Labor Day Software Update: Tinderbox, Scrivener

An example of a very dense, complex map with Tinderbox (AlexStrick.Com)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Over the eons, starting with a word processing program called The Electric Pencil back in the late 1970s, I’ve mentioned software I’ve found interesting in a more-than-utilitarian way. You’ll see several previous installments collected in the thread on this page. Today, quick updates on two programs I use all the time and mention frequently, and that continue to evolve:

Tinderbox, an all-purpose organizing, note-taking, info-visualizing program that I’ve relied on in all sorts of ways over the past seven or eight years.

To say that a program is “all-purpose” is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in the open-endedness of applications. It’s precisely because I don’t know the exact way in which you’d use a pencil—or a bicycle, or a working knowledge of algebra or of HTML—that those tools are useful. It’s a curse in the challenge of explaining the specific thing you might use the tool for.

For me, the Tinderbox program has been useful in storing notes for books, articles, and blog posts; for laying out the plans for articles or speeches; for keeping track of tasks (actually doing them is another matter); and for other sorts of info. It is the current title-holder of the “tool for thinking” championship that was held by Lotus Agenda when I used DOS, and which I wrote about in the Atlantic nearly 25 years ago; by Zoot when I used Windows, which I wrote about in the Atlantic 20 years ago; and by various others like Actioneer (for the Palm Pilot) and Sidekick and GrandView and Magellan and Chandler down through history’s churn. I turned to Tinderbox when I entered the Mac world, and it has held the title ever since.

This is all as prelude for saying: The program is pricey but is on sale now for $50 off. You can read an interesting entry by Alex Strick on how he used it in his PhD research, and another here; see a video by Dominique Renauld on how he uses it to take notes; and see a list of explanatory posts by Stephen Zeoli on the program’s possibilities. Tinderbox  is not for everyone, but I find it surprisingly useful. (It is Mac-only.)


Scrivener, a program from the small Literature and Latte software house in Cornwall, England, that is beyond all question and comparison the most useful software for writing that has ever been invented. You can see some previous posts to that effect here and a recent enthusiastic review (not by me) here.

The news about Scrivener is that a very powerful iOS version has appeared, which is so effective and convenient that it is, gasp, actually usable as a working and writing environment. Stephen Zeoli mentions it here; and the Literature and Latte blog, by the program’s creator, Keith Blount, and others, is here.

That is all. Happy Labor Day.

(For the record: I have no relationship with either of these companies except as a full-fare paying customer.)