How would you describe your professional work and focus? Why
or how is your Mac important to your work and projects?
I'm a management consultant, media producer, and author. I'm
also on the board of a small high-tech/bio-tech venture capital firm,
and I generally keep a foot in the academic world. I was a Visiting
Scholar at MIT's Sloan School for many years and, before that, an
Adjunct Professor at Columbia University Business School.
My firm's consulting activities focus on large scale organization
design and transformation, particularly working with senior executives
on strategy development and change. For instance, I've been very
involved in the evolution of global financial markets, such as
London's Big Bang and the debates over Nasdaq in the U.S. I've also
spent considerable time trying to understand the role of major
technological and structural developments on strategy, such as the
impact of biotechnology on the evolution of the pharmaceutical
industry and the emergence of information technology as a competitive
weapon and organization design "structural material."
The media business generally supports the firm's change-related
activities, since all such work involves lots and lots of
communication, and these days people expect a lot more than hand-drawn
Since I work with ideas, it's important for me to be able to tell my
story effectively in a variety of media. I've always used Macs for my
work. In fact, I bought a Lisa in 1981 because it was the first
accessible graphical machine. At the time, the results were the envy
of my colleagues. LisaDraw was a breakthrough.
Tell us about what kind of machine you're running OS X on and
what you think of Jaguar (10.2)?
Personally, I'm running on a 500MHz Titanium Laptop under
Jaguar. NoteTaker runs really well, as does everything else -- both
classic and OS X. I was somewhat skeptical about the Jaguar release
before I upgraded, but it has turned out to be very valuable despite
one or two legacy problems. I also have an older 500MHz G3 running
System 9 and a PC that I use for particular applications and
What kinds of software applications do you use in your work?
This is a long list, so I apologize in advance. I'm a
believer in using the right tool for the job, and so I've collected a
lot of tools.
Until NoteTaker came along, for list-making, brainstorming and
document drafting I've used MORE, the outliner, for many years. It
has been really the best game in town for idea processing on either
Mac or PC. I've always been surprised how few people use outlines,
although if one is not using a tool that's optimized for it, outlining
is often inconvenient.
For general-purpose writing, I use MS Word, although I'm quite
interested to see how the OS X version of OpenOffice evolves. It's
now in beta and shows considerable promise. When I have to process
text or write code of some kind, I use BBEdit. It's a wonderful piece
of software and grep makes it much easier to do complex searches than
I can do in Word without resorting to Visual Basic or writing a Perl
For doing analytical work, I use Excel for simple tasks and as a
communication medium with clients for numerical analyses. For more
complicated analytical work, I must confess to being a bit of a
Mathematica junkie. Mathematica is one of the greatest pieces of
software ever written, and it can be used as a simple calculator or to
do "real math." For statistics, I use SPSS and StatView, and
occasionally some specialized tools. I also use iThink for systems
dynamics model building, which I'm doing a fair amount of at the
moment, and I use various forms of StarLogo for demo-scale agent-based
For drawing diagrams and charts, something I do a lot of, I use both
Freehand and Illustrator. Freehand is also great for small desktop
publishing projects where Quark Express would be overkill. For more
"artistic" drawings, I use Painter for pixel-based work and Expression
3, and object-based tool, from Creature House in Hong Kong. This is
one of the most exciting graphics packages to have come along in some
time, and anyone who loves graphics software should look at it.
For presentations and slide shows, I use Powerpoint like everyone
else, although I'd love to see an alternative. However, presentations
are often the format for a deliverable to the client so using the same
application is essential. I also publish certain documents in PDF
using Acrobat. This is an obvious choice for documents prepared
outside of the MS Office suite, which are the only applications you
can ever count on people having.
For Web design, I use DreamWeaver plus Flash, Photoshop, Painter and
Freehand. Often, my deliverable will be a concept for a website
rather than the fully functioning site, so I tend to personally get
less involved with performance than design. Nevertheless, even early
mock-ups have to have pictures and animation, so I tend to do my own
as a way of storyboarding the ideas.
For image processing and compositing, I use a combination of Live
Picture and Photoshop. Live Picture, despite its limbo status, is
still the best creative environment for digital photography. It has
an active international online user community hosted by Julian
Calverley in the UK that keeps it alive. In addition, I preprocess my
digital photographs using Bibble from BibbleLabs. It does an
astounding job on Nikon NEF format files.
I sometimes use Premiere for animations and short video clips, but I
leave the heavy duty editing to the professionals. I also do a
limited amount of 3D work in Bryce and other simple packages. Again,
I leave the real work to the pros.
I'm also a big fan of FileMaker. For the vast majority of cases
when data needs some structuring, Filemaker is perfect. It's often
possible to get a rough version of a new data base up in less than an
hour if the data is reasonably clean. I find that a lot of people
under-structure the data they work with which makes it very difficult
to discern important patterns or to drill down to get the answer to
deeper "why" questions.
Sometimes, even with all these tools, there are tasks that need a
custom solution. If the task is numerical, I can usually do it with
Mathematica. If I can't, I might resort to Visual Basic, Perl, Java
or even HyperCard, although I try to avoid getting lost in this work.
I'm sure that this is a longer list than you want, but it's a
realistic picture. As I said, I'm a great believer in using the right
tool for the job, but to do so you need a range of tools available and
know what they can do. Far too many people try to make a few software
tools do everything, which is a bit like trying to drive a nail in
with a pair of pliers. In many cases, I've seen people do the wrong
type of analysis simply because they used the tool they knew how to
use rather than learning the right one.
Are you using NoteTaker now? How exactly are you using
I'm still exploring NoteTaker, but it is fast becoming the
center of my information universe. I increasingly use it to organize
everything, from those sets of information that naturally fit within
the notebook paradigm of sections and pages to things that are a
little less obvious. I'm writing a new book, for instance, and that's
a slam dunk for NoteTaker.
What NoteTaker features matter most to you? Why?
Let me tell you what I really like so far. I love being able
to drag files into NoteTaker so that I can access them without having
to worry about exactly what I called them or where they are stored. I
also love the ability to highlight, categorize, prioritize and index
information in a variety of ways. NoteTaker makes it easy to get
information in, and then to get access to it when you need to.
In this regard, services are amazing. Once a "clipping service" is
set up in NoteTaker, it's possible to ship information from any
application that supports services to NoteTaker even if the receiving
notebook or even NoteTaker itself is closed. As more and more
applications support services, this means that the manual effort of
cut-and-paste will be replaced by a much more natural process of just
"shipping off" the data to the right notebook destination. I must
confess that it's so much like magic that I had to check the first few
times to make sure that it worked. Of course, in the early days of
fax, I remember calling to destination to make sure the fax had
arrived, since the process seemed so wondrous.
Another key point is that NoteTaker is completely integrated with
the web. You can link any word or phrase to a URL or you can enter
the URL directly and it will be recognized and become a link. If you
drag the @ sign from the MS Explorer tool bar, NoteTaker will enter
the reference for you, and you can also drag the entries from your
Using the Refresh Entry command NoteTaker will happily expand your
URL into a visible page, effectively acting like a browser. What's
even more amazing is that you can then click on a link within that
page and your browser will pop up the page you clicked on. Thus
NoteTaker provides the ability to save specific pages including the
utility of their links. With so much of people's essential
information becoming available on the public and private web pages,
NoteTaker is worth the price of admission for this feature alone!
I must say, though, that it is less the specific features of
NoteTaker than its overall design that is exciting. It's one of those
applications that gets better and better the more you use it so that,
after a while, it's hard to imagine how you ever lived without it.
NoteTaker may actually be a new type of multi-purpose software, much
the way the food processor was a different type of general purpose
kitchen appliance when it was invented in the 1970s.
From my perspective, the key point about NoteTaker is that unlike
almost every other application, it is not single document oriented.
In addition to text you enter or import, you can include other
document references, URLs, other notebooks, graphics, and so on. This
is subtle but important. Like just about any application, NoteTaker
allows you to enter your own information, like your bank, brokerage,
and mortgage accounts, but you can also enter the URLs of your
financial institutions and 3rd party information providers as I just
described, or include a link to the Excel spreadsheet you might use
for budgeting or aliases to your Quicken or Money database. With
NoteTaker you have access "under one roof" to the information you
entered, to web pages, and to the information you have "clipped" or
copied from various separate documents. In some ways its a bit like
going to a shopping center versus a series of separate stores.
There's much more convenience when things are all together than you
Beyond this, from the ground up NoteTaker's design reflects the
belief that information becomes more valuable the better it is
organized. Using NoteTaker's multiple ways of structuring
information, one can evolve the value of one's notebooks over time
through better interconnections as well as by adding more content.
Unlike a data base, however, NoteTaker's data structures are much more
free form, so you can start with little, if any, structure and add
more as you need it on a just-in-time basis. There is simply nothing
else out there quite like it.
The benefit of the NoteTaker design is that you "share the load" of
keeping track of information relationships with the software. In
other words, you don't have to keep it all in your head. AquaMinds
has given us a great tool, because the bulk of the information that
most of us have to keep track of is semi-structured, or it needs to be
organized in multiple ways. This is where NoteTaker shines in a way
that nothing else comes close to.
How do you describe NoteTaker to other users?
Explaining new software is always a challenge, especially if
the software defines a new category. It's useful to realize that most
people embrace new tools on the basis of "one key use" rather than by
thinking of all the wonderful things it might be able to do with it.
To be helpful, therefore, I try to identify the types of things that a
potential user might value from NoteTaker, especially the things they
might be struggling with today. Fortunately, there is always
something in almost everyone's life for which NoteTaker is the perfect
For instance, my wife is working on a cookbook for parents and kids
that's designed to be published in sections. It will have multiple
contributors for both recipes and art, and it will have introductory
parts to various sections that need to be researched. As you can
imagine, there are a lot of bits and pieces to keep track of, and
there will be a lot of rearranging before the project is done. This
is a great job for NoteTaker.
I also think that NoteTaker is the perfect tool for doing
schoolwork. It beautifully fits the real-world paradigm of
multi-section notebook, but students can put all the info they gather
for a project or homework assignment in one place. Even more
powerful, teachers can distribute courseware in an NoteTaker notebook,
including links to the class or third-party web pages, readings,
homework assignments, answer keys for practice problems, etc.
Compared to NoteTaker, paper is a poor substitute.
What is the learning curve for using NoteTaker?
NoteTaker is very easy to use in a simple way, such as as an
outliner, as a tabbed notebook replacement, or as an electronic
scrapbook. The learning curve arises as one begins to explore the
ways certain information management tasks would be better handled
using NoteTaker than in the old way, whatever that might have been.
For instance, when I first started to write my new book, NoteTaker
was not yet available. I used the Mac's file structure to organize
information such as chapter outlines, drafts, articles, simulation
runs, Mathematica notebooks, diagrams, pictures, etc. When NoteTaker
arrived, it became clear that it provided a much better way to keep
track of all this information, especially if the notebook was
structured like the book itself.
Since I've gained experience with NoteTaker, I've found that I've
been more casual about the filing of individual documents but more
extensive in my descriptions of their content within NoteTaker. In
the new system, everything is accessible and logically grouped,
nothing gets lost, it's easy to move things around as my ideas evolve,
and cross references are a snap to create.
In the abstract, it may be difficult to understand the incredible
power of being able to put aliases and URLs in one's documents, or to
link one part of a notebook to another or to another notebook.
However, remember that this hypertext ability is a key part of making
the world wide web so usable, and AquaMinds is the first company to
have brought it to the desktop in a friendly yet powerful way. In
addition, if one categorizes one's entries as you go along, the task
of summarizing them becomes very easy. Of course, it's possible to do
a text search to find something after the fact.
This last point reminds me that NoteTaker doesn't force you into
this more structured approach, and that's one of its strengths.
Moving from straight text entry to an outline is an easy step, as is
using major section headings for separate topics. Categorizing,
prioritizing, and cross-referencing via links are just a click away,
and building an index is as easy as running a spell check. You use
these functions as you need them, and online help is right there in
To be honest, however, like any powerful multi-purpose tool,
NoteTaker will pay the greatest dividends for those users who make an
effort to understand its capabilities, not just to focus on solving
their immediate problem. This doesn't mean mastering all the features
at once, merely learning what the program is capable of is often
enough to enable you to come back to a specific feature when you need
it. The AquaMinds website contains a number of useful examples, and
its interesting to see the novel ways people have tackled their
information management problems. I would encourage people to explore
other people's solutions. You never really know when something might
come in handy.
Are there other applications you intend to use NoteTaker for in
As the splash screen says, NoteTaker is for everything on
your mind, so I expect that I will find more and more uses for it.
One obvious task is to reorganize my client work into a series of
"meta-notebooks" that have sections for the various projects and
initiatives. A lot of information needs to be cross referenced --
even across clients -- but it has been difficult to do that easily
before now. In addition, like most people, a lot of my personal
information is spread out over multiple files and stored on servers
accessed via the web. NoteTaker provides a way to put this all in one
place, and there's no reason why the references can't be across
computers, which will provide some very interesting benefits for
families and workgroups.
As soon as I can, I plan to introduce my son to NoteTaker, although
he's only 4, so he has to learn to read first.
S.M. & Ph.D. MIT Sloan School of Management
President of MGA Limited, a management consulting company and MGA Media, its sister media production company. Projects in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the U.K. and work for a very wide variety of industries.