One of my interests is writing and information management software. Perhaps using the term “interest” is misleading, as I am sort of obsessed with these types of applications, and have been since I got my first computer, one of those early Compaq “portables.” Around 1989, I bought a license for an application called GrandView. GrandView was a DOS program that combined outlining, word processing and task management. It had some features that were cutting edge at the time, some of which remain unmatched in modern software.
In this entry to Welcome to Sherwood, I want to explore my favorite features of GrandView, because many people have never had the chance to see GV work. So let’s begin:
On its face, GV is a basic single-pane outliner. That is, you can view all of your information in a single window. (Outlook, for example is generally a three-pane outliner, in which you have your list of folders in the tall, slender left pane, your list of e-mail headers in the upper right pane, and the content of any single e-mail message in the lower right pane.)
Here is a screen shot of a basic outline created in GrandView (I’m running it on VM Fusion on my MacBook — thus the status bar along the bottom of the screen):
Notice that headlines I.A, II.A.1, and II.A.2 have little down-pointing arrows at the end. This indicates that there is a document associated with those headlines. We can view those documents in a dedicated document window:
Document view is essentially a hoist to view just the text of the document. (Note that the odd cursor blocks in this and other screen shots are relics of using GrandView in emulation mode in Windows XP running on my MacBook.) I always liked this feature of GV, because it is like switching to a dedicated word processor to work on this one section of your outline. But one of the most powerful features of GrandView is the ability to see the text of your document inline with the rest of your outline:
An important point here is that this text is not a separate headline or node. It is directly associated with a headline and can be viewed inline (as above), in its own window (as in the second screen shot), or collapsed and not visible in the outline (as in the first screen shot) This visual flexibility is a powerful feature for writers, because it allows you to switch from a focussed view of your writing to the big picture. You can work on getting each section of the text right, then make sure the entire work flows smoothly with appropriate transitions. Two-pane outliners (such as MyInfo and Ultra Recall, for example), force you to keep your writing in separate, discrete blocks. To this day, no other application has matched GrandView for providing this combination of powerful outlining tools AND single-pane, inline text.
But GrandView had other impressive features, ones ahead of their time. First of all, it had all the outlining tools you could ask for, including hoisting, collapsing, mark and gather, and others:
It also provided advanced meta-data capability to help you organize your work. Here’s a basic list of tasks:
But now I want to organize this random list. I’ll start by turning on the Category Display (see the bottom of the screen):
Date and Priority are default categories that automatically attach to each headline. I created the category “Role” in order to separate my tasks into my three roles: Work, Home and MIC (the latter being a nonprofit organization I volunteer with). I can now fill in the due date, priority and role for each of my tasks. But to help me with this, I can have GrandView automatically assign a Role category based on a rule. Here I’ve created a rule to assign any headline with the text “MI” to the Role MIC.
Once I’ve assigned data to all the categories of each headline, I can now quickly filter those categories in the Category View:
Those of you into the GTD method of managing your day, can instantly see how GV would be an excellent way to manage your daily tasks.
Switching to Calendar View, I can now view tasks based upon the day they are due:
And when I want to get an overview of the date, priority and role for all my tasks at the same time, I can turn Columns on. Category data for each headline is then displayed in columns (which I can select) on the right:
It shouldn’t take too much imagination to see that GrandView’s incredible flexibility made it an exceptional tool for all kinds of work. When I was using it daily (up to about 15 years ago), I created an outline I called Mission Control. Here I kept a list of my major projects, daily tasks, and reminders. I created individual outlines for each of the projects, and used GV’s linking ability (common now, but pretty radical for DOS) to create hot links from my Mission Control to the project outlines. Some projects were task/milestone heavy, some were writing heavy. I could manage it all in GrandView.
GrandView was abandoned by Symantec at the dawn of the Windows age, and has yet to be matched. EccoPro by NetManage had outlining with powerful meta-data, but did not have GrandView’s document view nor its powerful outlining controls. And, it too has been abandoned (though it still has a dedicated group of users). Scrivener on Mac has its scrivenings view, which allows you to combine separate documents into one long view and edit them. But Scrivener has a weak outliner, and no customization of meta-data fields. NoteMap was a fairly powerful single-pane outliner, but it didn’t offer document view or meta-data or true inline text — plus it appears that development has ended on this application, as well. OmniOutliner has user-definable meta-data and columns, as well as “inline text” but this latter feature is very weak. You could manage tasks very well in OO, but I don’t think you’d ever try writing anything of any length.
Of course, GrandView had its deficits. It was only developed for about five or six years. It never had the advantage of being a Windows application, and existed before anyone had ever heard of the Internet or e-mail. All I can do is imagine how terrific this application would be if developed today with the same imagination, consideration for the end user, and innovation.