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ATPM 14.03
March 2008




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About This Particular Outliner

Looking forward to all this stuff in the pipeline, Ted.

I remember you making the argument before about your Mac costing $1,000 or more, while people are unwilling to pay for software. I agree it seems foolish, but there don’t seem to be any good solutions—the market is what it is.

It’s frustrating looking for the application that fills your specific needs, but on the upside there are a surprising number of good Mac developers. Let’s just hope they survive (especially the applications I’ve bought).


• • •

I read the thread that you talked about and was amazed at the abuse that your position got, both when you advanced it and when the current owner of Mori explained why a software developer needs to charge more than token money to stay in business.

I don’t know whether the Mac community is especially resistant to pricing on software; it may be that the PC world has such comparatively sparse a population in this kind of application (outliners and the like) and has such strong roots in corporate America that people are used to paying over $100 for what applications do exist, that a real A to A comparison is not possible.

I remember that neither Lotus Agenda (an information manager with spreadsheet-database qualities) nor Grandview (an outliner very similar to MORE), two fine DOS programs, was cheap in its day.

It’s very easy to get into a kind of quest to find the outliner that gets it right and wind up like the man in the proverb who had a clock and always knew what time it was until someone gave him another clock, after which he was never sure. I have OmniOutliner, NoteBook, Tao, Mori, Hog Bay (ancestor of Mori), Tinderbox, and a number of other outliners. If I am creating a word processing document, I have NisusWriter Pro, Word 2004, Scrivener, Pages and a couple of other alternatives. Not to mention OmniFocus and Bento…

I think a lot of other users are in my position. For something new to make it onto my densely-populated computer at this point, though, it’s got to have something striking in its features—either features I don’t already have a access to (unlikely) or a way of presenting them so compelling that it outshines what I have.

Also price is going to matter. I don’t need (unlike the misguided folk on the listserve) a developer to commit financial self-immolation to get my attention, but I would have to be awfully convinced to spend more than $100 on an application.

On the other hand, I was convinced enough to spend $180 on Flying Logic, an application that helps you build and assess logical arguments, very important to my work. And I didn’t mind sending Nisus the $80 they wanted for their Pro word processor after I spent some time with it.

My wish is to settle down into something approaching happy monogamy with applications. In practical terms, this means to find ten or so that, taken together, serve all my computing needs, learn them deeply, and just stay with them over their development life unless there’s a really good reason to change one of the components of, or add something to, the core group that I work with. Not there yet, still spread a little wide, but working on it…

All of that said, the idea of someone as deeply immersed in the world of information management and the various outliners and quasi-outliners that have populated it as Ted is developing a product is an exciting one to me and the Mac platform.

—Stephen Chakwin

• • •

The big outliner news at Macworld for me was Circus Ponies NoteBook 3.0. Despite all the outliner variety we’ve had, until now there really hasn’t been a good alternative for people who need to mix in freeform diagrams and tables while outlining (usually while taking notes). OneNote on Windows has always had this, but its completely unstructured nature makes it a pain for serious, long-form outlining. I see NoteBook 3.0 as really pulling together the best elements from OneNote while still maintaining structure…basically the best of both worlds. Very exciting to me.

—Alan Yeung

• • •

This means to find ten or so that, taken together, serve all my computing needs, learn them deeply and just stay with them over their development life.

What a sweet dream. I wonder why I keep trying out new programs all the time. I even have a couple of more or less legitimate excuses. Yet I also find myself periodically going through my applications folder and deleting gigabytes of stuff. I think there may be an addiction on my part to new programs. There’s always the idea of the perfect fit, the holy grail of applications that would make my workflow faster, easier, more efficient, etc.

I’ve have licenses for Tinderbox, DEVONthink, NoteBook, StickyBrain, and a couple of other information organizers. Yet, the one true program has always eluded me. Mori? Not quite. Yojimbo? That isn’t it either. They’re all good but not exactly what I’m looking for.

Now you bring up writing programs, you fiend. Ulysses, Avenir, WriteRoom, Jer’s Novel Writer, MacJournaler, and Scrivener have all stolen hours from me in testing, testing, testing. Now you say that Avenir has been bought and has features added and there’s yet another worthy writing program?

It wouldn’t be a problem if they were not all good and worthy contenders, but they are. I, like so many others, keep looking for the champion to arise from the horde of merely excellent. I keep downloading demos and kicking the tires. Then when I do buy a license I still look for something better. Does that make sense?

Barry Schwartz, not a programmer, but a psychology professor may be my savior. I’m reading his book Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More and realize how much effort I put into looking for perfect instead of good enough.

Microsoft Office, which I’ve used since version 2 is out. iWork is good enough for my simple needs. Avenir, Jer’s Novel Writer, Tinderbox, DEVONthink, NeoOffice, InDesign, WriteRoom, Mori, all out. You are all fine, but love spread widely won’t grow as deep. I’ll settle on Scrivener for project file management and writing. No more academic papers so no more Word, Nisus Writer, Mellel or their like. Goodbye End Notes, I loved you well. Pages will do fine for final formatting and club newsletters.

Maybe with all the hours I don’t spend demoing new programs I’ll get more writing done.

—Michael McKee

• • •

Welcome back, Ted. I have thoroughly enjoyed your articles and insights into the thinking behind software.

Outliners have not been a major concern for me, because I do so much of it in my head and with scraps of paper or 3×5 cards; yes, I have been doing this for 40 years and it is hard to get beyond it. Yet, in my mind, I think maybe there is one program that will fill my own needs. So far, in limited testing (I haven’t purchased any of them), none seems to work as well as what I want/need. Thus, what Mellel offers is sufficient for my needs (most of the time). Recently I began using Scrivener for planning and initial writing. For everyday writing I use Nisus Writer Pro, and cross-platform work finds me in Word.

I was intrigued by the split personality, so to speak, in your current article regarding pricing. You lament the lack of support for commercial programs, noting the small cost compared to the computer itself. Rightly you find fault with those who want a basically “free” ride. And yet, you are developing a product that will be…essentially free. Is that contradictory? Or am I missing something?

Anyway, I always enjoy your thoughtful, challenging articles. Keep it up. We need more authors like you. And I look forward to your future products and writing.

—Rich Shields

• • •

Michael McKee’s post sums up my experience pretty well. I’ve tried them all, and have registered a small collection of applications—Mori, NoteBook, TaskPaper, maybe a couple of others.

One thing about these applications is that there are so many different ways to create, organize, and look at your information, and typically the best way will depend on what you are doing right now. Do you want a loose journal type application to jot down notes freeform (with perhaps tags), or do you want an outliner in which you can put new items in their proper areas? Is it more important to be able to see all the trees (and even branches and leaves), or is the forest or main structure more important? Bonus complexity points if you need to keep manage different “forms” of information (say business management vs. creative writing), like I do.

After getting started with TaskPaper recently for managing tasks, I’ve discovered the joy of plain text files (quick to work with, Spotlightable, super portable, and cross-platform). But I know in the long run that text files and Finder alone isn’t really going to work out in terms of organizing and browsing through information (Quick Look in Leopard actually helps here though).

I’m really looking forward to seeing what Ted comes up with.

—Steve Lang

MacPinball 2.6

Of course you do know about LittleWing, right? They’ve been producing high-quality pinball games for the Mac since at least Mac OS 8.

—Tim Cox


I am prone to RSI problems and have been a fan of the MS Natural since it first appeared (one of the few things MS has done that is best-of-breed). Turns out that Adesso makes a keyboard, the EKB-2150W, which has a split and angled keyboard but also has a Glidepoint so one need not mouse if desired. You have to look to find them, but I cannot imagine life without it.

By the way, several folks at my office who were developing RSI problems have seen significant relief from going to an MS Natural–style keyboard.

—Michael O’Dell

• • •

When my Mac keyboard from my G4 packed it in I started to look around for a replacement. Buying another Macintosh keyboard was too expensive, over $125 where I live. I then looked at Keytronic, as before I retired they were pretty reliable for me at the work I performed, but their price was not much better.

I finally settled on a Macally keyboard. It seemed a little flimsy, but the price was much better. After a year, and when the warranty was off, the keys started to break. I looked at the insides, and it seemed not worth the effort to try anything.

I looked around and spotted a Microsoft Digital Media Pro. I know this is ugly even to mention Microsoft, but I was desperate.

The price for me was excellent, $28 Canadian plus tax (they have gone up to $35 now). I have had it going on three years now, and it works like a charm. The software that came with it was well done.

The only two downers I can complain about are the logos for the Ctrl—Start-Alt keys and the zoom lever on the left-hand side.

All the other buttons do exactly what they say. So if you’re desperate and can turn your head the other way, this is not a bad buy.

I really cannot complain about this keyboard at all as the rest of it works excellently with my Mac.

—Gerald F. Carroll

Coping With Mac OS X’s Font Rendering

I’ve used Macs for over 17 years. My business runs on them. But due to the font rendering issue, I never moved to OS X.

I stayed with OS 9 and hoped that Apple would eventually fix the problem. We continued to use our dual boot computers, including 1 GHz Titanium PowerBooks and PowerMacs, and booted in OS 9, which was certainly more comfortable than using Classic in OS X.

So here it is, years later. No fix from Apple. All they’ve done is completely make it impossible to use OS 9—or now to even Classic—on their new computers. And Leopard, which I hoped would help on the pre-Intel Macs, doesn’t have any Classic support—and even if it did, it’s no improvement anyway.

I still use my OS 9 PowerBooks, and the office uses a couple of Power Macs—since years of business records are stored there. But they are tougher and tougher to use on the Web, especially due to old browsers, etc.

About one year ago I had to purchase a ThinkPad running XP Pro for a specific project. (Never ran Windows before—found it much too counter-intuitive in too many ways.)

But guess what? I use the ThinkPad daily now. OS 9 on my PowerBook is still much easier on my eyes. But the ThinkPad is not bad at all.

And most importantly, since I actually use the ThinkPad on my lap, I’ve discovered that the trackpointer—that litter red eraser like object in the lower center of the keyboard—is absolutely the best way to navigate your screen, a Web page, a document. It’s just great (At least on this R60 it’s smooth as silk. Not quite as good on an older T43.) I now just can’t live without it.

So, the irony of all this is that Apple got me to migrate from OS 9 all right—to a Windows XP machine.

Of course, what’s even stranger, is that I could, if I chose, use the newest Intel Mac running Leopard and also install very old Windows OS’s. I can run old Microsoft operating systems, ones that preceded OS 9 by years, on new Mac hardware, but I can’t run OS 9 on new Macs. I can run old copies of Microsoft Word and access 12-year-old Word documents, but I can’t run my Apple/Claris MacWrite program, or access my old MacWrite documents.

This just does not make sense.

Talk about fuzzy fonts. How about fuzzy logic. There really is something wrong with this picture.

And by the way, cost is not a factor. I would happily pay an exorbitant premium for the hardware I’d like to use. But it seems that the only thing likely to get me to a new Mac any time soon, is going to be when and if someone comes out with a decent OS 9 emulator that will run on one.

I’ve got my fingers crossed. But I refuse to cross my eyes.

—Neil Rubenstein

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (2)

Gregory Tetrault · March 4, 2008 - 14:15 EST #1
I fail to understand Neil Rubenstein's complaint. He says that font rendering under OS X is so bad he cannot use it. But, he also says hardware cost is not a factor. I'm as fussy about fonts and display quality as the next guy, and I have no problems with rendered text on my setup. I use a 23" flat screen monitor by Hewlett Packard (hp 2335, .258 x .258 mm dot pitch) at a resolution of 1900 x 1200. Rendered text looks good down to 9 points (using the recommended flat panel setting). Text smaller than 8 points is hard to read (with or without rendering) without enlarging the document or changing monitor resolution. But, 8 point fonts also are hard to read under OS 9 unless one is using a 72 dpi CRT and a screen font like Geneva or New York.

Another plus for the hp 2335 is that once calibrated, it is accurate enough for most photo editing and color printing needs.
Michael Tsai (ATPM Staff) · March 31, 2008 - 12:53 EST #2
Gregory: (Speaking only for me) the issue is that Mac OS X doesn't really support screen fonts. It mostly uses print fonts, and it's designed to draw them as if they will always be smoothed. So if you want to have small text that's readable, or if you don't like font smoothing, it can't display the text in a satisfactory way.

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