capsule review

Taking notes

Like many Mac users, I surf the Web, and when I find some information that’s interesting or useful, I “file it away.” Since I switched to Mac OS X, this process usually involves temporarily storing the information—by either writing it down, saving it to a text file, or saving it as a text clipping—and then later going back and dealing with it. It’s a system that’s worked well for me for a few years, but it does mean that in between “permanent filing” sessions, my desktops—both the wood and the LCD varieties—get a bit cluttered.

Many moons ago, when I was still using Mac OS 9, one of my favorite utilities was a system extension that allowed me to save text to a document by pressing a keyboard shortcut. When I found information I wanted to save, I just selected the text, copied it to the Clipboard, and then pressed the keyboard shortcut. At some later date, I could open the document containing all my scavenged information and decide what to do with each snippet. Unfortunately, that utility—I can’t even remember the name of it now—never made the jump to Mac OS X, and I’ve missed it ever since.

But I recently discovered a Mac OS X equivalent that I like even better: Enigmarelle Development’s free AppendNote 1.0 (   ). AppendNote is actually a Mac OS X service; once you install it in /Library/Services (for use by all users of your computer) or ~/Library/Services (for use in only your own account), it’s available from the Services submenu ( Application name : Services : Append To Notes File) of any application that supports Mac OS X services. Such applications include Safari, Mail, TextEdit, Microsoft Entourage, and many other popular apps.

To use AppendNote, you just highlight text in a services-aware application and then choose the Append To Notes File item in the Services submenu—you don’t even have to copy the text to the Clipboard first, as my old OS 9 standby required. Or, even easier, you can press the AppendNote keyboard shortcut, Shift+Command+J. The highlighted text is automatically saved in a file called Notes.txt located in your Documents folder. (If the Notes file already contains text, AppendNote appends the new blurb to the end of the existing content.) To help you keep track of your snippets, each new entry in the file is tagged with the day, date, and time it was added.

 

AppendNote’s text file

 

You can open the Notes file at any time to edit it—delete text, add text, and so on; AppendNote will continue to add new text to the end of the file.

Because AppendNote is a service, it doesn’t have a graphical interface, which means it doesn’t provide a Preferences dialog as most applications do. However, you can still customize AppendNote’s behavior. Enigmarelle includes an AppleScript that, when run, lets you choose the format of the note separator, the day/date/time tag, and the location and name of the notes text file. (You can also use the defaults command in Terminal to edit the AppendNote preferences file directly, if you’re so inclined.)

Now, granted, there are a good number of applications out there that are specifically designed to help you organize notes and information, some of which also provide services support to make the process easier. I actually use some of these apps for various projects. (For example, I’m a big fan of DEVON technologies’ DEVONthink.) However, these apps are likely overkill if you just want to save text you find in your daily Web surfing and email reading. Plus, with AppendNote your information is saved in a standard text file that you can open in any text editor—I stick my Notes file in the Dock for easy access. For temporary text filing, AppendNote is hard to beat.

  
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