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Tinderbox 4.6

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Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Mar 5, 2009 at 04:58 PM

 

I noted that there is a new release of Tinderbox—that hard to classify application for the Mac. I remain very interested in the program, but the high initial cost ($229), in addition to the high cost of annually paying for updates ($90) has me hesitant. I know a few of you are Tinderbox fans (Hugh?) and am wondering if you might wish to give me a sales pitch.

Thanks in advance!

Steve Z.

 


Posted by Hugh
Mar 6, 2009 at 10:18 AM

 

Hi Steve

I don’t pretend to be an expert, and in fact I haven’t upgraded to 4.6, which I believe embodies a large number of changes.

Sometimes it’s easier to say what Tinderbox isn’t. It’s far from being a database like, say, DEVONthink (with which it’s occasionally bracketed). It isn’t, fundamentally, an outliner. (It does have an outliner view with some quite powerful outliner functionality, though no columns.) It is

“a hypertext environment for notes”, although it isn’t built around a notebook metaphor, unlike, say, Circus Ponies. As “an environment for notes”, it is more sophisticated, complex and powerful than, say, Supernotecard or ndxCards, to which it bears a superficial resemblance.

Notes comprise its fundamental unit of exchange. (Here again you’ll see the contrast with a traditional outliner.) All the rest of Tinderbox is about manipulating the notes. Metadata is atttached to notes. Notes can be cloned, linked and arranged in hierarchies or networks. Notes can be changed in various ways by batch operations. Saved searches gather and group them and perform actions on them. Mind-mapping features can be used not only to arrange the notes in hierarchies or networks, but also themselves to link, badge, group and change notes. In addition, a language of expressions can be used to automate actions, or export hierarchies of notes.

A key advantage of starting with notes is that you can allow structure to emerge, rather than imposing it from the outset. In Tinderbox, you can do this with thousands of notes. A disadvantage is that some of the smoothness, simplicity and ease of use of a good traditional outliner is absent.

So if, say, you’re cataloguing your wine cellar, your book library or the plants in your garden or throwing ideas together before writing a book yourself, Tinderbox may be for you. You can bang down the ideas, the names of the plants, the book titles or the details of the vintages and classify, link and add attributes to them later. I would imagine - I personally haven’t tried this - that for a non—fiction book it’s especially powerful, because once you’ve collected your key points, you’re searching for the best lines of argument through them and Tinderbox may help to chart the way. That is certainly the opinion expressed by the British non-fiction author Michael Bywater, who has written of putting a book together around 2,500 notes. Darwin might have found Tinderbox very useful.

You could build Tinderbox into a GTD tool, and many users have. You could replicate all the functions of Supernotecard, or the Hollywood scriptwriter’s corkboard, but that would be a waste of its power. To organise fewer than a hundred or so notes, or perhaps more where the structure and relationships between them are self-evident, Tinderbox is likely to be overkill.

A few final points: although the initial investment is nominally very expensive for this type of software,  there are sometimes temporary special offers with significant reductions, and the upgrade price is a one-off, so you can skip years. The learning curve is notoriously steep, but you don’t have to immerse yourself in the deeper complexities from the start. Export options are limited. And the aesthetics, once fairly painfully clunky, have been improved with recent upgrades. The software still awaits proper Cocoa-ification (version 5.0 at a guess).

There some good posts on the Scrivener forum, notably by Michael Bywater and AmberV: for example:
http://www.literatureandlatte.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=4031&p=31995&hilit=tinderbox#p31995
and
http://www.literatureandlatte.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=564&p=32603&hilit=tinderbox&sid=ae37cb8ec0f4ef8a33404f039b080213#p32603.

Hope this helps.
H

 

 


Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Mar 6, 2009 at 02:17 PM

 

Hugh,

Thank you for the thoughtful reply and the links to the Lit Lat forum pages. I had read the second thread, but hadn’t seen the first. Michael Bywater makes a strong case for Tinderbox. Amber admires it, but she also seems a little ambivalent at times (despite her vast knowledge of computers and programming, she seems a true CRIMPer at heart).

I know that Tbx is incredibly function rich. What appeals to me most is probably its most obvious feature: the ability to move notes around at will, without any structure being imposed. Every other notecard based application I’ve seen is grid based (SNC, Writer’s Blocks, Scrivener).

I agree with you that the outliner is more powerful and sophisticated than it initially appears to be. In fact, it seems to me to be one of Tbx strengths.

On the other hand, the implementation of attributes (metadata) feels really awkward to me. Actually, the entire program seems ungainly. I feel that I’d probably be able to overcome my aversion to those aspects once I used the program extensively, but I’m not sure. And that’s the problem with the pricing—it’s just too much of a monetary risk. If there was a money back guarantee, that might make it easier to justify the cost. So, I will probably hold off buying a copy, but I will keep my eye out for a special deal.

Thanks, again, Hugh.

Steve Z.

 


Posted by Chris Thompson
Mar 6, 2009 at 08:06 PM

 

I think a great program could be built along the lines of Tinderbox, but Tinderbox itself isn’t it. Everything is kind of a half effort, e.g. there is a powerful attribute mechanism, but you can’t display attributes directly in map view (though you can kind of do it via badges and colors), making them much less useful. The interface gets more and more baroque and obtuse (e.g. try adding graphical badges via the menus… you can’t… you can’t even add them by right clicking on boxes, except in one location that you’d probably not discover without reading the manual). The developer pushes out new versions with new features regularly but hasn’t bothered even recompiling it to run natively on Intel processors (that should be a clue that the Windows version is still eons away and a Cocoa version will never happen). The manual still has some screenshots from pre-1999 Mac OS. It’s more like a custom product aimed at the programmer himself than general users.

In some sense this is a shame, because I’m more and more convinced that two-dimensional canvases make certain types of outlines much more useful. I love the autolayout and filtering features in MindManager, for example… it really is a 2D outliner, not a “mind mapper”, and the ability to superimpose some attributes on the map (e.g. due dates).

—Chris

 


Posted by eastgate
Mar 7, 2009 at 05:44 PM

 

Chris:

You *can* display attributes in map view!  Just set the note’s DisplayExpression.  More interestingly, a container or agent can now display a custom summary table of its children’s attributes; see TableExpression

Badges: just right-click where the badge would appear.  As badge menus tend to be long, we try not to include them where they’re unlikely to be wanted.

 

 


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