February 2009 Archives

Searches in Sente 6

Some of you have noticed the Searches category in the Source List in the Sente 6 main window screen shot that I recently posted and have asked what it means.  Let me explain a bit about what we are doing with searches.  As always, your feedback is appreciated.

First, some history.  In the very earliest days of Sente, searches were always contained directly in the same library as the rest of your data.  With good, clean data sources and nicely structured searches, this worked well because when the searches were updated automatically, your library automatically got the new content.

But this design is not as good when you are first doing exploratory searches that might return hundreds or thousands of unwanted references.  Our original design required that all of these references be deleted manually from the library, assuming you did not want them cluttering up your data.  And deleting thousands of references from a database can be a slow process.

So, in Sente 5 we introduced the idea of the Temporary library (a library that is created from scratch each time Sente is launched).  Exploratory searches can be performed there and either selected results can be dragged into your main library, or the entire search can be dragged into your main library once it is doing what you want.

This solved the problem of exploratory searches because the results were simply discarded at the next launch of Sente, so you did not have to do anything to clean up after such searches.

On the other hand, this design seems to be hard for many people to understand.  I have answered many different variations of the question "How can I delete the Temporary library?" since releasing Sente 5.  Once I explain the concept, people were happy, but too many people needed help.

Also, there is no support for standing searches that do not automatically add references to your library.  Some users ended up creating libraries for these searches, and then copying results from one library to another as needed.  This approach works, but it seems awkward.

So, with this background, let me explain how we are implementing this in Sente 6.  

Sente 6 main window 1 halfsize.png

First, whenever you create a search, it will be added to the source list under Searches.  The references in each search will not appear in the main library until you drag them into the library.  That is, each search in the Searches category is an independent entity.  That is, the searches are part of your library, in that they appear in the source list for the library, but the search results are not automatically added into your main reference collection unless you put them there.  Further, no matter how large the searches get, they do not have much impact on the performance of the main library, because the references are not placed in the main library itself.

(For those of you who are scratching their heads right now wondering just what this means, libraries in Sente 6 are not simply SQLite database files -- they are bundles containing multiple database files and other related files.  Searches in the Searches category will each be in their own SQLite database.  This is how the size of the searches will have little impact on the performance of the main database.)

When you no longer have need for a search, simply highlight it and delete it.  No matter how many references have been retrieved in a search, deleting a search here will be very fast (because it is its own database).

Second, if you develop searches that you trust to have their content automatically added to your data library, simply drag the entire search from under Searches to the desired location in the Reference Sets category, and the search will be added to the main library, just like in Sente 5.

Searches in the Searches category will remain there until you delete them, so if you have "feeder" searches that regularly retrieve many thousands of references that you want to periodically scan for interesting results, you can leave such a search out in the Searches category forever, where it will be updated automatically at whatever frequency you specify.

As you can tell from our evolution on this subject, we have had a hard time settling on our approach in this area.  We think this new design is a big improvement, but please tell us what you think.


P.S. Because we continue to get questions about this, I will keep repeating that Sente 6 will be a free upgrade for anyone who purchased Sente 5 after January 1 of this year.  We realize that some people are reluctant to purchase a product that they know is about to get a major update because they do not want to pay twice in such a short period of time.  We agree and are guaranteeing that Sente 6 will be free for new customers.

Sente 6 main window preview

I would like to thank all the people who either posted public responses or sent us private feedback on the topic of the main window design.  Much of what we heard confirmed our suspicions about how people are actually using Sente.  This feedback has given us some confidence that our revised design will be an improvement for many people.

To continue the discussion, I have decided to let everyone see a few screen shots of Sente 6 and to describe some of the changes.  Over the next few weeks I will go into more detail in some areas.  As always, feedback is appreciated!

Sente 6 main window 1 halfsize.png
Here are some of the bigger changes that you might notice in this screen shot:

First, the window presents data from only one library.  This means that Sente 6 will be what is often called a "document-based" application, like a word processor or spreadsheet program, where you double click on the library to open it and that library appears in a different window than any other library.  (One side effect of this change is that Sente libraries will no longer live in ~/Library/Sente.  Instead, they will live wherever you place them -- most likely somewhere in your Documents folder.)

Second, the source list is closer to the current design of applications like iTunes.  I will have more to say about this in upcoming posts.

Third, the lower reference editor has been replaced with a dedicated attachment viewer.  This is what most people used that screen real estate for anyway, so most will not notice the loss of generality.  And, this approach lets us make more effective use of screen space (notice that the blue bar at the top of the links view from Sente 5 is gone).

Double clicking on a reference in the main reference list will cause Sente 6 to open it in its own tab, like this:

Sente 6 main window 2.png
Note that, unlike Sente 5, there is no source list in this window.  The source list is only included in the first tab, labelled Library. By making Sente 6 "document-based" we no longer needed to include the source list in every screen because we always know what library we are talking about.  Once again, this frees up some screen real estate.

It is also worth noting that "autolinks" (those web links that Sente can generate automatically based on identifiers found within a reference) are no longer presented in the same view as real attachments.  In Sente 6, opening an autolink, or any other web page not explicitly attached to a reference, opens a new web browser tab, like this:

Sente 6 main window 3.png
We have never before posted screen shots of an upcoming release like this, but we we know that there are a lot of people out there who care about the details of Sente's user interface.  Sente 6 will be a major update, and we want to get any feedback we can early so that the software is well received when it is released later this year.


What's in your main window?

We are tinkering with the design of the main window for Sente 6 and we want to make sure that we don't break things for too many people, while improving the overall feel of the application.  

Toward this end, I would appreciate hearing from existing Sente users about how they have their main window configured.  Specifically:

Do you normally use the right-hand reference editor, the lower reference editor, or both?

What reference editor views do you use most often in the right-hand editor?  And in the lower editor?

Are there aspects of the main window layout that you would like to see changed?  If so, tell us your ideas.