Software

To subscribe or not to subscribe

That’s the question I want to discuss today. Recently, two of my favorite apps — DayOne and Ulysses — have announced that they are switching from the traditional purchased license to subscription models. That is, instead of buying the software, installing it on your computer and using it as long as you want or are able, you now have to pay an annual fee to keep on using it.

Maybe younger users won’t have a problem with this approach, but as someone accustomed to buying my software — I’ve been doing so for 35 years — I am very wary of the subscription model. Here are some of my concerns:

Ever accumulating annual fees

At first, when it is just a couple of apps that use the subscription model, it may not hurt so bad. But imagine if all of the apps you use on a daily basis move to this model. You could be paying hundreds, even thousands of dollars a year for the software you use. No thanks!

Loss of control

If you own the software, it will keep working fine even if the company that makes it goes out of business, sells out or decides to double the price. But with a subscription model, you may lose functionality, or the software may stop working altogether if the developer isn’t there any longer to keep the subscription going. Or if the developer decides to increase the price past your comfort zone, you’re stuck paying or giving up the app you’ve put so much of your effort into learning to use, and in which so much of your work may be stored.

Reduced incentive to improve the apps

With the purchase model, an app developer gets further payments from current users by improving the app and charging an upgrade fee. But with a subscription fee, the incentive to improve the app disappears. It’s true that market pressures may cause the developer to want to keep his or her app up with or ahead of the competition, but I don’t believe that will result in as frequent or significant improvements.

Fairness

Imagine you bought a car and then the auto maker tells you that, in order for them to continue to service your vehicle, you now have to lease it as well. While that may not be the perfect analogy, it is close to what happens to current users of an application who now are faced with the choice of deciding to keep using the old version or paying the subscription fee to keep it up to date. (I want to be clear, in each of the two cases, DayOne and Ulysses will continue working even if I don’t subscribe. But sooner or later, there will come a time when I have to subscribe or stop using the apps.)

But wait a minute. I do subscribe to apps. Am I not being inconsistent? Maybe. But maybe not. For example, I subscribe to TheBrain. But TheBrain has a tiered pricing structure. You can pay a one time fee to purchase the software and use it as long as you want. If you buy version 8 today, you get a free upgrade to the forthcoming version 9. Or you can subscribe to TheBrain Pro Combo. This gives you additional functionality: You can install TheBrain on any of your computers (Mac or Windows); you can sync your brains among all those computers; and you can access your brains on the web. So you are getting something in return for your subscription. And you are not forced to subscribe. You can use TheBrain without a subscription — there is even a free version that is very functional, especially if you just intend to use the app on one computer.

With DayOne and Ulysses, you really get nothing for your subscription that you weren’t getting before, except the vague promise of improvements. With both these apps, I wonder if the developers feel that they are near mature and can’t see adding enough improvements to coax users into paying for upgrades. I don’t know.

I also pay for subscriptions to cloud-based services like Dynalist. Well, what is there to buy? It’s a website. It doesn’t live on my computer. (I’d prefer it if Dynalist were an executable that I could run from my computer without internet connection, but that’s just not what it is.) I also subscribe to Evernote (Premium, I believe it is called). Again, I get something for my subscription — access to my notes offline, among other things. And there is a free version. If I decide to stop my subscription, I can still access my notes online.

In the old days, software cost a hundred dollars or even a lot more. Today, the AppStore has driven the initial cost of software down. I suspect this is part of the problem. Additionally, the AppStore doesn’t allow upgrade pricing — completely idiotic! So developers are forced to offer a short-term, low cost fee to purchase the new version to everyone.

I am not suggesting that developers are morally obligated not to switch to subscriptions. They are in business and are looking at how to maximize the investment in their time and effort. I actually wish Ulysses and DayOne well. Both apps are excellent, and I hope they succeed. But as more and more developers switch to subscriptions, I suspect the pool of users willing to do so will start drying up. I know they won’t have me as a customer any longer.

For a different perspective, see this blog post from author David Hewson, one of Ulysses biggest fans.

Good introduction to exporting from Tinderbox

At the blog Ordinary Human Language, Brian Crane has put together a series of tutorials on how to export from Tinderbox. As he says about his approach:

… what I’ll try to do is show how working backwards from the desired output rather than forward from a note is a useful (and manageable) way to think about export. In my opinion, working this way resolves a lot of the difficulty I initially experienced.

I always found exporting from earlier versions of Tinderbox to be somewhat baffling. Tinderbox 6, however, made it a little easier, though I confess that I do not do a lot of exporting from Tinderbox.

Mindscope, version 1.5

Several years ago, I wrote about a great iPad app called Mindscope (original article here). The developer calls Mindscope “The Mind Mapping Outliner.” That’s a pretty apt description. The app hadn’t been updated in almost three years, and I was wondering if it were abandoned. But wait, just when things were looking dire, version 1.5 was released earlier this week.

I’m not going to post any screen shots here, because they simply don’t do Mindscope justice. I suggest going to the webpage for Mindscope and watching the demonstration video — several times since things move pretty quickly.

Since the list of new features doesn’t appear on the website for Mindscope, I’m pulling the list from the AppStore:

— iPhone & iPad compatible —

That’s right, Mindscope now runs on your iPhone as well for when you’re on the go! It’s really useful for taking notes on the go. Especially because of…

— iCloud sync —

Your Mindscope entries can now be stored in iCloud. If you do so, it will sync between your iPhone and your iPad! If there are any problems, please let me know! I have spent many hours testing and polishing this – it should Just Work.

Note that if you don’t want to use this, you also have the option to simply work locally (like before).

The entries are synced when you have Internet and are primarily updated when you first open up the app. If you’ve made a change on your other device that you aren’t seeing yet, trying exiting and re-entering.

— Bluetooth keyboard fix —

Bluetooth keyboards now work great again with Mindscope! Creating entries used to not work when a Bluetooth keyboard was connected. This has now been fixed, in fact, I’ve gone even further and added a ton of…

— Keyboard shortcuts —

Many, MANY new keyboard shortcuts makes using Mindscope with a keyboard simply awesome. Hold down the Cmd key on your keyboard to see them all. Everything from navigating to creating to editing to styling can now be done via keyboard. It’s AWESOME, if I do say so myself (and I do).

— New action side menu —

Instead of a popup, an action bar now slides in when highlighting entries – this makes life way easier especially on the iPhone, since this way the action buttons won’t pop up under your finger, and also there is room for all the actions.

— Massive internal refactoring & rewrite in Swift —

This one you won’t see much of on the outside, but I’ve rewritten many parts of the app in Swift to provide a better foundation for The Future.

Anyway, check Mindscope out. It is really fun to use.

New video about NotePlan as a digital bullet journal

I’ve put together a new screencast video, but this time I’m talking about a day planner/organizer called NotePlan. This isn’t the most comprehendible video ever made, but hopefully I’ve demonstrated how NotePlan works and how it might be used as a digital bullet journal.

As I publish this, NotePlan is only available on MacOS, but an iOS edition is slated for release on June 14.

UPDATE: In the video I say that the MacOS version of NotePlan does not append the date to tasks that have been postponed to a specific date, but I got a note from the developer with a correction. Here is what he says:

To show the date where a todo has been postponed to can be switched on in the preferences.

NotePlan as Digital Bullet Journal from Stephen Zeoli on Vimeo.

iThoughts – an excellent mind-mapper and planner

This is a quick shout out for an application I’ve come to admire a lot. It’s iThoughts from toketaWare, which is essentially a one-man show. The application first came to my attention as an excellent iPad application. Soon it was also available for macOS. And just recently a Windows version was unveiled. Save your maps to Dropbox and you can open them on any of those three platforms.

iThoughts isn’t a competitor for full-featured mind mappers, of which there are many. And there are other good cross-platform choices, including SimpleMind. But I like iThoughts best. It fits right in my sweet spot: powerful enough but it doesn’t overwhelm me with features.

The video below demonstrates one of the thoughtful new features, which I admire:

 

The developer, Craig Scott, has really built a wonderful cross-platform application and I just wanted to acknowledge that. Check out iThoughts if you’re looking for a lighter-weight, but highly functional mind-mapper.

Tinderbox 7 is now available

Composites -- collections of related notes in a map -- is one of the big new additions to Tinderbox 7.

Composites — collections of related notes in a map — is one of the big new additions to Tinderbox 7.

Tinderbox 7 has been released by Eastgate Systems. It is jam-packed with new features (find a list here), but the biggest addition is the “composite,” a collection of notes that are all associated. Think of a note as an atom and the composite as a molecule. Tbx 7 comes with four composite prototypes, two of which I’ve displayed in the screenshot above. You can easily build your own composites just by sliding notes up against each other. When you do so, they become joined and a gray-lined box is created around them.

I haven’t tried to put this feature to practical use yet. When I do, I’ll try to create a screencast.

The other most significant addition is that you can create a kind of wiki link in the text of a note to link one note to another. As usual, the upgrade is free if your annual subscription to Tinderbox is active. Otherwise, it’s $98 for an upgrade, $249 for a new purchase.

A new distraction-free writing app: Tabula

Tabula is a new writing app that recognizes some basic elements of text on the page and automatically adds formatting.

Tabula is a new writing app that recognizes some basic elements of text on the page and automatically adds formatting.

This is a review of Tabula, a new writing app that interprets your page as you write, recognizing headings and other elements. It’s like using #markdown, but without all the added characters.

Automatic Headings

Tabula recognizes short phrases on a single line as headings. For the app to recognize your text as a heading, you do need to capitalize at least two words — unless it is a single word heading. If you don’t capitalize, the phrase is interpreted as body text.

Like this.

Create Lists

Tabula recognizes unordered and ordered lists.

  • Use a hyphen at the start of the line to create an unordered list
  • Or an asterisk
    • Create a nested item by tabbing
  1. Or create an ordered list with a number
  2. This is pretty much like markdown

Emphasize Text

You can emphasize text by adding a backtick (“”) to the front of the word in question, as I did with question. This isn’t any different than markdown really, and you’re limited (as far as I’ve been able to see) to italics. The app reserves the right to apply bolding to headings and simple tables.

Create Simple Tables

Tabula For Mac $4.99
Tabula For iOS $2.99

Very Nice Exporting

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Tabula environment is its simple but very nice export function. Just click the little export icon in the upper right corner and you switch to a preview of how the document will look. You can select from several preset export styles.

To go back to editing mode, just click the little arrow icon that replaced the export icon in the upper right. Below are two of the half dozen styles for exporting:

In preview mode you can see how your work will look and select from several styles. This is the "Reel" style.

In preview mode you can see how your work will look and select from several styles. This is the “Reel” style.

 

tabula-screen-3

This is the “Report” style. Note that along the bottom row you have controls to select the style, add spacing between lines and indenting paragraphs.

As you can tell, from the screenshots, I wrote this review in Tabula. I exported it as HTML code which I pasted into WordPress, and all the formatting followed nicely. I did change the headings from the Heading 5 format (a little too small) to Heading 4. But that’s it.

Like TaskPaper, but Not

Tabula reminds me a bit of TaskPaper, but it is definitely intended for writing and not for task management. TaskPaper is a far more sophisticated app.

iOS Version

The Tabula version for iPad and iPhone is very nice, offering the same features as the Mac version, but with a handy extended keyboard row to make editing more convenient, including a little tap button for selecting text.

If you store your Tabula files on iCloud, you can open them on either type of device.

The iOS version is handy too, and can read the files created by the Mac version. Note the extended keyboard row with handy buttons for editing.

The iOS version is handy too, and can read the files created by the Mac version. Note the extended keyboard row with handy buttons for editing.

The Bottom Line

Tabula probably won’t replace Scrivener or Ulysses if you are a writer, but is a viable option if you’re looking for an elegant, simple editor for drafting and publishing reports, essays, short articles or the like. This is not a note-taking app. What you put into Tabula, you will be publishing in some form, most likely PDF.

This is just a version 1.0 release. The developer has plans to add custom export styles, typewriter mode, embedded images and other improvements in coming releases.