Outlining with Tinderbox 6 (6.2 to be precise)

The Outline View in Tinderbox may be the software's most under-appreciated feature.
The Outline View in Tinderbox may be the software’s most under-appreciated feature.

Tinderbox is such a remarkably versatile tool for managing information in great part because it provides you with several distinct views of your notes:

  • Map
  • Outline
  • Chart
  • Timeline

Map view is probably Tinderbox’s claim to fame. I know of no other application that gives you such a flexible digital canvas for displaying/organizing/managing your notes. In fact, Map view is so extraordinary that it can easily overshadow the other views offered by Tinderbox. Today I want to look more closely at Outline view, not in context of how it complements Map view, but in and of itself. In other words, just how good an outliner is Tinderbox?

Note: This overview is using Tinderbox 6.2.

Outline View

When Mark Bernstein, Tinderbox’s mad genius, took the application to version 6, he changed the entire user experience. Where in previous versions you would need to open a note to see its content, now Tinderbox looks, at least superficially, like most other two-pane outliners. It has the outline tree (Outline view) in the left pane, and the note contents in the right.

Note: In this review I use the terms note, headline (or heading), topic and item almost interchangeably. All refer to the text that makes up each node of the outline. When I’m talking about the information in the note, I will use the term content or note text.

In this overview, I will be pretending that the other views in Tinderbox don’t exist. That’s silly, I know. But I’m interested in conveying just how good Tinderbox is as an outliner.

Outlining 101

I’ve listed on this site in the past a set of criteria for judging outliners. The first of these is just how easy it is to bang out an outline. I want the application to “disappear” when I’m outlining. I don’t want to think about anything but the project at hand. That means I should be able to create headings and move them into their proper place in the hierarchy without removing my hands from the keyboard, and the strokes needed should be intuitive and easy enough to use that I don’t have to think about them. That’s the first test Outline view must pass. So let’s start by creating a new document.

When you create a new document, Tinderbox presents you with open tabs for Map View and Outline View. I've closed Map View for this example.
When you create a new document, Tinderbox presents you with open tabs for Map View and Outline View, and it gives you some helpful hints about just what to do next. I’ve closed Map View for this example.

Create outlines with ease

Tinderbox 6 uses a tabbed interface. When you create a new document, two tabs are created and open: Map view and Outline view. Map view is selected by default, so the first thing you need to do if you want to make an outline is switch focus to the the Outline view. Tinderbox indicates the view type with an icon and the word “Map” or “Outline,” which is a good thing because before you add anything to either view, they look identical — though version 6 does include some helpful hints in these otherwise empty spaces. For this article, I’m closing the Map view tab. Now, I can create my first heading just be beginning to type it. When I’ve finished, I press ENTER and Tinderbox suspends editing mode. When I press ENTER again, I get a new topic and am in editing mode, so that I can type the title. I continue this process as needed. If a topic should be a child of a previous topic, I just demote it with the TAB key. Change my mind, use SHIFT-TAB to promote the topic. Nothing extraordinary, but this is exactly how I want an outliner to behave. You can create sub-topics to as deep a level as you need.

Reorganize quickly and easily

Outlines rarely are created with exactly the structure I want, so I will need to re-organize the topics. Moving a topic up and down within its current level simply requires the UP or DOWN ARROW key in combination with the COMMAND key. I need to promote it before I can move it to a new parent topic. And, of course, I can use drag and drop to move headings around freely in my outline.

Familiar disclosure triangles

Tinderbox also features the familiar triangular disclosure buttons, so you can collapse and re-expand the various levels in your outline. While there is nothing unique about Tinderbox’s tools for building an outline, it is also surprising how often developers of outliners make it so much more difficult than this. Tinderbox passes this first test with flying colors. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing about any of the rest of the app’s outlining features.

Outlining 201

Sophisticated outliners have advanced features. Tinderbox 6 has many of these, but not all of them (specifically, it is missing inline notes — that is, you can’t view the content of the note in the outline tree itself).


Before delving into Tinderbox’s slightly more sophisticated outlining features, I need to add some background about the software. Bernstein calls Tinderbox the “Tool for Notes.” Keep that in mind, because it explains how everything in the program centers around collecting, gathering, writing, managing and accessing notes. Most of the items you create in your outline will be notes (although you can also create agents and separators — more on these shortly). An understanding of just what makes up a “note” in Tinderbox is necessary for understanding how to get the most from Outline view. To get “notes” you have to get “attributes.”


Pretty much everything in Tinderbox is made up of attributes — think of this as the DNA of your information. Just like every living creature has unique DNA that makes them look and behave in specific ways, so to the attributes that compose Tinderbox notes dictate how they look and act. You don’t have to concern yourself with most of these attributes. Some of them you will manipulate without even knowing you’re doing so, such as the position in the outline, the content of the text of the note. Tinderbox automatically records these attributes, as well as information such as the date of the creation of the note. All the attributes that are by default a part of a note are called system attributes. You can also create your own “user” attributes, so that you can customize Tinderbox documents to your specific needs. Attributes matter for this discussion when you choose to make them “key” attributes. A key attribute is one that you select to display within the note pane along with the text of the note. In effect, these become database fields. So, for example, you can add a DueDate (system attribute) to your notes, or create a user attribute for holding a reference URL and make these a part of the ecosystem of your outline. If you’re sketching out a novel, you can make key user attributes for location or character features.

Click the plus sign in the notes pane to add key attributes to the note.
Click the plus sign in the notes pane to add key attributes to the note.

Adding and creating key attributes for your notes is easy. Just click the “+” button in the upper right of the notes window. Type in the name of the attribute you want to add as a key attribute. If it exists, it will automatically show up. If it doesn’t exist, you’ll get a dialog box asking if you want to create the attribute — you can then tell Tinderbox what kind of data it will hold: string, number, date, boolean, URL, etc…

If you try to create a key attribute that is not already an attribute, Tinderbox gives you the option to create it and select the type of data it will hold.
If you try to create a key attribute that is not already an attribute, Tinderbox gives you the option to create it and select the type of data it will hold.


Attributes will stick with your notes no matter which view you are in. You can add columns to your outline to display attribute values for each note, sort of spreadsheet-style. Select “Use Columns” from the VIEW menu and you’ll get a column management bar just above your outline.

Adding columns to your outline is easy.
Adding columns to your outline is easy.

Just press the plus sign in this column management bar to add a column. Press again to add a second… as many as you need. By clicking on the column title (which by default just says “attribute”), you can type in the name of the attribute you want to display. This makes it a lot easier to compare values across your notes.


One of the limitations with using an outline for organizing data is that a note often belongs under more than one heading. Tinderbox allows you to create aliases of your notes, so the same note can appear in multiple places. Changes made in one of the aliased copies, will be reflected in all of them. Tinderbox distinguishes between the original note and the alias by making the alias title italic. In many outliners, this feature is known as cloning.


Checkboxes in an outliner are not a high advancement, but not every outliner has them, so I want to make sure to mention that Tinderbox does. Just select “Use Checkboxes” from the VIEW menu. The implementation isn’t too sophisticated, however, as you can’t apply checkboxes to individual notes… it’s the whole outline or not at all. This is a small, but legitimate issue, I think. A checkbox in a list is a handy way of indicating what is a “task” and what is not. If every item has a checkbox, this doesn’t work so well. There are other ways around this, though; for instance creating a prototype (more on prototypes below) note called “task” which would have a different color value or badge (more on badges below) than the other notes. As with so many aspects of Tinderbox, the application has an interesting wrinkle relating to checkboxes. Every note has a “checked” attribute. If you create a column for “checked”, you can run your checkboxes in a straight column, instead of along the left side, among all the other little icons. This can be cleaner and easier to view.

This screen detail demonstrates the two ways you can include checkboxes in your outline. Of course, you would never need to use both.
This screen detail demonstrates the two ways you can include checkboxes in your outline. Of course, you would never need to use both.


Another nice feature of the Tinderbox Outline view is that you can choose from several different badges — specialty icons — that appear just to the left of the note title. For example, select a red flag badge for urgent items. You can see the red and yellow flag badges in the screenshot above.

Special Tinderbox Features

Tinderbox is jammed with features. I’m going to mention a few here that can turbo-charge the outlining experience.


A very useful feature of Tinderbox’s outlining function is the ability to add Separators. A Separator is a special note you create to act as a fence separating different sections of your outline. If you’re planning a novel, say, you may use separators to create sharp visual divides between your plot outline, your character list, your location list, and your research notes. Any note can become a separator, but you’ll probably want to create notes just for this purpose. After you create a new note in your outline, open the Inspector Window (command-1). Select the properties inspector tab (the number 4 in a box), then check the option for “Separator.”

The Properties tab in the Inspector allows you to set a note as a prototype, template or separator.
The Properties tab in the Inspector allows you to set a note as a prototype, template or separator (or leave it as none of the above). You can also assign a prototype to the note with the drop down box.

When you mark a heading as a Separator, it takes on a special look in your outline (and disappears from any other view in your document — so you won’t see it if you switch to Map view — and you won’t see any of sub notes of the separator). The screenshot at the top of this article shows separators in use: Characters, Research and Prototypes & Agents.

Open in new tab

Hoisting in an outline means you can select a heading and its sub-heads and make the rest of the outline disappear. This is an especially useful feature with large and complex outlines, and ones that have deep hierarchy. It gives you the ability to focus on the section you happen to be working on, without the distraction of the rest of the document. Tinderbox does not have a hoist function in its Outline View (though the Map View works specifically by hoisting to different levels). But it has something even better. It lets you select a heading and choose to open it in its own tab. (Select the option from the pop up menu when you right click over the heading.) Now you can select that tab and work on that section of the outline, but you can also click back over to the tab showing the bigger picture for reference.

Correction: Alerted by Mark in the comments section, I see that I missed that Tinderbox does have a dedicated hoist view. Per Mark:

In the view menu, Focus view hoists the currently selected container (you can’t hoist a note with no children) in the current view; Expand view ‘un-hoists’ one outline level, reversing the process.

If you prefer a UI approach, double click the icon to the left of a container to hoist/focus it. To un-hoist/expand use the breadcrumb bar that shows at the top of hoisted views in the View pane (the left pane of the document window). Clicking on any breadcrumb un-hoists the current view to that level.

Thank you, Mark.

Icons convey information

You’ve probably noticed the little rectangular icons that live between the disclosure triangles and the text of the heading. These icons approximate the amount of text contained within each note. An empty square is a note without text. A rectangle with lines, means there is text in the note; the more lines, the more text. These icons will also tell you if the heading is an agent, by putting the heavier line at the bottom of the square, instead of at the top, as it does with notes.


I mentioned prototypes earlier. These are very handy for mass applying to many notes attributes you set up for one note. As an example, say you’re creating character reference notes, you might want to have key attributes for age, sex, and hair color. Create a “character” note and give it those key attributes. Then open the inspector window, on the in the properties inspector tab check the “prototype” option (see the previous properties inspector screenshot). Now, whenever you create or edit a note that is about a specific character in your story you can apply the “character” prototype (selecting it from the options in the pull-down menu in the properties inspector tab). Voila, it too will have those key attribute fields.

Selecting a prototype for the note, applies the properties of the prototype to the note. In this case adding key attributes for Age, Hair and Sex.
Selecting a prototype for the note, applies the properties of the prototype to the note. In this case adding key attributes for DueDate, Responsible, and Checked — this is a hypothetical outline for managing a project.


I hesitate to mention agents, because now we’re dipping our toes into a little more sophisticated Tinderbox functionality. Yet, an agent can be really handy for helping you get a grip on your outline, and you don’t need complicated routines. Agents in Tinderbox can perform all kinds of cool things, but I’m only going to suggest the most basic use in this outline-centric article. Let’s get back to our novel project. In the outline, I’ve got scenes organized by chapter, but I want to see the list of scenes in a flat view and I want to see the dates these scenes take place to make sure my timeline makes sense. I’ve already created a prototype for scenes and applied it to all my scene headings. So I can create an agent that finds all the scenes for me.

This agent has a simple query that looks for all the notes in my outline that have the scene prototype applied to them.
This agent has a simple query that looks for all the notes in my outline that have the scene prototype applied to them. (Note, I usually add the prefix “Proto:” to my prototypes, just to make it easier to identify them. This is note required.)

Now I can choose to open just this agent and its newly gathered scene aliases in a new tab, where I can display a column with the dates the scenes are to take place.

I can use an agent to help me see in one place all the notes of one type (in this case, scenes), where I can also customize the view to see meta data relating specifically to those types of notes.
I can use an agent to help me see in one place all the notes of one type (in this case, scenes), where I can also customize the view to see meta data relating specifically to those types of notes. In this case, the date the scene takes place and the location.

Agents can do more than just collect other notes. They can perform actions on them. So, for example, if your outline relates to a project, you could create an agent that looks for any note that has a prototype of “task” AND a checked attribute value of false, and assign it with a red flag badge to make it clear which jobs are yet to be completed.

New export options

One of the things that used to hold me back from using Tinderbox for outlining was the baffling process for exporting notes. It involves creating a template for the way you want the notes to look after export. Tinderbox wizards don’t seem to have trouble with this, but I never could really get my head around the process. Fortunately, the latest version of Tinderbox, edition 6.2, includes more pre-made options for exporting your whole document or just parts of it. Here are the options:

  • HTML – which still baffles me. It creates a bunch of files like a website, but when I try to open them it says it can’t find the template. This lack of understanding is definitely a failing on my part to work very hard to get it. I’m sure the solution isn’t very complicated.
  • Outline – which exports just the headings in a hierarchically formatted text file.
  • Text – which allows you to export the whole file or parts of it in one of several different formats, including RTF, OPML or Scrivener.

The Text export option is the one that I find useful. In fact, I’m writing this article in Tinderbox and exporting it as a plain text file to import into WordPress.

The Bottom Line

On my 11” MacBook Air, the tiny screen real estate available to me makes the Outline view far more useful than Map view. That’s what has prompted me to write this exploration of Tinderbox as an outliner. I’d hardly recommend you spend the money just to use Tinderbox for outlining (although, back in the day, a great outliner like GrandView cost more than Tinderbox does today, so it is all relative).

I was going to end this overview by saying that Tinderbox is not the world’s best Mac outliner. But I’ve changed my mind. I think it is the best, when you consider all it has to offer — and I don’t mean Map view (that’s a whole additional benefit, like cosmologists discovering multiple universes). Most two-pane outliners have nice editing windows for writing your notes, but usually have rudimentary outline functions in the tree-pane. Dedicated outliners have strong outlining capabilities, but crude note-taking features at best. Tinderbox combines a powerful dedicated outliner with a good note-taking editor AND throws in database features. This makes Tinderbox unique.

Does this mean it is the best choice for everyone? No. If you’re looking for a lightweight, efficient tool for creating simple outlines, then you may be happier with the nifty OutlineEdit app (which has some terrific features, and more on the way). If you love the column feature in Tinderbox, OmniOutliner does it better. But no other outliner I’m aware of does what I can do with Tinderbox. Oh, yeah, and then there’s Map view.

41 thoughts on “Outlining with Tinderbox 6 (6.2 to be precise)

  1. I have previously bought a license for tinderbox however I can’t justify the cost now. It is just too expensive.It is an amazing tool but I think the developer is stuck with an old software pricing model. If he dropped the price he would would probably earn more because more people would buy it.

    Another point is there is no IOS interoperability. This is essential for me now. Therefore I am using omnioutliner.

    1. The fact that Tinderbox does not have an iOS app is why I don’t use it more extensively. If Eastgate even just provided the outlining function in an iOS app, that would be plenty useful. Still, when I have a knotty project to work through, I find myself gravitating to Tinderbox, because of its rich assortment of tools for analysis. But I never would try to tell anyone what a piece of software should be worth to them. It is all relative. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Nice article.

    Hoisting in Outline? Yes, you can hoist in v6 Outline view. In the view menu, Focus view hoists the currently selected container (you can’t hoists a note with no children) in the current view; Expand view ‘un-hoists’ one outline level, reversing the process.

    If you prefer a UI approach, double click the icon to the left of a container to hoist/focus it. To un-hoist/expand use the breadcrumb bar that shows at the top of hoisted views in the View pane (the left pane of the document window). Clicking on any breadcrumb un-hoists the current view to that level.

    1. Hi, Mark,

      I appreciate your reading the article and setting me straight regarding hoisting. Tinderbox is so feature-rich that I usually get something wrong when I write about it. I’ll add a correction. Thank you.

  3. you are right about the outliing and the greatness of map view.
    But there is one app with a similar thing: scapple. It *only* has Map view, although it can export to OPML.

    I use it nowadays because Scapple does have a Windows version and so I can use it at work too.

    It has decorations like Map view in TB, but it does not hide notes inside these containers as TB does. In some ways I pefer this way of working.

  4. Steve –
    I loved your article. When TB 6 was about to come out, I set out to write a book about it, something like the Take Control or Missing Manual books, partly because there was nothing that I thought was good enough and partly because it would force me to learn everything the app could do. Life had other plans for me, though, and so the project sat on the shelf.
    Your article is much like what I hope I would have written about the Outline function. It is so easy to follow and to incorporate into use in the wild. Too often manuals or users’ guides are written from the wrong end of an application. They are lists by developers or people with an engineering perspective and they list features and how to activate them, rather than showing users how the app works in the real world and what kinds of real-life issues it can address. It used to be different when software came with manuals designed for users.
    I hope you go on to the other uses and functions of TB so that I don’t have to feel (too) guilty about my embryonic book!
    I’ll also briefly respond to Andrew’s comments. Like everybody else, I’d love to get what I get now when I buy anything, but pay less for it. The problem is that the software developer (Mark Bernstein) is running a very small operation and offering what is (for a host of reasons) a niche product.

    The downside of this for him is that corporate America is not going to equip dozens of computers with it and expect a flock of middle managers and support people to become proficient at it. If he wants to stay in this business, he has to charge more for his product than someone who sells hundreds of thousands of licenses a year. So there’s a pretty big admission fee compared with many others.

    On the other hand, it is a carefully and intelligently developed piece of software that can do things that nothing else can do and is constantly being refined. Mark is on top of everything in the product and is an e-mail away if you have a problem. And there is a very sophisticated user community with an active forum. So you get a lot for your money. Also TB works quite well if you don’t want to keep spending your money for the ongoing updates.

    If you want to be able to really look into complex data or refine your insights as you think more about a problem or the meaning of something you think you understand (but really don’t), there’s no competitor for TB. If you don’t need it, there are lots of products with a less deep set of features that cost correspondingly less and are easier to learn. Of course, if you don’t need something it doesn’t matter what it costs, the money you spend to buy it is wasted.

    Also, I think there’s a kind of race to the bottom in the software world going on. It’s probably driven by the cheap iOS apps. Once you get used to spending $1.99 or less for an application, the old prices start to look high. And if you price the software equivalent of custom-made clothing or a high-end car, your going to get a nosebleed. The other side of this is that unless the developer makes a game that has become a craze, (s)he’s not going to be able to afford to stay in business or keep the application current (since everyone expects all upgrades and patches to be free forever). You can’t sell a product at a loss and keep your business going on the volume.

    The iOS question is an interesting one. I’m a pessimist about it. Although Mark is probably working on an iOS companion to TB (I can’t imagine how anything close to full TB functionality could exist with the processing limitations and screen size of an iPad), I don’t know who such a product would help. At best, I could see it as a way of loading information into TB on the run or on the road, with the real work to be done when the user is back at the computer. There are a few workarounds that try to do this now, none of which I think much of. From my perspective, I might as well just make a plain-text note in Byword or some other text editor and just import it and explode it when I get to the computer.

    Mark is really smart and constantly rethinking things – as TB 6 shows – so maybe he’s got a rabbit gestating in a hot somewhere, but as things stand now, probably the better solution is to get a small, powerful computer that can actually do TB justice (I got the MBP Retina 13″. I love it and carry it everywhere.) and not get too wrapped around the iOS world at this point.

    Thanks again, Steve. This is a magnificent post. In my view, your best to date!


    1. Thank you for your comments, Stephen. The new “Getting Started with Tinderbox” book that now comes with Tinderbox is a big help, and comes closer to doing what you describe as a useful primer on the app.

      Regarding your discussion of the price of software, I think you’ve nailed it. There is one other aspect of this that should be noted: If Tinderbox cost, say, $20, the user base would probably grow ten-fold — and most of them would be demanding time-consuming technical support. Therefore, Mark would be growing his work load without actually growing his revenue. Better to get operating income from a smaller group of dedicated users, than to deal with a host of casual users who are not invested in learning the app for themselves.

      As for an iOS app, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, I would be totally satisfied if the app only did outlines… but sync’d back to the Mac version. That would be completely useable to me, and, I would hope, be a lot easier to implement. I just want to be able to refer to my notes, and add new ones where applicable from my iPad.

      Thanks for reading my blog!

    2. Dear Steve,

      Thank you very much for making Tinderbox easier to understand. I have been trying to use it for six years now, and I always bump up against one difficulty with it or another. I feel that it is an app I have to arm wrestle with. In any case, if you could show how to set up a timeline in Tinderbox, that would be a great help.


      1. I will try to get to the timeline view one of these days soon. I don’t use it very much myself. I often prefer to manually create timelines in the map view. But it’s on the list of features to get to.

  5. Thanks for posting this article. Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth with Tinderbox several times. I am back using it again with the intent of dipping my toes into the deeper end of the pool.

    1. Thank you for the comment and for reading my article. Tinderbox inspires a lot of toe-dipping, that’s for sure. I hope you find yourself swimming along after a while.

  6. Wonderful article. A great help to me, now that I have come back to delve deeper into outlining with Tinderbox. A couple comments …

    First, if someone wants a two-pane outliner that’s simpler to use, but with far less features, I’d take a look at NoteCase Pro at notecasepro.com. I used it a lot before moving to Zoot, then to Circus Ponies Notebook, and now Tinderbox.

    Second, one of the main reasons I like Tinderbox is its search facility. If you just Cmd-F and fill in the search field, you get a popover with a list of hits, Drag the popover to detach it, and place it where you want. Now click on a hit in the now detached box and find that hit highlighted in the Tinderbox outline. Unless you detach that popover before doing this, however, it will disappears with clicking when clicking outside it in Tinderbox. You can confine hits to Text or Name if you like.

    1. Hi, Ralph,

      Thank you for your comments and the tip about Tinderbox search. I’m sorry it took me so long to approve it.

      1. No problem. I recently found another Tinderbox outline function that’s useful: View Text Window. When you call function that on a Note Title, it spawns a new window of that Note’s Text Pane. You can keep that Text Window floating around for future reference or editing, all while navigating elsewhere in the outline. In fact, you can keep multiple such windows open and floating while working on the outline.

  7. Thank you for this excellent explanation and overview. I love the cloning and the separators for book outlining, but I gave up on Tinderbox a while back. A quick question: Does the Text Export export both headings and the content of the notes, so you could print out the complete outlines, with everything included? That was what I was hoping for with earlier versions of Tinderbox. That might make me try it again.

    1. Hi, Jeff. Thank you for the nice comments and for reading my blog. I just did a quick little test using the Tinderbox document I created for this article: “My Brilliant Novel”. I exported the entire document and indeed got the note text within those notes that had content. I’m going to e-mail the RTF file to you so you can see how it came out. BTW, I tried only exporting selected notes, but it seems like you can only do that one note at a time, unless I’m missing something, which is possible.

  8. Love your stuff on Tinderbox, Steve. One more thing occurred to me under “Icons convey information” – they change color to conveying “aging!” So if you write a new note, or amend an old one, the icon becomes a sort of bluish clear. As time goes on, the note gradually turns a sort of “old paper” yellow. It reverts to the color of a fresh note if you amend it at all, even changing a period. So at a glance, you can tell which notes have been worked on recently and which are older.

    1. I appreciate the kind words. Also cluing me in on the aging of the icons. I didn’t even realize that. Thanks!

  9. I’ve been outlining my next book on index cards & using Microsoft Word’s outline feature, but may switch back to Tinderbox given the improvements. Nothing against Tinderbox, but I miss MORE, an old Mac OS outliner that included both cloning and inline notes, and there is no current outliner on any OS I can find that includes both those features. I do feel that Tinderbox’s price is not over the top if it is critical to one’s needs–my outlines are the basis of my books, and that’s the basis of my livelihood. The cloning especially matters to me on this book: I am switching between two characters’ points-of-view, and would love to outline entirely the scenes for each character, and then have a master outline where their scenes alternate–one I could. I also really like the timeline example you used here–I got into a timeline snafu with my last book that caused a headache for me and my editor (was able to fix it, though, but I felt a bit embarrassed about not catching it in an earlier draft.) I’d also say when I was using Tinderbox earlier, Mr. Bernstein was a very responsive developer if there was an issue.

    1. I had a copy of MORE during my first iteration with Macs (a Mac II circa 1990), but I never really got the hang of it. I now wish I’d spent more time getting familiar, since so many people rave about it — then again, it would just be one more piece of great software that I no longer could use.

      It amazes me how outliners 25 years later have devolved. What I loved about Grandview, the defunct DOS outliner, was how seamlessly the inline notes (really whole word processing documents if you pushed them that far) flowed into and out of your outline with a simple toggle.

      If Mark Bernstein could find a way to get the notes to appear inline in the outline view, that would make Tinderbox really unbeatable as an outliner.

      1. my teenage son is doing independent study in computer programming next fall in high school, and they can work on whatever kind of application interests them — maybe I’ll ask him to tackle an outliner that can do both. Perhaps it would be an interesting technical challenge. I think there must be something hard about it, since the functionality has never made it into so many outliners.

        Most novelists I know who write outlines using Word, and it’s very much a “name the scene” and then “write a precis of the scene” approach, which would suit itself well to cloning and inline notes, were such a thing available.

      2. I had an idea for a possible “inline notes” workaround for Tinderbox, but it didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. Still, it might be worth exploring. I’ll try to post an article about it shortly — kind of hard to convey in a comment.

        I’d love to hear if your son decides to take on your challenge!

      3. I LOVED GrandView. It was so good in so many ways. Much better than More. It had a calendar, tagging (I think) and all kinds of functions. Hoisting, gathering, you name it. The Tao Mac outliner got some of this but it had a funny screen presentation. The killer combination back in the DOS days was GV plus Lotus Agenda. Tinderbox has a lot of that, but it makes you work if you want to go deep.

  10. Tinderbox does support clones.They’re called aliases.

    Regarding inline notes, if you mean the kinds of inline notes that Omni Outliner supports, Tinderbox doesn’t support that. But I far prefer Tinderbox’s two-pane approach, where extensive notes can be written for any given outline item in a pane on its right. And these support full blown word processing notes and graphic images.

    1. Ralph, thanks for reading the blog. I think Jeff is aware of the alias feature. I believe he was lamenting that Tinderbox didn’t do both “cloning” and inline notes. As for the notes pane versus inline notes, there should be no reason (in theory) why an application can’t do both. In my first blog posting related to outliners, I took a look at Grandview, which handled inline notes beautifully (for a DOS application). If you’re interested here’s a link to that article:


      1. What a nice article on GrandView. I see now what you’re missing in Tinderbox (inline notes). In the days of GrandView I was using MaxThink for DOS and loved it.

    1. Though I loved MaxThink DOS, that love didn’t transfer to MaxThink Windows. The Windows version just didn’t feel as keyboard comfortable as the DOS version. And the Windows version didn’t support Clones. So when I was running Windows, I ran MaxThink in a DOS window back then. Later I moved to NoteCasePro and Zoot. When I moved to the Mac, I stayed with NoteCasePro for a long time until I found Notebook (Circus Ponies). Loved Notebook and stayed with it for quite some time. I dabbled with Tinderbox for a while, on and off, but didn’t jump in until Notebook development and support was discontinued.

      1. I too was disappointed with MaxThink for Windows. We all have our journeyings through the world of info managers, don’t we? Thanks for sharing your experience.

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