Tobu: take notes management beyond hierarchical structures to the next level


Tobu is a “freeform information organizer”, a desktop-based note taking application that allows you to use multiple tags to categorize notes of all kinds.

Tobu’s use of tags allows for making multiple connections between notes, which in turn makes it possible for this app to provide versatile database-like functionality for organizing, viewing, and finding your notes quickly and easily.

Tobu is a simple note taking application that allows you to assign multiple tags to a note and then view your notes across tag filters. However, it also allows you to create tags and assign values to them much as you would do with database fields. For example, you can create a tag named “priority” and for different notes you could assign different values (e.g. “priority: 9”, “priority: 7”).

What this means, in effect, is that both of these would be notes have the tag “priority” in common, but when viewed in a list Tobu will display the tag as a column that you could sort by value. (See screenshot above for an illustration).

Tobu overviewThis is a program which you will have to put some effort into initially, in order to create a tag structure that works for your information and the way you want to work with your notes; however, once this is done both storage and retrieval of information will become significantly faster and easier than using a hierarchical notes application such as SEO Note or TreeDBNotes. To illustrate: the difference between a freeform organizer like Tobu and hierarchical notes organizers is similar to that between hierarchical applications launchers (such as the Windows start menu) and a text-input-based indexing launcher such as Launchy. (If you are unfamiliar with what Launchy is and what it does go ahead and try it; you will not be disappointed).

More info on this program:

  • The user interface: is split into an upper pane that lists your notes in rows and allows you to apply tags as filters, and a lower pane where you enter text and work with individual notes. The lower pane is tabbed, which makes it easy to keep multiple notes handy irrespective of what you are doing in the upper pane.
  • Sortable tags: tags are displayed as columns,
  • Templates: you will find that you need to use certain combination of tags frequently, inwhich case you can simply save these different combinations as templates and select them when you need them from a dropdown.
  • Creating a new note: the fastest way to do this is make a copy of an existing note that has the correct tags you want or otherwise use a template (mentioned above).
  • The filters: you can use up to five filters, but will probably only use one or two 99% of the time. Note that the filters also function as autocomplete search boxes, where you can simply start typing text that is found in the title of your note to find it.
  • Views: are simply filter combinations that you can save for easy access later on.
  • Linking to file or URL: you can link any note to a file or URL, making it extremely easy to access that file or URL by simply clicking a button.
  • Rich text editing: actually, not quite. A form of rich text editing is implemented, although it is somewhat limited.

Wish list: here are my 2 cent’s worth. This software is still in beta and I am hoping that many of the suggestions below are in the pipeline.

  • A search box: for content inside notes. Currently the filters can access tags and words in titles, but not the text inside the note.
  • Bugs: there’s a few of these that occaisionally arise, but I am certain these will be ironed out in future versions.
  • Portability: please (see the point above). I don’t see why a program like this has to be installed. Would be perfect as a portable app.
  • Find/replace: would be excellent, especially if you could specify whether the find/replace operation should take place inside the note text, within the titles, within tags, or any combination of.
  • Buttons for templates, views: the ability to add templates to the main interface as buttons or links would be fantastic, as selecting them as dropdowns from the menu is not very user friendly.
  • Management of templates, views: it would be cool if you could easily switch the order of templates or views in the menu as desired; also, when modifying a template or view, to be able to simply select an existing one to overwrite rather than having to re-type the name.
  • Multiple links: i.e. the ability to connect a note to more than one URL or file shortcut (three?).
  • Filtering by tag value: while currently you can easily filter any tag (e.g. “priority”), you cannot filter by tag value (e.g. “priority: 9”). Would be an excellent addition.

Freewaregenius 5-Star Pick

The verdict: what I like about this program is that it applies a really simple yet infinitely useful concept to notes management. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you start using this in earnest I doubt that you will ever want to go back to a hierarchical notes outliner. I am using it for everything: notes, to-dos, lists, etc. You could even use it to organize files (although these would have to be attached to notes).

Tobu still has a ways to go, but I’ve been using it for some time now and like it a lot. I am quite impressed with this program and so convinced that it represents a quantum leap forward for desktop note taking applications. Kudos to the developer for making such an original and innovative program.

Version Tested: 0.5.0

Compatibility: Windows, Linux.

Go to the program page to download the latest version (approx 4.5 megs).