Strange Brouhaha

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Circus Ponies Notebook

If you own a Macintosh and you need to take notes of any kind, or organize your thoughts in any way, or keep outlines, you need Circus Ponies Notebook. Go out right now and get it.

I've been using Notebook for just a couple of weeks now, and it's totally changed the way I think and write. Instead of remembering stuff, or creating random text files of notes, I now have an organized place to collect ideas. I've been musing that it would have been great to have this software back when I was in school; in fact, I have no idea how I got through life without it.

It's called Notebook because it uses a notebook metaphor for organization, but it's so much more useful than a regular notebook. The indexing feature alone is great: each notebook has 13 indexes that group things like capitalized words, numbers, and internet addresses, as well as pretty much every word you use that's not an article or a pronoun. Want to find that sentence where you used the word "ambergris"? Hit the index and click on ambergris. It shows you a bit of the context; click on the little button next to that context, and you turn to the correct notebook page, with "ambergris" conveniently highlighted.

Here's how I've been using Notebook. I have a notebook for plays, each play with its own divider tab and sections on notes and outlines and character sketches. I have a notebook for writing, each story or book with its own tab. I have a notebook for reviews (more on that later this week). And I have a notebook that I'm using to take notes on books I read as I try to expand my job skills and improve my ability to talk about Software Quality. As one of the blurbs on the Circus Ponies website says, Notebook is always open on my desktop.

You can clip web pages into notebooks by starting a clipping service, although this is slightly less useful in practice than it sounds. The feature doesn't seem to work in Firefox, and with Safari you need to select text to clip, rather than clipping the whole page. Still, I've used it a bunch.

The outline feature is incredibly useful. Yes, if all you're going to do is outline, you can probably use the outline feature in Office or, but you lose the super-powerful indexing and organizing features that Notebook has. Notebook organizes notebooks with dividers and contents pages, which makes most pages no more than a click or two away from wherever you are. Try that with Word!

I've probably only barely scratched the surface of what a person can do with this tool. It's great. You can try it free for thirty days, but it's so immediately useful that after the first week you, like me, will be wondering how you ever got along without it.


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