capsule review

Curio 2.4 Professional Edition

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Zengobi describes Curio as “the ultimate idea development environment,” and the description is an apt one, if vague. In plainer English, the application is an ideal brainstorming tool for out-of-the-box thinkers. Whether you’re roughing out a Web site, creating a lesson plan, or sketching out the characters and plot for your screenplay, Curio lets you capture your inspiration without being restricted to notes and outlines.

Every Curio document includes a Dossier, which is like a cover sheet for your document. The Dossier lets you keep high-level notes about the project you’re working on, such as project goals or client information. Curio comes with numerous examples (such as Creative Briefs and Lesson Plans), which are easy to modify or create from scratch.

A Curio document can contain multiple idea spaces. Think of an idea space as a virtual sandbox, a blank canvas, or a slide in a Keynote presentation that can expand to accommodate your ideas. You can drag-and-drop items from outside the program into it or create new objects in Curio: text, checklists, shapes, clippings, links, images, movies, sounds, or other files. Grab a paintbrush from Curio’s toolbar and start doodling—the drawing tools may be basic, but at least they’re pressure-sensitive when used with a graphics tablet.

Curio offers an easy workflow for creating a new document in another application, and embedding the new document in your Curio idea space. From within Curio, just select Create Document from the Edit menu. A pop-up menu of application names appears, including Adobe Photoshop, Keynote, Pages, TextEdit, and Microsoft Excel and Word. Selecting an application name adds a document icon for that application to your Curio idea space; then you just double-click the newly embedded icon to open the application, edit, and save the file. That makes it intuitive to add, for example, a brand-new Keynote presentation to the business plan you’re creating in Curio, without having to initiate the process in Keynote and then embed it in an idea space.

A Curio document can have as many idea spaces as you like, and idea spaces grow as large as 5,000 pixels square to accommodate your inspiration. Arrange idea spaces by dragging their thumbnail previews around in the Organizer on the left side of the application window, which is similar to the slide organizer in Keynote (see screenshot). You can link an object to another object or idea space, and even attach actions that create an e-mail message or launch a file, URL, or AppleScript.

Finding items in a Curio document is easy. A Library pane shows all assets in a document or idea space, or in the Scrapbook (a shared library for all Curio documents). When you type in your search terms, any asset (or idea space) that doesn’t contain the search term dims, including library items. Unfortunately, there’s no way to search within a text object, but if you’re using Tiger, a Spotlight plug-in indexes and finds text in a project.

To assist you in your research, Curio includes Sleuth, a mini Web browser with a number of built-in bookmarks to Web sites; you can add your own sites to it. Enter a search term and you can hop from one site to another just by selecting the site from a pop-up menu. Then, you can drag snippets from the site into an idea space.

You can save a project as a PDF document, or save idea spaces as individual TIFF, JPG, or PNG images. Curio can also export to HTML, and if you have a .Mac account, you can publish directly to your iDisk.

Curio is fun and easy to use, but it has some minor usability problems. For example, if you change the background grid, there’s no easy way to revert to the default style. You can snap objects to a grid or use guides to align objects, but there are no automatic alignment options for arranging multiple objects.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

If you find notebooks, outliners, and information managers too confining, Curio will give your imagination the space to run free. Despite some minor problems, its ability to pull together disparate items makes it a fantastic, catch-all tool.

[ Robert Ellis is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Macworld. He publishes the blog Futurosity.]

Curio lets you assemble your inspiration in idea spaces, which can contain just about anything—text, images, audio, movies, links.
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