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October 30, 2010

Scrivener 2.0 – Not Just For Writers


Anyone who works in web development has to keep track of a lot of stuff. For every site you develop there are a variety of passwords and settings. For every server you manage there are even more. For every project there are notes, meetings, code fragments, links to resources, and – of course – lists of things.

On Windows, the application I used to handle this was the awesome MyInfo by Milenix. When I switched to the Mac, I looked at all the information managers and settled on Mori. Mori does what I need (a nice hierarchical folder structure of notes), but the new developer has let the application sit idle and now it feels slow and behind the times. Not good for the application you depend on to manage your most crucial data.

Enter Scrivener 2.0 by Literature and Latte. This is my favorite writing application but with the 2.0 release about to come out (there’s a preview available from their blog … and a Windows version coming out as well) this application becomes so feature-packed that I’m going to switch over to it for my main note-keeping axe. Here are some of the cool things Scrivener 2.0 offers that relate to a developer:

  • A really slick outliner mode. Sure the documents and folders are a nice navigation mechanism, but the outliner mode gives you the ability to show/hide columns. This lets you, for instance, see the tags on each document – or the modification date so you can tell when you made a settings change to something.
  • Document notes and inline comments. Really handy for note-taking (duh!) but the inline comments are good for jotting down those special instructions you often forget. Oh … there are also project notes too.
  • Linkage. Notes and comments are just the start – you can also attach links to web addresses as well as to other documents in the project to any document. Oh – you can also add a URL as a document too – great for keeping track of sites which have resources you use a lot – or keeping track of the sites that have templates/plugins you use on a project.
  • Snapshots. Scrivener does backups which is great. But snapshots let you keep versions of your document around. This is invaluable when you’re doing things like updating a site from one system or version to another. Your new settings may change but you’d like to be able to see the old ones in case something blows up. Now you can keep it all together. I haven’t tried it yet, but there is also a sync function to folders and a couple of conduits.
  • Customization. You can save window layouts and project templates which is pretty slick. But now you can also have document templates. So, imagine a template for client contact information. A template for WordPress configuration settings. A template for domain setup on a server. The tree view now allows you to set the icon for any document or folder.
  • Collections. Kind of like “smart folders” but better. These can be assembled via search or by manual placement. So you could have a collection of all your WordPress deployments by searching for the “wordpress” tag on a document. Or you could have a collection of documents that you want to export and give to a client for their reference – you’d hand-assemble that collection.

There are more features than just these and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Scrivener 2.0 can do. Obviously if you’re a writer, this is going to quickly become your tool of choice. But for people in technical fields this is a tool to consider for keeping project documentation together. The price for Scrivener 2.0 is only $45 – which is dirt cheap considering how much other information managers (which don’t do a fraction of what Scrivener does) cost. Scrivener 2.0 is due to release on November 1st, 2010.

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