The 3rd Edition of The Tinderbox Way is now available

Mark Bernstein, the force behind Tinderbox, has announced the publication of the third edition of The Tinderbox Way — which could also be called the Tao of Tinderbox. It isn’t a manual, but more of a philosophy behind the ideas that Bernstein has used to develop the application. Here’s what he says in his announcement email:

The Tinderbox Way explores an approach to artisanal software and the design of a powerful tool for making, visualizing, and thinking about notes. It’s an idiosyncratic and personal look at why software works as it does, and a meditation on the craft of software design.

The Third Edition is greatly expanded and includes a new set of Design Notes edescribing many alternative design ideas. It’s about 30% longer than the first edition, and has been comprehensively revised for Tinderbox 7.3 .

I think Bernstein undersells the book here. There is a lot more than just what was in his head as he conceived of and built Tinderbox. He writes a lot about the art of note-taking, and describes how Tinderbox can help you in your own note-taking. I found the first edition very interesting reading. You don’t get many books ruminating on the practice of taking, managing and harvesting notes.

I bought the second edition too, but only read parts of it. The new edition is over 500 pages, where the second edition was 382. Just comparing chapter 2, “Building Tinderbox,” the third edition is greatly expanded and, I found, more interesting, providing more of the background philosophy about Bernstein’s choices. That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far.

The price is $34.95 and you get PDF and ePub formats.


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.

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.

My first Tinderbox video tutorial

Huzzah! After thinking about this a long time, I’ve finally made my first Tinderbox Tutorial. As you’ll see, it is a little rough around the edges as I get used to the features of Screenflow. And I’m no James Earle Jones with the voice over. But I hope this video can help novice Tinderbox users and those thinking about becoming novice Tinderbox users get a sense of the very basics of the program. I hope to be adding more videos in the future, ones more polished and which expose more of Tinderbox’s great features.

UPDATE: The first version of this video had some editing errors in it. I’ve fixed those.

Introduction to Tinderbox 6 from Stephen Zeoli on Vimeo.

Tinderbox Labor Day Sale – save $50

This just in (from an email from Eastgate Systems):

This weekend only, Tinderbox is on sale. Save $50, and get started on that big push. Whether you’re writing a thesis or a novel, planning a new product, running a campaign, or planning your big trip, Tinderbox will help you get the most from your research.
Tinderbox is the tool for notes if you’re working on a Mac.

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.

Quick Tinderbox 6 highlight – Chart View

I have not been able to write about Tinderbox 6 primarily because I have not had the time to really immerse myself in the upgrade to feel comfortable with a long or detailed discussion. However, there is one new feature that caught my attention, and about which I am very intrigued. The new Chart View shows your notes in a horizontal outline format, similar to the way Ginko or Tree perform. Here are a couple of screenshots to demonstrate what I mean:

Tinderbox 6 outline view.

Tinderbox 6 outline view.

A close-up detail of a section of Tinderbox 6 in chart view.

A close-up detail of a section of Tinderbox 6 in chart view.

With Tinderbox 6 you now can work in a single window, with access to various open views via the tabs along the top. You can see how I’ve switched between the standard outline view and the chart view of the same document using the tabs. The first screenshot shows Tinderbox’s more standard outline view. The second screenshot shows the same outline in chart view. Note the little disclosure triangles. Click them to show the child notes. Click the circles to hide child notes. (I’ve noticed a few minor glitches in chart view, which I expect to be ironed out in the near future.)

This, of course, is just the very tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to uncover in Tinderbox 6, and I hope to get there one of these days when I have the time to really concentrate on it.