GrandView

Outlines and inline notes

Nearly a year ago, I wrote an article about using Tinderbox as an outliner. My conclusion was that the outline view in Tinderbox is a terrific outline application. Just about the only feature it lacked is inline notes. The conversation that cropped up today about this feature prompted me to think about how I might implement a workaround in Tinderbox that would at least approximate inline notes. Before I get to that, I first want to talk a little bit about my opinions regarding inline notes.

This feature mostly only matters in single-pane outliners. That is, those outliners where all the relevant information is presented in one pane. Why it matters is that you want to see the notes relating to a topic displayed “inline” with the topic and not in a separate pane. This allows you to view the notes for all the nearby topics at one time. A little more about why this is important a little further down.

I feel like inline notes are an under appreciated feature of a sophisticated outlining application. That’s probably because most people have never actually been able to use an outline that handled inline notes. Either the app doesn’t have inline notes as a feature, or the feature is rudimentally implemented.

Two definitions before continuing:

  • Heading or topic – Each individual item in an outline is a heading (or call it a topic). That is, if it has a bullet or an alphanumeric label, it is a heading.
  • Note – In some outliners, the note is merely additional meta data. In a small number of other outliners, it can be the main text that describes the heading under which it is associated. Every note is associated with a heading.

OmniOutliner is one of the more fully featured outliners on the market, including the ability to add notes and view them inline. Its approach is pretty standard, so it will serve as a good example of the current state of inline notes.

These screen shots demonstrate how inline notes work in OmniOutliner:

Sample OmniOutliner Document.

Sample OmniOutliner Document. Don’t confuse those long paragraphs as inline notes. They are each a separate heading.

 

To add a note to an OmniOutliner topic, click the note icon.

To add a note to an OmniOutliner topic, click the note icon.

 

By default, the inline note is made to have a lower-level of importance by appearance.

By default, the inline note is made to have a lower-level of importance by appearance.

 

The note now appearing in the note pane. You can toggle this action.

The note now appearing in the note pane. You can toggle this action.

Notes in OmniOutliner are clearly intended to be meta-data and not the substance of the heading the notes are associated with. This is a fine approach for a lot of purposes, but it is not ideal for writers. I suspect anyone using OmniOutliner for writing will take the approach demonstrated here; which is to just write paragraphs in the headings instead of using the notes for the content.

Grandview’s take on notes

The best application of inline notes that I have ever seen or used was that of Grandview, the DOS outliner I wrote about here. With Grandview you created your outline headings and could associate a full-text document with each heading, as demonstrated below:

Document text viewed "inline" in the GrandView outline

Document text viewed “inline” in the GrandView outline

Grandview treated notes as full-fledged documents in their own right, but allowed you to view them in the outliner or not, as you chose. If you wished, you could isolate the text of the document to focus solely on composing. Like this:

Dedicated document window in GrandView

Dedicated document window in GrandView

Here is what I had to say about why I feel this is important for writers:

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, in its own window, or collapsed and not visible in the outline. This visual flexibility is a powerful feature for writers, because it allows you to switch from a focused 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… 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. I have yet to find any outliner that matches Grandview for handling these this inline content.

I wrote that over six years ago, and it is still true. (I hope someone out there can show me I’m wrong.)

An inline notes workaround for Tinderbox

So my Tinderbox inline notes workaround. You can add columns to an outline view in Tinderbox. The columns can display any of the attributes for the headings in your Tinderbox outline. One of those attributes is “text”, which is the notes content.

Tinderbox with outline view selected. I have only populated it with a few notes.

Tinderbox with outline view selected. I have only populated it with a few notes.

If you’ve read my article about Tinderbox as an outliner, you know that you can add columns to the outline view, and fill those columns with data from any of the notes’ attributes. The text within the note is the “text” attribute, so you can add that as a column. So you can minimize the notes pane and view the text in the outline view as demonstrated in the screenshot below:

Outline view in Tinderbox with the "Text" attribute displayed in the outline as a separate column.

Outline view in Tinderbox with the “Text” attribute displayed in the outline as a separate column.

As you can see, the result isn’t exactly “inline” notes. And, sadly, the text doesn’t wrap to multiple lines so you can only read the contents as far as you can stretch the column. But this does provide an overview of content in a single pane, so it might prove useful to some.

My conclusion, however, is the search goes on for a single-pane outliner that can handle inline notes effectively for writers.

GrandView

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):

Basic Outline in GrandView

Basic Outline in GrandView

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:

Dedicated document window in GrandView

Dedicated document window in GrandView

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:

Document text viewed "inline" in the GrandView outline

Document text viewed "inline" in the GrandView 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:

GrandView provides a host of outlining tools

GrandView provides a host of outlining tools

It also provided advanced meta-data capability to help you organize your work. Here’s a basic list of tasks:

Task list created in GrandView

Task list created in GrandView

But now I want to organize this random list. I’ll start by turning on the Category Display (see the bottom of the screen):

GrandView with Category on

GrandView with Category on

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.

You can have GrandView automatically assign categories

You can have GrandView automatically assign categories

Once I’ve assigned data to all the categories of each headline, I can now quickly filter those categories in the Category View:

GrandView filtering all headlines with Priority category set to High

GrandView filtering all headlines with Priority category set to High

GrandView showing me all the headlines with the category Role set to MIC

GrandView showing me all the headlines with the category Role set to MIC

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:

GrandView in Calendar View

GrandView in Calendar View

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:

GrandView with Column View turned on

GrandView with Column View turned on

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.