When you look at the individual ideas embodied in Millennium Software Labs' NoteBook 1.1, you don't find anything truly new. Outlining. Free-form databases. Notebook metaphor. The notion of idea, or information, processing. Each concept has found expression in software products on other computer platforms.
But the synthesis of all these ideas in one polished program delivers something truly unique: the ultimate digital scrapbook for storing and organizing massive amounts of personal or group information. The result is a program that changes how you work.
NoteBook, the brainchild of Jayson Adams, who also developed Engage! with highly original Dock-extension capabilities, is among the most useful and elegant applications available under NeXTSTEP. It should win a large following of current NeXT owners and could even sell other users on the platform. It's that good.
Like all new ideas in software, it is difficult at first to categorize NoteBook in any existing software genre. The description preferred by Millennium, "information processor," seems too vague. Ultimately, NoteBook is the place you clip and save unstructured information from any source. With its tools for organizing, searching, and reassembling that information into new forms, it serves as a briefing book, a meeting mediator, a personal- or group-information manager, and much more. Every NeXTmail user will find an immediate use for it as an organizer for archived mail. For many users, NoteBook will serve as a central application kept open on their screen at all times.
NoteBook is presented to the user in the form of Ð you guessed it Ð a notebook. It has section markers and tabs, a spiral binding, pages that turn, a cover, and a choice of page styles. Information is organized in outline form, and the program offers all the sophisticated outline tools found in a program like Lighthouse Design's Concurrence.
But NoteBook outlines have a difference. Each item in the outline is a separate cell that can have its own attributes Ð labels, dates, priorities, and more. Thus, outlines can be sorted or entire notebooks searched based on any cell attribute. Any kind of data Ð rich text, graphics, files, and folders Ð can be dragged and dropped into a cell.
All information in a notebook is automatically indexed by multiple attributes, so it is easy to retrieve data even if you can't remember when and where you entered it. The index can be included under an Index tab, or you can search for information using a powerful Mark and Gather panel. Cells can also be linked across pages.
A variety of other tools for managing labels and templates, customizing the display of pages, placing bookmarks, and creating page bundles to share with other users extend the power and usability of the product.
Performance was more than acceptable, even with complex searches through moderately large notebooks. The program fits well in the overall NeXT environment, admirably implementing NeXT's direct-manipulation model. It provides a Clipping feature in the Services menu for other NeXTSTEP applications and uses color extensively but tastefully. The documentation and example files provided are informative and complete.
There is little to dislike about NoteBook. Despite the option for page bundles, NoteBook is not really a collaborative application, since only one user can have a notebook open at a time. To really make it a tool for group interaction, Millennium needs to produce a true multiuser version.
My other wish is not something Millennium can provide by itself. NoteBook would really shine on a portable computer, for which it could be the primary interface. Such a combination would begin to approach the functionality of systems like Go PenPoint computers, which also use a notebook meta-phor as the central organizing principle. Millennium should work to make a simplified version of its rich interface for the pixel-poor 640-by-480 laptop screen size.
But even chained to our desktops, NoteBook is a one-of-a-kind tool that will find almost as many applications as there are users.
Dan Ruby is NeXTWORLD's editor in chief.
An elegant synthesis of ideas yields a breakthrough application for storing, retrieving, and processing random information. Many users will use NoteBook as a central application that they constantly keep active.
Millennium Software Labs, 1010 El Camino Real #300, Menlo Park, CA 94025.
415/321-3720, 800/732-9009; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.