Taking the Information Plunge With Tinderbox

Tinderbox from Eastgate Systems, Inc. is an information management application notorious for its long, steep learning curve. Almost any review you read will hammer that fact to the point that many people are sure it’s beyond their ability to master. This is going to be a review for them, actually for us — because I was one of them.

I won’t deny that Tinderbox can be challenging. I’ve been using it for two years and still feel like a babe in the woods. But the message I want to convey with this review is that Tinderbox can be remarkably useful even if you never venture too far into its more advanced features. To shift metaphors, if Tinderbox is a swimming pool, this review is about the fun you can have even if you just splash around in the shallow end. So let’s jump in.

Tinderbox

Screenshot 1: Planning a vacation with Tinderbox

The “Tool for Notes”

Eastgate calls Tinderbox “the tool for notes.” This is simultaneously a completely accurate description, and one woefully inadequate, kind of like calling the Apollo Program a trip to the Moon. All personal information applications handle notes in one form or another. The power of Tinderbox comes from its ability to display those notes in a number of different and helpful ways, and its array of mechanisms for manipulating those notes.

We’ll explore these two aspects of Tinderbox more a little further along in this review, but first I need to define just what makes up a Tinderbox note.

Tinderbox Note

Screenshot 2: Tinderbox note window defined.

A data file in Tinderbox is called a document. Documents are collections of notes and views of those notes. Notes are collections of attributes. Two of these are the note’s name (or title) and content. But there are many attributes, around 190 last count. Many of these you don’t have to concern yourself with: either you can’t alter them, such as the creation date, or they are updated automatically by the application as you manipulate the note, as when you set the color or change the position of the note. There are pre-defined attributes that remain inert until you want to put them to use, as with the event attributes of StartDate, EndDate and DueDate. All these pre-packaged attributes are called system attributes.

One of the powerful features of Tinderbox is that you can create custom attributes to handle information specific to your needs. Think of these as database fields. As with most databases, you can set the type of data a custom attribute can contain, choosing from string, date, boolean and list, among other options.You can set any attribute to be displayed in the note window, making them “key attributes.”

One other important point about notes before we move on. In the screenshot above, we are looking at the note text window. There is another dialog window that opens for editing the title, as well selecting other options and settings.

Note dialog window

Screenshot 3: When you first create a note, you will can set the title and other attributes through this dialog box.

If the inline editing option is deselected in preferences, this dialog will open when you create a note in the map view. Otherwise, you will need to select the note and type the “enter” key (function-return) to open this window.

Tinderbox has two sets of preferences; a global preference for all Tinderbox documents, and a document-specific preference. The latter takes precidence, so if you change something in the global preference and it doesn’t seem to be working, check the document preference (reachable under the Edit menu).

As there are several things you can do to change the way a note looks and behaves, you would find it very tedious to have to adjust these features over and over again in dozens of notes. That’s why Tinderbox is equipped with a function called “prototypes.” Create a note, get it to look the way you want — color, shape, key attributes — then set it to be a prototype (check the box in the note dialog). Now you can instantly use those same features on any other note in your document.

Outline View

Now that we know that the building blocks for a Tinderbox document are notes, let’s begin to examine how Tinderbox allows us to view those notes. There are several Tinderbox “views,” but I’m going to focus on the two you are most often likely to use: outline and map.When you create a new document, Tinderbox opens a blank outline view, essentially an empty white window. Just start typing and a new note is created with your text as its name.

When you’re done typing the text, hit return and that note is set. Hit return again and a new note is created, ready for you to begin typing the title. In this way you can quickly create a series of notes. You don’t need to worry about structure at this stage, because all the notes are easy to move around via drag and drop, and hierarchy is simple to build just by tabbing or shift-tabbing. Note names can be long, so this is an effective way to take quick notes during a meeting or in class. While there is no actual limit on how long note names can be, the practical limit is probably no more than a sentence or so, as it will be more difficult to edit longer names.

Outline View

Screenshot 4: Tinderbox outline view

To add more text to a note, simply select the note name and press the space key (or double-click on it). The note window pops up, and you can add detail in the content area.

Another nice feature of outline view is that you can add columns to view attribute data, such as DueDate or any custom attributes you may have added.

Tinderbox Outline with Columns

Screenshot 5: Tinderbox outline with exposed columns

Map View

Map view is Tinderbox’s signature feature, one that sets it truly apart from any other application. It’s a space to tack your notes, and other items to help make sense of those notes, but don’t confuse it with a mind mapper. A mind mapper displays hierarchy; Tinderbox’s map view does not (or at least not practically so).

This is important for understanding the relationship between the map view and the outline view. The map view displays notes (and other items we will soon learn about) that are on the same level and under the same parent. I’ll illustrate by making a map view of the outline which appears in screenshot 4.

There are eight notes shown in the outline, three at the top level, one subordinate to the second note, and four subordinate to that one. When I make a map view from this outline the result is the image in the following screen shot:

Tinderbox Map View

Screenshot 6: Tinderbox map view.

Notice that there are only three notes displayed. These are the top level notes from the outline. The second note, the one with the subordinate notes, looks different than the other two. That’s because it is actually a container — any note that has subordinate notes is known as a container.

In that screenshot, I’ve expanded the container and zoomed in, so you can see the sub note. In fact, you can even see that the sub note is also a container.If you double-click on the interior of the container — that is, the space that looks like it contains the sub notes — you’ll drill down a level. If you have a sub note selected in an outline, then choose to open a new map view (using the View menu), the map that appears will be drilled down to that level.

You can drag the notes around the map view at will, grouping them in related clusters. But with several clusters, it might be helpful if you could somehow mark off the territory. That is where adornments come in.  These are colored blocks that reside in the background of the map, to help create “territories” for your information. More on adornments below.

Putting It Together

Let’s put what we’ve looked at so far to use in an example. For a newsletter I publish, I recently wrote a short article about George Washington and his response to a correspondent during the American Revolutionary War. I collected the text of several letters and documents that exchanged hands among Washington and his correspondents. There were also details about the Washington’s situation at the time. To help me make sense of these notes, I created a map view that displayed these notes in a quasi timeline.

Tinderbox Map View

Screenshot 7: A map depicting events surrounding George Washington.

Note that I used three adornments to help me organize my information. The top adornment functions just as a label. But the other two gave me space to separate the type of information into events and correspondence. After I put my notes in a rough chronological order, I had a much clearer picture of the circumstances surrounding Washington’s letter. But for further clarification, I was able to add relationship links.

Map Detail

Screenshot 8: Tinderbox map detail.

Putting Prototypes to Use

Let’s look at another example. I am trying to do a better job tracking the films I watch. Tinderbox is a perfect helper. I can, for instance, go to IMDB.com, find the movie I want, then drag the URL onto the Tinderbox map view to create a new note, with the URL attached.

I have already created a prototype called “film.” Any note can be a prototype (set in the note dialog box), which then makes it fast and easy to assign its attributes to any other note. My film prototype has key attributes for Title, Director, Genre, Date Seen, Rating, and Viewing (i.e. In the theater or on DVD).

After I’d created a number of entries, I realized I wanted to add a key attribute for the actors. All I had to do was add that field to the key attributes of the prototype, and it was automatically added to all my other entries that had “film” as their prototype.

Film Note

Screenshot 9: Tinderbox note detail

Get Yourself an Agent

Now I want to visually distinguish films based upon their rating. That’s easy to do with an agent. Agents in Tinderbox are special notes that continually look for other notes that match specified criteria and then perform some action on them, sometimes only collecting copies, known as aliases. Below is the dialog for creating an agent.

Tinderbox Agent

Screenshot 10: A Tinderbox agent

Note that you can either type in the code for the query or use the control provided by Tinderbox to build the code — the latter method is what I tend to use. After creating agents for each of the five ratings I use for my film reviews, my map now looks like this:

Tinderbox Messy Map

Screenshot 11: Tinderbox map after creating agents to color-code notes based upon rating.

An Adornment is More than a Pretty Face

I want to clean this up. I could easily move the notes around manually — and sometimes I like to do that, as it helps me think about my notes — but in this case, I’ll create adornments to automate the cleanup. As mentioned above, an adornment is a background map feature that fences off sections of the map for clearer organization. But they are a little more than that, as we can add a query, just as we can to an agent, to gather notes to the adornment. Here’s what the dialog for that looks like:

Adornment Dialog

Screenshot 12: Tinderbox adornment dialog.

Once I’ve created my adornments, my map has a much tidier appearance:

Neat Map

Screenshot 13: Tinderbox map after adornments tidy things up.

Notes Have Aliases

Agents find matching notes, can act on those notes — i.e. As in changing the color, which is one of the simpler actions — and also capture aliases of those notes, which makes the agent a container holding those copies. So I can use agents to help me visualize my movie information in a variety of ways. The screenshot 14 below shows the results of an agent capture of films I’ve classified as dramas. Note how the names are now in italic. This indicates they are aliases of the original notes.

Drama Films

Screenshot 14: An agent captures alias versions of notes that meet specific criteria. Here films that are dramas.

Other Views

We’ve looked at the outline and map views of Tinderbox, which to me have always been the most useful. However, Tinderbox provides several other methods for finding new perspective on your notes.

If you like a more traditional two-pane layout for your outlines, one with the note content visible along side the tree-structure, select the explorer view.

Explorer View

Screenshot 15: Tinderbox explorer view.

The map view shows one level of information at a time, while the chart view gives you a diagram that reveals the hierarchical structure of your notes… a visual version of your outline.

Chart View

Screenshot 16: Tinderbox chart view

The treemap view will display your entire document with the hierarchy depicted as boxes within boxes. I have yet to figure out what use this is, but I’m sure it has one or would not be included as an option.

Treemap View

Screenshot 17: Tinderbox treemap view

Finally, one of the newest features of Tinderbox is the timeline view. This is a formal, chronological diagram based upon the StartDate and EndDate attributes of your notes. There are several aspects of the timeline view function that I do not have the space to write about here, so I’ll just let the screenshot do the talking:

Timeline View

Screenshot 18: Tinderbox timeline view

The Challenges of Tinderbox

Tinderbox is an inspired application, one that provides functions I’ve never seen in any other information management software. But it can be frustrating at times, and not just because its advanced features sometimes feel a little out of reach for mortal man (or at for least me). It is frustrating because even simple tasks can result in some inconsistent behavior or it is not readily apparent how to do them.

As an example, when I was demonstrating my film review notes earlier, I mentioned that I dragged the URL from the IMDB web site onto my map to create a new note for any particular film. That sounds easy, but I stumbled two ways with this. First, about half the time the drop didn’t “take.” That is, a note wasn’t created in the map, and I’d have to try again. Usually, after a couple of tries I could get the note to appear. But there seems no rhyme nor reason to why it works sometimes and why it does not. I’m sure there is a reason, but I can’t figure it out and was unable to get any help on the user forum.

When I clicked to open one of the notes created with the URL drag and drop it would also automatically launch my browser and go to the linked page. This is annoying when, most often, I just wanted to view and edit the note itself, but it wasn’t obvious to me how to change it. I finally learned from the user forum that there is an attribute called ViewInBrowser that is automatically set to “true” on dragged in URLs and has to be changed to “false.” Using an agent I quickly flipped that setting on all my existing film notes, and all new film notes will change automatically when they are created. Now the web page only opens for a specific note when I tell it to.

Anyone using Tinderbox is going to run across issues like this continually. The key to Tinderbox happiness is to see them as challenges and not stumbling blocks. The more you use Tinderbox, the more you begin to understand how it works and the more quickly you can find solutions. The user forum is invaluable in this regard. Post a question and you get a response usually within an hour or so.

Buying In

Mark Bernstein is the driving force behind Tinderbox. He calls himself the chief scientist at Eastgate Systems. I mention this because I think it offers a glimpse of Bernstein’s aspirations for his software. In Tinderbox, Bernstein isn’t simply designing an information manger. He’s looking to create a new paradigm for how people interact with that information. Has he succeeded? I don’t know, but I love that he is trying.

Learning Tinderbox requires an investment in time. Owning Tinderbox is also an investment. It cost $249, which includes a year of free upgrades, although from time to time Eastgate runs a special, which will get the price tag under $200. After your first year, upgrades will cost you $98 a year. The software is updated frequently and significant new features are still being added — the timeline view was added in version 5.6.

Using Tinderbox can be exasperating at times, but it is also often exhilarating. I don’t use Tinderbox as my primary information manager, but when I need to play chess with my notes, it is the first place I turn. It has helped me solve many an information riddle, and has been more than worth my investment.

If you like some of Tinderbox’s features but not enough to pay the full price, you might want to look at Eastgate’s Twig. It has the outlining and mapping features of Tinderbox, along with a nifty note-taking interface somewhat reminiscent of Notational Velocity. It currently costs $78, but be warned that the export functions are severely limited.

Alternatives to Tinderbox

Screenshot 19: No other single software application does all that Tinderbox does

Summing it Up

This has been a long review, and yet I have only skimmed the surface of what you can do with Tinderbox. I’ve tried to show you how Tinderbox can be extremely useful even if you don’t plunge all the way in. The techniques I’ve demonstrated are really very easy. And the active Tinderbox forum is a great resource when you get stuck.

Coming up with a rating for Tinderbox has been a challenge. On the one hand, many people will find its functions esoteric and difficult — at best — to master. For them a rating of six might seem high. But others who have mastered the arcane scripting will tell you no other tool matches Tinderbox for versatility and power for managing information and notes. But Tinderbox can be very valuable for those like me who eschew the more complex scripting features, but are willing to approach the software with patience and persistence.

Because I am impressed with the mission of Tinderbox, because I think it is genuinely inspired, I am giving it a rating of nine out of ten. But do not take my word for it. Download Tinderbox. Try it out. Read all you can about it. Then make the decision for yourself if it is worth your software dollars.


Summary

A powerful, versatile and ingenious note management application that rewards patience and persistence with its quirks and learning curve.

9
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  • Deb

    Wonderful, and thank you.

    The TB site sorely lacks this kind of basic, helpful “how to,” and I hope they will notice the great job you have done explaining the what and how of TB.

    I am a very happy Twig user – it meets my needs and is, I believe, reasonably priced. For those that may find TB overwhelming, or overpriced, I highly recommend a download and spin on Twig.

    Thanks again. Excellent review.

  • http://welcometosherwood.wordpress.com Steve Zeoli

    Deb, I appreciate your kind remarks very much and am glad that the introduction is helpful. Thank you.

  • Russ Lipton

    Well done.

    I have used Tinderbox since its introduction a decade ago. It is the only piece of software I have ever used over thirty years that is, itself, intellectually stimulating – a category type absent from all known software reviews. Consequently, Tinderbox must be and is, indeed, frustrating and maddening at times.

    I want to address two meta areas, both of which you touched upon:

    Price. I can remember when software products cost $395; in ‘old’ dollars too. Tinderbox seems outrageously expensive by today’s standards. Tire-kickers, please keep in mind that Eastgate’s ‘artisanal’ approach to software correlates closely with the product’s unique strengths. This is not committee-designed, corporate-volume targeted, me-too outliner, note taker or mind mapper stuff, though I know Eastgate welcomes corporate customers – a different matter. I suspect the price is set as low as possible consistent with maintaining the long-term health of the project.

    Enhancements. Mark Bernstein seems as enthusiastic today about pushing Tinderbox’s architectural design and feature-set to its usable limits as he was when discussing the original beta publicly long ago. I chose ‘usable’ above purposely. I don’t want to give the impression that Tinderbox is for weird, eccentric hobbyists with endless time on their hands. Bernstein is always asking users who want ‘just one more’ feature to supply a possible use case and/or reasoned defense of their request. Still, that said, it is fun (and productive) to grow alongside Tinderbox itself, which means, to grow alongside Mark as well.

    Again, well-done review. There is a fully productive ‘shallow end’ to the Tinderbox pool which amply rewards beginning swimmers. The neat thing is that the deep end of the pool is (as it should be) just beyond one’s gaze at any given moment.

    • http://welcometosherwood.wordpress.com Steve Zeoli

      Thank you for commenting, Russ. I too remember the days when software cost hundreds of dollars. For my first computer, one of those so-called portable jobs from Compaq, I paid $395 for a simple, flat-file database program. As crazy as it sounds, though, it seemed like a miracle application at the time.

  • peter lindsay

    An excellent article, and well balanced. You point out the advantages and potential power of the application, while warning of the frustrations that lie ahead for the beginner. The frustrations finally did for me but I wish others more success.

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  • Stephen Silk

    As a new Mac devotee, I had never heard of Tinderbox until I read this review. But the review, and the application, do remind me heavily of another – Lotus Notes. In particular, the line “No other single software application does all that Tinderbox does” is one we have applied to Notes for over a decade now.

    I will definitely have to give Tinderbox a try.

  • Christian Tagsold

    Very good review. I want to add one thing about the price-tag. I have been using Tinderbox only since four month. Yet it has changed my Apple life very much (to the better). During these four month I kind of found out that I did not pay for the program itself but for the excellent support. Whenever I had an idea about improving my personal Tinderbox documents and was not able to implement what I wanted to do I turned to the forum. Within hours either Marc Bernstein himself or Marc Anderson – not directly associated with Eastgate I understand but also super-helpful – answered my question and explained what I had to do to get one step further.

    Given this support – and the many many things Tinderbox can do – I came to see the price as very much justified indeed – especially since I payed a special price for Scrivener users (limited to Christmas though). You do not just get a program, you get quick and competent advise whenever you need it!

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  • francis glebas

    Excellent article on how to use it. I love TInderbox because it “thinks” like I do, in outlines and maps and now timelines- then simply export to text as needed. We need more introductions like this article in which I learned that adornments can collect notes and that you can display attribute columns in outline view. Thanks again.

  • James Katt

    I bought Tinderbox. I read the Tinderbox Way.

    Unfortunately, after repeatedly trying Tinderbox for a few years, I don’t like it.

    I think Tinderbox is for very left-brained, obsessive-compulsive, micromanaging people who cannot see the big picture (a right brain task) and thus need help to see the big picture, relationships, etc.

    Since I can already see the big picture and can see relationships in my head, I don’t need Tinderbox’s help in doing so.

    With this in mind, Tinderbox’s note-taking style become more of a hindrance than a help.

    Tinderbox’s outliner is just too primitive to allow me to brainstorm quickly.

    When it comes to drawing diagrams, I just want to draw it myself and not be limited by Tinderbox’s fairly limited toolset. Again, I can draw it because I can already see it.

    When writing and note-taking, I prefer the following to get work done:
    1. DEVONThink Pro Office
    2. Scrivener
    3. OmniOutliner Pro
    4. Omnigraffle.

    • Tyrion

      Sorry you don’t see the value in Tinderbox. I use all the same applications as you do, but none of them do what Tinderbox does. Tinderbox is not just for ‘left-brained, obsessive-compulsive, micromanaging people’ nor is it only for people who don’t see the ‘big picture’. Tinderbox is a toolbox full of tools that let you play with information. DevonThink Pro is a better tool for research, particularly when linked with Devon Agent, OmniOutliner is a better outliner, Scrivener is a better writing tool, and Omnigraffle does a better job of drawing. All of these tools are great, but while they overlap some, they don’t cover everything Tinderbox does.

      For many years, I have walked into large, complex businesses and attempted to identify what was going on and how it could be done better. My job was part Qualitative Research, part Quantitative Research, and part Political Analysis. Qualitative Research has a number of tools for analyzing interviews and playing with the data, teasing meaning out of diverse viewpoints. I used these tools effectively, but I wish I’d had Tinderbox earlier in my career because it would have made this job easier. Tinderbox is a far more useful tool for ‘right-brained’ qualitative analysis than most of the other tools I’ve worked with, but even that sells it short.

      You’re right that Tinderbox is a tool to help you see the big picture, but you’re wrong in thinking that analysis of this sort can’t help you. My own experience over many years of consulting with large companies was that the people who thought they had the ‘big picture’ were most often mistaken. The big picture often turns out to be more complex than many people think they see and more fluid than they realize. This is also the problem with many of the reviews I’ve read about Tinderbox.

      Tinderbox is often characterized by one or another of its capabilities, classified as a tool to do one thing or another. Very few people I’ve seen truly understand its character as a tool box for manipulating and exploring information. It’s as if someone handed them a toolbox loaded with tools, and they pulled out a hammer and described it as characteristic of the whole toolbox.

      I’m sorry to say that you have far more experience than I with Tinderbox. I only found it recently, but it’s displaced other research tools that only did part of what it does and I expect to find more things that I can do with it as time goes on. It’s a hard tool to master, that’s easy enough to see. It’s also a hard tool to characterize. If after several years you don’t find it useful, yoiu probably never will, but don’t think it’s only for left-brained geeks, it’s useful for right-brained creative types as well who can see the ‘big picture’.

  • Peter Twohig

    Thanks for that, Steve.

    I have been using TB for just over a year and it has become my second top application after Scrivener. (I also use DEVONThink Pro)

    I have planned a trilogy of novels on it, and a detailed timeline for the first novel.
    I’m currently editing the first novel, which is to come out in Feb 2112, and I have set up my Scrivener screen so that the timeline occupies the lower third of my screen (though the Apps can be viewed together in other ways). I write using a 27″ cinema display running off a MacBook Pro, so this is a stunt that I can pull.

    As for the trilogy, the plan is a work in progress using map view. But the power to manipulate the characters, events and relationships, and run what-ifs, has far exceeded my expectations.

    As for the learning curve, my practice is to learn something a new TB trick every week. Otherwise I’d go nuts.

    Learning TB is like learning a musical instrument. At a certain point the frustration dissolves and it feels just plain good. Then you take it up notch, etc.

    Here’s my prediction: for the rest of my life I will be using Scrivener and TB in tandem for all my novels.

  • Art Russell

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to produce a well considered review. Like others, I discovered Tinderbox a number of years ago. Although I’m a relatively long time user, I’m still in the ‘shallow end of the pool’ as I needed the toolset that Tinderbox is positioned as. I’ve also used DevonThink extensively. Together, both products supported production of my PhD dissertation 6 or so years ago.

    The one thing Tinderbox does better than any other application is allow exploration of the ‘emergent structure’ of information. DevonThink excels at getting information out and associations, but in developing an understanding of information related to a topic, Tinderbox is unmatched, even at the shallow-end.

    Cudos to Mark for his continued work and vision, and my thanks to you for the review.

  • Simon Knight

    I wish to add my thanks to you for taking the time to publish such a well written review of the “basics” of Tinderbox. I have been a user since just before Christmas (another Scrivener user) and find TB an “interesting” application. I have been attempting to use TB to create a brief about a complex aircraft system. My one complaint was that I needed to include graphics/images which at the time TB could not display. I see that graphics have been included/re-enabled in version 9 so my needs may have been met.

    Your review has taught me about the multi-columns in outline view and the timeline view – so many thanks.

    If you feel like wading towards the deep end and writing another review I think that the output options could be a rich source. ;-)

    best wishes

    Simon

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  • JB

    Wow! What a great, thorough review. Great Job. There are so many worthless reviews out there, many of them just ‘commercials’ with a clearly biased author that only provides superficial info on the good things.

    This review is different and is actually useful. I have never tried TB, but may consider it after reading the review and the other helpful user comments posted here.

    I only wish all reviews were just as thorough. (I realize you only scratched the surface, but it was great nonetheless )

    Thanks again!

    JB

  • Sheila O’Kelly

    Thanks so much for this incredibly useful review. And the multi-column view in outline that you mention has swung me in favour of going from the trial version and forking out the dollars. I am writing a thriller in Scrivener, but the timeline is doing my head in. The multi-column view will allow me to view the ‘dates’ in the correct order. Like the other reviewer, I imagine I will run Tinderbox in tandem with Scrivener. Meanwhile, I will clip this review with Evernote!
    Cheers
    Sheila

  • http://www.donlavangephotography.com Don LaVange

    I’m an avid GTD enthusiast who uses Omnifocus (verbs) and DEVONthink Pro Office (nouns) I just spent a week learning Tinderbox. The first few days were frustrating, but I eventually cobbled enough of a picture to begin doing something. Your article held the missing pieces to beginning to approach some comprehension this wonderfully stimulating piece of software. Tinderbox would do well to let you do their training materials; seriously!

    In addition to my GTD verbs (Omnifocus) and nouns (DEVONthink) Tinderbox will be my playground for fleshing ideas out, for thinking about things and for yet another “inbox” for capturing that important stuff that can keep you awake at night wondering what it ever was. I guess it’s going to be my GTD narrative!

    I only wish that the product tied in with Mac services in order to make those live external links with other app-citizens like the two I mentioned.

  • pageturners

    Thank you for this useful review. I’m trying out Tinderbox using its free trial to plot out a short piece of fiction, but finding it horridly Windows-like so far. The main reason for this is the lack of simple, direct, straightforward, step-by-step tutorials for beginner users, which suggests a certain arrogance.

  • Eddie

    I’ve been interested in Tinderbox for years, probably since version 2. Almost bought it when it was on sale for $95, but decided to pass. I’m glad I did, given all the (paid) updates it has received since then. Let’s compare Tinderbox price on its own:
    Tinderbox 2.2 $145
    Tinderbox 5.9 $249 (almost 72% more expensive)

    I also remember buying expensive software, such as Lotus 1-2-3, Excel, etc. IIRC, I paid hundreds of dollars for each, and the software came in a box with manuals as big as the yellow pages! I’ve always thought that downloadable products represent significant savings for the vendors. There’s no need for a box, and the manual can be delivered digitally.
    Things change. The last time I bought Excel I paid around $120, it also included PowerPoint, Word, Expression Media, and Entourage, and it did not have yearly update fees. ;)

    By today’s standards Tinderbox is, IMHO, a bit out of touch when it comes to pricing. Not only is the software itself expensive, but there’s a yearly fee to access updates (which obviously can be skipped). Historically the manual and tutorial have been inadequate. There’s The Tinderbox Way or now additional tutorials, but they represent an additional expense. I bought the book last year, but still not the software.

    Compared to something like SPSS (just in terms of price), Tinderbox is a bargain. Compared to perhaps 99% of my other software, I very much dislike Tinderbox’s pricing. Some of the “related” software I use:
    DevonThink Pro Office
    NeO (probably the most powerful outliner I’ve used, and a bargain)
    Curio (Good for many things, not great at any single one. I got tired of the yearly upgrades)
    ConceptDraw Pro
    MindMap Pro
    OmniGraffle
    NoteBook
    Merlin
    Timeline 3D
    Panorama
    Others I forget at the moment. For GTD, I prefer Thinking Rock since I like to use the software to help me Get Things Done, not to spend hours/days/months figuring out how to make it work in a different type of software (e.g., Tinderbox, NoteBook, OMNIoutliner back in the Kinkless days, etc.)

    Interestingly, with the current policy users are not entitled to all free updates within the same version. Since these updates may include bug fixes, I would not buy or upgrade to early versions.

    There’s no true replacement for Tinderbox, even when combining multiple applications. By the same token, Tinderbox will not replace many of my aforementioned applications.

    Working with images is limited and not Mac-like. I understand that this was better on the previous version.
    I can’t help to think, whenever I do something in Tinderbox, that there’s a better approach. The book somewhat addresses this in terms of philosophy, but there’s nothing in practical terms regarding “best practices” or in-depth tutorials. Perhaps the latter has changed with the new CD, but I won’t be buying it.

    If the above sounds a bit negative, I’ll add the following:
    I really like Tinderbox and finally bought my copy 2 days ago. Hopefully I’ll get my serial on Monday. With most software this would take seconds or minutes at the most.
    Support is great indeed, both from the developer himself and from other users.
    As mentioned before, there’s nothing like Tinderbox out there.
    I would also give it a 9 out of 10.
    What I won’t do is upgrade for a few years.

    Thanks for the thorough, thoughtful, and useful review.

    BTW, my interest in this type of software probably began with the wonderful IdeaKeeper, now defunct.
    http://tidbits.com/article/5931
    http://www.applelinks.com/mooresviews/ik.shtml

    “Idea Keeper’s key features include:
    • Powerful and Sophisticated Outlining Capabilities
    • Hypertext support to create non-linear, dynamically linked sets of documents
    • Extensive support for drag & drop within and outside of Idea Keeper
    • Automatic text formatting for “Internet” text (e.g., email)
    • Embedded objects (URLs, pictures, sounds, file links & more!)
    • IK can Create dynamic multi-media standalone documents
    • Stickies-like multi-window display – but with virtually any number of sets of windows.
    • Extensive formatting capabilities & Style Templates
    • It can even Remind you of important dates & times and dial your phone!
    • Powerful Search function”

    Pretty good for a $30 shareware application from 2000 :)

  • Richard

    Just wanted to add my voice to the comments and thank you for the time and effort you have dedicated to this really informative tutorial.
    I bought TB because it was on a special offer through Scrivener which I use to plot screenplays and novels. I did not realize how complex and confusing it would be to learn to use.
    I stumbled my way through all the tutorials that were supplied with the program and came away a little discouraged. What a challenge for a novice! I wanted something to compliment structuring with Scrivener. I couldn’t figure out how to set up an outline as I wanted it to be. How to format those little boxes to co-ordinate with each other. Even how to change the color!
    I thank my lucky stars I decided to go to the forum and see if someone else was as confused as I. That’s how I discovered the link to your article. I find it easier to follow than the complications of the TB tutorials. (TB take note). A really basic “basic tutorial” would be very helpful after all the money spent.
    Thanks again.

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  • Dexter

    First: thank you for the part of the articleI read. Second: I stopped reading as soon as I saw you placed “No Country For Old Men” under your “not so good” film rating box. Someone who misses the finer points of good film is sure to miss the finer points of good software.

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