Artisanal Software; Thunderbird

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

1) If you are a Mac user, be sure to check out the remaining days of the "Writers' Festival 2012" special on the idea-organizer Tinderbox and several other programs. Tinderbox is very complex software with a learning curve even more formidable than that of my still-beloved Windows idea-organizer Zoot. But, as with Zoot, I have come to appreciate and rely on it more as I have spent more and more time with it -- several years with Tinderbox, now nearly two decades with Zoot. The creator of Tinderbox, Mark Bernstein, appeared in this space last year as a guest blogger. (I plugged the "Festival" once before, here.)

1A) An interesting thing about the "interesting-software" realm for the Mac, where I've done most of my work for 4+ years after fleeing the nightmare known as Windows Vista, is that the comparatively smaller number of high-end programs (relative to the Windows universe) means that people spend more time thinking about how the programs might work together. The usual-suspect lineup here includes the unbelievably wonderful writing program Scrivener; the powerful data-storing and -searching program DevonThink Pro; Tinderbox; the Omni, CircusPonies, and Aqua Minds families; cross-platform programs like The Brain and Mind Manager; and some others.

I note this as an intro to mentioning a useful step one-two-three demo on how to make Tinderbox and Scrivener essentially work as one unified program. It is by a British Tinderbox tech whiz named Mark Anderson. He has also explained, in a link I'll provide another time, how to get info out of MindManager and into Tinderbox.

2) Scrivener is out in a new version, release 2.3. The program is only $45, and it offers a 30-day free trial. Since switching to it four years ago I've consistently viewed it as the very best program for writing, ever.

Scrivener is not concerned with "tactical" issues -- formatting, fonts, spell check, and all of that. Indeed, once you've finished the "real" writing in Scrivener you export the results to Word, Google Docs, or some other program for the last-minute tidying up. Instead Scrivener excels in helping you organize and plan what you're writing. You won't hurt my feelings if you try it and don't like it. But for me it has been wonderful -- and you'll see that I'm not the only one. (My two latest books, and several dozen most recent articles, were all produced via Scrivener.) A Windows version is now available, but I haven't tried it myself. Keith Blount, creator of Scrivener, also did a stint here as a guest blogger. For the record: I tried to get Tom Davis, the creator of Zoot, signed up for guest-blogger duty in the same stretch as Bernstein and Blount, but he was too busy cranking out a new release of his program.

3)  I have heard from a number of people about the virtues of an email anti-spam program called SpamSieve. (For instance, Michael Ham has written about it here.) I haven't used it, since it doesn't work with (a) the web version of Gmail, which has its own very powerful anti-spam routines, (b) the latest release of Thunderbird, which I use to create offline email archives and whenever I get too annoyed by new-look Gmail. But if it fits your needs, for instance with Apple's email programs, SpamSieve could be worth checking out.

4) Speaking of Thunderbird, the chair of the Mozilla Foundation, Mitchell Baker, has announced that Mozilla will no longer develop new features for Thunderbird. Or, as she put it, "continued innovation in Thunderbird is not a priority for Mozilla's product efforts." Sigh. Sic transit gloria Thunderbirdi. But the latest release, version 13+ on the Mac, seems a lot sprightlier than earlier versions. And after the jump, a nerdish tip* some readers have sent for keeping it from hogging all CPU cycles on a laptop.

Enjoy. And now back to Federer-Murray. [Update: announcer just now in Australia, where I am, says of Murray, "If he wins, he'll be a Briton. If he loses, he's a Scot." Like everyone, I love Federer's elegance. But this brings out the Scottish patriot/chauvinist in me. I'd like 'em both to win.]

* Thunderbird speedup tip: If you're using it mainly to have your own desktop backup of material that otherwise is stored vulnerably in the cloud, then you can stop reading here. But if you're using it on a laptop so that you can deal with email when on a plane trip or otherwise offline, here is a way to reduce significantly the strain it puts on the CPU.

The crucial point is to keep your laptop Thunderbird client from downloading and syncing all the mail in your entire Gmail archive, reaching back for years. You do want the all-mail sync on your desktop, so you'll have an "in case of disaster" backup archive of your own. But if you follow the steps in this item from the MozillaZine "knowledge base," you will have the detailed instructions for limiting the laptop files only to the small sample of current messages you want to deal with rather than anything you've ever sent or received.

You're welcome.