At last, KeyNote done better

I need to come right out and say it: I’m pretty sure that RightNote is the better KeyNote.

After all these years I feel like the burden has passed on to someone else and I don’t have to feel guilty about not updating KeyNote anymore.

I’ve only installed the trial version and played with it a little. I am not vouching that RightNote will not fry your computer and scare off your cats. What I’m saying is that, for better or worse, RightNote is essentially what I intended KeyNote 2.0 to be.

I really only found out about RightNote recently, even though it’s been out a few years now. It’s eerie how closely RightNote follows KeyNote – from using the same default activation hotkey to the same (sub-optimal) design of the “resource panel”. Even the name “resource panel” is the same, though nobody calls them that way. I know I didn’t invent the name, but can’t recall where I got it from. Everyone else has been calling it a “sidebar” for ten years or so, but in RightNote it’s still the “resource panel”, and it uses the same F9 key to open it :) And, it has the same implementation of “virtual nodes” (edit an external file as if it were part of your data file), which AFAIK was a feature unique to KeyNote, at the time as well as today.

So it’s fun to look at RightNote now, because it’s exactly what KeyNote was going to be and it happened without me doing anything about it :) RightNote has all the things I wanted KeyNote 2 to have: a database back-end, RichView notes (hence tables and true hyperlinks among other things), spellchecker, an Excel-like grid, and tags. And it has pretty much the same resulting downsides I was expecting: with database reads, it’s nowhere near as snappy as KeyNote when switching between notes, for example.

I won’t be registering it, since I do think the KeyNote class of applications (can I say this? “KeyNote class”?) is quite obsolete (wrong wording! See the comments section. And, I did register RightNote!) – just compare how the search works in RightNote vs. Evernote or even CintaNotes. (Although the wretched resource panel does work better on today’s widescreen displays.) But now when I get asked about KeyNote, and I still get asked, I can happily direct everyone to RN and be at peace with the universe.



  1. irkregent  February 22, 2012

    As a longtime user of KeyNote, I do wonder about that class of application being obsolete. There is much to be said for web-based applications in this genre, but I do very much like the near instant loading of a local application, and the built-in encryption of KeyNote. No other app in its class (that I’ve found) has the built-in encryption option.

    • Marek JedliƄski  February 23, 2012

      You are right, irkregent. That was an oversimplification and a poor choice of words. I use KeyNote all the time, every day, and just today I registered my copy of RightNote Pro, because I really like it, so no, not really “obsolete”.

      As you point out, the popular trend is towards web apps. I think that’s unfortunate in some ways, because the in-browser interface is miles behind desktop in usability, and since your application runs within another one (the browser), I don’t think it can match the speed and fluency of use that we have on the desktop today. There is much to be said for mobile use, of course, but we’re paying a steep price for that in the loss of good, predictable and consistent UIs. But the trend is there, and an application like Evernote (flat list, no hierarchy) seems more suited for a small screen of a mobile device than a tree is. Navigating a tree on a 4″ touch screen… not so good!

      As for the design itself, at the moment RightNote seems to have taken that design as far as it goes. You may still add more types of notes and many specific features (OneNote’s OCR seems to be popular, for example), but that will not fundamentally change the basic design. Perhaps it’s because this is as far as my own vision for KeyNote went, and it won’t go any further :-) Tree-based designs have some inherent issues that are not easy to overcome, such as the fact that an item in the tree can reside under only one parent – while in real life relationships get more complex than that (e.g you may want an item to be displayed under “To do” and under “Family”, but in a tree you always have to choose one. It can still be achieved in a tree, but at that point you are fighting the design and the intuition, instead of going along with it. If, for example, you have tags instead of a tree, a solution to that problem becomes natural and easy.

      Another aspect that’s nagging to me is the question of which is more important, the tree structure or the note? When I wrote KeyNote, my emphasis was of course on the content of notes. The tree was there just to keep some order. But recently I’ve found that I want to do much more in the tree, do more with the relationships between items than with the items themselves. I want to type more text in the tree, like in Wokflowy, but on the desktop. Or like in My Life Organized (but with items that can wrap text into lines).

      And perhaps because I’ve spent nearly 12 months now working on Echo, I’ve really grown to love that ultra-fast search with instant filtering. A rich text application can give an approximation of it, but it can hardly be as fast. So RightNote, for example, does something similar to what KeyNote did: shows the results (with matches highlighted) in a separate panel. It’s okay, but just okay – not great, since you do have that other panel to navigate to, instead of reusing the main area where you work most of the time. And so on.

      “Obsolete” was definitely the wrong word to use, and thank you for calling me on it. What I meant rather was that the design has been pushed to the limit, I think, and there isn’t much more you can make it do. Or much new. I don’t use Evernote much (only for what I need to have synced with my phone), but when Evernote first appeared, it was a truly innovative design. It has its limits, too, but it was a new way of thinking about organizing loose notes. I’d love to see something new, even more inventive than that.