Installing Three by Five is simple, and it should present no strain on most people's systems: it reserves 1.5 MB RAM and takes up a measly 2-3 MB of hard drive space. Using Three by Five is also simple. The user can create five kinds of cards: text cards, picture cards, movie cards, custom cards (which allow you to create specialized templates for organizing information in almost any way you'd like), and label cards. Text, picture, and movie cards contain two parts, the title (text) and detail (more text, a graphic of some kind, or a QuickTime movie). Label cards only contain title information. (Custom cards can be configured a whole range of ways, including with radio boxes and popup menus.)
Create a new card, and an index card (well, really an index-card-shaped box) appears on your screen, and the card editor automatically opens, in which you enter and edit any information (text, movie, graphics) you want on your card. There is no particular limit to how much text a card can hold (although it's unlikely that users will want to put pages and pages of info on one card). Once you've created a card, you can move it around the screen as if it were any file on a Mac desktop: select it with the mouse and drag it to wherever you'd like it to be on the screen. You can also change the way the card looks by changing the background color, the font, font size, font style, and text color, which allows you to create cards easily distinguishable by appearance (notes on primary sources on yellow cards, for example, and notes on secondary sources on blue cards). It's easy to change the dimensions of the cards on your screen, and a particularly nice improvement from the original Corkboard is the ability to automatically resize cards around the amount of information entered into them. In fact, you can even change the screen background, according to whether you prefer the average utilitarian-tan-corkboard background, or perhaps the more corporate-looking grey-bulletin-board screen (among others).
It's possible to arrange your cards simply in a grid, but Three by Five provides many other options for organizing your information. In the Free Form mode, cards can be linked in parent-child or topic-subtopic relationships, creating a hierarchy of information familiar from traditional outlining. Cards in these relationships can be collapsed into a stack, labeled by the parent or topic card at the top of the hierarchy. They can also be displayed on the screen either horizontally or vertically, connected by black lines to demonstrate the relationship between the different cards. In Free Form mode, moving cards around on the screen is as simple as always, but dragging a subtopic card from under one topic to another changes the relationship between the cards; this removes the link between the subtopic and the first topic, and creates a link between the subtopic and the second topic. In this way rearranging cards on the computer screen is as easy as moving them on your desk.
For those of you fond of conventional outliners, Three By Five also has an outline window, which shows your index cards in outline form. Any changes in the outline automatically carry over to your cards on their corkboard, and vice versa, allowing you to work in whichever method pleases you more. It's possible to export your Three By Five outlines into word processing programs in either plain text or Microsoft RTF, and you can import RTF files into Three By Five as well. Finally, Three By Five provides you with a number of ways to print your information: in the conventional outline form, as a chart showing your cards and their relationships (in different sizes and orientations), or onto 3"x5" index cards. MacToolkit even sells index cards in different colors for those who want to sort their cards by color.
Before those of you addicted to note-taking on index cards burn all your leftover cards and rush out to find Three By Five, however, let me turn to what I saw as the cons of the program for an academic audience. MacToolkit presents Three By Five as a means for organizing ideas, and it is in this arena that it works very well. I would highly recommend it as a means for organizing a paper or longer work, especially if you find shuffling index cards a helpful way to visualize how your ideas fit together. It is not, however, designed for intensive note-taking. And although there's no real reason why you couldn't take, say, all the notes for your dissertation using Three By Five, in my opinion it gets unwieldy with large amounts of information. For one thing, there are only so many index cards you can see on the screen at once (if you have a large monitor this is less of a problem, but working on a PowerBook it is rather noticeable). Three By Five does offer ways to work around this problem, such as reduced view sizes, or collapsing stacks of cards under their topic headings. It is also easy enough to find specific information by using the Find command (this is apparently problematic for some of the options available for custom cards, such as radio boxes, but for regular cards it works well). Three By Five also allows you to assign categories to each card, which allows you to search for, print, export, etc., cards only in certain categories. It seems to me, however, that notes for most academic projects, even the smallest, would outgrow Three By Five's manageability fairly quickly. The program's strength is in visualizing and organizing ideas, and once you have enough index cards on the screen that you need to use the Find command to get to what you want, it will become cumbersome to rearrange widely separated cards (negating the program's main strength). Finally, if you prefer your index cards to be 4"x6" or 5"x8", Three By Five doesn't give you the option to print onto perforated stock in these sizes, and there is no way to change the printing configurations.
Three By Five's interface is pleasant and easy to use. MacToolkit is a small company that produces exclusively for the Mac and their phone support has been pleasant and helpful (my only technical problem: the original package I received had two Installation Disk #2s, rather than Installation Disk #1 and #2; they were very apologetic, and when I received the correct disk my address was handwritten on the envelope, which I got a kick out of). At the writing stage of a project, Three By Five offers you a very nice way to shuffle and reshuffle chapter ideas or section ideas; it effectively allows you to conceptualize different ways of organizing and presenting your material. If you are a die-hard index card fan, this program may also serve your research purposes, although if you want to manage large amounts of information you may find a full-featured database more effective.
Three By Five
Company: MacToolkit, 1234 6th Street, Suite 204, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Phone: (310) 395-4242
Fax: (310) 393-7747
Price: $149 list; $99 MacWarehouse or other standard Mac catalogs