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Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

By Lisa Hoover on May 08, 2008 (9:00:00 AM)

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I use Tomboy, an open source notetaking app, to cull and organize the hundreds of bits of information I track, and to prioritize it on to-do lists on the fly. When we first reviewed Tomboy 0.3.5, it had some obvious flaws. The project has had a number of updates since then, and the newest version, 0.10.0, really makes the grade.

If you use the GNOME desktop environment, chances are you already have Tomboy on your system, since it's part of the GNOME project. If not, or if you want to update to the latest version, you'll find it at the GNOME's Web site.

The first time you fire up the program, you'll get a welcome screen designed to help you get organized and get started, but you really don't need much information to be up and running in minutes. Simply click on the apps icon parked on the taskbar at the bottom of your screen, select New Note, and you're off.

Far and away, Tomboy's best feature is Links -- a terrific way to make sure related items don't get lost in a bottomless sea of notes. For example, if you're planning a conference with 12 attendees, all with their own itineraries and lists of things to bring, creating one long note would quickly become unwieldy. Instead, you can make separate notes for each person, then link them together in a master note.

Linking on the fly couldn't be easier. Highlight a word, click on Link at the top of your note, and a new note will pop open with the highlighted word as the title. If you change the title (then or later), the change will be reflected in every linked note you have saved. This is a real time-saver that means no broken links within notes, and no frantic searches for where some other bit of information might have gone.

Of course, the best note-taker in the world won't help much if you can't quickly and easily find what you need. Tomboy has robust search capabilities that let you search by word or phrase to bring up every note that contains your search string. This is particularly useful if you remember to use the same keywords across all your notes -- think of it as a homegrown version of tagging. For example, if you routinely use the phrase "2008taxes" on all relevant notes, you'll have all those notes right at your fingertips next tax season. You can also limit searches to all unfiled notes or those inside a designated notebook, or sort by date created.

I'm a huge fan of Tomboy's new notebook feature, which lets you organize your notes more deeply and assign subcategories to your topics and projects. Using my earlier example, you can create a notebook for the upcoming conference you're planning, then drop all associated notes in it for extra organization. However, setting up a notebook isn't particularly intuitive. Each note has a Notebook button, which you would think would offer the option of creating a new notebook on the fly. Unfortunately, it only serves to categorize the open note into a notebook that already exists. You need to click on the Search button at the top of each note, then File -> Notebooks -> New Notebook. Name your new notebook and exit the dialog box. Only then will you be able to access a new notebook from the drop-down Notebook button at the top of each note. That's several steps too many when an "Add new notebook" option could be offered as an option in the drop-down menu.

Tomboy gives users a lot of options when it comes to how you want your notes to look. At first, I didn't think much of the ability to bold, underline, italicize, or yellow-highlight the text in my notes. The more I used Tomboy, however, the more I came to value the options. For some notes, I like to strike out text that's no longer relevant, but since Tomboy doesn't allow for versioning, simply deleting the text means I won't be able to reference it later. The ability to create bullet-point lists within notes is great for organizing ideas, and I find a choice of font size helpful in a variety of tasks.

To use Tomboy as a to-do list maker, simply open a new note and begin typing. To keep it just a mouse-click away, click the app's icon at the bottom of the screen and a list of the most recently accessed notes will pop up. Click on the pushpin icon next to your to-do list and it will always appear in the list until you unpin it. To keep your list on the desktop at all times, click the Tomboy icon in the upper left corner of your to-do note and select "Always on top."

If you're mobile, you'll love Tomboy's ability to synchronize notes between two or more computers. It's convenient to be able to use Tomboy on my laptop and desktop computer, and I also like knowing I have a backup of my notes in case Something Very Bad happens to one of my computers.

Tomboy comes with a handful of plugins that you can easily turn on via Preferences. They allow such useful options as the ability to drag a message from the Evolution email application into a Tomboy note, export notes to HTML, and import notes from the Sticky Notes applet. Tomboy's user community has taken things a step further and created several third-party plugins, including a way to post Tomboy notes to a WordPress or Blogspot blog, post Trac links into a note, and create a reminder that will automatically open a note at a designated time.

My main quibble with Tomboy is similar to one my colleague expressed in our earlier review -- a noticeable lack of documentation. For the most part this app is intuitive enough that a great deal of help documents aren't necessary. For the few things that aren't evident, however, a little bit of direction would go a long way.

I like Tomboy and find that it fits nicely into my workflow. If you tend to amass great quantities of random information that needs to be organized, maybe Tomboy will also work for you.

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on Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

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Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 193.26.194.93] on May 08, 2008 11:42 AM
Tomboy is made in C#. This causes a dependency on Mono, which
1 is evil (http://boycottnovell.com/category/mono/)
2 takes space on the disk or distro CD

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Re: Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.32.109.170] on May 08, 2008 11:54 AM
I have to agree with the previous commenter. Do NOT use Mono under any circumstances.

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Re(1): Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 141.123.223.100] on May 08, 2008 04:11 PM
You're an idiot, and I'm providing as much proof of that as you have as to why to not use Mono.

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Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 201.82.216.213] on May 08, 2008 01:05 PM
too large footprint
to install tomboy on a debian system you'll need 19,5 Mb of mono-things.
No way.

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Re: Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.32.220.209] on May 08, 2008 01:10 PM
Oh, too big a footprint, I could install that much on my phone and not notice!
Oh dear.....

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Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.32.220.209] on May 08, 2008 01:07 PM
You MONO bashers need to get a life.
Yeah, it has problems and it arrived from a strange background, but hey, it works and it works well.

what does "Do NOT use Mono under any circumstances" even mean, does it break something? virus ridden?
Tomboy is great, knock it for it's problems if it has any, but this is childish.
(My fist post by the way!)

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Re: Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.43.222.41] on May 08, 2008 03:21 PM
It's easier to complain about something than to offer some real advice. The linux community is littered with assholes any more.

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Avoide Tomboy and other C# trojans

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 88.193.156.49] on May 11, 2008 07:22 PM
Do not use mono under any circumstances. It unnecessarily wastes large amounts of disk space. It is also the vector for spreading MS software patents into Free distros. This goes back to the early planning days of NT where Gates himself proposed using patents to lock out competition. Novell's busy establishing the ground work.

Please, Linux.com editors, screen the articles and keep the proprietary technologies disguised as open source out of the site.

If the legal implications aren't enough, there is the plain technology, which is a poor, immature copy of java. Why try to undermine an established, mature, yet dynamic language like Java. Besides, despite all the astroturfing from MS shills, open source Java has both the large development community and the large, polished set of objects and classes.

If Tomboy is so great, port it to java. It'l have a better technical and legal foundation and make everyone happy.

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Problems with docs?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.104.95.17] on May 08, 2008 02:38 PM
I assume you looked at the help file...was there anything in particular that you felt needed more documentation?

Please share your thoughts with the Tomboy team, through bugzilla, the mailing list, IRC, or just by emailing me:

sanfordarmstrong@gmail.com

Nice review!

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Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.121.153.114] on May 08, 2008 04:11 PM
haha OI!! Tomboy is great, the only thing it lacks is the ability to (easily) sync between several machines over a network. I love it, it's replaced almost all the notes I used to keep in regular text files at this point. So far as it needing 19MB of mono...ok fine don't use it on an embedded system, but I've got over a TB total on all my disks and honestly, a few megs is hardly a drop in the bucket these days. I mean sure back in 1991 I would have freaked out about it with my feeble 40MB, always hunting to free a few KB here and there, but c'mon, these days...hah that's nothing. Netinst disks solve the space issue, if you don't want it, haha well then don't download it....jeez

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Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 90.184.107.48] on May 08, 2008 04:19 PM
If you are looking for an alternative, which doesn't require Mono (for whatever reason), I would suggest you to have a look at Zim Desktop Wiki: http://zim-wiki.org/.
It works great as a notetaking application and also has features for making it used as a todo list.

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Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.176.166.27] on May 08, 2008 04:25 PM
There are many things that "work", and maybe Mono is one of them. Windows works too, do we want to suggest using it?

Beagle was another application that was implemented in Mono, and it has been replaced by Tracker, which is faster and takes WAY less ressources.

It simply sucks to build a small application as Tomboy upon an unfree framework with a huge memory footprint. It simply sucks.

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Re: Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: DylanMcCall on May 08, 2008 06:11 PM
Actually, some would argue that Beagle is the better, faster program. It is well designed so that highly technical options (such as indexer's niceness) do not have to be exposed to the user, instead working smoothly and quietly at all times :)
With Tracker, I have seen that people spend far too much time configuring the thing so it doesn't interfere with what the user wishes to achieve. Only a matter of time until that is fixed, but for me at least, Beagle is currently the nicer search engine.

Besides which, what does that have to do with Mono? My experience has been that programs written in Mono have really solid and flexible resources at hand for community collaboration (a pattern worth examining more closely to see how other development platforms can improve!), and that this has given them an edge with very fast and steady growth. Not that this is unachievable or really difficult in other places (case in point: Linux), but Mono has pretty much entered life with the tools already at hand, so almost everyone is using them. (For example, mono.addins). Another nice thing it has is one of very few decent IDEs tied very closely to the project. (Monodevelop, of course). With that IDE adding support for other languages, it could be interesting to see how this all unfolds; even without Mono, the thing definitely makes it quicker and easier to create and contribute to an open source project tidily.

Anyhow, my original aim with that now way off topic paragraph is that the development platform shouldn't matter; the end result does. If the chosen development platform makes the end result easier to achieve (and thus the software better), then so be it!
As is, I for one think Tomboy is in a league of its own. Those other desktop wiki apps are unsuited for quick notes, since they are very big presences on the desktop (UI-wise). Smart and simple UI is something the Tomboy developers are great at; I love all of their work :)
[Modified by: DylanMcCall on May 08, 2008 06:19 PM]

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Re(1): Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 12.169.163.241] on May 08, 2008 08:15 PM
What if you're using Enlightenment or XFCE or IceWM or some other environment? To get Tomboy you also have to drag in megabytes of stuff just for Tomboy, and that doesn't do a thing for anything else on your system except take up space. I think the attitude that "oh you shouldn't care, sheesh, get a bigger hard drive" is shortsighted. One of the historic strengths of Linux/Unix is applications written for both portability and performance. A cavalier attitude towards lard and portability does not seem like a good thing.

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Re(1): Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 12.169.163.241] on May 11, 2008 06:32 PM
The toolkit doesn't matter- the problem is all those extra Gnome/Mono dependencies. If you don't use Gnome, which is more than half of Linux users, that's just useless megabytes of fat. Is there some reason you can't just write plain old applications, instead of appendages to lardy, non-portable frameworks?

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I much prefer Basket

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.65.53.115] on May 08, 2008 05:40 PM
http://basket.kde.org/

Very versatile, and does not require Mono. (Isn't Mono a nickname for a disease? Mononucleosis?) ;^)

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Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.58.109.176] on May 08, 2008 06:04 PM
Thanks for the great review. I totally agree with the creation of a new notebook directly from a note idea. Thanks for that suggestion. I just added a "New notebook..." menu item right where you suggested. It'll be part of the development release made next Monday (12 May 2008).

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Notebook usability fixed in SVN two minutes ago

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.104.95.17] on May 08, 2008 06:08 PM
"That's several steps too many when an "Add new notebook" option could be offered as an option in the drop-down menu."

Fixed by Boyd Timothy in r1992, will be in the unstable 0.11.0 release on Monday.

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Re: Notebook usability fixed in SVN two minutes ago

Posted by: Lisa on May 08, 2008 08:51 PM
Now, that is customer service. Wow, and THANKS!

Lisa

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What about power users?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 209.31.140.28] on May 08, 2008 08:08 PM
I think a fair argument against tomboy is that in my mind it breaks the unix philosophy by not being a modular application. Although various options can be called from the command line, when trying to script various tasks using tomboy I get unexpected results. For example I was unable to get notes to open up using cron (even using the display variable etc, other x apps loaded with no problem).
That being said I am not sure if this is because it is written in mono or if it is just because it is really meant to be just a gui application. I also still use tomboy because I have not found an alternative that suits my needs and I appreciate the developers work on this application.

-Kyle Brandt

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Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.30.67.216] on May 08, 2008 11:28 PM
I have used it since 2005, when it 'sucked' and have been happy with it. Mono based or not. How many Mono hataz have 'restricted drivers' enabled to get the goodie out of their Nvidia cards? or Winmodems. Tracker sucks compared to Beagle, just as damn near every other note app out there sucks compared to Tomboy. Zimwiki is ok but it's not as handy. Mono hataz, write some outstanding replacement instead of slamming a review of software that is serving a purpose for someone. Thanks for the review, I'm going to start looking for some of the 3rd party plugins mentioned.

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gjots

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 127.0.0.1] on May 09, 2008 01:00 AM
for now gjots is the best for me :-)
http://bhepple.freeshell.org/gjots/
it also supports encryption

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NoteCase

Posted by: Jeff Zhang on May 09, 2008 10:50 AM

Re: NoteCase

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 127.0.0.1] on May 10, 2008 01:22 AM
I am curious what kind of encrypting it uses. Looks non standard. Aside from that it looks good

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Tomboy + Gnome-Do

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 213.238.105.225] on May 09, 2008 09:01 PM
Do not forget that Tomboy integrates very nicely with Gnome-Do

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Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 121.243.183.166] on May 12, 2008 08:40 PM
Guys whom you address mono haters also got brains. You can dismiss them as they dismiss you. But what I feel they are more closer to philosophy of linux. You might be using linux just because it works out better for you, nothing more then that. But me any many others don't mind inconvinience of not using MONO. FSF me and you had been fighting for free standards for years. And MS's track record you can find very easily, how it goes and what std mean to them. If you can't understand that then keep jumping like 11 year old thinking MONO is free. May GOD help you MONO freaks. And I hate the phrase "MONO haters" etc. I wish people don't use it. :)

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Tomboy note-taker keeps you organized

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.179.89.223] on May 12, 2008 09:22 PM
I've stumbled over this article because i'd tried tomboy some month ago.

I forgot to deinstall it from my machine, so i've done an 'aptitude purge tomboy' now.

Guess what? Surprise! 48.8MB of disk space freed!

So much on the footprint discussion :-P

I've got a big load of apps installed here and tomboy was the only one depending on those mono stuff. Yikes.

btw. i liked tomboy best of all the notetaking apps i'd tested those days. But I've realized that a personal wiki installation is much more flexible, so my home server now runs dokuwiki and i'm totally satisfied by it :-)

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A personal wiki is a darn good solution. As an extra benefit, it scales nicely in case you decide to

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 212.213.70.14] on May 13, 2008 05:09 PM
A personal wiki is a darn good solution. As an extra benefit, it scales nicely in case you decide to publish your notes or to start working with others.

Aside from that, a main point behind Linux and other open source is Freedom. Linux is also based on a philosophy of free software and freedom and it would be stupid to throw that away by sliding mono in through the side door in the form of dependencies or dependencies on dependencies. Microsoft is leveraging Mono to try to take over Gnome and monkeywrench even other open source. It's a bigger problem in the U.S.A. where software patents rule. In places outside the U.S.A. which are free from software patents, it is bad form to push MS patents into software everywhere that users in the U.S.A. cannot have. That's not freedom. So there's more to gain than just saving extra parts (mono) that hog space and need to be maintained.

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