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A Shiny New NoteBook

A few weeks back, Circus Ponies released version 2.0 of their elegant note-taking and snippet-keeping application NoteBook, significantly improving the program in key areas. The upgrade reportedly adds over 150 features and is available for free to existing owners, although you do have to upgrade your license code to mesh with a new licensing system.


As I wrote in "The Well-Worn NoteBook" back in TidBITS-745, I’ve become a devoted user of NoteBook for to-do lists, recording steps in complex processes, keeping snippets of information from email or the Web for research, and for eliminating all those little pieces of paper that breed in the dark recesses of my desk. My basic uses for NoteBook haven’t changed, nor has its basic approach, so reading my previous article will give you a more full impression of the program.


Contents Card — With NoteBook 2.0, some of my uses have become more fluid thanks to new features. Most notable is a new Contents Card, which is a thin drawer-like element that provides an always-visible view of the table of contents of your notebook file. That may seem like a small change, but in fact it’s tremendously helpful because it lets you keep an outline of your notebook’s contents in sight while you’re working. Plus, you can move items between pages by dragging to the appropriate spot on the Contents Card. I find myself using the Contents Card constantly. The main improvement I’d still like to see with regard to seeing more content simultaneously is the capability to show two independent pages at the same time; something that fits in nicely with the physical notebook metaphor.

To Do Items Index — Since I last wrote about NoteBook, I’ve changed my style of handling to-do items, thanks in large part to reading David Allen’s "Getting Things Done" book. Before, I was tracking to-do items with a page for each week, and an outline heading for each day. Although that worked fairly well, I was starting to learn how to ignore items in the list, so each day was filling up with items I stood no chance of doing. In the Getting Things Done model, the goal is to come up with the next action in any given project, and to categorize them not by project, but by context: calls, email, writing, errands, and so on. The idea is that then, when you sit down to do work, you can look at what’s on the list for that context and pick out something to do that makes sense with the time and energy available. Obviously, the overall approach is more complicated than that, but it’s working well for both Tonya and me, and I’ve changed how I handle to-do lists in NoteBook accordingly.

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Now I have a section of my Notebook file with a page for each context I’m trying to track, and a set of action items on that page. I also have agenda pages for each of the people I work with regularly so I don’t forget things that need discussing. Nothing in that wasn’t possible in previous versions of NoteBook, but since the NoteBook folks have also been reading "Getting Things Done," there are some new features that help out with such organization. Most notable is a To Do Items Index, an automatically generated page that collects all your action items (lines to which you’ve assigned a checkbox) and shows them in two sets: incomplete and completed. It’s a great overview of all the action items spread across all my contexts; something the Getting Things Done model would suggest you should review every Friday to make sure you’re not falling behind on some project.

Sorting, Linking, and More — Another area where NoteBook 2.0 has improved is in sorting; you can now create sorts and have them applied automatically. I’ve had some trouble getting this feature to work as I’d like; auto-sorting seems a bit finicky at the moment, but when it works, it’s a great way to organize action items on a page by whether or not they’re completed and when they were last modified.

I’ve also taken to doing a bit more linking, now that NoteBook 2.0 can create links not just between pages, but between cells. For people who use multiple NoteBook files, you can even link to cells in other files.

Clippings now include a lot more metadata related to the clipping source, so you can easily determine the application from which the clip originally came, and if it came from Apple Mail, the item is automatically linked to the sender’s Address Book entry, if present.

There are a slew of other features that I haven’t yet had an excuse to use. Integration with Apple’s bundled applications (none of which I use, unfortunately for this context) has improved greatly, so you can easily link to contacts in Address Book and initiate iChat sessions or email messages in Mail directly from NoteBook. NoteBook can also generate alarms in iCal for action items that have due dates; it’s a nice way to gain alarm capability without writing yet another reminder system. For those who like toolbars, there’s now a completely customizable toolbar that can appear at the bottom of your NoteBook window; the main thing I like about it is the breadcrumb display of your current location. The Voice Annotation feature now enables you to record lengthy sessions, adding notes at relevant points. You can send voice annotations to iTunes for listening or for downloading to an iPod. And speaking of iPods, you can even send a NoteBook outline to your iPod for viewing using the normal iPod interface. HTML export has improved, making it easy to create full NoteBook-generated Web sites, complete with internal navigation.

With some pieces of software, I immediately think of features to request, and apart from the double-page view, that’s not happening with NoteBook. In fact, it’s the reverse. I’m always a little depressed when I see, in the process of writing about a piece of software, how much of it I haven’t yet delved into, especially in a program I use daily like NoteBook. But on the bright side, it also means that there’s always more to learn. The hard part is remembering that the features exist when a need arises. Perhaps I’ll have to devote a page in NoteBook to features in programs that I don’t need now, but which might be useful in the future.

NoteBook 2.0 costs $50 for new customers; upgrades for existing customers are free. Educational and volume discounts are available, as is a free 30-day demo version. The program requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later.

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