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Author: Mark D. Szuchman
Title: Nota Bene for Windows
Publication Info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
November 2000
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Source: Nota Bene for Windows
Mark D. Szuchman


vol. 3, no. 3, November 2000
Article Type: Software Review
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3310410.0003.318

Nota Bene for Windows

Editor's Note
John Kelly Robison <robison@zusas.uni-halle.de>
Daniel Pfeifer <pfeifedj@wfu.edu>

The Journal welcomes suggestions for software packages to be reviewed, or submissions of such applications and programs. Please contact Kelly Robison or Daniel Pfeifer for further information. If you would like to review software for the Journal, please contact either editor and view the Guidelines for Software Reviews.

As an addition to the reviews of bibliographic programs begun several issues ago, the current issue contains a review of Notabene, one of the first of the bibliographic programs. Until now, Notabene worked within the DOS operating system, which meant the software sacrificed visual excitement for speed. According to the reviewer, the new version of Notabene, which now operates in Windows, adds the graphic user interface that users have come to expect, while forfeiting little of the speed of the old DOS program.

On a different note, the software editors would like to encourage those with an interest in programs useful for historians and software with a historical content to submit reviews or volunteer to be a reviewer. This is especially true for non-Windows software. Mac is still a viable computing option. Additionally, Linux is becoming more and more of an alternative to the traditional Windows system on PCs. In the next issue, we would like to begin to examine Linux and Linux programs and their uses for the historical community.

J. Kelly Robison

A Review for the Journal of the Association for History and Computing

Nota Bene for Windows (v. 5.1), August 2000, published by Nota Bene Associates
285 W. Broadway, Suite 460, New York, NY 10013, (800-462-6733), <http://www.notabene.com>

Prices:

  1. For individuals associated with academic, religious, or non-profit institutions, the "Scholar's Workstation" version (includes the Nota Bene word processor, Ibidem, Orbis and, Ibid Plus) is $349 and the "Lingua Workstation" version price is $449 (adds non-Western multilingual support for Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, and Phonetic characters).
  2. For students or owner s of competitive products, including XyWrite, Endnote, Procite, Reference Manager or Citation, "Scholar's Workstation" is $249 and "Lingua Workstation" is $349.
  3. For owners of Nota Bene for DOS, "Scholar's Workstation" is $199 and "Lingua Workstation" is $299.
  4. Regular retail price is $449 for the "Scholar's Workstation" and $549 for the "Lingua Workstation."

System Requirements

  • Windows 95/98, 2000 or NT
  • Pentium level PC or compatible strongly recommended
  • 32 MB RAM
  • 20 MB available hard disk space
  • CD-ROM drive for installation

Introduction

The Windows version of Nota Bene offers a suite of applications designed to address the needs of teachers and scholars in the humanities and social sciences. Historians should find it especially useful in the three principal areas of endeavor: note-taking, citation and bibliographic management, and scholarly writing. A veteran among PC applications, Nota Bene has been around since 1983 when it presented to the academic community an alternative to mainstream word-processing. Since then, Nota Bene has been upgrading its capabilities to include a database engine, bibliography management, and the inclusion of non-Western characters. Each new level of functionality has been integrated into a seamless set of applications that use a common interface. The program has on previous occasions earned PC Magazine's "Editors' Choice" and "Honorable Mention" in the word-processing category. Nota Bene users, comprising an international community of committed word smiths, tend toward academic research and writing activities that have had little need for the graphic environment offered by Windows. Perhaps this was so because even in the DOS version Nota Bene offered the advantages of having up to 9 files open in separate windows simultaneously with all the attendant cutting and pasting benefits. However, with the increasing demands on memory management and the prevalence of Windows-based library and Web searching utilities, among other research activities, the time for porting Nota Bene over to the Windows environment was at hand. The transition has been generally successful and in several areas represents significant functional advances.

Design philosophy and user interface

Computer programs have personalities, or better said, they reflect the personal and philosophical traits of their creators. While an application's mechanisms consist of clinical bits and bytes, its users' interaction reflect the designers' and programmers' very human perspectives on what users need. For example, MS Word stands at one end along the spectrum of control management, determining choice for the user and hiding formatting code from the user's view. Nota Bene stands at the other end of the spectrum, offering on-the-fly access to code parameters down to the smallest formatting details, allowing -- sometimes inviting -- the user to customize the document as seen fit. Freedom of choice can sometimes be daunting, but in the main, Nota Bene users will feel an exceptional amount of power, as they are assumed to have intelligence and agency.

The Nota Bene screen is, in most ways, indistinguishable from other Windows-based word processors, except that, insofar as the suite is aimed especially at the world of text and text manipulation, there is little in the way of icons implementing graphic-based functions (e.g., clip art, "word art," fancy borders, drawing capabilities, and so on). A thoughtful feature not seen in other industrial-strength word processing programs is that, when implementing Save As..., users remain working on the original file and location unless they choose to switch to the renamed (Save As), or relocated, file. Normally, Windows programs automatically take the user to the "saved as" file and location even if one wishes to continue working on the original version.

Nota Bene's reputation as a speed-demon is retained in the Windows version. In large measure, the program's speed is a function of how little it bothers with the ersatz desktop publishing features found among word-processing market leaders. Nota Bene shows little sign of bloated software bogging down functions, as made clear from the high speed with which it loads and unloads.

Instead of graphic-oriented activities, the screen presents icons designed to manage the organizational structures of documents, inserting different organizational levels, along with promoting and demoting sections and subsections. In addition, the screen contains icons to launch Ibidem, the bibliography and citation manager, and Orbis, the database application (more on these below). Other icons can be used to change the document view and to access the formatting codes. Codes can be handled in three ways: they can remain invisible, they can be presented individually over the course of the document, or they can be exposed globally by opening all the document's codes at once. In the latter case, editing a single command can change a feature globally. This offers significantly superior functionality over WordPerfect's "reveal codes," while in the case of MS Word, with its severe limits to code access, this feature is not even comparable. Thus, the reputation for the easy and fast editing found in the DOS version of Nota Bene appears to have been retained.

Also retained from the DOS version is the option to invoke actions and parameters through the command line. Users of XyWrite will feel right at home with this feature, along with anyone who prefers the faster command line approach to getting things done, yet also having available the benefits of the graphic setting, menu and mouse interface.

Suite components

The principal components of Nota Bene for Windows include (1) Nota Bene, the word-processing application, (2) Ibidem, the citation and bibliography manager, and (3) Orbis, the database manager. Nota Bene Associates refers to these three components as its "Scholar's Workstation." The company also offers a "Lingua Workstation," which includes Lingua, the word-processing component that adds non-Western language capability, including Hebrew, Cyrillic, and Greek, along with the International Phonetic Alphabet. Lingua is similarly bundled with Orbis and Ibidem. Finally, both packages include Ibidem Plus, which uses the technology of Ibidem to build non-bibliographic databases; these can range in use widely from record collections, to interview summaries, to mail-merge records, or any other listing of items for personal or office use.

Strengths

By combining in one academic office suite the writing, research, and bibliographic functions that historians conduct routinely, Nota Bene fills an important need in colleges, universities and other research-oriented venues, including legal offices, seminaries, and think-tanks.

Writing

Nota Bene, the word-processing module, is unique in that it provides all the elements for writing and formatting of several major academic manuals of style including the Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Style, the Turabian Manual for Writers, and the Manual of the American Psychological Association. The user first selects the document's specific purpose within a particular academic style (e.g., Article -- Masked/Anonymous Review in the Chicago Manual of Style), then enters the document's title. And that's pretty much it: all the many and detailed formatting and layout components associated with the selected style are automatically handled as the writing proceeds. This includes headings and subheadings (Nota Bene calls the mechanism "Frameworks" and the headings "Framework levels"), page numbering and placement, footnote and endnote placement, numbering and layout, margins, vertical and horizontal spacing, hyphenation, citation style , and on and on. Thus, the term "style," when writing in Nota Bene, takes on a significant and comprehensive meaning as compared to a more cosmetic and generic application of the term found in MS Word or Corel WordPerfect.

Furthermore, if the writer decides to change academic styles, for example, in order to submit the work to a different journal, all that is needed is to select the desired style: all formatting and layout components are automatically changed to conform to the new selection. In addition, users can create their own styles. Nota Bene also comes equipped with built-in keyboards for multi-language capabilities for virtually all Western alphabets: foreign characters can be speedily entered through pre-programmed keys or via menu. Users of Hebrew, Greek and Cyrillic will want to use the Lingua version.

When it comes to re-writing and overall editing, the program favors anyone who values time- and energy-saving features. This is made possible by a more direct approach to format changes and an unusually precise cursor movement for highlighting text. In addition to the cursor movement options found in all Windows programs, single keystrokes in Nota Bene present wideranging capabilities, even placing the cursor to the middle of the line; a single keystroke selects characters, or words, or sentences, or entire paragraphs; another keystroke transposes any of those linguistic units; similarly, a single keystroke changes the print mode of words already typed (for example, for normal to italic). These advantages are all the more salient for having both the mouse and the rich keyboard available for text manipulation. Moving text can be accomplished either through the cut-then-paste method (via mouse or keyboard) or with a single "Move" keystroke. In sum, one is left with the impression of a program interface designed for the writer's creative process to go forward with the least intrusion possible. Finally, the program comes equipped with a rich array of conversion filters capable of both reading and writing to virtually all applications and formats, including HTML.

Citation and bibliography management.

Beyond automating layout and formatting the document's body according to the selected academic style, the formatting of citations in foot/endnotes and bibliographies is similarly automated to conform to the style's requirements. This is the job of Ibidem, the suite's module in charge of bibliography management. Boolean capabilities in Ibidem permit the user to search within and across fields (author, title, keywords, etc.) in the user's databases. With one click, the desired entries are entered as citations in the location of either the user's preferences or the academic style's requirements, for example, either into foot/endnotes or as in-text citation. Subsequent references to the same works are automatically handled according to the selected style's citation rules. This feature alone saves hours of toil, as the document's permutations of citations with same authors but with different page ranges and or different titles are automatically updated by Ibidem.

Bibliographies can be automatically generated at the end of the document or as stand-alone documents. This is especially useful in constructing a syllabus, particularly for a seminar or at the graduate level, or in providing students with initial bibliographies to get them started on research projects. A conscientious use of the keywords field can build a very powerful critical apparatus that the user can speedily employ in both teaching and research. Ibidem comes equipped with the citation and bibliographic rules of nearly 100 journals and professional associations. In keeping with the international nature of the scholarly community, the capitalization of foreign entries in citations and bibliographies are properly managed if the user enters titles as they are supposed to appear and requests of the program to suppress capitalization for those titles. Otherwise, Ibidem automatically capitalizes according to the English rules. Finally, should the user decide to change the citation style, Ibidem will save a great deal of labor by automatically changing all the necessary elements and even the placement of both the citations and the bibliography without any re-typing.

In another approach to automating tasks and reducing the amount of typing, the company sells an add-on that works within Nota Bene, the SeaChange Corporation's BookWhere 2000, which uses the internet to search some 300 libraries in the U.S. and abroad that use the Z39.50 protocol. Once BookWhere 2000 completes a search, it places all the desirable bibliographic "hits" automatically into the appropriate entry fields within Ibidem. NB and BW2K provide a powerful combination that permits one's electronic library to grow in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Database management/ text retrieval

Orbis, the third component of Nota Bene, is a free-form database engine capable of searching and retrieving any text the user has written. You do not need to know the names of files: you simply specify the folders and the filename extensions to be included in the "textbase," i.e., in the files to be searched by Orbis. For example, you could choose to give the extension ".not" to files containing research notes, ".plt" to personal letters , and ".mem" to memos. You would then create three databases, each suited to the different types of documents, that is, research notes, correspondence, and memos, each based on the filename extension. There are no practical limits to the number of files that can be included in each database. Orbis will automatically update a database (after approval by the user) and incorporate changes in files and new files saved since the previous time the database was invoked.

Hyper-text capabilities are built into Orbis. In addition, concept-based searches, as distinguished from searches using literal terms, are enabled in Orbis by entering synonyms in a template. Thus, pressing the appropriate keystroke on a word used in the document -- for example, "authoritarian" -- will find all passages in the computer in which this specific term appears. But, in addition, a more powerful search is implemented through the "Nexus" capability in Orbis, which uses a plus sign in front of the search term to pull up all passages containing associated terms, according to user-created synonym lists. Thus, in our example, searching for "+authoritarian" will pull up passages containing "caudillo," "strongman," "dictatorship," and so on. With the "Nexus" option, search capabilities are significantly expanded by offering the user the opportunity to design a thesaurus for conceptualizing searches in the context of cognitive and logical associations.

With Orbis, you should never lose another letter or memo, but more important in the context of scholarly research, you are able to accumulate a growing body of research materials and still manage it so that it can be searched, and any part of which can be incorporated as part of your writing, whether into the body or into the foot/endnote of your document. This capability also presents obvious advantages in lecture preparations and in the usability of materials downloaded from the internet. Even e-mail can be searched normally much faster through Orbis compared to the native search functions of e-mail clients.

Orbis is especially suited for historians and other researchers similarly dependent on text. For example, discourse analysis is perfectly accommodated to the search-and-retrieval process. Scholars who use interview methods will find this relational "textbase" well adapted to categorizing and ordering responses. Analysis of congressional and parliamentary debates is made simpler. Orbis is instrumental for legal scholars and social historians by creating text-based landscapes of their historical actors and how they gave meanings to their worlds by articulating their perceptions. For biblical scholars, the company provides several Bible versions, including English, Greek and Hebrew texts that can be searched by Orbis.

These and additional applications are quite sophisticated, but one will always appreciate the easy and time-saving capabilities that the program brings to the day-to-day task of retrieving notes on specific topics. Relationships among terms and frequencies of those relations are plotted for each search, thereby encouraging additional questions, much in the way that a powerful database and statistical analysis tool, such as SPSS, provides answers while leading to more refined questions in the context of statistical relationships.

Bibliographic management software and text search and retrieval applications have been around for a while (e.g., EndNote in the first category and AskSam in the second). For historians, in particular, Ibidem and Orbis offer advantages over these stand-alone products. For example, the common interface of Nota Bene's suite components makes for a less obtrusive process and more linear approach in the oft-repeated instances of text retrieval, citation, and bibliographic compilation. And, finally, the academic styles threading throughout the applications eliminate a great deal of drudgery.

Limitations

As powerful and configurable as it is, Nota Bene is not for everyone, although virtually any historian will find its text handling capabilities able to satisfy a great deal of our profession's scholarly needs. While it can import and display graphics, the program is limited in how they are handled. There is no OLE capability yet, though the company promises that it will be available in future upgrades. The Ibidem template's entry fields could allow for somewhat larger type. Oddly, Ibidem's entry field for "Journal" is not included by default in the "fast find" search mode, as are other key entry fields ( "Author," "Keywords," "Title," and "Year"). However, the user can configure this capability. The on-line help in each of the suite's modules offers rich guidelines to the applications, better than many Windows programs. At the same time, the program could benefit from more "bubble-help" or "hover-help," particularly in the context of Ibidem and Orbis dialogues. Outdenting bulleted and numbered paragraphs is not as automated as in Word or Wordperfect, but then again, neither is numbering paragraphs as maddening as it is in those other products. These are all minor issues in an overall carefully designed package that pays attention to the many important details of scholarly research and writing.

Finally, the Windows version appears to have lost the very popular and useful "log and resume" capability available in the DOS version. This feature allows users to compile all the files opened in different windows into a single log file at the end of a session. Users can subsequently call up the log file and resume their work at exactly the point where they had left off their "project," down to exact cursor placement in each file. Let's hope that this feature will be restored soon.

Deeper into the programming code, a faster screen refresh would address the occasional blemishes left over from previous screens and the temporary cursor disappearance. There is no mail-merge yet, although there are indications that this capability will be available through Ibid Plus, the non-bibliographic database (the company has promised it in a future upgrade).

Finally, in light of the trend seen at several universities that are beginning to require students to submit theses and dissertations in electronic form, it would be a good idea to include a subset of Adobe Acrobat, as WordPerfect began to do with version 9, to be able to save documents in PDF format for submission to the graduate office and, in general, to enhance Web-based document delivery.

Summary

The academic suite of applications in Nota Bene is unrivalled in its dedication to serving the needs of the teaching and research communities. Other word-processing programs can do more in the way of graphic representation of "word art," but no program can match Nota Bene for its combined features of writing, organizing, presenting and editing of text for class or for submitting works to journals and book publishers. Other database programs can perform numerical calculations, but none do more to deliver terms and concepts to the writer in meaningful relationships. Other bibliographic management programs are available but none are as tightly integrated into documents or the word-processing engine. And no program provides the confidence, consistency and ease of academic style automation offered by Nota Bene from title to last footnote.

In the context of a suite comprising several applications, the discounted prices for academics and students appear more than fair, all the more so as we observe the price increases in the "office" suites offered lately by the commercial giants. Moreover, the publishers of Nota Bene have smartly included the widest available array of conversions from and to other word-processing programs. This means that colleagues who use a (the!) mainstream word-processing program can be given an opportunity to understand the electronic version of "the other." In addition to the company's free year of tech support, a far-flung, international group, consisting primarily of academics, is known for providing a very active and helpful user list at: <mailto:notabene@piper.hamline.edu>notabene@piper.hamline.edu.

The company offers a free, 90-day downloadable full-version demo from its Web site at <http://www.notabene.com>

Review by Mark D. Szuchman