Review: If you can see it, Notebook can organise it

David Braue
5 December, 2008
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As a writer, my everyday research process involves researching and collating information from a range of sources, then synthesising it, along with my own value-adds, into interesting new stories. For this purpose – and many others – there isn’t much I could ask for that isn’t provided by Circus Ponies Software’s Notebook 3.0.

Notebook is, as its name suggests, a tool for adding all sorts of information as you find it, and storing it in one single place. This information is represented within the program using a conventional spiral-bound notebook motif, and this notebook is filled with pages that are just waiting to be filled.

Type some text on the page, and Notebook records it, adding a bullet next to each entry. Drag a picture onto the page, and it appears there, complete with tools for resizing, rotating, changing the border, and more. Drag a URL from your Web browser and drop it on your Notebook page, and it’s stored there for the clicking.

Your virtual notepad. After even just a few minutes playing with Notebook, it becomes clear that this is a highly customisable, feature-packed application. Every aspect of each page can be controlled, ranging from the colour and texture of pages or individual items, to the size and colour of the tabs that you can add – to any page – to break your content into sections.

Unlike on a conventional notepad, however, the information you drop into Notebook remains separated from the bits around it; click on the bullet next to an item, and you can drag and drop it elsewhere, set a due date, turn it into a to-do item that can be replicated into iCal, add numbering, bulleting, and so on.

Everything in Notebook can be organised into a flexible outline-styled hierarchy: add a child item underneath another item, and the parent item’s bullet becomes a triangle that you can clock on to roll up all the content underneath it. This is invaluable for hiding information that’s important but may clutter your thinking.

Perusing notebook’s range of annotation tools is like a trip through the aisles of Officeworks: add sticky notes or translucent flags anywhere on a page, add reminder flags, highlight text in one of six fluoro colours . Adjust text colour, direction, kerning – there is almost an embarrassment of riches when it comes to positioning your content on the page.

Each page can be one of numerous styles – including standard ruled, legal-pad yellow, graph paper, quadrille, blank, ledger and more – and line colours and spacing are easily adjustable. Design your own notebook cover and add a password, if you wish. The notebook motif is followed throughout the program, down to the way the pages peel off and on as you flip through the notebook.

Information from anywhere, to anywhere. The nice thing about Notebook is that it’s not just about writing everything in one place; you can add it to your daily routine and repurpose your information later in a way that’s meaningful for you.

If you specify a page with the Clipping Service feature, you can add content to that page from other applications simply by using the Services/Notebook option that’s available in the pulldown menu of every application. For example, highlight an email in Mail and click the option, and the contents of the messages are instantly sucked onto your Notebook page.

This option didn’t seem to work with Firefox, Microsoft Entourage or Microsoft Word, but it did work with Preview; it would be nice to see a future version add support for non-Apple applications. In some applications, however, the Paste To option is available by right-clicking on the content; in the worst-case scenario, you can paste to a clipping service by doing a Command-C to copy the information, then right-clicking on the Notebook icon in the Dock.

Experimentation uncovered some delightful quirks: for example, music files are pasted completed with an inline bar for playing the file. And dragging a PDF file onto the Notebook not only allows the file to be embedded (any file can be embedded on a Notebook page), but offers the option to import the PDF one page at a time.

This is an amazing feature for those who want to build collections of information that’s only available via PDF, which can be difficult to disassemble using conventional tools. Since Notebook lets you reorganise and annotate each page individually, it’s possible to use this feature to create composite PDF files with just the information you need. Instead of building large and bulky folders of PDF files you have to scan through, you can pick and choose the information, file it in context within Notebook, and get rid of the rest.

Keeping organised. Notebook is not only good for organising information, but it includes features for keeping it organised. A hard-coded Contents page keeps track of each page as you build your Notebook, while the Multidex page (the last tab in your notepad) includes a variety of tools for sorting your data.

Click on the Text page, for example, and there’s an alphabetised list of every word in your notebook, along with a count of how often it appears. Click on a word and its occurrences are shown to you in context. Other Multidex options list all embedded attachments, keywords, highlighting, Internet addresses, and more.

The flexibility of these features resolves one of the major problems with similar applications: you can get your information into the application, but what do you do with it when it’s in there? Notebook’s tools ensure that whatever you put in there, remains easily accessible.

Equally important, the data you put in Notebook can be easily repurposed into other applications. Pages can be exported to RTF, Word DOC and other formats; saved as a Web site to disk or online; or you can use Mac OS X’s PDF save capabilities to build your own PDF. Notebook can also export notebooks to your iPhone or iPod touch for viewing using Mobile Safari.

Australian Macworld Buying Advice. Notebook’s massive range of importing, formatting and organisational tools make it an absolute standout among programs for organising information from many sources. It may be overkill if all you need is a simple grocery list application, for anybody else dealing with information on a regular basis – especially students, writers, and researchers – it is an outstanding, flexible and capable tool that will do everything you need it to and more.

OS compatibility 10.4 (Tiger), 10.5 (Leopard)
Processor compatibility Universal binary
Company Circus Ponies
Price $US49.95 ($A77); $US29.95 ($A46) for students; $US99.95 ($A155) for three-license pack.
Pros Imports information from most files and applications; intuitive user interface; powerful organisational capabilities; highly customisable; information is automatically indexed and searchable.
Rating 4.5
Product Notebook 3.0

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