Do I really want to do this?

An initial foray into blogging.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

PIM Review

I need a new life-organizer that plays nicely on Intel Macs.

I like storing random ideas and snippets so they don't get lost. I don't remember how many pages were in my original OS 7 NotePad document, but it was a lot. (And it made such a satisfying *thunk* when you turned the page...)

Then, NotePad wasn't enough. I tried a bunch, and came up with iOrganize around the OS 8 days. I paid for it. But. It didn't make the transition to OS 9, I think it was, very well. It got reorganized, but I liked the interface less and less. So I went hunting again. I came up with MacJournal, free at the time, and very useful for a long while. I've still got a lot of stuff in it, especially encrypted stuff, like shareware numbers and birthday gift lists, etc.

I got distracted by VoodooPad in the middle of it, but I have discovered that I don't quite have enough self-discipline to keep my whole life organized in VoodooPad. Mostly because it's too hard to clean up after myself. I make a new note for everything, and suddenly I have sixteen billion notes. Which would be OK, but it takes a long time for a 15MB file to load. I know the developer is planning fixes, but I really want to streamline my document instead of growing it forever.

What I wanted to do with VoodooPad was take a sort of tree of documents, ie, give it a page name and export all the pages recursively linked to on that document and its "children", and start fresh from there. That doesn't exist. Again, the developer has a "split" functionality coming up, but in order to use it, you have to click a checkbox for every single page you want transferred. Did I mention I have sixteen billion pages? Not all of which are easily identified by their name, either. If I actually have to make a decision on every page individually, this is the way I'd want to do it: on the "Pages" drawer or panel or whatever, highlight the first page. It will show up in the main pane, serving as a preview for me. If I want to delete it, I press command-D. If I want to keep it, I press the down arrow to go to the next document. It would be pretty speedy but it doesn't work, because pressing the down arrow moves the focus to the main content window.

More complaints: The text in the new Pages panel in the beta VoodooPad is tiny. I'm transitioning from a 15" 1152x768 screen to a 13.3" 1280x800 screen, so all text is tiny anyway, but that panel is seriously pushing it. And if you only have one tab, there should be no tabbar. Wasted space in these sorts of apps really bugs me for some reason. Also, encryption doesn't quite seem to work as I expect in VoodooPad, so I stopped even trying with it, and just kept my encrypted stuff back in MacJournal 2.6. (It's much nicer to have encrypted hierarchies of documents rather than encrypted single pages.)

So, time to move on from VoodooPad, and I am not enthusiastic about going back to MacJournal 2.6. I'm feeling the drain of the non-native apps, and a few key features are missing from the old version. I need to migrate to a universal binary that will meet my needs. I downloaded Mariner's new MacJournal, which does not feel very different from the old free version but has nested journals -- yay! It crashed for me once after I exited from full-screen mode (note: this bug is fixed as of version 4.0.4), and it lost the encryption on one of my existing encrypted journals as it was updating them from version 2.6 to version 4. Nested journals and drag-and-drop reordering of notes are great improvements, but I've always felt you should be able to click on the note title in the drawer and be able to change the name of the note in place. Alas, still no. Even with a few minor annoyances though, this is a big contender. Price is slightly higher than (some) others -- $35, and upgrades won't be free, though I'm not sure how often you have to pay.

I decided to hunt for a list of similar applications. There are a surprising number of them, but none of them are perfect. Here're the ones I downloaded:

DEVONnote ($20): Not as intuitive as others, although all the functionality I want seems to be there. Command-N doesn't do anything. Why couldn't those "classify" and "see also" buttons at the bottom have been part of the toolbar? You can't undo things like the "Group" command.

Dossier ($19): The concept of folders is not pulled off as well as the others. You can get a list of folders, but you can't expand them to see what's inside; you need the third pane for that. I'm not a fan of third panes, unless we're talking widescreen view, which seems overkill for everyday note taking. This doesn't have widescreen view anyway. No nested folders.

Formation ($30): Too busy. Looks ported from a less beautiful OS. Might not be universal binary, anyway, given how long it bounced in the dock. The columns are nice, but this isn't really what I'm looking for.

MacJournal ($35): see above. Excellent, but some inexplicable behavior and not quite perfect interface.

Mori ($28): Cool interface. Of the programs I tested, this one most made me want to start typing in it. I think I'd be sold, but no encryption. It behaves the way I expect it to, and the sample document presented (inbox/project list/filing cabinet) is not only apropos to how I would use it, it's much better designed than my current scheme. So it's a possibility, but where am I going to store those shareware numbers? I thought about using Keychain Access, which would sort of work, except I have a lot of stuff encrypted in MacJournal now. I don't want to have to hunt for all that stuff in Keychain Access. Still, Mori's tempting.

Yojimbo ($39): This application doesn't really seem designed for writing text. It seems designed for saving smallish bits of information, which yes, I will do, but I will also want to sit down and be able to dedicate the majority of the app's screen space to a word processing frame I can just type into.

So from the looks of it, though I'm tempted by the beauty of Mori, I think I'm going with MacJournal.

ETA: After another week of using MacJournal -- Yep, I'll definitely be buying this one. Actually, I have already done so. I haven't had any more unseemly crashes with it, and it's suiting my needs just fine. Being able to upload to blogs so easily is icing on the cake.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Just what everyone needed, another MacBook review

I've read so many MacBook reviews while I've been waiting to get mine that I feel the need to contribute my own thoughts. So, here's my one-week review.

Two-fingered trackpad scroll is the best thing EVER. If I never move the cursor to another tiny arrow button it'll be too soon. It's making me fumble when I try to use my computer at work. It's linux and has one of those linux-style three-button (no scrollwheel) mice. I keep trying to hold down the first two mouse buttons and scroll with it that way. Eek.

Anyone want to write linux mouse software to do that? O:)

And, success! I managed to upgrade the RAM to 2GB myself. For a while I thought the operation was doomed to failure, because the left-most screw was nearly impossible to unscrew. One of the RAM chips popped out much more easily than the other one, but neither of them was as much trouble as that stupid screw. Anyway, I feel relieved and a bit accomplished that I managed it. But even if you have a tiny screwdriver, I say don't bother trying with those screws unless you've got a bona-fide #00 Phillips head one.

Even with just MacJournal (in which I'm writing this) and my login items (Quicksilver, PandoCalendar under Rosetta, and the Activity Monitor dock icon showing CPU history), I'm using 483 MB of RAM. After a few days of watching MenuMeters, I noticed I was at 1.96 GB once, but generally I use about 1.25 GB. This means that I think it might be better to get one 1 GB ram chip to replace one of the initial 256 MB chips than to replace both chips with 512 MB chips, even if there is loss of performance due to unpaired RAM. At any rate, having 2 GB of RAM makes me happy.

I love the brightness and crispness of the glossy screen. There's a huge window right behind my chair at work, which I was afraid would cause tons of glare. There is some, but it turns out that the benefits of this screen far outweigh the annoyances. It's not at all unusable, even when the sun is streaming directly over my shoulder. Honestly the glare off the white border is more noticeable. I also love the keyboard, but since I got to try them out in the Apple Store the very day the MacBooks were released, I knew from the beginning that I wouldn't have a problem with that.

As for screen real estate -- that has been an adjustment. I'm going from 15.1" 1172x768 to a 13.3" 1280x800. So all the fonts are miniscule, and small system fonts are rough on my eyes. I'm adjusting, but I have a ways to go. It would've been nice if they could have squeezed a 14" screen in here by reducing the LCD frame width. Everything looks so big (and blurry and dim) on my Titanium now.

Any other complaints from me? Well, the up/down arrow keys, especially "up", occasionally seem to refuse to register keypresses, and/or require a large amount of force. Left/right work fine. The trackpad button click is soggier than my Titanium. Luckily I mostly use trackpad tapping, though I do habitually command-click with my ring finger on command and my thumb pressing the physical button. I'm trying to learn to command-tap, instead.

But geez, that's seriously all I can think of to complain about. That boggles the mind. I had a lot more initial complaints going from my Lombard to my Titanium PowerBook. My reception of the MacBook in general has been a lot closer to the euphoria I felt upon acquiring my Lombard PowerBook, which was my very first portable computer.

My MacBook gets hot, but not abnormally so, is so far not showing the discoloring, and I don't think it has any noisemaking problems. I suppose it moos on rare occasions, but it's tons quieter than my Titanium. The MacBook does seem to vibrate a tiny bit (due to the hard drive or maybe an extremely quiet fan?), which is new sensation for me but not a problem. I plan to upgrade to a 120 GB hard drive someday, so we'll see if that has any impact on the vibration. The MacBook itself is so sturdy and solid, a world apart from my creaky Titanium.

One more difference I noticed between my two laptops: with the Titanium, if you pressed the CD eject key on the keyboard and there was no disk in the drive, it would do nothing. On the MacBook, it makes noise indicating it's trying to eject even when there's no disk. Maybe this is a troubleshooting feature?