27 November 2007
Reviewed by Felix Grant
When a product is the most widely used in its market segment, and has developed every aspect of its original brief, where does it go next? The usual answer is that it should, in one of several ways, expand the brief: but exactly how that is done can be problematic. Software bloat, loss of focus and aimless 'mission creep' are all very real dangers. Where other related products are also available from the same stable, there is also the danger that in expanding they will undermine each other.
Endnote has, in a series of carefully and strategically staged developments, avoided the dangers. Version X placed it at the edge of a tipping point; release XI takes it over that edge, and the expansion of its brief made it to free-standing maturity. Those developments fall into three main categories: refinement of existing role, adjustment to a changing computing world (embracing XML and Unicode, in particular), and adoption of new functions.
To start with developments within its traditional scope, there is a new facility for subsetting references within a given database. EndNote has learnt from leisure software interfaces here: the assembly of such subsets is modelled on drag-and-drop music or video playlists. Since the database size became effectively unlimited, a couple of upgrades back, there have been definite advantages for many purposes in keeping everything together (provided, of course, that good backup regime is in place!) On the other hand, it can be wearing to seek or scroll through many thousands of records when working with a small subset of references for a particular task. This conflict goes away with the ability to define named groups - either permanently or temporarily - and add the same reference to as many groups as required. For example, one research paper may visible in a long-term 'proteins' group, also in a group on developing world agriculture, and in a third concerning health services. The number of groups supported was expanded to 500 in the first (X1.0.1) minor point release.
Simple searching of the current database (or just the group within it) has become easier, with a quick search of all fields available from a text box on the top toolbar. This doesn’t replace the full power of the boolean search panel, which remains available. External Z39.50 searches, in line with a general tidying up of some option and field names, is now shown as 'online search' instead of the old 'connect'.
The portability already offered to PalmOS users has now been expanded to the Pocket PC. I have been less that fulsome in my praise for portable EndNote in the past, but with time I have mellowed somewhat. If you want to carry a full bibliography with you, or need multiple bibliographies on the same handheld, you should still look elsewhere; but for a small, special purpose database (perhaps current projects, or on the fly collecting of new material for integration into the main desktop body) it works well.
Moving onto the new function question, the 'link to PDF' field in EndNote X has been expanded and renamed. It could already link to any file type, not just PDF, but originally only one of each. Now called 'File Attachment', this has been changed to allow multiple files of the same type, up to a total maximum of 45 attachments per reference, and shows their file names. The change may seem small, but is crucial: it means that a reference to a study can link (for example) straight to a dozen spreadsheets of supporting data, a statistical analysis of those data, another dozen PDFs covering background, and a word processor file containing the study itself. This is what provides EndNote with a whole new hinterland of possibilities, without in any way compromising existing usage and performance: at the personal, single user level it has evolved from bibliography manager to research information manager.
A lot of incremental improvements and expansions in detail have also been made, across the board – inclusion of reference type in subject bibliographies and all authors in the library list, new fields, display font control and pasting from the preview pane amongst them. Mac users gain some increased integrative benefits, as do those of Microsoft Word (in Word 2007, EndNote moves out of the tools menu onto the main bar). I’m very pleased to see Open Document Type file formatting added to the RTF scan, which is very welcome – though I still think an equivalent for HTML would be a valuable addition.