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Outliner offers a lot of power for a low price

by Kevin Brislin

March 2001, Pen Computing 38

Once again, I have found a really great piece of software that is flexible, inexpensive and is constantly being updated by its developer. ShadowPlan (or Shadow for short) is an outliner, list manager, and task manager all in one. I tripped on its existence while running around and downloaded it to see what it has to offer. I am always on the lookout for a better outliner and am not disappointed with Shadow one bit.

Shadow is a 114k application, which I would call a medium-sized Palm app. Upon installation, you can either create a new document or import from your existing ToDo or Memo documents. I had been trying out BrainForest as an outliner, but did not want to register the copy I was testing. So I exported all of my outlines as Memos and then imported them without incident into Shadow. This process alone indicates a level of flexibility that I wish all programs had. If I want my data to go somewhere else, I shouldn't have to re-enter it all manually, as some programs have forced me to do. At this time, however, there is not a conduit for Shadow, nor can you beam an outline to someone else. Both features have been slated for a future release, according to developer Jeff Mitchell.

When creating an outline you are expected to make some decisions about what kind of outline it is from the onset. You can make it a checklist, a note, a task list, or create a custom hybrid of the three. The numbering schemes available in Shadow again show a level of flexibility that is usually not seen. You can indicate an automatic numbering scheme upon creation of your outline that allows you to select the first three number types to be used. Your choices include Roman numerals, upper and lower case letters, numbers, and bullets. For example, if you are partial to Harvard numbering in an outline, you would choose an uppercase Roman numeral, then a capital letter, then a number (I,A,1...). All numbering past the first three levels of an outline are chosen in the date entry box when you are creating items in that level. Even when choosing a bullet, you can choose between a checkbox and an open bullet. Both behave the same in the sense that if you tap a bullet to indicate that a task is done, it will turn black. A check appears if it is a checkbox. You can also have completed items crossed out when done. Again, your choice.

If this were all Shadow could do, many would be satisfied. However, we haven't even scratched the surface. Shadow has a large array of task management features that may prove to be more useful than one would initially think. Each item in an outline can have a target date, a start date, a finish date, a priority number (1-5) and a percent complete in increments of 10%. Each item can also have a note attached for details that you don't want on the main outline. The inherent power of having all of this information available in one little outline is amazing. By creating custom outlines to meet your particular needs, one would be able to indicate any level of complexity in an outline for any project. Couple this with the ability to have your outlines enhanced with the use of color on appropriate devices (the Palm IIIc or the Handspring Prism), Shadow could easily become the portable task manager for which many are looking.

One of the most surprising features of Shadow is its ability to link data in an outline with other pieces of data on your Palm. It can create entries in the Datebook of your choice for each item in an outline, and it can also create entries in the ToDo list. If I wanted a project task list to be synced to Action Names Datebook, I would link the outline item by simply indicating that I wanted it to link under Options in the item's date entry box. An entry is automatically created on the appropriate date in the Datebook. When I change a target date in Shadow, the item is moved in the Datebook. Now, if the item is linked to a ToDo list, it shows up on the proper date as a ToDo item. The fun part is that I can indicate that the item is completed either from the ToDo list or from Shadow. This gives you the ability to integrate Shadow into all aspects of your Palm and never feel that you are missing some vital piece of information hidden in some outline.

I like the idea that I am in control of the outline, how it looks, what it displays, what numbering I can use, what it can link to...everything is configurable to suit the way I want to work. And the price? A mere US$12.99. My advice is that you try out the nagging demo to learn more about what this great software can do for you. Anyone who wants to have more than an outliner, but just a little less than a full-blown cascading project manager will find Shadow exceedingly useful. -Kevin Brislin

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