Nerds only: new version of Zoot goes up

It was more than ten years ago that I first praised in print the quirky little info-management program called Zoot. Looking at that article from August, 1997 is a reminder of how much has changed since then -- it was written before the internet boom, before the internet bust, when the "new" operating systems were Windows95 and WindowsNT, when neither Google nor Web 2.0 nor the iPod had been heard of, and when Apple was at such a low ebb that it wasn't clear that the Macintosh as a PC-alternative would survive.

The one thing that has been constant in my computing life since then is that I have used this same little program to collect and organize information for everything I write. The program has been honed over those years by one Tom Davis -- a 31-year old lone programmer when I wrote about him, a still jaunty looking lone programmer now. (Before moving to China, I went to Boca Raton, Florida, near where he lives, and met him for the first time. Here he is at the Boca Raton airport, pointing at the Z, as in Zoot, on the tail of the Cirrus SR-20 that I owned then and had flown to Florida.)

While repeatedly/incessantly stating my reliance on Zoot since then, I've been wary of recommending it to anyone else. It's a tricky program. It suits my needs, habits, and cast of mind exactly -- but is apparently not that way for a lot of other people.

So I'm not saying to anybody, You should use Zoot. What I am saying is that a new version has just now been released and is worth at least knowing about. It's more colorful and interesting to look it; its guts have been entirely rewritten to suit modern operating systems; and it has a much improved help and tutorial system, available on the main site.

The new version does not yet do something I really would like to have, and that Tom Davis says will be the next incarnation: "RTF" features ("rich text format"), so that you can use italics, boldface, underline, and so on. It's plain-text only. It has some other limits too. Nevertheless, given my own tastes and quirks, it's the one program I'd be hard put to do without. FWIW.

Price: $99; $49 upgrade if you've bought a previous version in the last five years; 45-day free trial. It looks like this:

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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