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Editing multiple documents simultaneously

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Posted by MadaboutDana
Jan 11, 2013 at 05:02 PM


I was recently reminded - quite unexpectedly - of the advantages of a prog that has largely fallen from favour: Phantech’s InfoRecall.

Most people regard UltraRecall as the natural successor to InfoRecall, and on the whole they’re right - except for one thing. InfoRecall is still the very best at supporting multiple documents, because it’s one of the few apps around that supports MDI (as opposed to the SDI that has become so prevalent). By that, I mean to say that you can arrange multiple documents in one single interface window.

Now you can, of course, do this in Word, by unchecking (unticking, fellow Brits) the ‘Show windows in Taskbar’ setting under ‘Options’ (not very intuitive, but hey). But InfoRecall also supports document tabs, which is quite useful. In fact, the 2013 version (just released) brings the whole thing very nearly up to speed with UltraRecall, albeit without the elegant interface.

I’m just editing six brochures simultaneously, all of which share similar bits and pieces of text. And I’m struck by how badly modern authoring programs handle this very straightforward situation. Really you’d expect something as powerful as Word to offer auto-comparison / auto-concordancing functions, plus other basic functions like a pasteboard where you could drag and drop bits of text, document references etc. In fact, the longer I reflect on this, the more I conclude that the actual process of writing documents on computer hasn’t progressed much at all (pace Scrivener lovers and all you ConnectedText fans!).

One of the most powerful features of the modern computer is, for example, its ability to auto-index stuff. A natural corollary of this should surely be autotagging (not to mention instant autocomparison). The disadvantages of manual tagging have been discussed at length in this very forum. And yet you won’t find many apps that do either (let alone both) of these things. One of the ones I’ve got my eye on is ProjectBook for iPad, currently only available in the US of A, but due to be launched in Europe ‘any day now’ (with desktop versions upcoming). What makes this little gem stand out, apart from its outlining and task-compiling functions, is the fact that it indexes everything, including attached files, and tries to identify and correlate keywords, too, so every folder contains a ‘related documents’ smart search folder. It’s still an immature app, so these impressive features apparently still need some work - but what a great concept! Being an iOS app, ProjectBook does not handle multiple docs simultaneously, of course (although it does have quite powerful outlining features, but that’s really not the same). Shame.

Now, ConnectedText proponents will, no doubt, tell me that CT does all this and more. I’m sorry, but impressive as CT undoubtedly is, user-friendly it is not. This is why it is so exciting to find something as ambitious as ProjectBook running on something as user-focused as iOS. But really, this is what apps like InfoRecall and UltraRecall should be on the PC - they’ve had many more years to devise truly friendly user environments (sorry, that’s what people now call the ‘user experience (UX)’).

The function+function+function approach to program development is, I think, under threat, and will soon expire. I for one am looking forward with great enthusiasm to the enormously imaginative solutions that we can expect to see in the near future!

Bill, musing on 2013