Tinderbox 4: Brief Review

I’ll just go ahead and say it, Tinderbox is the most useful app on my Mac. Period. I’d love to write an in depth review sometime, but for now, the highlights….

Things I love most about Tinderbox

  • Deep as you need. Spend the time, and when it comes to information management, there’s not much Tinderbox can’t do.
  • Incredibly fast to use. I mean, just hammer away with the keyboard, learn about 4 shortcuts and you’ll be in a note-taking frenzy in no time.
  • All those views! Maps, Outlines, Chart, frickin’ Treemaps. All at the same time.

Speaking of the Map view, check this out…


Tinderbox 4 introduced a few changes that make the map view almost infinitely useful.

  • Shapes: Notes can be displayed using a variety of shapes. This is great for large, complex maps where color is not enough of a visual hint.
  • Badges: Little icons add a lot of information
  • Note content: You can now see a portion of each note’s contents right on the map. That is a huge improvement. In fact, it’s what pulled me back to Tinderbox completely when otherwise I might use a mindmapping app instead.

The outline view is equally useful.


See the little icons down the left? They show relatively how much text each note contains. Oh, and the icons gradually change color with age. Genius!

Things I don’t care for or wish were different.

  • Windows version. I think Tinderbox should be a killer Mac app. The resources and (I assume) compromises that must be made to move cross-platform can’t be helping the Mac version very much.
  • Odd UI. The UI still looks a little goofy in parts. This in no way detracts from the app’s usefulness, but those who spend a lot of time in apps by, say the Omni Group, will notice that Tinderbox looks a little clunkier.
  • Not enough Mac goodness. Things I’m used to in Cocoa apps are not entirely present in Tinderbox. (Writeroom, Edit in Textmate, etc.)

Things I don’t use, and possibly should…

  • Agents. I know, I know, agents rock and make Tinderbox into a veritable platform all by itself. I use them, but only in a limited fashion. I’ve found that too much tinkering with agents causes me to end up in a morass of confusing dependencies and self-inflicted bugs. I generate enough bugs already, so I stay away from complicating my note-taking app with them.
  • Exporting. Tinderbox can export itself into just about any shape, size or format you can imagine. I never use it. The things I write in Tinderbox end up simply copied and pasted into a wiki or blog post or just left quietly as an archive of notes kept all to myself.

I should mention that Mark Bernstein, the developer, is exceptionally responsive and helpful. He’s also rather opinionated about Tinderbox, which is one of the reason it’s such great software.

In summary, Tinderbox is friggin’ sweet. It’s not cheap compared to some apps, but then again, it’s not just “some app.” It’s unique, useful software that’s well worth the investment.