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NewsForge Tuxcards and KnowIt Open source outlining

Tuxcards and KnowIt are two twists on the same idea. These open source two-pane outliners can be used as quickly searchable notebooks, or collections of Web clippings, to-do lists, or projects in progress. Both make fine text databases, and both are handy for the planning of complex documents.

For instance, one of my Tuxcards files contains every newspaper column I've written for 15 years. Another contains the complete history of my use of a particular computer -- all the software changes I've made, tips and tricks I discovered, and hardware issues.

In these applications, the left pane contains hierarchical lists (think directory trees) of headings that serve as a skeleton of a document. These headings can be expanded (revealed) or collapsed (hidden). The right pane ties a text window to each heading. You can quickly fill in the associated text window on the right, without losing track of the overall structure. If it should turn out that one section of text fits better somewhere else, then it's relatively easy to shuffle the heading, which escorts the related text to a new location. You can expand either pane so all you're looking at is the text or the structure.

Tuxcards, by Alexander Theel, was inspired by the Windows Cuecards program. KnowIt, from Michael Rudolf, was inspired by Tuxcards. Both programs allow Rich Text style formatting of text in the editing window. The main difference between them is that KnowIt requires KDE. Tuxcards does not.


Both Tuxcards and KnowIt allow for unlimited nesting of levels. Practically speaking, few people will go much deeper than three or four. Both allow the user to expand or contract headings by clicking on a + or - icon next to a heading (a plus sign means there are subordinate headings to be revealed, a minus sign means that it is fully expanded).

Both programs let you add a subordinate heading by pressing the Insert key or using the mouse. Both let you change the name of a heading. Tuxcards lets you attach an icon to a heading.

However, KnowIt does a much better job of providing keyboard control, and general outline editing. Let's say you have something like this:



And suppose you want to move subtopic_b to between subtopic_1 and subtopic_2.

In Tuxcards, you have to use the mouse:
1) Drag subtopic_b on top of main_topic. This puts it after subtopic_2.
2) Click on the mouse control toolbar button to move subtopic_b up one. (The only other mouse button moves it down.)

In KnowIt, you can either
1) Just drag it from where it is to where you want it to be, or
2) use a combination of four mouse-controlled toolbar buttons (up, down, left, right), or
3) use Alt-Shift-Arrow keys to move it left, then up, then right.

Similarly, action is more complicated moving from one pane to the other in Tuxcards. Both applications let you just click from one pane to the other. But KnowIt lets you bounce back and forth between them using the Tab and Shift-Tab keys to move from outline editor to text window and back.

In Tuxcards, pressing Tab in the outliner takes you to the pull-down list for list formatting, then to a font selector, then to a font size selector, and only then to the text window. Shift-Tab cycles in the opposite direction. Bottom line: you're not going to use the keyboard controls.

Neither program has other popular or sophisticated outline editing commands. There is no hoisting of the outline so that only one section is visible. There is no cloning of an outline. KnowIt lets you sort subordinate headings, Tuxcards does not.

KnowIt clearly has an overall edge in outlining functions, making it much easier to shuffle the headings.

Text editing

Like the outlining functions, the text windows are similar in both programs. Both let you apply styles to text. Tuxcards also lets you mix up fonts and font sizes within a note, although a single note can have only one alignment (left, centered, right, or full-justified). With KnowIt, you get one font, one size, one alignment.

Tuxcards offers a fast word count for a note. KnowIt does not, but offers the spell check Tuxcards left out.

Both have drag and drop, the insertion of the date (Tuxcards adds a time stamp), and the usual editing commands. Only KnowIt allows you to insert a file from the menu; in Tuxcards, you have to cut and paste. Neither lets you insert a graphic.

Both let you assign list types to a note (bulleted, numbered, etc.), although I found both of them odd -- you must use Ctrl-Enter, not just Enter, at the end of a paragraph [to get these styles to apply to each paragraph]. Both have undo and redo.

Both feel fast and responsive. Both look good.


Tuxcards and KnowIt both allow you to do a word search. Tuxcards is better: first, it lets you decide whether you're searching the whole tree or just from the current heading down; second, it returns a list of all the matches: headings and a sample phrase. Click on the one you want.

KnowIt moves you through the whole outline, incident by incident. You can search forward or backward, or go to a named note.

Printing and exporting

The chief limitation of both programs is that they will print only one note at a time, and neither includes the heading. Both would greatly benefit from some options: to print the current heading and subordinate headings and text, to print only those items that are revealed, to print the whole outline, to print only those headings and notes that are marked, and to suppress headings. As it is, you get the note and a page number.

And as with printing, I'd like to see some more export options. Right now, Tuxcards saves to XML and exports to HTML. KnowIt saves in its own format, apparently some mix of XML and HTML, although it can be edited as a plain text file. It exports to HTML -- one note at a time.

But Tuxcards has an interesting wrinkle. Its HTML export saves the whole file, not just one note. It uses the header as the note's filename, adding an .html filetype. Finally, it turns the whole outline into a two-frame Web page, output to its own folder. This can get a little tricky to read if you don't keep those headers short. And Tuxcards makes some odd additions to the frames that may require a little editing later. The HTML export gives Tuxcards a small advantage, although it's hard for me to imagine that anybody would use it as a Web editor.

Both applications would benefit by adding RTF and ASCII as export options. Right now, both are too limited in this area.

Tuxcards always goes back to assuming that you are printing on A4 paper every time you restart the application; you can't save the paper type as a preference. KnowIt uses the default KDE printer.


KnowIt lets you add a third pane, horizontal to the text editing window, in which you can add an external link to a URL or an internal link to a local file, that relates to the item in the right pane.

Tuxcards adds a third pane, vertical and left of the outline editor. It's called Cactusbar, and it ... grows a cactus, unobtrusively. The cactus even blooms. This has no practical purpose whatsoever, but I still like it.


Linux has some catching up to do in the arena of outliners. At present, both Tuxcards and KnowIt are relatively primitive compared to the venerable Inspiration on the Macintosh or Windows. While Tuxcards is at version 1.2, and KnowIt and 0.10, I would judge them roughly equal. (Of course, KnowIt had the advantage of building on Tuxcards.)

While KnowIt is a better outliner, I have concerns about its non-standard file format. It doesn't take long to build up a big file, and I'd hate to be held hostage to a quirky format.

But both Tuxcards and KnowIt are incredibly useful, and succeed in their design goals as quick, good-looking, searchable text scrapbooks. Both are worthy additions to a Linux user's tool chest.


OOo Off the Wall The Outlining and the Ecstasy

The Rookery: OOo Off the Wall: The Outlining and the Ecstasy
Posted on Wednesday, September 08, 2004 by Bruce Byfield

With a bit of practice and some of these tips, you can become an outlining pro, even if you haven't done an outline since Freshmen Comp.

Outlining is the arrangement of sections within documents. The process of outlining includes re-positioning paragraphs and making decisions about what level in the hierarchy a heading should be.

Outlining is not writing, but it is a core part of the writing process. Despite this fact, many people begin to write with almost no outlining. Perhaps they are in a hurry to get started. Perhaps, if they attended high school in North America, they think of an outline as something they cobbled together after they finished writing the paper simply to satisfy a teacher's arbitrary demands. Whatever the reason, many people plunge into a document and discover its structure as they write. This practice usually is inefficient, because they are trying to do two things at the same time, write and organize. They don't know where they are going, which makes writing a prolonged and painful process.

It is true that a handful of professional writers never outline or outline only long and complex documents. Far more professionals, however, use some sort of outlining technique. For some, the physical act of writing accounts for as little as 10 to 20% of the time spent on a document. The rest is spent outlining and editing.

Judging from the habits of most professionals, then, outlining benefits most writers. However, each writer needs to discover how much outlining he or she need to do and what form that outlining should take. Sometimes, an outline can be a simple scribbled list or a brainstorming session on a white board. At other times, it's a formal document with headings and subheadings.

For those who prefer the formal approach,'s Writer program offers a de-centralized set of tools. Writer uses:

Users of MS Word often leap to the conclusion that Writer has no outlining tools. In fact, Writer does have such tools, but they are arranged and function differently. Out-of-the-box (or out of the tar file), the tools are less functional than MS Word's, but with a little ingenuity, you can wrench almost the same functionality out of them.

The Role of Heading Paragraph Styles

The purpose of outlining is to structure your document. That means your document's format also needs to be structured if you are going to outline in Writer. And that, in turn, means using heading paragraph styles. If you format manually, there simply isn't enough consistency for Writer's outlining tools to work with.

Heading styles, numbered 1-10, are intended to indicate levels of organization. In other words, a heading at a higher level should contain the subject matter of a heading at a lower level. To give a simple example, if a document discusses the solar system, then the second-level headings might name individual planetary systems. Below the headings for planetary systems, the next level of headings might be each planet's moons.

Writer recognizes all other paragraphs as belonging to the same topic until the next heading at the same level appears. If the heading is moved during outlining, so are the other paragraphs, including any subheadings.

By contrast, the most you can do in a manually formatted document is single-style outline numbering (see "It's Numbering, But Not As We Know It". Single-style outlining is useful in the early stages of planning, when you have no content. But, if you find formal outlines useful in the first place, single-style outlining probably is too limited for you. Although you can promote or demote paragraphs easily enough by using Tab and Tab+Shift, moving sections of text requires you to copy and paste. Although you can get by using these methods, you'll probably find that copying and pasting distracts you from thinking about the structure of your document. In addition, a single-style outline ordinarily is not visible in the Navigator.

The Role of Outline Numbering

Here's where it gets confusing. If you use styles in Writer, you probably know that numbering styles can be applied to paragraph styles. Yet, in addition to numbering styles, Writer has a second system for numbering paragraph styles, located in Tools > Outline Numbering. I call this system multi-style outlining, as opposed to single-style outlining. Both are called outline numbering, yet the two systems are completely independent of each other.

Figure 1. Despite its name, Tools > Outline Numbering is as much about managing how other Writer tools use styles as it is about outlining.

Then, to make matters worse, multi-style outlining uses paragraph styles that it describes as levels. By default, these levels correspond to the paragraph styles Heading 1-10--but they don't have to. Moreover, if any of the paragraph styles used in multi-style outlining are formatted using paragraph styles, or even if a manually formatted list uses the headings, Tool > Outlining is overridden and has no effect whatsoever.

Why does Writer work this way? Why does the software encourage the use of paragraph styles in every other way and then muddy the waters with Tools > Outlining? The answer is simple:

Nobody knows.

My theory is Tools > Outlining was added by a programmer ignorant of styles back in the Jurassic Age when was StarOffice and owned by StarDivision. That is only a guess, but what else explains the duplication?

It may help if you think of Tools > Outlining as a means of managing how styles are used by other tools throughout Writer rather than as a means of setting style characteristics. Multi-style outlining sets the styles used:

By default, the numbers assigned to each level's style are formatted the same as the rest of the paragraph. If you choose, though, you can use the Character Style on the Numbering tab of Tools > Outlining to give them a different format. You also can insert a separator automatically, such as a period or a parentheses before or after the number, as well as the numbering system, the starting number and the position and spacing for the number.

Perhaps the most important setting is the paragraph style. Because Tools > Outlining has ten levels and uses Headings 1-10 by default, you can be lulled into thinking no other arrangement is possible. The truth is, you can assign any paragraph style to any level. Because you rarely need more than four levels of headings, you can assign the main body text to one level and have it displayed in the Navigator. You can't read all of the body paragraph, though, because the Navigator uses a single line for each level. Most headings are short, so that's all that normally is needed. But by dragging the Navigator window wider, you should be able to see enough that you can work with the body text. Be sure, however, that the level to which the body text style is assigned isn't included when you set up a table of contents.

If outlining features in your work methods, create a template in which multi-style outline numbering is set up. However, be careful to include text that uses each of the outline levels have configured. Through some oversight, multi-style outline settings are not preserved in a template unless they actually are used.

The Navigator's Role

The Navigator lists all the elements of your document. In Writer, over a dozen types of objects, including headings, graphics, tables, cross-references and draw objects are listed in the Navigator. You can click on any instance of one of these objects to jump to it. This ability especially is useful if you give each instance a meaningful name instead of using the default names, such as Graphic1 or Table1.

Figure 2. The Navigator, set to the content view and ready to start outlining

Yet, as useful as this feature is, the Navigator really comes into its own in outlining. To use the Navigator in outlining, press the F5 key to open its floating window. Of all the objects listed in the Navigator, headings are the only ones you need, so select Headings in the Navigator's list, then select the Contents View button in the Navigator tool bar second from the top. This selection displays only the currently selected type of object, giving you more window space in which to work. When you are finished, you can press the Contents View button again to display the complete list of objects.

If you have never done much with the Navigator, you also should drag on a corner of the window to make it bigger. The default size of the Navigator usually is too small to be used conveniently for outlining.

Each heading level is indented further than the one above it. You can change how many heading levels are visible by selecting the Heading Levels Shown button. The button is third from the right on the Navigator's second tool bar.

Unfortunately, Navigator offers no provision for hiding a single paragraph. You can, however, select Insert > Fields > Other > Functions > Hidden Text to hide a paragraph. Because an open Field window does not keep you from using the main editor window, this is a workable kludge, but only so long as you have a large enough screen for all the open windows.

Figure 3. The Navigator's Outlining Buttons. Promote Chapter and Demote Chapter are on the top right; Promote and Demote Level on the bottom right. On the bottom left is Heading Levels Shown.

Around the Heading Levels Shown button are the other tools you need for outlining:

Contrary to many users' first inclination, trying to drag headings around with the mouse doesn't work. You must use these buttons instead.


Figure 4. The Navigator also can be used for outlining in master documents. Only the buttons have been changed, to protect the inconsistent.

In a master document, the Navigator works much the same way. Acting like a table of contents in a floating window, in a master document, the Navigator acts similarly to a book file in FrameMaker. In a master document, however, the Promote and Demote Chapter buttons are replaced--for no good reason except inconsistency--with the Move Up and Move Down buttons.


Serious outliners have complained that's outline tools are basic. They have a point. Although workarounds exist for the most important deficiencies, they require more than a beginner's knowledge of Writer to set up. Still, even when used with default settings, Writer's outlining tools are preferable to repeated cut and pastes.

If you're not in the habit of outlining, give it a try--single and multiple style outlining both. Once outlining becomes part of your routine, you'll probably find that you spend more time preparing for but less total time on each document. Who knows? It even may give you enough confidence that you look forward to writing instead of avoiding it.

Bruce Byfield was product manager at Stormix Technologies and marketing and communications director at Progeny Linux System. He also was a contributing editor at Maximum Linux and the original writer of the Desktop Debian manual. Away from his computer, he listens to punk-folk music, raises parrots and runs long, painful distances of his own free will. Web Collection Cognitive Science Meets the Web

Practical design of outlines and site maps 

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A ToC or Outline is organized by topical order, using a hierarchical tree structure. Top-of-page ToC (table of contents) Mid-page PToC (partial, local table of contents) Dedicated ToC page HTML-based ToC in left frame Tree-control-based ToC in left frame Help-like navigation pane in left frame: Contents, Index, Search tabs. Distinction: page/file-level ToC entries, vs. subheading-level ToC entries.


Xerox PARC UIR Information Foraging 

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Information foraging theory is an approach to the analysis of human activities involving information access technologies. Proceedings of theConference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI '97, Atlanta, GA: 3-10. P. Pirolli and S. Card (1997). Information Foraging in Information Access Environments. - The Next Wave in Web Design 

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To understand more about this latest wave in Web design, O'Reilly editor Richard Koman sat down for breakfast at Web98 in San Francisco in June with three important Web design authors to discuss where Web design is going. The authors at our roundtable were Lynda Weinman (author of <designing web graphics>), Jennifer Fleming (author of Web Navigation: Designing the User Experience), and Lou Rosenfeld (co-author of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web). Fleming and Weinman ...


Site Map Usability (Alertbox Jan. 2002) 

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Most site maps fail to convey multiple levels of the site's information architecture. Users Don't Know About Site Maps We conducted a usability study of site maps on 10 websites, and our main conclusion is that users are reluctant to use site maps and sometimes have problems even finding them. Even though all of the study sites had site maps, only 27% of our users turned to the site map when asked to learn about a site's structure.


Usability News - 5.2 2003 -- Breadcrumb Navigation: Further Investigation of Usage 

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Barbara Chaparro In our last issue of Usability News, we reported on the general usage of breadcrumb trails as a method of navigation on web sites (Lida, Hull & Pilcher, 2003).   Path breadcrumb trails are dynamic in that any given page will show a different breadcrumb trail based on how the user reached the page.   Attribute breadcrumb trails display meta information showing many different trails representing several possible paths to reach the page.


Collaborative browsing and visualisation of the search process 

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Visualisation of the process offers a range of activities that can support more effective searching activities by individuals and through collaboration with others. We are arguing that introducing support for collaboration into information retrieval systems would help users to learn and use the systems more effectively. We have performed informal observations[25] in Lancaster University Library which indicate significant informal computer-based collaboration between users.




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