While reviewing Inspiration 4.0 for TidBITS #180, I meant to compare it as an outliner with Acta, but the winner kept turning out to be MORE, which I had never meant to consider seriously, and of which I had only an outmoded version (2.0) to examine. So I took a closer look, and for two months now, I have used the latest version, MORE 3.1, on a daily basis.
I liken MORE to a dinosaur in the best and worst senses. MORE started life as ThinkTank, the magnificent brainchild of Dave Winer, back in the Apple II days. As the Mac came to life, Winer evolved ThinkTank into MORE 1.0. Like dinosaurs, ThinkTank and MORE were vastly successful because they were the best at what they did. If you want to use an outliner as a serious writing tool, MORE remains the only way to go.
But after a Cretaceous heyday, dinosaurs had to adapt or die. Symantec bought out Winer (leaving him free to play God in the brave new world of scripting, with Frontier), and was a good deity stand-in for a couple of eras; but lately its attention has strayed, and MORE is showing signs of being too big and clunky and failing to keep up with the environment. If Symantec doesn’t take it seriously again, or sell it to someone who will, it could easily go extinct. This would be a terrible loss.
The Milieu — An outliner, you recall, works with text (and, in MORE and some other outliners, imported graphics) as topics. Every topic is subordinate to (is a subtopic of) some other topic, up to the main topic (or title) of the whole outline; an immediate subtopic of a topic is said to be one level deeper than that topic. The advantage of this organization lies in how you can view and rearrange topics. Any topic can have its subtopics either collapsed, so that they are invisible, or expanded, so that they appear below and indented relative to the topic. If you cut a topic, its subtopics (and their subtopics, and so on), whether visible or not, are cut as well; likewise, if you move a topic (by cut & paste or by dragging), its subtopics travel with it. This hierarchical structure for storing, viewing, and rearranging clumps of material is indispensable to me for creative work (preparing articles and lectures) and for reference (notes on books).
MORE (like most outliners) also lets you fold a topic, meaning simply that when the topic is visible, only its first line actually shows. This helps with viewing and navigation if topics become lengthy.
Some outliners, MORE included, provide a second entity, usually called paragraphs or notes. Only one note can attach to a given topic, and it can be shown or hidden independent of whether the topic’s subtopics are collapsed or expanded. A frequent use of this feature is to make topics be subject headings only, with the actual discussion confined to notes. You aren’t compelled to do this – in the old Apple II ThinkTank, you were, since topics were confined to 80 characters, whereas now a MORE topic (or note) can be as long as you like – but maintaining the distinction often helps clarity and flexibility.
[By the way, I’m not using the MORE documentation terminology. They call topics "headlines" and notes "comments."]
So much for the basic features that make an outliner an outliner. The devil, however, is in the details. MOREphistopheles comes into its own in the details.
Navigation — A major MORE advantage is that it implements text navigation like a true word processor. Most outliners use or emulate Apple’s built-in TextEdit routines (as exemplified by TeachText), which are primitive, to put it nicely. But MORE gives you text-navigation power nearer the level of Word or Nisus. Double-click to a select a word, triple-click to select a sentence. Up- and down-arrow keys move by line; right- and left-arrow keys move by letter, adding Command moves by word, adding Option moves to the start or end of the topic (or note); and Shift can be added to any of these to select text.
Remarkably, such text navigation melds into topic navigation. Other outliners treat topics as isolated units. In Acta, for example, repeating the left-arrow key in a topic moves through the topic but stops at the first letter; but in MORE, when the start of the current topic is reached, the insertion point just moves on up to the end of the previous visible topic. (Of course you can’t do this while selecting; a selection cannot consist of text split between topics, as this would make hash of the notion of a topic.)
Similarly, other outliners make much of the distinction of whether you are in a topic (you have selected its text) or about a topic (you have selected the topic as an entity). Of course this distinction exists, but MORE lets it break down where convenient. In Inspiration, if the insertion point is within the text of a topic, you can delete text, but not the topic itself; you need to use the mouse, so that the topic itself is selected, before you can delete it. In MORE, with the insertion point in a topic, if any text is selected, hitting Clear deletes the text, but otherwise it deletes the topic; hitting Delete deletes the selected text or previous letter, but if you’re at the start of a topic, it deletes the topic barrier itself, merging the topic into the previous one.
Keyboard navigation between topics is similarly easy and powerful. Command-up- or down-arrow moves into the previous or next currently visible topic; option-left-arrow moves to the topic governing the present topic; option-right-arrow moves to the present topic’s last subtopic. Similarly, keyboard shortcuts let you show or hide notes, fold or unfold topics, expand or collapse subtopics. I hate leaving the keyboard to use the mouse, so I appreciate MORE’s full set of keyboard shortcuts, which is matched by no other outliner.
And if you do choose to use the mouse, the way you use it is great. In most other outliners, you must use the mouse very precisely, to put the selection point right into a topic, or click right on the topic’s "marker" to select the whole topic; with MORE, clicking anywhere to the right or left of a topic lets you select the topic, expand or collapse it (by double-clicking), fold or unfold it (by option-double-clicking). Almost the only time you have to aim precisely is if you elect to use the mouse rather than keys to show or hide a topic’s note.
The way MORE implements notes deserves commendation. A note appears, when made visible, as a scrolling window within the main window, below its topic; subsequent topics move down to accommodate it. Moreover, this window can be resized. If you click outside a note window, it remains, but its scrollbars turn inactive. The result is smooth, clean, and convenient, and not at all buggy, unlike other implementations of notes within outlines.
Another nice feature is hoisting. To hoist something is to focus in on it, removing other material from view. If you hoist a topic, it shows as the first topic (top-left) in the window (in this view you can work with the topic’s subtopics and create new ones, but you can’t make a new topic at the same level). If you hoist a note, it fills the main window.
Reorganisation — When you want to reorganise your outline, MORE provides just about every imaginable tool for doing so. To move a topic, you can cut & paste, or drag, or use keyboard shortcuts to move it a single increment up or down, or deeper or shallower. Keyboard commands also can promote all of a topic’s immediate subtopics to its level, or demote a topic’s co-topics to become its subtopics. You can split a topic into two at the insertion point within it; and you can even merge two topics into one (unlike any other outliner I know).
Especially interesting is MORE’s capability to clone a topic. This is like an internal, mutual publish & subscribe: if two or more topics are clones of each other, any change made to the text of any of them, or to the text or organization of their subtopics, is instantly reflected in all of them. (Don’t worry, if you delete a clone topic, its clones are not deleted!) Also, if a clone is selected there is a command to take you to its next clone. I find this valuable for creating multiple "views" of data within the same document. For example, I summarise a book from start to finish; beneath that I create subject topics and bring together, as their subtopics, clones of the relevant topics from the summary. Now I’ve got two views of the same material; if I make a wording change in one view, it’s reflected in the other; and it’s easy to flip from material in the summary view to the same material in the subject view.
You can select multiple topics: it’s easy to select contiguous or non-contiguous topics one by one; or, with modifier-clicks, all a topic’s subtopics, co-topics, or topics on the same level whether they are subordinate to the same topic or not; or, from the menu, all topics at a given level or range of levels. Once you’ve done this, you can print or export just the selected topics, or even format the selected topics. You can also clone, copy, or cut & paste all the selected topics so that they come together under one topic.
Rulers and Formatting — MORE’s formatting capabilities set it apart from all other outliners. Formatting rules are contained in rulers, rather like those of Nisus: initially there is one ruler, attached to the title topic, but you can add a ruler to any topic; a ruler governs the formatting for its topic and all subtopics, infinitely deep or until another ruler is encountered. Rulers can be copied, cut, and pasted; they can be transferred between documents, and even named and stored in a library. A menu command opens a window in which you can set or modify the formatting rules for the ruler attached to the current topic. These formatting rules govern just about every imaginable aspect of the document’s appearance: not just character formatting such as default font, size, style, and color, but also paragraph formatting such as justification (left, right, centered, or full), margins and paragraph indent, tabs, and line spacing, and even outline formatting such as topic labels and spacing between topics. Paragraph margins can be set relative to the page margins or to those of the governing topic. So every topic is a kind of paragraph (or collection of paragraphs), making MORE not a mere outliner, but a word processor which "does" outlines (superbly).
That’s not all. Every formatting rule has a scope: it applies to topics or notes or both, at a set range of levels of subordination starting with the topic to which the ruler is attached. This means you can have multiple formatting rules within a ruler, dealing with the same subject: for example, this topic should be bold, its subtopics should be italic, and their subtopics down to infinity should be plain.
You aren’t confined to using the ruler rules for formatting either. Character formatting can be set from the menus; paragraph formatting can be set from a Word-style ruler at the top of the window. Combine all this with MORE’s powerful printing options – set page margins, create headers and footers, print all or all visible or all selected topics, set range of levels of topics and notes to print – and what you have is the ability to prepare a polished presentable printed document from entirely within the outliner. I know no other outliner that lets you do this.
A Case of the Clunkies — There are many things I would change to improve the interface to give MORE a stronger market position. I have no idea whether these or any changes will ever take place. The creation date for MORE 3.1 is December 1991; the Mac world has changed radically since then, but all one hears about MORE are rumours (unconfirmed) that Symantec is ready to abandon the program. Here, then, is a wish list that may be utterly in vain.
First, some of the editing and interface details could use improvement:
When you create a new topic MORE automatically places it just below the present topic. If this isn’t where you wanted it, you have to move it. This is silly. Even Acta lets you make a new topic be a co-topic, subtopic, or co-topic of the governing topic at the instant of creation.
When moving a topic by dragging, it isn’t clear where it’s going to be put when you release the mouse. Acta shows an outline of the topic as you drag, so you know just where it will go.
There is no facility to select by paragraph, and no formatting rule to dictate the spacing between paragraphs. There is no keyboard command letting you move the insertion point sentence by sentence. There is no way to keyboard-navigate out of a note; you must either hide the note or use the mouse. There is no quick way to turn a note into a topic or vice-versa.
Most distressing, MORE forgets certain crucial viewing information. You can resize a notes window, but if you hide the note and then show it again, MORE assigns its window a new size. Even worse, if you collapse a topic and then expand it, you can only expand either to just its immediate subtopics or else to infinity; MORE has forgotten the expansion state of the individual subtopics. Acta distinguishes between collapsing so that the current state of all subtopics is remembered, and full collapsing so that all subtopics are also collapsed.
So much for editing and interface. Now, more general comments. MORE is System 7-compatible, but no more. At the very least it wants Publish & Subscribe, so that a topic from one outline can show up in another. (Of the outliners I know, only Acta 7 has decent Publish & Subscribe.)
MORE has extensive import/export capabilities, and does a remarkably good job of maintaining formatting information. But it uses proprietary translation modules, so you’re limited to what it includes. Either it should include more (Acta? Nisus? RTF?) or it should support XTND technology. It also lacks the ability (which ThinkTank had) to export just the notes.
The manual (in six volumes) is huge, daunting, turgid, dull, confusing, uninformative, and inaccurate. It looks and reads like the Think C manual. A simple, stupendously unbelievable example: the "Quick Reference" is arranged by action – for example, it tells you what will happen if you press Enter, or if you option-double-click to the right of a topic. But I can find that out by doing it. I consult the Quick Reference because I want to know how to achieve some desired result; so it should be arranged by result ("To fold a topic…"; "To show a topic’s note…"). The Online Help is even worse; I couldn’t even find out from it how to create a new topic!
MORE itself is too "big". I’m not saying that spell-checking, GREP-searching, summing, phone dialing, calendars, drawing tools, and a 144K graphing utility aren’t nice, but they do make me wonder whether anyone in charge has a vision of what this program is supposed to do that doesn’t involve the words "kitchen sink." I have not even mentioned MORE’s Bullet chart and a Tree chart view of the outline, intended so you (the business type) can make diagrams and slide presentations. Because of all this, MORE costs too much. IN CONTROL is moving high volume with a street price of $85 and a variety of give-away packages; MORE’s size, its battery of features, and its street price of about $260 add up to Pure Stodge.
Here’s my strategy in a nutshell. Now that System 7 is here with IAC and the rest of it, bust up MORE into several small components (outliner, bullet-charter, tree-charter, grapher, calendar), independent but completely capable of sharing data. Improve each component so it’s the best at what it does, and eliminate all tools (such as drawing) that some other program will always do better. Then sell each component independently and cheaply. If someone buys all the components, you make more money than you do now; if not, you still win on volume. And move quickly, Symantec. The Cretaceous period is coming to an end.
Symantec — 800/441-7234 — 408/253-9600