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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A Review of Right Note

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

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

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

40 out of 60

 

1. Connectivity = 5

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

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

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

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

 

2. Classification = 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Directed graphs are more useful especially for larger notebases.

 

3. Text Layout and Formatting = 9

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

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

The available types of note are :-

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

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

A Memo note is plain text with no formatting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

RichEdit supports OLE embedding but cannot contain tables.

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

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

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

Right_Note_Review_2

A spreadsheet as a note in Right Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

4. A sense of Time = 2

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

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

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

 

5. Ease of use = 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

6. Visual Appeal = 9

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

Right_Note_Review

A screen shot of a screen shot inserted as an image into this review, containing a screen shot of an image inserted into this review ′

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

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