A Review of InfoQube

Introduction

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

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

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

On the InfoQube website it says:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score 48 out of 60

Verdict : Very Powerful but not very User Friendly.

 

1. Connectivity = 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2. Classification = 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

3. Text Layout and Formatting = 9

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

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

 

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

 

4. A Sense of Time = 9

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

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

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

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

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

 

5. Ease of Use = 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

6. Visual Appeal = 7

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

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

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

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

Windows 10 ate my Laptop

A while ago Microsoft announced the upgrade to Windows 10, at that time I had no strong feelings about it one way or the other, as far as I was concerned Windows 7 worked very well and Windows 8 was an unmitigated disaster. When I found out more about Windows 10 my impression was that technically very good but as far as user surveillance and tracking was concerned it was much more intrusive and there were a lot of privacy issues that I was not happy with.

Now that I have used it for a while it has confirmed my initial feelings, before it seemed like a Windows 7 computer was your computer, whereas a Windows 10 computer is Microsoft’s computer which they are kindly letting you use.

Despite my misgivings I eventually upgraded my desktop computer to Windows 10 and all went well, I chose not to get a Microsoft account and learned how to switch off as much of the tracking as I know about and have access to, I also do not use Cortana which just seems like it refers every question to the Bing search engine. Well if I wanted to use a search engine I would use one without having to go through Cortana.

In a way my desktop machine was the least important of my computers, in years gone by it was the most important machine but Laptops have become ever more powerful until now I do most of my work on my Laptop and the desktop machine is just used for games.

The most important machine I have is my Laptop and that is where most of my programs are installed and where most of my documents, spreadsheets and databases reside. In theory my old Laptop was much more powerful than in needed to be to run Windows 10.

Because I have a lot of important documents and data on my Laptop I backed up my hard drive before trying to update to Windows 10, I took the hard disk out of my Laptop and made a clone of it on another slightly smaller hard disk.

It was fortunate that I did because the upgrade turned my Laptop into a brick. When I switched it on it would apparently boot up with the screen with the blue window and the dots chasing one another round a circle but then the screen would go black and the computer would become completely unresponsive.

When it became apparent that the upgrade didn’t work I swapped the backup disk back into the Laptop and investigated the problem. It seems that many people with Alienware MX series Laptop computers were having exactly the same problem.

Alienware is really Dell, when they brought out the MX series computers the Laptops of that series had Nvidia graphics chips but I don’t think they are the official Nvidia graphics chips. Certainly they were renamed and when Windows 7 tried to update the graphics drivers they were misidentified so several times I have had to use the safe boot option to boot with vanilla drivers and roll back the graphics drivers to the previous version. I learned not to update anything to do with the graphics drivers via Windows Update.

That safe boot option no longer exists in Windows 10.

So I decided not to upgrade my Laptop to Windows 10, I was perfectly happy with the way Windows 7 worked and decided to leave it.

However I reckoned without Microsoft’s dirty tricks.

I should have cloned the disk again because the clone now contained the corrupted version with Windows 10 installed, unfortunately hindsight is 20:20 vision and I had decided not to install Windows 10 so I thought I was safe. It was one of the things I intended to do at some point but never got round to it.

One day whilst using the Laptop a dialog appeared saying that the upgrade to Windows 10 had been scheduled for a date which I didn’t take note of, I just cancelled the dialog box assuming that this would cancel the purpose of the dialog. However unknown to me Microsoft had scheduled the update and cancelling the dialog did not cancel the scheduled update.

A few days later I had left my Laptop on doing a virus scan and had occasion to go out in the car to pick up my daughter from her boyfriends house. When I came back the Laptop was in the middle of installing the update to Windows 10, apparently it must have downloaded it and started installing it without my consent or instigation. I thought about switching it off in the middle of the installation but decided against it.

Right after the update Windows 10 appeared to work, for a short time, but then it updated its video drivers and the screen went to 800 by 600 in 256 colours. I thought maybe a reboot would clear the problem but instead it booted to the black screen after showing the screen with the blue window and the dots chasing one another round a circle. After booting up it was completely unresponsive.

So safe boot doesn’t work with Windows 10, the option to go back to Windows 7 only works if you have a working computer which can respond to the command and I have not got a DVD from which I can install a fresh copy of Windows 7, my laptop was provided without media, there was an emergency partition on the hard disk from which I might be able to install Windows 7 if the computer still worked and if it has not been erased by Windows 10.

As far as I have been able to find out the latest video drivers from Nvidia have been deliberately tweaked to fail on non Nvidia hardware, they say that their drivers work on all genuine Nvidia hardware. Alienware (aka Dell) say that they are not going to update the video drivers because the MX series Laptops are obsolete.

Thanks a bunch Nvidia!   Thanks a bunch Alienware!

In the future it is likely that I will have to purchase new computing equipment eventually either for myself or recommend which equipment is to be purchased at work, you can be sure that none of this equipment will be from Dell or Alienware and none of it will have Nvidia graphics cards. This is a pity because Dell do make good monitors.

And of course Microsoft are a big enough company that they feel that they can take a dump on individual customers with impunity, they couldn’t care less.  And they are right of course, there is little I can do to make my complaints heard, apart from expressing them in this blog.

Microsoft don’t seem to have any sort of complaints department, telephone line or e-mail address to handle unhappy customers. I think they know that if they opened anything like that it would get swamped immediately.

I have installed Ubuntu Linux on my old Laptop but of course it won’t run most of the Windows programs I know and love. So I ended up having to buy a new Laptop. And some of the software which I had on the old Laptop was licensed to that computer and won’t activate on the new computer. There are only a few companies who have licensing as pernicious as Microsoft and so only one other non-microsoft program was shackled to the old laptop. But I have had to buy a new copy of Microsoft Office (2013, not the 365 rental version).

So this supposedly ‘Free’ update to Windows 10 has cost me £550 for a new Laptop, £100 for a new copy of Microsoft Office and £60 for replacement of other software.  Over £700 !

Needless to say I am unimpressed with the way Microsoft have rolled out (some might say steamrollered out) Windows 10.