As a writer about Mac, iPhone and iPad applications you sometimes think you’ve seen it all, apps being very similar, especially when they perform basically the same tasks. I should know better – it’s the details that can make all the difference and I tried to highlight that fact in an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago in which I compared five outlining apps for Mac.
They all had their strengths and weaknesses, but all of them will suit a different set of needs. Being only human, it seems I overlooked a rather popular choice: Scribe. Today, I want to remedy that faux pas and take a closer look at an outliner that comes with a lot of features and is quite simple to use.
Scribe – Easy on the eyes, powerful under the hood
After the very first launch, I waited for a couple of seconds to see if there “was more” to the simple white window that opened on my screen. There wasn’t. No help screen, no inspector … just a plain window with a couple of buttons in the header.
As it turned out, that’s really all you need. Scribe can be used intuitively. To start an outline, you simply start typing. By hitting the enter key, you start a new entry on the same level. Pressing the tab key will indent the next line, making it a child of the entry above. You can continue doing so, creating up to eight sublevels. I’m fairly certain it will satisfy the needs of most users.
The most important factor is the ease of use: both the enter and tab key allow to create any kind of structured outline, you don’t have to fiddle with many options or complicated keyboard shortcuts that need to be memorized. Most word processors behave just like Scribe, which means you don’t have to learn anything new.
For example, if you want to “un-dent” a level – make it a 1.2 instead of a 1.1.1 – you just hit Shift+Tab, as you would in Pages or Keynote or Microsoft Office documents. Having used Scribe in a business environment over the last week made me realize how important this is: during a meeting, when you’re fighting to keep up with notes, you don’t have time to think about what keys to press. You do it instinctively and Scribe just … works.
Of course, for those who prefer the mouse, there are some buttons at the top that we can take a closer look at. Going from the left: the first two allow you to indent and outdent a level. The next two allow reordering items on the same level. Beware that all child items of a parent will be moved with it!
Next up are buttons for collapsing trees (parent items with their children). Why? Well, it saves you space if your outline is getting longer and sometimes hiding child items can help to see some structures better. There are shortcuts for all of this and any of the above functions, by the way, which can be learned by reading through the short help file.
Record, Listen, Find
An awesome feature that can be easily overlooked due to the grey and discreet icon is the ability to record audio while you create your outline with Scribe. That can literally save the day after a meeting or a class. If you realize that you’re behind in your notes, simply leave it at that and continue with what is currently going on.
Afterwards, use the slider of the audio recording to jump to exactly where you couldn’t keep up anymore. Or, maybe you had trouble understanding something that was discussed. Jump to the entry via the slider and listen to what has been said. When you drag the slider, Scribe will show you exactly at which entry in your outline something was recorded. Neat.
The only thing I wish for: If I put my cursor into any entry, the audio indicator should jump to the corresponding position. It’s by no means a bad solution as it is, but it would be a great alternative to the current method.
Dress it up
Say you’re working late. It’s dark or dusk outside and you’re using Lion’s feature of full screen, which is enabled in Scribe. The last thing you probably want is a white screen glaring at you and hurting your eyes. You could turn down the brightness of your Mac’s display. Or, you could simply run Scribe in dark mode instead.
For night owls like me, a feature like this can make all the difference of loving or loathing to use an app. But that’s by far not the only option that Scribe offers to style the appearance. You can change the font size (great if you’re sitting four feet away from a 27″ screen) and the line spacing, switch between a serif and non-serif font, and to top it off: choose between three different outlining styles (academic, legal, bullets).
For an app that opened up in a single, plain white window, Scribe turned out to be quite powerful while remaining easy to use. The audio feature was a pleasant surprise and while the app might not offer the variety of options as OmniOutliner or the visual elegance of Tree, I found it pretty much perfect for going into a meeting and not having to worry about missing out on something.