5 February 2013
Reviewed by Felix Grant
It probably needs no explanation, these days, but ‘X6’ means that this is the 16th release of EndNote, a program which I’ve been reviewing since release 4. It seemed, back then, that there wasn’t very much development scope for a tool designed to do one thing: handle bibliographic information. Nothing could be further from the truth – in a series of entirely evolutionary moves, EndNote has reinvented itself as a capable individual research information management environment. Without in any way compromising any of the original purpose, it continues the process in this latest upgrade.
While there are several developments in X6, the big news has to be that EndNote has completed its development of a viable cloud integration. There are a number of benefits to this, but the two big ones are geographic access and platform independence. Like many users nowadays, I work from wherever I happen to be, using whatever machine is most appropriate; I like to keep and manage my core bibliographic databases on a single master computer at my base, but want to access and update those in use from anywhere in the world on any device – including a smartphone as I use spare time in a ferry terminal queue.
The online EndNote Web tool has been available, and becoming progressively stronger, for some time, but until now the link between it and the desktop was less than transparent. That problem has now been addressed. From within EndNote X6 on the desktop you set preferences for automatic synchronisation between local and web versions of your bibliographic database, then forget it. Every change you make on your desktop is reflected in your web image and vice versa. Storage capacity limit is now 50,000 records and five gigabytes, which ought to satisfy the needs of most users.
There are a couple of caveats which need to be mentioned, but since (in my opinion) they reduce neither the value of the development nor the incentive to upgrade, I’ll return to them at the end.
While EndNote is designed as an individual tool, it’s always been easy enough to share references with others; it did involve some organisation, however. Synchronisation with a web image now makes collaboration much smoother, with options to allocate view, read and write permissions to groups of records. Records (or attached PDFs) can also be directly emailed from the database listing. As I’ve recently seen demonstrated, it’s also possible to link these collaboration methods directly to external utilities as part of an analytic or other workflow.
In a program designed to facilitate work being conducted elsewhere (whether in a word processor or at a lab bench), maximising visual efficiency is important and EndNote has always taken it seriously. In this release the display elements have been reorganised to make best use of the screen – especially where a wide monitor is in use. The search facilities are clustered rationally at the top, for instance. Tabbed views on the right-hand pane provide very intensive but intuitive use of one space for different views on the selected reference including display and manipulation (annotate, email, open, pop out, print, rotate, save, scroll, search, zoom) of attached PDF files. The toolbars have been enhanced and there is scope for customisation in various ways to suit individual working requirements.
As is invariably the case with any upgrade, there are a lot of developments in detail which can’t be listed, but that make a great collective difference to usability and productivity. Examples are new tracking tools, global or local text transforms, variant format handling, response to PubMed changes, XML capture, and so on.
All in all, X6 again pulls the difficult trick of providing enhancement and added value within its specialised area of work, while also responding effectively to the continuing shift of working practices from fixed locations to platform independent mobility.
Time to return, before close, to those two minor caveats I mentioned about the EndNote Web integration. The first is that while a total limit of 50,000 records and five gigabytes of data is extremely useful, shifting that volume up or even a significant fraction of it up and down between desktop and web takes time. This needn’t be a problem, but it does concentrate the mind on the best way to store material and manage machine time. Experimenting for this review, I tried small bibliographic databases (between 12 and a couple of hundred records in each, data size between one and 30 megabytes) and a large one containing just under 20,000 records and taking up more than 600 megabytes of disk space. The small ones update quickly and cause no problems. The large one can become unusable at certain settings since it is always synchronising. It’s always been good practice to maintain multiple small databases and this adds weight to that advice. On the other hand, there are times when a large one does the required job better; in which case, set the file to synchronise in ways that fit in with your working practices.
The second is that a two-year subscription to EndNote Web is included with the desktop product, but thereafter it must be renewed. On the one hand, that fact will be viewed (especially by students) against the wide availability of free web-based alternatives. Most serious users, on the other hand, will regard the productivity advantages as worth subscribing to; they may well also have upgraded to a new version (and received a new complimentary subscription period) by the end of that two years. A commercial company can’t go on offering a free service for ever; Thomson Reuters may adjust the timing and costing in the light of this first run, but in principle the arrangement seems a fair one given the user benefits gained.
Endnote X6 is available from Adept Scientific: www.adeptscience.co.uk/products/refman/endnote