Tuesday, October 04, 2005

StickyBrain: the iTunes for the written word

For this, my first Tech Tuesday entry, I'm reviewing my favorite piece of software: StickyBrain by Chronos. At first take, StickyBrain seems like just an amped up version of the popular application Stickies, which is basically a digital Post-It app (the company Post-It has its own version as well) . But it is far more than that. In fact it's much more Brain than Sticky. StickyBrain is a powerful personal manager of almost any information that involves the written word. This app makes me pity Windows users all the more, because it is only made for the Mac.

And it shows, too. StickyBrain has features that will be very familiar to OS X users. It has a list of notes on the top, and a preview pane on the bottom very much like Apple's Mail program. But unlike Mail, you can edit any note from the preview pane itself. You can also open multiple preview "tabs", which is much like the tab functionality popularized by Mozilla Firefox and adopted by Apple's Safari web browser. StickyBrain has a "drawer" on the right, that has whatever directory structure you choose to design, much like the multiple calendars in iCal, the albums in iPhoto, the playlists in iTunes, the address groups in AddressBook, the sidebar in Finder... you get the idea. StickyBrain also has the Mac feature whose utility pervades almost every corner of OS X, from "Open File" dialogues to the System Preferences: the Search Bar. If I want to find a note, I just start typing into the Search Bar the first word that comes to my mind when I think about what I'm looking for. Then, bam!, it appears as I'm still typing, and I can start editing it right away. And I don't have to wait for it to load like a bloated Microsoft Word file, which, even when absolutely no text is entered into it, is 20 KB big. Plus you can re-title your notes on the fly, "link" notes together, and put a single note in multiple folders.

StickyBrain is so nimble because it treats your notes, not like discreet "files", but like entries in a database. In this way, it is again like Apple's in-house software. On a Windows you drop pictures and songs in your operating system's folder structure. Then, when you want to get to them, you either fish around in Explorer or the app's "Open File" dialogue ("Let's see, My Computer, C Drive, My Pictures, Family Pictures, 2003, Fourth of July Trip, there it is!"). On a Mac, on the other hand, you add songs and audiobooks to your iTunes library and images to your iPhoto library. And with iTunes and iPhoto, the applications themselves are like great big "Open File" dialogue boxes. They're what I call "immersive apps". They are like miniature operating systems, carefully tailored for music or photos.

In the same way, StickyBrain is like a miniature operating system for the written word. I've taken nearly all my Microsoft Word files (journal entries, notes, lists, research papers, outlines, reference tables, essays, short stories, work reference files, etc) all my Palm OS memos, all my Sticky notes, and all the web sites I've saved onto my hard drive, and eased them into my StickyBrain. Now every useful scrap of word-based data I've ever saved or generated is right at my fingertips. And anytime I come across something interesting on the web, in my e-mail, or in my head I'm just a keyboard shortcut away from registering it in a system that I trust it won't get lost in. I even draft all of my blog entries in StickyBrain (including this one). There are so many useful features in this program (others include Palm sync, iPod sync, integration with AddressBook, iPhoto, and .Mac, a Dashboard Widget, note alarms, and the ability to automatically make a note from selected text), that if you own a Mac, you should at least download StickyBrain for its 30-day trial period. It may very well become a central and essential part of your digital life.


At 7:05 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

I love StickyBrain. Like you, I use it to compose everything longer than 100 words. I've been using version 2 religiously for years. However, I can't get behind version 3, even though I paid for it when it first came out. Version 2 has some features that version 3 doesn't seem to include - for example, when I change a note's category in SB2, the note's background color automatically changes to match the other notes in that same category.

Also, I've noticed that the database engine in SB3 seems to take forever to start up and I felt like it ran slowly in comparison to SB2 -- at least it did on my old Aluminum Pbook G4. Now I'm on a 1.42 ghz iBook and it might be better, but I don't really see the point in migrating now when version 2 does everything I want. I migrated back to 2 from 3 after about a week.

The only thing I wish version 2 had (and that might push me to v3 if they ever added it) is the inclusion of Stickybrain notes in Spotlight search results. At that point Spotlight really would search all of my work, and that would be darn handy. Thanks for blogging about StickyBrain -- sometimes I think the world (including Chronos) has forgotten about it.

And just to throw a monkey wrench in here: have you checked out VoodooPad?


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