The Hog Ate My Homework

Hog Bay NotebookI had more or less given up on the idea that I was ever going to find a replacement for Stickies when I read a very interesting article by Matt Neuberg in this week’s issue of TidBITS. Neuberg, in this latest in a series of articles on a sub-genre of software that might be called ‘snippet keepers,’ describes a supremely simple application that “…you can learn to use in about a minute — and [that] has an elegance and visual clarity that is simply stunning.” The software he was writing about is called Hog Bay Notebook.

Below: Hog Bay Notebook’s interface may be a model of elegant simplicity, but it looks nothing like a hog, a bay or a notebook.

It’s a terrible name for a piece of software — right up there with Circus Ponies’ NoteBook and AquaMinds’ NoteTaker) — but Neuberg’s enthusiastic review was enough to convince me to download the software and give it a spin. Though I didn’t quite pick up the whole application in about a minute, Hog Bay Notebook is remarkably intuitive and easy to use. After playing around with it for about ten minutes, I felt comfortable enough with both its capabilities and technical underpinnings to import all my random notes from Stickies into it and give it a test spin. After working with it for two days or so, I can say that I like it a lot.

Hog Bay Notebook Interface


Hog Bay Notebook’s beauty can be accounted for by the fact that it’s written entirely in Cocoa, the preferred programming environment for Mac OS X. The result is a completely fluid and elegant user experience on par with any application that might have been developed by Apple Computer itself. Because of this, the application scores in a big way where StickyBrain, another would-be Stickies replacement I flirted with, did not: simply looking good.

In fact, the program is so at home among out-of-the-box Mac OS X software like Mail and TextEdit (upon which a large part of Hog Bay Notebook is built) that it actually suffers from a camoflouge effect. Where Stickies was a large, messy virtual bulletin board that could accomodate notes of all sizes and shapes, Hog Bay Notebook is confined a bit too neatly to discrete windows — my notes are organized, but they can no longer sprawl. On the plus side, this means that my screen is a lot tidier. But the disadvantage is that Hog Bay Notebook is a much more difficult target to find with my mouse because it is, at first glance, nearly indistinguishable from the half-dozen other similar looking applications I always have running.


That’s one of a dozen or so shortcomings that prevent Hog Bay Notebook from becoming a total grand slam for me, but at the same time, there’s a lot to be said for the program’s adherence to simplicity. The net effect of making further tweaks or adding more in-depth features would be bloatware, and who wants that? It’s almost a sure bet that the developers will succumb to such temptations with future versions, but the program is, for now at least, a fine example of designing exactly what’s needed and no more than that.



  1. I’ve been fiddling around with Hog Bay Notebook (!) today, since I read your post, and I’ve gotta say I’m impressed.

    You know what would be cool though… if I could draw straight into it using my Wacom. Sketches, I mean. I guess it’s a big ask, but it would make it feel more like a real notebook.

    Thanks for Subtraction, by the way. I often feel like commenting, but haven’t before.

  2. Yeah, my wish list of features would definitely include some support for a Wacom tablet. Other additions might include drag’n’drop scrapbook functionality to capture GIFs and JPEGs, some fundamental outlining capabilities, and prominent color-coding at the notebook level so I can quickly tell one from the other… That I compiled this list makes me wonder if, despite my support for simplicity first in theory, what I really always want is bloatware? Maybe.

  3. I am experimenting with Hog Bay Notebook, and while I like ity a lot, I have two problems with it:

    1. I have had (fairly typical) text recognized as a wiki-link which I did not want, without discovering how to “undo” this (and more importantly, how to prevent this)

    2. The window keeps on top of all other applications, unless I force it into the dock. That is extremely irritating as I usually have 5 to 9, 10 apps open at the same time.

    Now, am I missing something obvious here?
    What I like is the Outline View, which CP Notebook misses.

  4. I find the documentation to be written in geek-speak, complete with such flourishes as “your” repeatedly being used as a contraction for “you are.” As a result, the learning curve is longer than it needs to be. Also, I hesitate to adopt a note-taking and outlining tool, of all things, created by anyone who can’t be bothered to clean up grade-school-level errors in the Help file. Who knows what subtler failings might be lurking in the code?

  5. I burst out laughing when I read your comment about the name…”It’s a terrible name for a piece of software — right up there with Circus Ponies’ NoteBook and AquaMinds’ NoteTaker)…”

    How about “Fluffy Kitten” Notebook? LOL! I’ll give the application a try though. :.) — RL

  6. This is a fantasic program. I keep now everything that was formerly on little pieces of paper in this, all of my passwords, padlock combinations, my hours at work, my progress on all of my projects at work, my to-do lists, really everything that doesn’t go into specific programs, e.g. address book or a word processor. This program has made me almost entirely paperless at work. The version I use is backed up by copying a single file.

    I copied and pasted about 700 pages of downloaded reading assignments into it, then using its well designed search tool to find what I needed to read, and instead of reading 700 pages I had to read only about 150. Can’t say enough good things about this program. I use it more than anything else.

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