Organize your notes visually with Atelier Iroha


Let me introduce you to my new friend. It’s called “Iroha”, which means “The basics” or “The ABCs of [subject]”, roughly translated from Japanese.

Iroha is a freeware program that helps you to create, organize, and study notes. It uses a simple graphic interface to do all of this, which displays the connection between items visually, in a mind-mapping style.

Iroha is multiplatform (Windows/Mac/Linux).

Iroha walks you through your first usage of it with a guided tour that gets you using its features right away.

The basic concept of Iroha is to have an open workspace which you will populate with notes and then show connections between them. The result is a simple flow chart.

Iroha offers two basic kinds of ‘notes’, which are the basis of your work in Iroha and can be added to the workspace with buttons in the upper right corner of the window. First, a ‘card’ note, which is basically a virtual index card that you can write anything on. You could, for example, write down the basic biographical information for a famous person you are studying. Secondly, it offers ‘web’ cards, which are dynamic links to information on the internet. This is a nice feature for a simple note-taking program to have, especially for the modern college student who is constantly under pressure to provide sources and bibliographic information on their work.

Each of the cards you create can also be linked to a separate file external to the program, in cases where you have multiple data sources for the incoming information. For example, if you have a spreadsheet file that shows a timeline of the famous person you’re studying, you can link that file to the biography card or any other card for easy access to the spreadsheet while you’re studying. The dynamic links between each card and the information contained on them makes for a nice way to flow through a subject’s information and study it from different angles and perspectives. I truly wish we’d had freeware like this when I was in school!

Additionally, Iroha lets you color code your notes for easier visual access and processing. Biographical notes, for example, could be colored the same as historical events while geographical information could be colored the same as economic information. The color coding option, combined with the option to use web links makes this a handy tool for exploring different relationships between your various notes as well as helping to organize them. Once you have all your notes created, you can use the drag-and-drop interface to put them in any order you see fit, combine or split note cards, even change the size of individual cards. Each card can be connected to one or more other cards with a link or ‘chain’ to identify specific relationships. Iroha also offers a search feature to help you hunt down that one pesky note card that has the answer you need, if you can’t find it on your own. Overall, this is a nice, simple approach to note taking and/or mind mapping that makes both activities user-friendly for folks who haven’t used either type of program before, while offering an elegant freeware solution for those who have.

imageIroha only used a paltry 48MB of RAM while I was running it, and this number didn’t change much no matter how big I made my note files. A smaller resource footprint means better performance on laptops, which is where I can see this program being used most, but being an Adobe Air application resource usage would have to be somewhat higher than a standalone app by definition.

It’s a great tool for college folks or, indeed, anyone that might have need of a good way to organize information. It’s also, as mentioned already, a great little mind mapping tool, if you aren’t looking for anything super complicated or if you are new to the “get it done” universe. The only real downsides I would say are lack of mobile application, and lack of more powerful complex features. So far, no plans are announced for a mobile application either for the Android or iOS, and no support for saving notes in the cloud, or sharing notes with other users; but who knows what they may decide to add in the future?

The developers do plan to release a slightly more powerful version of the program, called “Iroha+”, that will feature small improvements like an integrated printing option and ‘image’ cards/leafs to compliment the web and note cards. They also, however, plan on charging a registration fee for that version. The basic, non “+” version will always be free, they promise. The printing issue was slightly annoying to me, but I found a way around it using the good old “Prnt Scr’” key and MS Paint. Also, while the program doesn’t have an integrated print option, it does allow you to save and edit or review your work at any time as .jpg or .png files so that they can be printed through a third party application or utilized by other tools like Word or Excel. The resulting save files are pretty small and therefore highly portable via flash drive or the cloud.

The cons are pretty small, and the pros are pretty big, so I can see myself continuing to use this program in the future. As a final note, it’s worth knowing that Iroha has full support for both English and Japanese languages and fonts. If nothing else, that would make it a great tool for taking notes in your Japanese language course. The developers have not announced whether they plan support for other languages in the future. Until next time, my friends!

HomeVersion Tested: 1.23

Compatibility: Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP;  Mac OS X 10.4.11, Mac OS X 10.5.4, 10.5.5, 10.6. Linux Fedora Core 12, Ubuntu 9.10, openSUSE 11.2

You can download/install Iroha here (3.3 megs).