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askSam vs. Zoot? and vs. others

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Posted by 22111
Oct 2, 2013 at 09:01 PM


Steven Zeoli just buried highly interesting information about Zoot within the AS listserv:

“The application I have always thought is the best replacement for askSam is Zoot, which you can find here: http://zootsoftware.com/
You’ll find the smart folders which askSam started incorporating a few years ago (Zoot was among the first to make use of smart folders). And, in fact, Zoot’s folders are even smarter because you can tell them to do something with the records they find—i.e. make all Urgent records red for instance.
More importantly, you can create fields in a similar manner as askSam, by inserting a string into the editor like so:
Or whatever, which you can set up to also appear in the grid pane.
Zoot is so flexible that in many ways that is one of the things that scares people off; trying to figure out how best to use it. Another current issue is that the new version is still under development, and the producer of Zoot has not yet finished the documentation, so it will be a little difficult to figure out how to use
I have not tested this, but Zoot will import a CSV file, which I believe can be exported from askSam, so I would expect that data should be relatively easy to exchange.
Anyway, just another option to consider if you are looking to jump ship from askSam.

I only discovered this by accident, looking out there for a possible version 8, once a month.

Now this should be more widely know, I think, but I also have some questions.


AS fields. One record/item can contain several fields with the same name, e.g. Manager: Smith, John, and another field Manager: Edwards, Peter. Now if you search for “Manager: Edwards” in your records, the record will be shown. This is a very good thing for categories that most of the time just have one entry, but sometimes have two or three. Of course, regular databases cannot contain multiple fields with identical names.

Zoot: ?


Fields again. Big disadvantage in AS, such fields cannot be added/standardized in any automatted way, since they are just “text”. This means if you want to add an additional field to existing records, you have to go into lengths for inserting them with the “replace all” function, as I have explained here some weeks ago. This is a very bad thing, and could even become almost impossible if you try to change position of fields: You would have to insert a new field between fields 6 and 7 (7 becoming 8), then copy everything between field 2 and 4, but without the field name, into field 7, then delete ancient field 3. Of course, there is lots of chances something goes wrong in such proceedings.

Zoot: Same problem, since fields are “just text”, or can you re-arrrange and add fields to existing records in a better way?


Fields again. Rather good, AS allows several entries within the same field, e.g. Tel: firstnumber, secondnumber, and they will be found.

Zoot: Here, possible, too?


Those same fields with multiple entries again, together with the smart tree. Let me briefly explain, a smart tree is built up in AS from such field contents, meaning 1 field “town”, 1 field “size of corporation”, 1 field “name of corporation”, in any order, and you can build up your tree as “towns, then names, then size”, or “different sizes, then towns, then names”, or whatever pleases (up to 3 fields) - very handy!

So Zoot can do this, too? Up to how many fields?


Combination of those, meaning, AS is NOT able to fetch a second or third entry of such a multiple-entry field described in 3, in order to build up the smart tree, but here, only the very first entry of such fields (or the very first field and its content of multiple, equally-named fields within a record) is taken into consideration for building up the tree, and no way for a record to appear in different parts of the smart tree, once for first entry, and a second time for the second term of that same field, or once for the first “abc” field, and a second time for the any second occurence of that same “abc” field in some records.

This inability is extremely harmful to AS, since in the end, either you cannot use a) multiple similarly-named fields and/or multiple entries in single fields, or b) you cannot use the smart tree; in fact, this is really extremely harmful, since both would be needed, but without “hit” records being left out of the tree in consequence.

Zoot here? Same problem? Or, of course, Zoot not even allowing multiple fields and/or multiple entries in one field (which would avoid the problem from the wrong side, of course).


Finally, a very big advantage of AS is its “hit table”, meaning you will see every hit term, within its textual context, as in desktop search engines. This is extremely helpful. Ultra Recall, for example, is unable to do this (if I did not overlook this, but I searched in vain for it), and as for MyInfo, I don’t know. I think it cannot do it either but I’m not sure (version 5 was able to show the 3 first lines of the record, which is not possible anymore with version 6, but that was quite another thing anyway).

Zoot here? Does it show hits together with their context? Btw, many such programs show hit tables with lots of attributes and such, upon request, but that does not mean they show textual context, too.

Would be thankful to know a little bit more about it, also with regards to other outliners in this respect. In everyday life, this context for hits is one of the most important features an outliner should have.


Posted by jimspoon
Oct 4, 2013 at 04:23 PM


22111, i can’t help with the zoot questions because I don’t know much about zoot (though I have been interested for a long time).  You might have better results in the Zoot forum.  https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/zoot-xt

I didn’t know that you could create fields and assign values to fields in Zoot simply by typing them in, as you can do in AskSam.  I am interested in the ability to attach fields and values to an item with as little disruption to the data entry as possible.

The AskSam smart tree sounds very interesting.  It sounds like a multi-level sort of records, but displaying the records not in a table format, but in the format of a navigable tree.

You describe different ways of handling “many to one” relationships.  In a relational database system, this would be handled with multiple tables.  You might have a “Projects” table, a “Managers” table, and a “Managers Assignments” table - So you might have a record in the Projects table with ID number 42.  In the Managers Assignments table you could have two records with “42” in the Projects field - one of these records would have “Smith” in the Manager field, and the other would list “Edwards.”


Posted by 22111
Oct 5, 2013 at 06:38 PM


Of course, in a relational database, all this would be much more comfortable, but as I said in another thread, AS is a useful quick-n-dirty solution for tasks like crm, as is used by many people to this effect. So if Zoot replicates those special features, and does it even better, this could become more widely used.

Those smart trees in AS are rather slow to build up if you have thousands of records in the database, and even worse, in order to switch from one such tree to another, depending on other fields and their contents (or in a different order), you must do a lot of manual work - this can be done by a macro, but such a macro involves plenty of clicks in multiple dialogs, and worse, if there are toggles, the previous and the final state are a little unpredictable, so this is far from “professional”.

Those multiple, identically-named fields are without too many problems, since you would tend to enter “additional” info into the “additional” ones, but several different entries in one such “list” field is a real-life problem, since those fields would/should be perfect for tagging/categorizing, and with tags/categories, the second or third within such a field is often even more “important”/needed than the very first one, but as said, they will be “overlooked” when AS builds up the tree, so it would be real good info to know if Zoot handles this aspect better, and this would imply to put such records, if checked for this field, as “clones”, several times, into that same smart tree, one time for every such entry in that same field. Btw, uses for this would me multiple, not only for tags, etc., but also, if some corporation has got several outlets, you would put the respective town names as a list into this field, and then every outlet of that corporation/customer would appear under the respective town in your tree - of course, this could be realized differently, by having separate items all referencing to the main corporation.

And of course, there is always the search function, where such “second” or “third” entries in list fields don’t get lost.

But anyway, traditional outliners don’t have such functionality, so it’s good news, all the more so for people who might be interested in AS (meaning they don’t have all their stuff into AS yet), but would prefer to buy something more stable and in better shape; AS development / AS’ future both having become pathetic subjects.

Also, with Zoot, there is e-mail integration, which is absent from AS, and especially for crm tasks, this could be something extremely important. Of course, a current help file would be welcome, especially since their “forum” doesn’t accept new “members” who ain’t willing to give Google their telephone number…

Be that as is might be, if Zoot now has introduced such functionality, I agree that no new customer needing these features should go to AS anymore (and accept all its quirks).

As for relational databases, there has been some thread somewhere in which somebody said he replaced his former Connected Text workflow by programming something in Access for himself, and he’s much happier now. Well, he doesn’t give away the code for free, nor does he try to sell it, which would not so bad an idea if it’s really a smooth piece of software (and for Access, there is available a free runtime, so that’s not the problem).

That’s why for such tasks, I’ve been going with AS, but Zoot is tempting.

All the more so since it could perhaps consolidate my Ultra Recall setup together with my AS setup.

Btw, the parent nodes in such an AS tree aren’t those of an outliner: Since they are created by the program, they are necessarily empty, and so many times, I “try” to put some info into them, since I am accustomed to this by all those outliners. This being a disadvantage Zoot should share with AS, for smart folders, I’m afraid.

And last, the citation above states fields in the text, and smart folders, in Zoot; I’m not entirely sure those smart trees can be built up from fields in the text, since there are also “attributes” fields - if that’s possible, though, the next question would be if for smart trees, such “standardized” fields, and text fields even can be mixed.

I suppose that today, CT, Zoot and InfoQube are the top three, and then, all the others lack far behind (with the exception of TB, but which is very special; some people mention WhizFolders, too, but Ultra Recall has stopped real development long ago and becomes and more unacceptable); some man (here, I think) says the developer of Zoot doesn’t answer his mails anymore, since he mentioned too many bugs to the developer… (Just to explay why I don’t jump from AS to Zoot in a hurry.)


Posted by Armin
Oct 6, 2013 at 02:03 PM


22111 wrote:
; >some man (here, I think) says the developer of Zoot doesn’t answer his
>mails anymore, since he mentioned too many bugs to the developer…

I cannot confirm this. The developer of Zoot (Tom Davis) is answering my e-mails (and there are bug reports among them) within a very short time (1 minute to 24 hours - and I am in a complete different time zone).

I am working with the current Zoot version since the first public beta. Zoot is the main software program I use on my computer for one reason: it combines a great variety of information types. Zoot enables me, to have topic based databases, which collect e-mails, RSS-feeds, tweets, web pages, documents, tasks in a single database within Zoot. There is no need to switch to your feed reader or your e-mail software when searching for stuff about a specific project.

Additionally Zoot has got new comprehensive GTD functionality but it still lacks of a good documentation. And there is the “Zooter Cloud”, too, which enables you to send items to Evernote, Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, Twitter and Facebook. So Zoot is also a Twitter client, RSS-reader and an e-mail software.

I am not able to compare it with AS, which I never used. I know Connected Text a bit, but CT has a different approach to information management than Zoot. CT might be a nice complementary to Zoot and vice versa.

Most features of Zoot I figured out learning by doing and playing around what happens. I guess I’m using still less than 40% of its functions and I’m still learning and discovering new tools within Zoot.

Best regards


Posted by Daly de Gagne
Oct 6, 2013 at 04:05 PM


Armin, I follow the Zoot group, and can confirm that developer Tom Davis is indeed very responsive. Responsive in this case means more than simpy answering postings in the group - often when a bug is presented to hime he provides an up date within a few days.

I think Tom faces a strategic business decision as to how much time he should continue to development, and how much time he diverts to produce documentation.

Again, I am running a Zoot trail - the program feels solid, but my sense of relationship to it can be described best by the metaphor of taking a pilot whose command time is all logged in a small Cessna, and asking him to take command of an A380.

Not only am I someone who needs a very simple, hand holding kind of documentation. I also need real world examples of how writers, researchers, business people take advantage of all of the program’s features.

I don’t need to just have questions answered, but I need to know what the questions are, so I can envision ways to relate Zoot to my needs.

A Zoot for Dummies is definitely called for.



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