Reimagining Tomboy

There are some things that I really love about Tomboy. One of the best things about it is its applet – the way it allows you to quickly start a note without worrying about organising it. This is perfect for those moments when you have an idea and what to write it down before you forget it. I love the fact that Tomboy automatically saves my notes, and I love the way each note window is small and uncluttered.

But there are things about Tomboy that I don’t like so much. First and foremost, I don’t like it that it’s a wiki. Organising and reorganising notes using a hierarchical wiki structure is a pain. Navigating to a note low down in the structure results in a wake of open and unwanted notes. The use of a wiki system for naming notes can be restrictive (and potentially confusing to those who aren’t familiar with how wikis work). Why can’t I have two notes with the same name?! If I give a note a short generic title it is automatically linked from almost every other note. Not useful.

Some of the problems associated with Tomboy’s wikiness have been alleviated by the introduction of notebooks for organising notes, but these have their own limitations. Tomboy’s wiki structure seems to compete with the use of notebooks – the combination of having a single ‘Start here’ note and multiple notepads means that each organisational mode does not map neatly on to one another. It is also frustrating that the same note cannot be a member of more than one notebook.

The niggles I’ve encountered using Tomboy have meant that I’ve often mused about what an alternative would look like. The other day I threw a couple mockups together.

The design is very much inspired by Tomboy in places. It has no save button, and I’m imagining that this app would have an applet very similar to Tomboy’s. My approach has a number of differences from Tomboy, though. For starters, it’s not a wiki. Grouping is the primary organisation mechanism. The design also provides the ability to easily browse notes without having to open each one individually.

Being able to toggle the browser portion of the UI (done through the ‘Notes’ button) is intended to enable both the ability to quickly create notes (and to have notes visible on top of other windows) but to also allow flexible note organisation and easy browsing. The browser bit will be hidden when a quick note is opened from the applet, so there will be nothing in the way of just getting that idea down.

So that’s my idea for what an alternative to Tomboy might look like…

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2 Responses to Reimagining Tomboy

  1. Sandy says:

    In Tomboy land, we are open to the following related ideas:
    * Adding a note preview/edit area in the Search window
    * Letting the user turn off certain linking features
    * Getting more flexible about note name uniqueness at the notebook level
    * Adding sub-notebooks as a feature in the UI

    I believe that all of these features, put together, would address your concerns. Although nobody is actively working on these features (at least, not to my knowledge), patches/mockups/etc are certainly welcome.

    If you’re interested in working together with the Tomboy team, we can be reached on tomboy-list, in #tomboy on GIMPNet or on GNOME Bugzilla.

    If you decide to go your own route, I’d still love to hear about it. 🙂

  2. Allan says:

    @Sandy: yes, some of these features will definitely help. I’ll maybe have a think about how some of these could work. 🙂

    Part of me wonders whether Tomboy should stick to doing one thing and doing it well, though: in this case, being the best desktop wiki ever. Tomboy *is* a desktop wiki. Adding categorical organisation methods leaves it with a kind of split personality. I can think of browsing functionality which would make it easier to navigate, but I think those features should be aimed at traversing wiki links and not adding another method of organising notes.

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