.NET + GNOME HACKFEST 2013: EVERYBODY JUMP ON THE APPLICATION PORTING OMNIBUS (Tomboy Special)

The preliminary data from our Tomboy usage survey despite covering only 7 people, two distinct patterns of Tomboy use seems to emerge.

User : Notebooks : Notes

User 1 : ? : 50
User 2 : 1 : 115
USer 3 : 1 : 178
User 4 : 6 : 50
User 5 : 10 : 226
User 6 : 17 : 1030
User 7 : 29 : 350
* given lack of information it is assumed that User 1 uses only 1 notebook

Type 1 Tomboy users

Uses just the default notebook and keep a small to moderate number of notes.

I assume this class of user would tend to use Tomboy as a scratchpad to start notes and evolve them into other things such as blog posts, article, etc.

They might also use simple notes that are short lived such as shopping lists, to do lists and quick notes which have little use long term. Once a note has outlived its usefulness it is likely to be discarded in favor of keeping the note list manageable.

Type 2 Tomboy users

Uses multiple notebooks and tend to keep a moderate to larger number of notes.

I think this class of user tends to do greater amounts of work in Tomboy directly. This type of workflow would seem to be highly organized, and over time as can be seen from user 4, 5 and 7 notes are perhaps merged into fewer, but larger and more complete notes. Notes for these users have high value and Tomboy is a tool for both creation and management.

This would match well with e.g. taking class notes during class/studying and consolidating them into topic notes for revision and later reference.

Observations and comments

This only covers 7 users but it seems clear that there are a few things that would perhaps benefit both groups of users.

  • Making notebooks more discoverable and easier to use

It is worth considering that maybe a number of users are not using notebooks because they do not know how to, or find working with multiple notebooks difficult. E.g. starting a note and realizing it is in the wrong notebook, then not knowing how to move it.

It could also be that the current workflow for applying notebooks has room for improvement. This remains an area that is worth doing some experimentation in.

  • Improving the use of a single notebook

User also seem to occasionally prefer working without notebooks, especially for disposable notes or other short lived content.

It might be worth considering some form of disposable from a notebook (in this case, the only notebook) to a special archive notebook. This would allow the user to keep the list of active notes manageable without losing notes that might have value at a later date even if inactive.

Vesper for the iPhone is a great example of how this workflow could be implemented.

  • Bringing Tomboy to the user on all his platforms and devices

Tomboy currently runs only on Windows and Linux, the Android client only has support for reading notes, not writing them. Bringing the full Tomboy experience to as many platforms as possible would increase the usefulness of the application.

It would be useful to be able to take a note on your phone or tablet while on the go. To be able to interact with notes on OS X and in a web interface for machines without a client installed or a untrusted machine (e.g. using a friend's laptop, or a machine at an Internet cafe)

For that to work, both editing and reading must be fully supported, as must secure and reliable synchronization of the users notes.

Synchronization for Tomboy is currently completely unworkable as all the public synchronization servers have been taken down. Most notably Canonical's Ubuntu One Note synchronization server was taken down in February 2013 and user notes were deleted from the server.

  • First, do no harm

A great number of users will not need notebooks nor synchronization and will not expand their use of Tomboy beyond taking quick disposable notes. We should not expect every one to jump on Tomboy regardless of what features we bring to the table. For some people a scratchpad with disaposable notes is all they want and need. Tomboy should still be able to fill that role

What is being done

With the Rainy note synchronization server now being ready to deploy, the synchronization problem should not persist for much longer.

Though such services can be expensive to run in terms of servers (including system administrators occasional babysitting) and bandwidth. While there are likely to be free offerings, perhaps by GNOME itself, it also seems likely that 3rd parties will offer for pay services using Rainy to fill this gap and of course users will be able to set up their own instances of the server should they prefer that approach.

We are also deploying Tomboy on GNOME 3 and OS X, along with updating the Android port to support editing notes. Along with Rainy comes a full Tomboy on the web granting users access from everywhere

There is talk about getting Tomboy on iOS but so far we have not found time and developers to take this on. Perhaps this will change in the near future.

Finally it would be fantastic to get Tomboy on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 with native user experiences, though the Tomboy development team lacks Windows Phone 8 hardware and sufficient experience/knowledge to provide a truly native UX on these platforms. Following talks with Josh Blanchard from Inferno Red at MonkeySpace 2013 we are hoping work with them in the future to make this happen as they have a lot of expertise with the platform.

Luckily the Tomboy Library and leveraging C# (via Xamarin's offerings makes the task of supporting additional platforms significantly easier than having to rewrite everything from scratch in the preferred language of each platform (e.g. Objective C for iOS and Mac).

I personally believe that Tomboy therefore is positioned very nicely as a simpler alternative to Evernote that offers its own powerful features and fully native experiences. It is a chance to bring Open Source to a great number of users and get them great applications and services in the process.

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