Perhaps the highest profile amongst the new generation of PalmOS Wiki applications is Dogmelon’s Note Studio. It may be one of the more expensive, but it seems to be a very popular choice. So, why has Note Studio gained such an evangelic following?

Installing Note Studio on an ancient test PC (Windows 98 SE, 48 Mbytes) and a rather newer Tungsten E went without incident. It allows Note Studio books to be edited and viewed on either machine, providing very similar facilities and user interfaces on the PC and Palm. This review contentrates on the Palm application - the PC program provides a super-set of the facilities on the handheld.

The Note Studio database is referred to as a ‘library’, consisting of a set of ‘books’. A book collects together a group of ‘pages’ on a particular subject. Each page is similar to a Memopad document. The PC application can export a Note Studio book as a Web site, with each Note Studio page exported as a separate HTML page. So Note Studio provides a direct way to edit simple Web sites on the Palm.

Note Studio in View Mode

Note Studio in View Mode

Note Studio loads quickly on the Palm and presents a clean and simple interface. The title bar shows the name of the page and the book that contains it. Along the bottom of the screen there are line of buttons:

  • Back - Go back to previous page (like a Web browser)
  • Forward - Go forward to next page (like a Web browser)
  • Home - Go to the current book’s home page (like the home page of a Web site)
  • Edit - Toggles the page between View and Edit modes
  • Search - Searches the book for the specified text
  • Library - Allows the user to select another book

The remainder of the screen displays the content of the page - by default in View mode. This mode is like viewing a Web page in a Web browser. It’s easy to navigate but the text can’t be changed.

The [Back], [Forward] and [Home] buttons work exactly as you would expect. Click on the [Home] button and the ‘root’ page of the book is displayed in View mode. Click on the pencil [Edit] button in the toolbar and the page switches into Edit mode, where the text can be edited with similar facilities to Memopad.

Edit mode uses a simple syntax to provide text formatting and create hyperlinks between pages. The majority of text can be entered just as you would in Memopad. Additional text formatting is provided via a simple markup scheme that provides a small subset of the functions available in HTML. The markup syntax uses single characters, rather than the tags used by HTML, making it more compact and quicker to enter. For example placing asterisks around a piece of text marks it as bold. An equals sign at each end of a phrase marks it to be displayed in italics. Here’s how some simple syntax is displayed in Note Studio’s two modes, and the HTML equivalent when exported from the PC application.

Edit Mode View Mode HTML equivalent
*bold text* bold text <b>bold text</b>
=italic text= italic text <i>italic text</i>
=*bold and italic text*= bold and italic text <b><i>bold and italic text</i></b>

The fonts used to display normal, bold, italic and heading text can be selected from the Help menu. Note Studio supports FontBucket giving an extensive range of fonts to choose from.

Four levels of heading can be formatted by preceding the text with one to four plus signs:

+Heading1
++Heading2
+++Heading3
++++Heading4

These map onto the four levels of heading supported by HTML, however they all look alike when displayed on the Palm. The first plus sign has to be the first character on the line to be interpreted as marking a heading.

In a similar manner three underline characters starting at the first position on the line is displayed as a horizontal line across the page.

Note Studio also provides support for ordered and unordered lists, indented to multiple levels. These are the equivalent of the HTML <ol> and <ul> lists. For example:

Note Studio List Syntax

Note Studio List Syntax

is displayed as:

Note Studio Lists in View Mode

Note Studio Lists in View Mode

So far none of this formatting provides anything that wouldn’t be available in any half-decent word-processor. However the unique-selling point of Wiki applications is that they provide hyperlinking between pages. In Note Studio, entering a page name between square brackets creates a link to that page. Links are displayed coloured and underlined similar to they would be rendered by a Web browser. Following a link to a page that doesn’t exist creates it.

The syntax is extended to allow links with ‘friendly names’ and to other books. In addition, it supports mailto, Web and file links which are highlighted on the Palm, but can only be followed on the PC. Here’s a summary of just some of the link types available:

Type Syntax Displayed as
Link within book [Another Page] Another Page
Link to another book [Another Book|Another Page] Another Book|Another Page
Link with Friendly name [[Another Page][Friendly Name]] Friendly Name
HTTP link [[http://frogplate.net][EFP]] PC: EFP
Palm: EFP

Inconsistently a link to another book that doesn’t currently exist, such as [Book|Page] doesn’t create the new book; but a new page named ‘|Page’ in the current book.

Some of the special markup, such as headings and lists are only active if they start the line. Elsewhere in the line they are displayed as entered. An exception is the link syntax which needs to be interpreted anywhere. This caught me out when I set up my daily journal under Note Studio. I use [_] and [X] to indicate pending and completed actions. Note Studio interpreted them as links to a pages called ‘_’ and ‘X’. The useful ‘Syntax Help’ option under the Help menu revealed that I needed to escape the brackets with [{...}], so my completed actions needed to be marked with:

[{[X]}]

Note Studio also uses [|..|] brackets to provide the equivalent of HTML’s <pre> tags. This doesn’t make any difference when displayed on the Palm but allows precise positioning of mono-spaced characters on the PC. For example, you can edit ASCII art easily in Note Studio by selecting a monospaced font as the normal font and bracketing the text with [| and |]. Note Studio on the PC will then display the text using <pre> tags. For example:

Preformatted text in Note Studio

Preformatted text in Note Studio

Note how the plus characters are not interpreted as heading tags inside the preformatted tags.

Preformatted text in View Mode

Preformatted text in View Mode

Note Studio also supports simple HTML tables, by spacing the data out with tab characters. Each tab character is interpreted as the end of one table cell and the start of another. So entering:

1<tab>Frog<tab>24
2<tab>Newt<tab>34
3<tab>Toad<tab>17

in Edit mode, is displayed on the Palm as:

1    Frog    24
2    Newt    34
3    Toad    17

and on the PC as:

1 Frog 24
2 Newt 34
3 Toad 17


Note Studio’s editing facilities are identical to Memopad’s. That’s fine for small pages, but you start missing more sophisticated navigation within the page, search and replace etc. as the pages get longer. Luckily Note Studio uses the standard Palm text edit control and so can be enhanced by add-in utilities such as pEditTool.

Note Studio Insert Menu

Note Studio Insert Menu

The ‘Ins’ menu gives a quick way to insert a range of tags, including links to other pages in the book. I’m surprised that the menus don’t change as you switch modes. For example, the ‘Edit Page’ option switches from View mode to Edit mode. However the same option is displayed in Edit mode to switch back to View mode. Other options are always displayed but only operate in one mode. This seems a little un-intuitive.

Pages can be encrypted by Note Studio, the user being prompted for a password. Navigating back to the page displays a [View Contents] button which needs to be clicked to display a password entry dialog.

I couldn’t work out what the ‘Decrypt page’ option was meant to do. Selecting the option on an encrypted page did nothing. Selecting the option on a decrypted page threw a Fatal Error.

Note Studio automatically builds a couple of very useful pages. The ‘backlinks’ page provides a list of links to the pages that link to the current page. If you change the name of a page, Note Studio goes back and changes the links on all back linked pages accordingly - an extremely useful function. A ‘recent changes’ page provides links to the last ten pages you have updated. Again this makes day-to-day working much easier.

Note Studio has some very useful export facilities. It can export book or page source to Memopad on the Palm, and to HTML or XML on the PC. The HTML is well-formed and includes a simple stylesheet, making it very easy to customize the Web-site generated. However it only uses <br> tags to space out the text in the HTML page. For most applications it would have been more useful to have used <p> tags. The XML DTD looks well thought out and easy to work with.

The page size limit on the Palm appears to be 32 Kbytes under OS5. However page loading becomes noticably slower as the pages reach this limit. Navigating to simple pages is almost instantaneous but a very large page will take about 2 seconds to load on a Tungsten E.

A potential problem with applications that allow data to be edited on the PC and on the Palm is what happens if the same document is edited on both and then the two machines synchronized. In these circumstances, Note Studio handles the problem by appending the two versions of the page together and adding a note recommending that the user should remove the redundant text and hotsynch again.

I was disappointed that Note Studio didn’t highlight where the differences were between the two versions of the page. Manually finding a small difference in two versions of a large page might be quite difficult and yet the changes may be significant.

I tried changing a 32 Kbyte page on both the Palm and the PC. Note Studio generated a 64 Kbyte page that the Palm hung trying to display. However, I was still able to edit it and recover the page on the PC. To put this problem in context, I was trying to be awkward and test Note Studio’s limits. However, given the price of the application, I had expected it to handle doubly-updated pages in a more sophisticated manner.

In conclusion, as far as I’m aware Note Studio is unique in allowing the editing and use of simple HTML pages on the Palm, with pages being written and then viewed immediately. Although other solutions allow HTML source to be edited on the Palm, a PC is required to format the pages and send them back to the Palm for viewing, missing out on the interactivety that Note Studio provides.

Its functions are easy to understand and to use. Though, given the asking price, I found the page editing functions a little too simple and had expected more from its doubly-updated page handling.

Although the price is quite high for a Palm application, it must be remembered that it does include the PC application too. Between them they provide a complete environment for created, viewing, navigating and publishing simple hyperlinked pages of information.

Note Studio is shareware and costs $49.95.

Pros:

  • Complete solution for authoring simple Web pages on Palm
  • Easy to use, consistent interfaces on Palm and PC
  • Useful Backlinks, Recent and Help pages help make editing easy

Cons:

  • High price when viewed as purely a Palm application
  • Doubly-updated page handling could be more sophisticated
  • Editing functions are no advance over Memopad