For years I organized my life with the wonderful, now-orphaned and somewhat antiquated Windows outliner Ecco Pro. For me Ecco was versatile enough to function effectively as both a todo-list manager and a repository for random information, scattered ideas and research. It really could do it all.
I’ve always used both Macs and PCs but this year I’ve migrated my main workspace over to OS X. There were many compelling reasons to do this, but I’ve had to struggle with finding an Ecco replacement. (Yes, I could run it on my Mac in a Windows virtual machine, but it’s a bit kludgy, and it’s time for me to move away from this program that, despite the efforts of many devotees, doesn’t look like it will ever be fully modernized.)
So far, it’s looking to me like there is no one Mac application that can serve in both roles (todo list and information organizer). OmniOutliner is a pretty good all purpose outliner, and it has a companion, “Getting Things Done”-based todo list program called OmniFocus. Though I’ve made my peace with OmniOutliner, I have not fallen in love with OmniFocus. It follows the David Allen GTD approach a little too rigidly for me, it has various features I don’t need and it’s missing some that I do want (as far as I’ve been able to tell, for instance, it lacks the ability to make some item vanish until a certain date when it reappears–what I call the “out of my face” tool).
So I’ve begun exploring various combinations of other tools. Right now, it’s Evernote for research/information and Things for todo management. I’m also going to look into Tinderbox, Yojimbo and some other applications that look promising. I know the Mac ecosystem is full of great products that sometimes have only small followings, so if there’s one you’re especially enamored of, do let me know.
I’ve also been playing around with Thinklinkr, a new Web-based outliner. It has one huge plus: It’s got an absolutely top-notch browser interface (it’s the only browser-based outlining tool I’ve found that is as responsive and fast as Ecco on the desktop — bravo for that!). At the moment, though, it’s a somewhat rudimentary tool; it lacks various features one might want, and it looks like it’s being aimed at the (important but different) market for collaborative outlining rather than personal information management. But it’s definitely worth a look if you’re into outlining.
I’ve been using the unfortunately named Circus Ponies Notebook for about a year now. I have to say that I find it really useful for creating a repository of notes, clippings, links, etc. for each significantly researched article I write.
Partly, I like the interface, which despite the dopey logo is an analog of something I already know how to use, a paper notebook. It works as an outliner, too. Perhaps it’s not as deep in this respect (as opposed to OOP, which I also own but never could quite figure out how to use), but it’s perfectly adequate, and you can integrate the collected materials with the actual outline if you like.
But the secret weapon is the “Multidex,” which automatically generates indexes of your notes by a variety of qualities: specific words in the body of the text, assigned key words, highlighting, “stickers,” etc. My big obsession is being able to sort and filter each snippet of information in the maximum number of ways.
I use DEVONthink Pro Office for storing my research and reference material. It’s See Also feature can be useful in finding connections that aren’t obvious. The built-in scanning of the Office version is useful as is the web server since it provides a handy way to access the info on an iPod Touch/iPhone. My only real problem is that it doesn’t yet support tags.
Before I used DEVONthink, I used EagleFiler which works pretty well for storing material. It’s tag based and I keep most web articles categorized in it since that material is more oriented towards tagging.
For short-term storage, I’ve been somewhat happy with ShoveBox which I happened to get for free due to a promotion offer. A free alternative for 10.6 users is Quiet Read for storing bookmarks to read later. It also has an iPhone app. So, I use it as a place to keep things I want to read until I decide to delete or file. It’s basically a virtual GTD inbox for me.
I use MindNode Pro instead of outliners since I find the visual display better for putting things in context. Plus, it has a nice iPhone app.
I also use Things for my task management as well. Most of the bugs have been ironed out so I have far fewer problems than I used to have with it. I only wish it had better third-party support. OmniFocus has a lot of integration with other apps.
I’ve been using Evernote extensively for some time, having checked out many of the above options. I check them out, but I keep coming back to Evernote. It’s simple, it works, and it’s available across both my Mac a& Windows platforms at different locations in my work life. Even has the Blackberry version.
DevonThink Pro is very nice, but I’ve gotten aggravated at Devon Technologies at having to pay for an upgrade to a long-term beta. I don’t quite see why a paying customer needs to discover & troubleshoot issues with beta versions that seem to go on longer than some Google products.
Thanks for all these great suggestions. I’m going to spend some time with as many of them as I can and will report back…
I’ve been a fan of Mindjet MindManager for a few years, but have begun to gravitate toward a more classic outlining mode of brainstorming and structuring information.
Like you, I’ve tried OmniOutliner, but it fails to ‘click’ for me for some reason. But — I recently stumbled across an alternative that looks promising: Tree (http://www.topoftree.jp/en/tree/).
Slightly expensive for what it does (around 4000 JPY), but it of the various tools I’ve tried recently, this comes closest to that ‘yay!’-feeling.
(In addition to MindManager for mindmaps, I use Dropbox as a multicomputer document repository, and Evernote as a web clipping/quote storage application, fwiw).
Emacs has truly excellent outliner and task manager called org-mode (http://orgmode.org/). Some people have claimed that its useful enough to justify learning Emacs. You may or may not be one of those people.
Jerome J. Slote
If you’re still considering Ecco and Agenda-inspired Windows solutions, I highly recommend InfoQube, presently available in a frequently-updated preview version. Perhaps you can arrange a chat with IQ’s developer in Quebec, Pierre Paul Landry; he’s a prodigious talent, a one-man Chandler team.
To understand InfoQube, start with a wrapping rich-text Outliner in which each item can appear under multiple parents, wiki-style. The item is a database record, with built-in and user-added fields as needed. Your data views — record and field subsets — are shown as floating Grids. One field is maintained in an HTML edit/display pane tied to the active Grid. The fields support horizontal and vertical calcs, internal and external hyperlinks. There’s a task manager with billables for consultants, even Gantt charting. The calendar is still a bit rough; that’s high priority for a 2010 release.
Everyone has their preferred tools, of course. All I can say is that after searching months and years for a program to keep track of ideas, people, events, belongings, I recognized immediately and conclusively that IQ was the one.
So, the Parallels approach didn’t work out ?
was it Ecco just being too DOSy in a MAC environment, or problem with the Parallels making ecco less than friendly ??
ps: did you also try the SUN vitrual box for MAC ?
ps: I tried EverNote with high hopes, but couldn’t live with bulk information storage that couldn’t be outlined. Ecco (with the MV pane) now does the clip storage ..so nicely…
[really gets you to appreciate ecco in comparing working with web clips from EverNote & Ecco once you’ve got a bulk of clips stored]. Curiously, the webclip add-on has attracted more ‘word of mouth’ users in 6 months (just under about 4000) then the ‘main’ ecco upgrades did over a few years. Wonder if the ‘global user base of software tools’ is just so huge now that any ‘modern’ application that does anything of interest will attract a tiny % that in actual numbers is large by comparison to user base that used to exist for the same software tools.
YSWT, thanks for the mention of http://eccomv.com . As an old Agenda and Ecco user, I was pleasantly surprised to hear of the number of active users. Thanks to VMs, Ecco may yet live long enough to see a capable cloud-aware, mobile-aware, desktop-capable Ecco successor (as one or more applications).
Ecco and InfoQube are both mentioned in this good Aug 09 research presentation on PIMs: http://www.scribd.com/doc/18184530/How-to-Audit-Your-Personal-Information-Management .
Have you heard of anyone using eccoext to exchange information (in real-time) between Ecco and an application in the cloud? It seems theoretically possible to use eccoext with external scripts to perform web-based synchronization of Ecco items, as is done with bookmarks by the xmarks browser plugin.
The eccoext allows ‘internal’ Active perl and/or Python scripting (in addition to the built in LUA support), (eg., allows per/python script with eccoext functions, activated when any item or folder value changes), and external perl or Python have libraries (eg., Daev Gustafson’s “Ecco Toolkit” Python for ecco, and Terse Systems perl/ecco module–maybe at http://tersesystems.com/code/?overview=shadow ) allow external access & control of all item values & folder values etc..
I too was a long-time Ecco Pro devotee. I started with Version 1 and stayed with it way past its sell-by date. In fact, it single-handedly kept me in Windows long after I was ready to switch to Mac (which I finally did in ’06).
I’ve never found any one Mac app that could take its place, but after trying almost every PIM and digital shoebox out there, I am happily using OmniOutliner and DevonThink.
OO is an excellent outliner, and although it lacks certain key functions – particularly, such Ecco-like things as the ability to filter based on columnar data so one can see one’s information in different ways – it is elegant and pleasing to use. For all my basic outlining needs, it’s excellent.
I’ve been using DevonThink for my more “databasey” needs, and have just discovered that I can get it to do something Ecco-like: DT’s “Replicate” function allows me to assign an item to multiple folders. Change something in one and the change is instantly reflected in the other iterations of that item in other folders. (Sound familiar?) I am now setting up databases similar to the more personalized and customized ones I used in Ecco, and finding it very, very functional.
So while I miss having one program to combine outline with database functions, I’m thrilled to discover these two.
But if anyone could figure out how to re-write Ecco for OSX, I’d be first in line.
Bother. I’ve been looking at Things and Circus Ponies. I held out on switching to Mac until December 2009 because I did not want to lose EccoPro, which I can run in VM Fusion. I find it clunky, and figured SOMEONE would have come up with something by now, but apparently not. Maybe I should just keep working my Ecco Pro until SOMEBODY finally reinvents the wheel. Reading that people more techie than I am still think Ecco Pro rocks makes me feel good, though.
Andrea > Reading that people more techie than I am still think Ecco Pro rocks makes me feel good, though
The closest equivalents to EccoPro are
– InfoQube: The outliner UI is OK, but not as good as Ecco’s. Also, the developer made (IMHO) the unfortunate decision of using VB6 (deadware that came out in 1998) instead of modern, supported development tools like .Net or even Delphi
– EssentialPIM : Not as flexible, as the user can’t create new columns to define an item differently, and as for now, can’t sync directly with any smartphone (must go through Outlook, or Google for calendar and contacts)… but otherwise, pretty good application
You’ve mentioned Ecco Pro a few times on this blog and I’m kind of curious as to how you’re using this old program. Would you ever consider releasing some of your Ecco files the way The Atlantic’s James Fallows has posted some of his Zoot files?
I think this would be interesting to see.
Hi, Bob — I wouldn’t want to do this with my personal files but I’d be happy to do it with my research files. Except that I really only have two huge ones, one for each of my books, and in both cases I finally hit the upper limit, or some sort of upper limit, in Ecco, and the files are sort of corrupted — they just don’t open properly. I hit these limits near the end of my work in both cases and sort of worked around them in various ways, but I’d hate to inflict this sort of problem on anyone else.
Pierre Paul Landry
@Scott: If you want to use these Ecco files again, you have at least 2 options:
1- The Ecco_Pro Yahoo forum has some utilities to fix files that have hit the Ecco “wall”.
2- Also, InfoQube has an Ecco importer and it supports zillions of items
I’m unfortunately in a similar boat. I’ve used Ecco since only a few years after I can remember really depending on computers. I’m now using an iMac, but run Windows on a virtual machine primarily so I can continue to use Ecco. So I spent a few hundred dollars (Windows 7, and memory and processor upgrades to easily run the virtual machine) primarily for continued ability to use Ecco. But I’d love to move on. How does it continue to be possible that there’s no fully capable alternative?
Paul, I’ve been experimenting some more with OmniOutliner (by far, the very best Outliner for the Mac), and have discovered a way to sort-of filter based on columnar data.
I created a text column I call “Tags”. In it I enter Tags, or unique search strings that would be the equivalent of a choice (or choices) from Ecco’s drop-down lists. I then open the Utility Drawer (a sidebar on the left side of the outline) and in the Batch Find box I enter the Tag. I’ll get a list of items that own that tag. Each line in that Batch Find list is actually a link that will jump me down the outline to the appropriate item.
So I have been able to “kind of” filter an outline based on columnar data.
OmniOutliner is coming out with a long awaited version 4, in which they promise the ability to fully filter based on columnar values, including from drop-down lists. Once it does that, it’s most of the way there for me.
Here’s some further improvements in getting OmniOutliner to filter (a la Ecco). Over at the OmniGroup’s forums, there’s a user named Rob Trew who has written some excellent Apple Scripts that usefully extend OmniOutliner’s capabilities.
His latest is downright Ecco-worthy. It will highlight all items that contain a certain value in a drop-down menu column. Even if the items are collapsed and not visible. So I collapse the whole outline down to level one, run the script, and it opens up all the top-level items that contain lower-level items with the right columnar value. It’s as close to filtering one can get without actually filtering.
And it’s made OmniOutliner quite a bit more useful to me.
You can also run Ecco Pro by installing WINE on your Mac. That way you don’t need Parallels or Windows.
David Baumgold has this excellent tutorial on installing WINE:
Then you just run Ecco through a script from a desktop icon.
I’ve been using it for a while on Snow Leopard, and I’ve used it on Tiger. I’m not an extreme Ecco user, though, so I haven’t tried some of the functions. I’ve also noticed that some functions work properly but after extra steps.
Just in case you haven’t already found this out elsewhere, Omnifocus lets you hide away tasks for the future by setting a start date. I use this extensively so that I only see the 4-10 items I want today and anything else is consigned to the future.