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Tinderbox 4.6

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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:

Hope this helps.