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Natara Bonsai - still a top notch outliner

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Posted by Dr Andus
Jul 22, 2012 at 12:32 AM


As Bonsai doesn’t qualify to be included in Steve’s review series (http://www.outlinersoftware.com/topics/viewt/4183/0/reviews-of-onenote-vs-other-outliners) (development seems to have ceased a few years ago), I’d like to highlight why I think Bonsai remains a top contender.

1. Its customisability: you can use it as a no-nonsense single-pane outliner without anything else showing or you can enable a whole range of additional features which can turn it into a more complex outliner (or a task or project manager). These additional features include:
a. a selection gutter showing your location in the outline and which allows you to select multiple hierarchy items;
b. a column showing each item number (useful if you have a huge outline and you collapse or hoist a level);
c. a note window (can be displayed on the right or below the outline but unfortunately not inline);
d. several columns you’d expect for task management (start date, end date, tick boxes etc.), incl. a cost column that can add up numbers per hierarchy. There is also a “Created” column which displays the date that each item had been created on.

2. The ability to view and navigate multiple outlines (if options selected). When several outlines are open, they can be selected: a) in an Outline Manager on the right; b) by clicking on their tabs at the bottom. It is also possible to cascade or tile outline windows. Tiling allows you to work on several outlines at the same time. Finally, there is a Print Preview button which shows the entire outline with notes inline and with the items colour-coded (if selected).

3. The ease of creating and navigating an outline. “Enter” creates a new item, “Tab” indents. There are keyboard shortcuts to move things around. However, I have a trackball mouse and with that it’s even faster - a single click - to do all of the following:
a. indent/outdent, move up/down, expand/collapse branch;
b. zoom in or out of a branch (hoist);
c. display any of the top 4 levels of the hierarchy by clicking 1, 2, 3, or 4 (at which point all the hierarchies below are collapsed. E.g. by clicking on 2 you will only see the top two levels of the hierarchy). This is very useful with large outlines. There is also an “All” button which expands everything.

4. Finally, this has been always the killer feature for me: the ability to select custom colours for 16 levels (although it’s also possible to choose the colours for different categories (labels), due dates, or priority). (Completed items can be greyed out.) However, for me the levels are the important option for visual scanning.

There are several features here that I haven’t seen in any other outliner and therefore for me Bonsai continues to be the gold standard in outlining. Even if Bonsai disappears one day, I hope other developers would implement at least some of these features.

P.S. It is certainly possible to use Bonsai for task management, project management, and as the desktop client of the Palm version. However, to me it’s first and foremost a top notch outliner.

I’ve been referring to the Bonsai 5 Desktop Edition: