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ATPM 11.01
January 2005



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About This Particular Outliner

by Ted Goranson,

The ATPO Tracker

I’ve been working on a survey of task managers, a project that has taken more effort than expected. Part of the reason is the appearance of several high quality task managers that use outliners. These have appeared only recently and are taking a while for me to develop intimacy. In true ATPO tradition, they reflect deep variety in underlying philosophies.

I’m discovering some new friends in this exercise and I’m pretty excited about the possibility of making it possible for you to as well. Sorry, there are no screenshots in this edition. Bummer, huh?

The new ones are Process, ActionItems, Daylite, LeadingProject, and Merlin. I’ve listed them in order of increasing cost. ActionItems and Process appeared on the ATPO radar two columns back; the others are new. Well, except for one, maybe. We’ll simply note the new ones here in frustrating brevity because they’ll be treated fully next time.


You may recall me reporting on ConceptDraw Project in an early column. Ukrainian developer Computer Systems Odessa has a very aggressive agenda. They have been building a cross-platform (Windows/Mac) integrated suite under the ConceptDraw brand which integrates drawing, diagramming, mindmapping, presentation (like PowerPoint), and project management. The suite targets businesses, not a bad strategy, and they have a special edition for the biomedical enterprise.

Because it competes with Microsoft products, is “comfortable” on Windows (user interface-wise), and targets businesses, I find the way it works to be a bit straightjacketed compared to pure Mac products. But feature-wise what these folks have done is miraculous. What’s nice about their approach is it reaches far back into the early brainstorming phase of projects, so it covers more of the life cycle than usual business suites.

That’s more than I wanted to say. Anyway, they are apparently now changing their business strategy or developing a parallel one. ConceptDraw Project is now improved and rebranded as LeadingProject. Where ConceptDraw Project was $180, LeadingProject is $250 plus another $50 if you want the boxed version.

We’ll cover it next month.


Most of these applications bind contacts, schedules, and project outlines in some way. Daylite emphasizes the contact end and bills itself as a contact manager. It sells for $149. I consider the approach to be one of building an integrated database of all the elements and presenting views that include integrated outlining. That is an approach worth examining and has lots of advantages. It syncs to Palm and integrates with Chartsmith.


ActionItems takes a completely different approach. Instead of building a consolidated database like Daylite, it leverages existing databases and applications that every modern Mac owner has: Address Book, Mail, iChat, and iCal. It is breathtakingly different, and the difference between these two approaches is one reason for the delay in the survey. Both approaches offer significant advantages depending on how your mind (and consequent projects) is structured.

I can say that ActionItems spends more time on user interface and is probably best for smaller teams. ActionItems is $99. The ATPO Tracker introduced it two months back as we did with Process.


Merlin has just been released by a German group. It sells for 145 Euros (about $193 as I write). This group takes an approach that is yet again different from the two above. It is an open database framework for program management. In other words, rather than present a set of specific tools that it hopes you like, it gives you quite a few plus the ability to adopt whatever unique management techniques you desire.

It presents a variety of report panels on whatever you want: risk, resources, issue management, conflicts, and so on. The ability to create new ones is (I assume) reflected in the name the developers chose: ProjectWizards.

Incidentally, it links to NovaMind and iCal and exports to Palm and iPod. You can see how these radically different architectures have complicated my survey. Each employs outlining in a way that superficially looks similar, but is not at all.

I hope to be engaged with as many developers and users as possible in this project.

I’ll be looking at lighter weight task managers as well.

• • •

In the general outlining community, here’s what’s up:


Last month we reported on the update of the junior product, DEVONnote. Now we have the similar update of its big brother DEVONthink. This product is targeted at importing (directly or by reference) essentially any sort of document. It builds a text-based index in collaboration with you, and the utility of the thing is what you can do with this index. No competitor can currently touch it in two areas: the comprehensiveness of the documents it indexes and the inferencing it employs in the indexing and search functions (which extend to Web searches with DEVONagent).

It has been comparatively weak in user-directed tools to mature the content and the inter-relationships of its documents. This update helps. It adds metadata tags (which they call labels, something long overdue) and wiki links. It cooperates better with key mail clients and adds a sychronization function. Boy, I needed that!

Still no word on the long overdue DEVONthink Enterprise Edition.


While DEVON started with depth and is struggling to add user-directed structure, Flying Meat took the complementary approach, starting with breezy easy creation of linked notes. Now they add some depth. Version 2 was just released, and this is a whole new animal. It adds too many things to list here. I’ll only focus on two that are ATPO hot topics.

Regular readers will know that I like metaoutlining, where notes are ordered in an outline structure and the notes themselves can have some outline structure. Its a Zen thing: atunement with graphical structure of text is as valuable in the small as in the large. Now VoodooPad joins a few others in supporting bulleted lists in notes. Hey, it’s a start.

The other deal is integration with Address Book. Names in the book now act as wiki words. Good.


I’m often amazed at the surge of cleverness in the Mac outlining community. One of the main purposes of outlining is the creation of written documents. Outlining is a particularly strong paradigm when the document carries its structure into the page layout and publishing phases. Unfortunately, our strongest program for structured documents is Adobe’s FrameMaker. I say unfortunately because Adobe has dropped support on the Mac for Frame.

I’m reminded of what a loss this is, and what it means for the Mac as I sketch out an ATPO column on writer’s workflow using outliners. Perhaps FrameMaker is obsolete. Maybe Adobe has plans for FrameMaker-like features in InDesign some day. But the sad fact is the rest of the world gets to use this powerful tool and the Mac (which had it before Windows users) is now abandoned. So Mac outliner-fed workflow is stymied because the world’s top application for structured documents just isn’t there any more.

This should bother you. If it does, please visit the Frame-on-Mac OS X petition page and voice your concern.


In my ATPO column on user interfaces, I mentioned Mathematica Notebook’s unique way of providing outline controls as nested brackets on the right. The notebook is a pretty elegant outliner in a way and scriptable to an astonishing degree. But to use it you had to buy the whole, pricey Mathematica package. Well, no more.

Now you can use Publicon, which is the notebook stripped out of the Mathematica package and goosed up in the editing, styles, templates, and publication areas. It’s a whole different approach to outlining in a word processing context and is worth tracking. Now we have three in this space: Mellel, Word, and Publicon.


I’m thinking of doing a column on multimedia outlining. It has become quite a challenge, forcing me to rethink just what outlining means in a video context. I suppose we’ll get to some of those advanced notions in due time. But in my research, I discovered iDive, a very nice piece of work. You can consider it a specialized consumer database for video clips and projects that has the outline as its basic organizing paradigm. Portfolio has an outlining view as well, but is oriented to static images.


Finally, several ATPO readers have advised me that StickyBrain has been reincarnated as a Cocoa application. The un-Mac like interface is gone. As with a growing number of outliners, it now supports Palm and iPod export, and Address Book integration. It has good clipping services and supports internote links (now also links to Address Book entries).

• • •

That’s it for this month. I apologize for not having our trademarked extensive screenshots.

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (5)

Øystein Kydland · January 19, 2005 - 04:50 EST #1
I wish to join the many who are very thankful for this outstanding series. Keep up the good work!

Would like some input on my own situation. I write a lot, fiction and non-fiction, both based on huge amounts of research.

For a period I stuck with Tinderbox, but it was not strong enough as a writing tool. Along came Tao, which really made my heart beat faster. But it lacks support for filtering, it seems. It is able to hide items, but that is not enough. I need to be able to hide and show items at wish, based on metadata such as labels.

Two-pane editing is also very important to me; I outline and comment to the left and write full masnuscript text to the right. Tao does this beautifully, lets me zoom the note window, but does not allow me to print and manipulate *only* the notes (my manuscript). Or am I wrong?

Support for large amounts of data, like Devonthink has, would also be nice, but that application is again too weak in the writing/outlining department.

Good support, like Tinderbox has, is also important to me. Tao has none.

So, the requirements are: Filtering, two-pane editing, support for huge amounts of data, power outlining, a very clean interface (Tao, again, excels here).

Advice, please?

Øystein, Norway
Ted Goranson (ATPM Staff) · January 19, 2005 - 10:54 EST #2
A great many ATPO readers are in your shoes. The capabilities we want are spread out over several applications.

An upcoming column will deal with combining applications. If anyone has any ideas along these lines, please send them to me.

-- Ted
Øystein Kydland · January 20, 2005 - 15:43 EST #3
Great! Thats one column I should like to read..

For myself, I think the solution will be something like TAO used as a front end to a DevonThink database, with some go-between software I write myself, based on OPML.

Otherwise, theres (literally) no telling what tricks the TAO developer has up his sleeve.. Lets hope that will be solution.

Matt Cawood · January 24, 2005 - 04:07 EST #4
Have you looked at Hog Bay Notebook? This is certainly capable of all that you ask, except maybe the "huge amounts of data" - I haven't loaded up HBN with enough serious data to know what it is capable of. My biggest notebook only weighs in at 10 MB so far, and HBN doesn't seem to notice that.

I've found that using HBN's Lucene search engine to filter entries, plus its various view options and columns, to be extraordinarily flexible. Its outlining capabilities aren't in the same power class as Tao, but outlining in HBN is still very good. I haven't found anything to best it as an all-round information collector and organiser, and I've looked hard. From a marketing point of view, HBN's name and the pink icon tend to make it seem lightweight. It's not.

Note: Make sure you grab the 3.5 beta. It's very solid, and is a huge advance on earlier iterations.

Øystein K · February 1, 2005 - 09:18 EST #5
Thanks, Matt.

Have looked briefly at HBN earlier, but will give it a spin again. (Need Panther for that, but will buy it anyway.)

Two probs, I think: No full text view/window, I think. Also, I am not too keen on the notebook metaphor.

But there is a lot of praise for it out there, so I have will a go again.

What about Ulysses?

: Øystein

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