Thoughts on software and life.

Wednesday November 24


I found this article about the history of outliners - text editors oriented towards writing outlines. The article shows screen shots of a few dozen outliners for Mac. As I scanned through this gallery I wanted to cry - why do people think such the UI for outlining has to be so complicated?

As a programmer, I am essentially a professional outline writer, since computer programs tend to be deeply indented text like an outline. I can honestly say that I wouldn't want to use one single tool from that outliner gallery if I had to code with it. Why would anybody even want to use it to write a todo list is beyond me.

The best outliner, in my opinion, would be a normal plain text editor with a good ol' fashioned cursor. Most good editors today do "smart indentation". Many of them have "folding" for collapsing sections of indented content. What's missing is a way to display bullets and numbers before each level, and some key shortcuts for easily moving blocks of text around. A normal text editor with these features beats all of these glorified tree control outliners any day.

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