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Tinderbox 5 review


Tinderbox makes demands on its users, but those who invest in it will find the investment worthwhile.

Review Date: 29 Jan 2010

Price when reviewed: (about

Reviewed By: Giles Turnbull

Our Rating 4 stars out of 5

Ask any long-term user of Tinderbox, Eastgate Systems' intelligent information manager, what's so great about it and you'll get a lengthy answer. It's a unique piece of software that, rather like Mac OS X itself, inspires almost cult-like fervour among its fans.

This update, the first Tinderbox universal binary, adds a lot of functional and display features. Some are things you might have expected to be included some time ago. All of them are welcome. The most obvious functional improvement is speed. A great deal has changed behind the scenes to boost the performance of Tinderbox on newer machines, particularly Intel computers running Leopard or Snow Leopard.

Tinderbox 5 also adds a lot of interface elements that are long overdue. Colour menus now provide access to the system colour palette. A new text engine greatly improves font rendering, and offers easy access to styling commands such as highlighting, superscript and indented paragraphs. This is stuff you'd expect to have seen years ago in a word processor, but Tinderbox isn't a word processor: it's a tool for managing ideas, for thinking in. It will do only so much text display trickery.

Addition of Unicode support opens up use of non-Latin characters in note text and titles. This is great news for international users, who will finally be able to use the app in their local language and script. New outline checkboxes give Tinderbox added power as a to-do manager, and the map view is much improved by adding a variety of shapes for notes.

There's a new Inspector palette, replacing what used to be called the Quickstamp window. As Inspectors go, it's still a long way from user friendly and is largely reliant on drop-down menus. If you need the attribute 'TextFormat' 'ShowTitle' to be 'false', you can change that here. This is what we mean by the Tinderbox learning curve. It isn't just steep, it's rather long, too.

Users of previous versions of Tinderbox should upgrade with care. Thanks to the under-the-bonnet changes to the compiler and libraries, documents created in version 5 may not open in older versions. A number of menu commands have moved around, too, which may cause a bit of confusion. The changes make a lot of sense, though.

It's good that there's a free trial version of Tinderbox, but it's a pity that it's restricted to just 30 notes. Given that Tinderbox's strength is managing very large volumes of information, it would be better to make the trial version fully featured, but time-limited.

The learning curve is there for a reason, and Tinderbox's true strength lies in its immense flexibility. There really is nothing else quite like it, on any platform. Over time, it adapts as you learn new techniques. Time invested living inside Tinderbox is likely to be well repaid; your biggest choice is deciding to begin that investment in the first place.

If your work involves the gathering, sorting and managing of text-based information and writing documents based on it, you should certainly give the software a test run. The high price tag is a barrier, but it's also a reflection of how much time Tinderbox might be able to save you in the long run.

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