Some notes about notebooks

by Giles Turnbull

VoodooPad 3 is out and sporting a bunch of new features. It now includes tabs (what self-respecting text app these days doesn't?), faster search, support for huge documents, and (something I'm particularly pleased to see), support for Linkback.

That last thing means you can paste in stuff from OmniGraffle or Nisus Writer (and in future, OmniOutliner - take note, GTD fans) and when updated in its native application, that data with automatically update within VoodooPad. Nice.

Back to the new features, what else is there? Text styles, full screen editing mode, customizable shortcuts in the preferences (another great feature). There's plenty more.

Gus Mueller has also announced a new Pro version of VoodooPad, which will have additional features including encryption, better metadata (betametadata?) and a built-in webserver. Phreeow.

Next, MyNotes. I downloaded this and had a play with it a week or so ago. If you've used Mori before, the layout will be very familiar, but MyNotes is not nearly as powerful a program. It has strong emphasis on the visual presentation of your notes on screen or on paper, neither of them things I tend to pay much attention to myself. I just wanna write. But MyNotes is nicely made and attractively designed; it may well appeal as a simple notes and snippets box.

Finally, Mori itself. I keep coming back to this notepad application, for the simple reason that I love using it. It would fit my style of working very well, if it supported Markdown. Yes, I know I can simply install HumaneText.service and get all my Markdown done that way, but I'd much prefer to avoid the Services menu if at all possible. I spent an hour or so using Mori this morning, but couldn't bring myself to switch to it completely. I shall return for another try in future, I'm sure of that.

Finally finally: Journler 2.0.1 has just been released by Phil Dow. I've not had a chance to try this since version 1.1 or thereabouts, so I shall add that to the todo list...

Have you had any interesting adventures in notebookland recently?


2006-07-05 13:16:40
I have tried several of these programs but my favorite is Devon Think. It is more robust, and takes a bit more getting used to than the others, but as someone who works in academics this program is definetly worth the price and effort. If you are just trying to organize notes, I am not sure Devon is the best bet, but if you want to do something with the notes, trace connections, analyze the text etc. Devon is the best bet.
Christian Bogen
2006-07-05 13:57:14
ATPO, the ongoing column over at ATPM still seems to be a good starting point for in-depth information about Mac outliners/note-taking apps and usage scenarios.

Personally I like Circus Ponies NoteBook a lot for project centric note-taking, information gathering etc. Also I use DEVONthink Pro a some kind of Yojimbo surrogate--I'd actually like to use Yojimbo instead as its flat hierarchy fits my personal habits much better but it's to slow on my old 12" PowerBook ...

2006-07-05 17:14:20
i just got around to this game. in the past week or so i have tried voodoopad lite, stickybrain, and mori. i realize what is going on here is fairly intense with respect to personal preferences, but....

going into the trials i thought that stickybrain was going to do what i wanted. but i don't think it did. and i think it corruped the metadata for a folder i tried to "drag into it." yikes!

mori didn't really seem to have enough going for it.

neither does voodoopad lite BUT it's free. so i can keep using until it does have what i want and then pull the trigger. perhaps. actually since i started using it, they upgraded. many of my concerns/wants were not addressed. i think i will submit longer comments to the developer, but...

i love all of the core features. i would add a little mori. and a little webkit though.

1. when i click a weblink, howabout the webpage opening in the voodoopad window?

2. same with pdf (though version 3 seems to nearly do this).

3. similarly, when i link to txt, rtf, rtfd, doc, etc files why not have those open in the vp window? or at least when i drag the files in, ask the user if they want links to the file or the file opened with vp.

4. in that vein, i don't want every file i throw into vp in some giant vp closed format (actually could everything be in an "open" format so that it was user accessable...?) so that means folders...

5. could we get folders like mori rather than the current palette for the pages in the vp document? and then smart folders? so that you could intellegently browse the pages. and organize the pages. that would accomplish 90% of what metadata is supposed to accomplish. that would suggest a 2-pane set-up. itunes without the browser.

i think voodoopad has alot of potential. here's hoping it gets even better.

2006-07-05 21:02:45
Circus Ponies notebook is the best. The indexes of all the words and numbers you've typed, upcoming due dates you've entered, attachments you've dragged in, what you've highlighted, is all pretty great. Being able to keyword tag to any line is the best. Being able to skip to the time in the sound recording when you edited a particular line is also fantastic. I also really like being able to have lined paper background.
2006-07-05 21:09:10
Don't miss TiddlyWiki (! It is a wonderful solution for note taking and structuring: local wiki, tags, full text search, plugins from an active community. ALL in ONE SINGLE file that is easy to backup or to move cross platform.
Andy Lee
2006-07-05 23:40:35
I've grown to like the wiki style of editing very much, whether using Markdown or Moin syntax, and that's why I had high hopes for MoinX, which is excellent for what it does. Unfortunately, the browser-based model of wiki editing is primitive and tedious -- hitting a Preview button and scrolling down, instead of hitting Command-S and continuing to type.

I've been looking at various personal wiki solutions and I'm not 100% crazy about any of them. I want very much to like VoodooPad, but it doesn't have certain features of web-based wikis that I *do* like, like being able to apply a style sheet to all pages, or to easily specify a heading at a particular level. I wish I could use Markdown to edit VoodooPad pages.

Also, it looks like the floating window that lists all the pages is a flat list, without a way to group pages, which seems like it would be unwieldy after a couple hundred pages.

I know VoodooPad has had a *lot* of thought put into it, and a rich feature set, so I may be mistaken about missing capabilities.

2006-07-07 10:32:17
I kind of like FreeMind, a Java-based mind-mapping tool. It works pretty well (as do mind-mappers in general) for things that are hierarchical (parent-child) but not ordered, or at least not ordered yet.

It has a "notes" capability, allowing you flesh out an otherwise-cryptic heading, although the way it works (plastering a text field across the bottom of the window) is a little clunky but useful. Perhaps my idea of popping up a text field alongside or over the node would be less usable in the long run. Another neat feature is the ability to create reference links between two nodes, so you can break the hierarchy somewhat.

I'd like to see the mind-mapper concept extended to be more Wiki-like, where you can link to any point from any other point, creating a hierarchically flat (non-)structure. It would be a useful way to visualize -- and even kick-start -- a large Wiki or any kind of topic-based documentation set.

2006-07-07 13:57:14
I'll take any chance to plug Notae that I can. I wrote it because none of these worked for me.
2006-07-08 00:42:40
The achilles heel of most products in this class is closed file formats. VoodooPad's format used to be somewhat open, but I believe version 3 is more opaque. (I haven't checked for myself yet.) The folks at Devon Technologies say that DEVONthink Pro 2.0 will switch to an XML format. Once that ships, I'll probably switch to it, though I am also intrigued by Tinderbox.

I bought StickyBrain on a whim when Apple was offering a special price for .Mac users. The convenience of the keyboard-invoked service for grabbing a snippet of text just can't be beat. I also like the ease with which I can export notes to my Palm or my iPod for reference on the go. Still, StickyBrain bugs me. For one thing, the search is often ponderously slow. I don't trust their proprietary file format, and the export option has a bug that prevented it from working for me until I found a workaround. Still, I use StickyBrain quite a bit. In fact, when I'm done writing this comment, I'm going to use the StickyBrain service to save a copy.

I've been a fan of BareBones Software since before they actually existed and BBEdit didn't cost a dime. I even wear a BBEdit t-shirt from time to time. I really wanted to like Yojimbo, but it was just too simple for my needs. Plus there's that proprietary file format. Ugh. This from the champions of plain text files? For shame.

VoodooPad is cool, and Gus has been amazingly responsive to my user inquiries, but I'm not sure the app is actually that useful to me. VoodooPad seems most useful for cohesive information with lots of internal links. I keep reading about people using it as a big data dump like StickyBrain or Yojombo and I just don't get it. Sure, VoodooPad is cool, but it doesn't seem to solve the same problem as the snippet managers. I want to like VoodooPad, I just can't figure out what to do with it. Maybe I'm just missing something.

Similarly, OmniOutliner is a great piece of software that is often mentioned along with these information organizer apps, but really serves a different niche. One reason that I'm happy to use OmniOutliner Pro for my outlines and checklists is that its file format, while opaque at first glance, is really just compressed XML, so I don't worry about losing my data should OmniGroup blink out of existence.

2006-07-08 07:33:02
I downloaded Journler yesterday and played around with it for about 10 minutes. Then I was hooked. Right now I'm just using it to write posts to my blog, but I'll probably start pulling some of my fiction into it before too long.

The mail-like interface proves to be surprisingly useful; every time I run into something I wish Journler did, I can click into my wish list, add it, then click back to what I was working on before.

Beware... this thing is like crack! I probably ought to cut Phil a check for this thing and send it with my wish list (bribery >:-} ).

2006-12-13 21:58:14
I have tried to use DevonThink Pro 1.2 to 1.3. It is kind of nice. However, the price is too high. Everyone can tell me how to get it.....