Returning to Wjjsoft myBase

Wjjsoft myBase is an “outliner database,” one of an old and illustrious group of applications whose perhaps most famous specimen is TreePad. TreePad has existed since 1995, myBase since 1998. Both are still under active development, but their user interfaces are clearly children of the 1990s. While certainly usable they look rather cluttered and ugly, resembling developer tools rather than fashionable iOS applications. (Hilariously, Wjjsoft calls the myBase UI “intuitive [and] uncluttered!”)

The primary difference between the traditional outliner database and modern note-taking software like Evernote and Microsoft OneNote is the organization of notes. As the name implies, outliners encourage a deep tree-like hierarchy of items, similar to directories in a file system. Modern applications tend to emphasize “flat” views based on labels and search. myBase does support these features but they are strictly optional – and myBase labels are organized into a secondary hierarchical tree! As a programmer I’m used to creating and navigating hierarchies of information, so that suits me well.

Wjjsoft myBase

myBase sells as a basic version (US$ 59) plus an add-on pack (US$ 29), or both for US$ 79 which I bought. The website gives the impression that built-in functionality such as HTML tree export and syntax highlighting is part of the add-on functionality, but that does not appear to be the case. I only entered the basic version’s software key to activate these built-in features. It seems the add-on pack is necessary only for external utilities such as WebCollect and the stand-alone database viewer.

I had been using myBase long before I temporarily switched to Evernote since I wanted to integrate a stationary desktop PC with a mobile iPad. Meanwhile, though, I moved on to an equally mobile Windows ultrabook which means that a locally installed Windows-only program is once again viable. The obvious advantage is that I no longer rely on cloud storage with its security and privacy implications. myBase also offers some nifty features I’d been missing, such as the aforementioned syntax highlighting, and is better suited for a hierarchical note structure which I prefer.

myBase does not leave some resident process behind when it isn’t running. The program opens so fast that this isn’t necessary, and of course there’s no background cloud sync to perform. myBase does not offer a built-in notification icon, so I simply pin the Start menu icon to the task bar for quick access.

Some Caveats

The documentation is one area where myBase is regrettably modern. The only available manual is brief and online, so discovering how things really work takes some trial & error.

The default settings for new notes, e.g. the default text font, are applied and embedded immediately when a new note is created. Notes don’t contain placeholders for “global default value” but instead always specify the concrete value to be used. So if you create a bunch of notes and then change the default settings, any existing notes will not be affected and must be reformatted manually. Make sure you’re happy with your text appearance before creating a large number of notes!

Lastly, notes are stored in a proprietary binary database format, and getting the data into human-readable or otherwise convertible form is a challenge. Although myBase provides a large variety of import & export formats, most of them are outdated and not terribly useful. Evernote and OneNote are conspicuously missing. As far as I could determine, only the directory tree export (which creates one directory with one RTF file per note) could be used for turnaround, and this export annoyingly can only handle one branch at a time, rather than the entire database. Currently I’m simply making backups of the database and hope at least one of them will remain readable…

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