exactly as the manual had pictured it.  Unfortunately if I tried to use the program it crashes, not just once but every time and not just one type of crash but it fails in different ways, sometimes it locks up the machine so badly I have to switch the machine off to get it out of its catatonic state.

The customer support at Instrumind were monumentally unhelpful.  I have so far tried to install this program on two machines, both with the same result.

This looks like a good program and I would like to try it out.  If you want to try it then go ahead, it might work for you.  I can’t imagine the company would be able to make a living if their program failed on all machines.

Good Luck!

Other Programs

Tree Sheets

Usage       Tried it out
License     ?
Price          Free
Website    http://strlen.com/treesheets/

Tree Sheets is just like a spreadsheet for text.  It has a quirky interface which follows no conventions other than its own.  It will compress text to fit it into a box on the sheet.  So you can have pages of text compressed into on small box, it is only when you zoom in that the text becomes readable.

Apart from this one novel trick you would probably be better off using a spreadsheet.

InfoQube

Usage       Tried it out. Twice
License     Sort of Commercial but ambiguous
Price          $50
Website    http://www.infoqube.biz/

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

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 2014 it is still six months away.  Development seems to be progressing very slowly, I suspect that it is being developed by one person in his spare time.

On the website it says:-

While in beta, InfoQube is free to download and use.  Initial release is planned for Q4 2014.
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:

You contribute through donations which will be credited towards your purchase of InfoQube licenses!
Donate $50 or more and you’ll receive a free Personal License !

Pardon the bad grammar, this was copied straight from the website.  First thing to note is that the program stops working after the 60 day free trial period so if you want to continue using it you have to get a ‘Free Personal License’ but if you are being forced to ‘donate‘ $50 to be issued with that free license then surely you are buying the license.

The second thing to note is the mobile deadline, Q4 of 2014, when this deadline passes (which it has almost) it will be moved, probably to Q2 of 2015 untill that deadline also passes.

TreeLine

Usage       Tried it out
License     ?
Price          Free
Website    http://treeline.bellz.org/

This program is like a free form database.  It is OK but I think any of the two pane organisers would work just as well and be just as useful.  Try KeepNote or Cherry Tree instead.

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 MyInfo

This is a note taking program which I missed first time around.  It did not come up in any of the Google searches I did, actually I was alerted to its existence by a comment someone left on this blog.  So belatedly here is a review of MyInfo.

Some of the terminology used in the program documentation and on the website is unconventional and confusing at first.  Files are called Topics, Notes are called Documents, so a topic is a collection of documents with shared attributes but each topic is a separate disk file, don’t worry it will become clear(er).

You can have many files (topics) open simultaneously.  I imported the usual set of one thousand text files which I have used to test out some of the other programs and there was no noticeable slowing of performance, in fact the performance was still very fast.  So I decided to take it a bit further and gave it the full database of about nine and a half thousand files, these are not trivial files they range in size from a few kilobytes to two and a half megabytes with an average length of about sixty kilobytes.  They took some time to import, but after they had finished importing there was very little slowing of the performance.  The places where it did slow down was on loading or saving the file (unsurprisingly), especially when the file was encrypted.  There was a slight delay when doing a search of all documents but nothing which would cause problems.  This was a severe test and most of the other programs reviewed here would fail, even Connected Text with nine and a half thousand texts in its WIKI slowed down in its navigation and search functions (and sometimes ran out of memory when doing search and replace).

The size of the file increases rapidly for the first few documents but does not increase so rapidly for large numbers of documents.  I think the programmer possibly has some sort of word index for searching the notes, this will have a much larger increase in size for words which were not already in the index but will only increase in size by a small amount for words it already knows.  The searching in MyInfo is very fast compared with other programs reviewed here.

For me this program has turned out to be the closest to being the perfect note taking program of all the programs reviewed in this blog.  It has some idiosyncrasies and deficiencies but so do the other programs reviewed here.

I am using version 6.16 (build 1683) of Milenix MyInfo Professional.

The program costs $99.95 from the Milenix website (price correct at 16th November 2013) this is more expensive than any of the other programs reviewed here but in my opinion it is worth the cost.  There is a half price version which has some useful facilities removed so look at the comparison chart and if these missing facilities are not important to you then buy the standard version, you will still be getting an awesome program.

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

Overall Score  = 49 out of 60

Verdict    Exceedingly good.

1. Connectivity            =    10

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

MyInfo supports universal links into itself from other applications.  There is a context menu brought up by right clicking in the text editing area which contains the option ‘Copy Link to This Paragraph’, if you click on this a universal link is copied to the clipboard and can be pasted into any application which supports universal links.  The link points to the specific paragraph in the note (document) you are viewing.

Dragging and dropping a file from windows explorer into MyInfo has different effects depending on what type of file it is and where you drop it.  If you drop any file into the text area then this creates a link to that file, the file is still in its original location on disk and when you Ctrl-click the link it will open the file using its default application.

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

If it is a file type MyInfo doesn’t understand then the file is copied into the MyInfo topic file as an embedded file.  Embedding a file has advantages and disadvantages.  The link to the file will never break because the file is embedded and the topic file can be moved to another computer and the file will still be there.  However embedding many large files will make the topic file become very large very quickly.

There is a browser add-on (downloadable from the Milenix website) to send a web page to MyInfo which creates a live version of the page within MyInfo, MyInfo becomes the web browser.

Most embedded files will appear as a shaded blue area in the text editing pane, there will be two links in the middle of this area one to view the file and the other to edit the file.  If you choose to view the file then it is copied to a temporary area and opened with its default application.  If you choose to edit the file then it is copied to a temporary area and opened with its default application but when you return to MyInfo a dialog box appears in the centre of the blue shaded area asking if you want to save the new version of the file, if you don’t do this then any changes you have made to the file are lost.

Pdf files are handled differently.  When you embed a pdf file in MyInfo then what appears in the text editing area is a view of the contents of the pdf file, it can be scrolled and the magnification changed (with Ctrl + and Ctrl – ).  So MyInfo makes a limited but quite usable pdf viewer.

2. Classification            =    9

This program can assign tags to documents.  One of the problems with tags is that the list of tags can become very long, this is one of the problems with ‘Personal Knowbase‘, a way around this is to have the tags in a hierarchical tree to provide them with some context by grouping them.  This is not done in MyInfo but the tagging scheme it does provide is still quite good.

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

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

MyInfo allows you to clone a document so it can be placed in two or more different locations in the tree, these documents are references to the same document and if you edit one then the changes appear in all of them.  I thought the process of creating a clone was very cumbersome, you get a dialog box from which you have to select the source document, but then I discovered the ‘paste as clone‘ command with its short-cut Ctrl+Alt+V.

Transclusion allows the hierarchical tree to become the tagging system.  Documents can be assigned to as many positions in the tree as appropriate.

Documents in MyInfo have a list of attributes, there is a comments field, date created on, size, unique ID number and so on.  Some of these are quite useful for classifying documents like the % completed field or the sensitivity field (which lets you indicate the document is private) but where it gets interesting is that you can define your own attributes.  If your file (topic) was all about publications you could define an ISBN field or a set of fields for bibliographic references.

The user defined attributes can be of many different types; as a string of characters, a number (integer, floating point or currency), date and time, logic value (yes/no, true/false) or you can define a list of possible values for the attribute (an enumeration) and you could even have this as a drop-down list.

The attributes appear in all the documents in the file (topic), there is no way to define an attribute for a subset of the documents in the file.  This encourages you to split up your notes into many separate files, each file dedicated to one purpose.  There is very little detriment to having many files as everything can be linked to everything else and searches can be done on many files at once.  I think this is the way the program was intended to be used, the files are called topics and you can put a number of different files into a ‘workspace‘, you can save a workspace and open it later.  When you open a workspace it opens all the files (topics) you had open when you saved the workspace it also restores the document windows you had open at the time.

Of course having all these ways of classifying documents would be useless unless it helps you to find the document you wanted to look at.  MyInfo has a lot of ways to search for documents, there is full text search of the body text of the documents, either in just one file (topic) or in all the files (topics) in your system or just in the files (topics) you have open.

There is also a way of filtering the documents to list a subset of documents based on conditions you set.  This is very flexible and comprehensive.  You can display the document if the text contains a certain string of characters or if an attribute is set to a certain value (or if it is greater than, or less than a value) or if a tag is present (or not present) or on a combination of all these conditions.  Very complex named queries can be built and saved for later use, also the query allows you to group and sort the documents in the list by various criteria.

This is the most comprehensive and useful search facility I have found in any note taking program except for Connected Text.

3. Text layout and formatting    =    8

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

There is no switch between edit mode and view mode, edit mode is on all the time, this is good, I find having to switch on edit mode quite obtrusive in Whiz Folders.  There is a spell checker which by default is in American English but you can download a British English dictionary from the Milenix website.

4. A sense of time            =    6

This program has a calendar and you can link documents to specific dates.  You can set a reminder on a document so that you will be reminded of that document on the date which you set.  Bizarrely there appears to be no way to set the reminder to repeat, this is a serious shortcoming and will limit the programs usefulness as a scheduling application.

Among the built in attributes which all documents have is a Due date, a Reminder at date, a % completed and a Finished at date.

5. Ease of use            =    9

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

The user interface is quite well thought out if a little dull.  The toolbars are configurable as are the menus.  The toolbars can be dragged about and positioned where you want them.  You can edit the keyboard short-cuts to suit your preferences.

The two main windows, the text area and the tree area can be arranged horizontally or vertically but it is not obvious how to switch between the two, there is an option in the Window menu called Tile Horizontally and Tile Vertically but these appear to have no effect upon the display.  I finally found the switch buried under the File menu in the option Properties & Security which alters some options for each topic (file), in the Appearance tab there is a checkbox called Use horizontal panes which switches between the horizontal and vertical arrangements.  It is very well hidden.

6. Visual Appeal            =    7

Not the best looking of the programs reviewed here but certainly not the worst.  The user interface has a bland blue colour which is not configurable, there are no skins.  On the plus side you can alter the font used for the tree, but that’s about it for visual interface configuration.

Myinfo