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About to fundamentally revamp Writing Outliner

Posted in: Outliner Software by Edwin on November 16, 2011

This decision was hard to make, but I’m going to significantly change the design of Writing Outliner, with the intention to completely fix the problems Writing Outliner currently have.

The current problems

# 1 – Instability and low performance

Writing Outliner hacks MS Word too much – the major problem is that during a session (during the time you open a project file and until closing it) Writing Outliner uses only one actual Word document to do all the editing, that means when “switching” documents it will have to delete the old content in the current document window then  load new the content  from the new file (I know, this is dangerous, but Word’s API is too limited).

This cases noticeable slow speed, and most importantly, in rare cases, causes data loss (several users lost several hours of work, and they are angry, I’m sorry) .

And this problem is very serious, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to fix it, however, with the design describe above,  there is no reliable way that I could find to fix it with the current implementation, thus the proposal to make a big change which will complete solve the problem (I’ll explain why below).

# 2- The None-human-readable file format.

Currently all files in a  project are stored in a single Sqlite database, the Sqlite file format itself is open, however, it’s not human readable.

The big changes to be made

1 – Open each document in separate Word document window, thus switching documents will not require Writing Outliner to delete old document contents (described above).
In other words, no data loss will happen caused by Writing Outliner itself, because Writing Outliner will not modify your original documents except during a text replace operation.

2 – Use folders in your computer as project storages, instead of the  .woprj (Sqlite) files. All your data will be stored in your folders and can be edited without Writing Outliner.

The benefits we’ll gain

A – More stable, as explained above. This is the most important thing.

B – Faster document loading – because the documents will be stored in the physical computer folders, no more intermediate layers.

C – Fully open and human-readable data formats – because the documents themselves will be stored in your disk as they are, and the document properties will be stored in plain text (JSON format).

A side effect to note

When Writing Outliner is enabled (it can be disabled on the fly), you’ll work in a single Word window, switching projects and documents will be done via the outline sidebar and tabs (which I believe will be more handy than switching documents using the Windows taskbar).

This is because the “show all windows in the taskbar”” Word option will be disabled.

At this point, you might ask how about the ordinary Word documents that are not part of any Writing Outliner project? They’ll be organized in a virtual project called “Other Documents” (Feel free to suggest a better name).

This will be a big change to Writing Outliner and all questions, comments and suggestions are welcomed.

Blog Update 1:  It’s not a complete rewrite, so most of the UI  will remain the same.

Blog Update 2:  Support for 64 bit  version of MS Word 2010 will not be possible yet.

Blog Update 3:  I presume the change will allow Writing Outliner work with other Word add-ins that are currently conflict with it.

Blog Update 4: Your existing Writing Outliner projects will be able to migrate to the new format. For now, please do data backup frequently – use the ‘Export all files to folder’ function.


  1. Dennis Parish

    Will this work with the use of links, cross-references and content controls in Word?

    Comment by Dennis Parish on November 17, 2011 at 1:03 am

  2. @Dennis,
    Unfortunately, since Word’s cross-reference works only in the same document, and each document in a Writing Outliner is actually a separate document, you can’t in a document to cross reference a specific part of another document. So you’ll still have to do the cross-reference after the project is compiled into one document.

    Comment by Edwin on November 17, 2011 at 1:10 am

  3. MB

    Will, this be a free upgrade for surerent users of Writing Outliner?

    Comment by MB on November 17, 2011 at 1:15 am

  4. MB

    Sorry, messed up the word “current;” not sure how! :o)

    Comment by MB on November 17, 2011 at 1:16 am

  5. Curt@dk

    Brave project, but also a step in the right direction 🙂
    And a total rewrite can of course not be a free update.

    Comment by Curt@dk on November 17, 2011 at 1:23 am

  6. Yes, all current users will get the upgrade for free, til the new version is stabilized (I’m confident about it).

    Comment by Edwin on November 17, 2011 at 1:30 am

  7. Dennis Parish

    A great idea and your dedication to helping the user is outstanding. Thank Edwin!

    Comment by Dennis Parish on November 17, 2011 at 1:36 am

  8. Graham

    This is good news Edwin. I’ve never lost data with WO, but with my long and graphic heavy documents it takes 5 minutes to open them, 5 to save them and 5 to close them; so any work on them requires careful planning. A real splitting into separate documents rather than just an apparent split will be a real help.

    Comment by Graham on November 17, 2011 at 1:36 am

  9. @Graham,
    I’m quite sure that the new approach will be much faster – just like MS Word opening ordinary Word documents.

    Comment by Edwin on November 17, 2011 at 1:45 am

  10. Carlo

    I have never lost data with Writing Outliner. I believe that the new version goes to the correct direction; with faster Writing Outliner, with the documents accessible from the outside, and not only in the formed .WOPRJ, will be indeed a pleasure to write and to organize my project.

    Comment by Carlo on November 17, 2011 at 1:56 am

  11. Robert

    I’m happy to hear that the stability issues are being addressed. A while back I had a problem with the database stability and the only fix was to uninstall Writing Outliner. As to an alternate name for Other Documents, Outline Free? With this suggestion, somebody is bound to start thinking about a much better name.

    Comment by Robert on November 17, 2011 at 1:57 am

  12. It is the right answer, I think. WO is at present a ‘nearly’ program. I use it but am nervous about it, having had a lot of crashes. It could be the essential Word addin if it is made more robust. I would be happy to fund some of the development by paying for the upgrade but I know others wouldn’t. Edwin, How about making it a free upgrade when it’s out of beta but provide a Donation button?

    Comment by Philip on November 17, 2011 at 2:03 am

  13. Richard

    I love it! Your rewrite will fix my three biggest problems with Writing Outliner. Thank you, and good luck! I am looking forward to the update.

    Comment by Richard on November 17, 2011 at 2:06 am

  14. Elsa

    These are exciting news for this promising program.

    Running Word 2007 German version under Windows 7 64-bit I was not able to get it working.

    There also seemed to be a problem with the German Word addon DUDEN (which is the most important spell and grammar checker and does replace the Word 2007 one).

    Hopefully the revised version will manage PDF, MHT, HTML and TXT files as well.

    Many thanks & all the best



    Comment by Elsa on November 17, 2011 at 2:18 am

  15. Andrej

    Excellent, Edwin, it’s what I have been hoping for all along.
    I also sincerely hope you will get the 64-bit version working as soon as possible, because for the time being I have no other option that trying to get used to Scrivener 🙁

    Comment by Andrej on November 17, 2011 at 3:13 am

  16. Yves Ros

    Great, this is very good news, Edwin. I never had a problem using Writing Outliner, as I mainly worked on rather short documents. But I would be very happy to benefit of the changes that you offer. I appreciate you dedication both to enhancing your software and paying attention to your customers.

    On another hand, I agree with Philip : a donation button would be most welcome. I am looking forward to this update.

    Comment by Yves Ros on November 17, 2011 at 3:30 am

  17. Jim Gibson

    I’m looking forward to the revised version and agree with many of the comments so far. My major consideration is that the current version will be cleanly uninstalled from Word. I’ve had some problems with this in the past.

    Comment by Jim Gibson on November 17, 2011 at 3:39 am

  18. When you make a human readable format why not make it in such away that one make changes directly in this document too. Some ideas comes in this way. Years ago I solf MaxThink from Neil Larson (I think it still exists) and the simpler a file looks like the more ideas you can get.

    Comment by Jan Krugers on November 17, 2011 at 3:47 am

  19. I like the ideas so far. I have had few problems as yet myself.
    One thing comes to mind off your explanation, With this rewrite. It almost seems that you could do this, and as an alternative, add a word like processor and have your own complete package for writers and non writers alike.
    Then you could add all the little things that writers want, saving outliner formats, extensive dictionaries, thesauroses and the like. Anything that you or your customers may wish for in a stand-alone writer based program with add on for different needs, possibly that is fully compatible with word and other writing programs like Scrivener, Write it Now, etc….
    I personally would love such a program that I could save files that would be opened directly in word and word with outliner.
    I have several writing programs and actually use them for different purposes.
    To be able to open a copy from any of those formats, and then save in any as well would be heaven.

    Just a thought!

    Comment by Daniel Ernst on November 17, 2011 at 4:20 am

  20. P.S. I am using it with Office Home and Student 2010. When I switched from 2007 it seemed to seamlesly insert itself into the new 2010 office and has been working perfectly ever since.
    I have a H.P. Pavilion Entertainment PC- laptop, running vista home premium, 64 bit for my cadd programs, and use a kensington trackball with an extension lighted frisby keyboard.

    Absolutly no problems since installing office 2010, none, zip, zero!!!!!

    Probly jinxed it now, but had to tell the tale!

    Comment by Daniel Ernst on November 17, 2011 at 4:28 am

  21. pass

    Will this work smoothly with OneNote 2010?

    Comment by pass on November 17, 2011 at 4:38 am

  22. Shirley Patterson

    This ia a wonderful idea. I use writing outliner often. Thanks so much Edwin!

    Comment by Shirley Patterson on November 17, 2011 at 5:00 am

  23. n

    I think this is a great idea and hope it gets implemented soon! I use Outliner a lot because it’s the only way I’ve found to keep all my research organized, but I’ve had tons of issues with lost data, and it’s not as quick and intuitive to use as I wish it were.

    Comment by n on November 17, 2011 at 5:33 am

  24. Randy Martin

    Sounds great. Looking forward to it.

    When you’re done, you know I have some ideas to update MindVisualizer!

    Comment by Randy Martin on November 17, 2011 at 6:17 am

  25. Peter

    Sounds good. I think my main WO project has about 200 ‘files’, will the new implementation still cope with that?

    Comment by Peter on November 17, 2011 at 6:38 am

  26. Glen Coulthard

    I think that you have your priorities straight, Edwin, and I wish you the best of luck. As a current customer, I’ll be waiting with anticipation to see what you are able to produce in terms of a fast, efficient, stable, and trustworthy system. I also looking forward to offering some feedback during the beta stages. — All the best, Glen

    Comment by Glen Coulthard on November 17, 2011 at 8:20 am

  27. Terje

    Good idea. It will make it possible to edit and write from other systems and applications also, maybe even make a web application possible.

    Comment by Terje on November 17, 2011 at 10:21 am

  28. Thank you all for the comments, I’ve added my answers to the questions raised in the comments.

    Comment by Edwin on November 17, 2011 at 11:13 am

  29. AR

    Sounds like a good plan. I’ll be watching to see how it goes. Just found out about WO this week. Didn’t want to learn a new program (Scrivener) since I already own MS WORD.

    Comment by AR on November 17, 2011 at 12:50 pm

  30. John Moverley


    I am very much in favour of your approach as it seems like it will fit into my data security and archiving protocols much better than the present system. It also sounds like I will be able to transport “documents” to other computers that do not have WO on them for working with.

    All the best with the work and thanks for the effort you put into WO, which I find a most worthy addon to Word.

    Comment by John Moverley on November 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm

  31. Dominik

    Edwin, I very much appreciate your attitude and honesty. I think your outlined approach is sound and worth implementing it. You have the fully support from my side.

    Comment by Dominik on November 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm

  32. I applaud your new concept.

    ONE CONCERN: What about our huge documents in WO that we’ve already created? Should we go ahead an merge them into a single document, even with writing projects still in progress? I use WO every single day on a major project, and the thought of losing that work scares me.

    I’d be willing to pay for an upgrade.

    Comment by Tom Colvin on November 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm

  33. @Tom,
    No worry about your existing documents, check blog update 4.

    @John Moverley,
    Yes, you are completely right, with the new version your documents will exist “outside” of Writing Outliner, and you can copy them to other computers without Writing Outliner to edit them, and finally copy them back to your project folder, Writing Outliner will be ready to recognize the your new edit.


    Comment by Edwin on November 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm

  34. Huseyin

    Dear Edwin, I feel to encourage you in your new plan and I think you are on the right way. Waiting with impatience your full upgrade.

    Comment by Huseyin on November 17, 2011 at 5:54 pm

  35. AR

    Dear Edwin,

    One thing that I think would be great would be able to also see the different style headings in WORD within WO. What i mean is that it would be great to see subsections and to be able to mark sections within a single document as finished or in need of revision. Right now, things look like discrete documents, and I can see some benefits for seeing chapters separately. Right now, I frequently use Words style headings to organize my sections, but if I could combine that with WO AND be able to flag subsections in a document (as an additional level viewable in the folder tree=, that woudl be stellar. Am I making sense? Would it be possible to also integrate the Word style headings in the way that they are viewable in the native navigation panel but with WO functionality?

    Comment by AR on November 18, 2011 at 3:52 am

  36. @AR, that’s a great idea, I like it!

    Comment by Edwin on November 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm

  37. AR

    Thanks, Edwin. I’m getting excited about the possibilities with your rewrite. Can’t wait to get my hands on a beta version.

    Comment by AR on November 19, 2011 at 12:19 am

  38. Preston Mitchell

    Questions & Suggestions, Edwin!

    I applaud the improvements planned for the next version of WO. But what about project files created by the existing version? Will old project files open in the new version?

    I still wish for WO to offer an easy way to merge different projects into one.

    Essentially, WO is an add-in database for Word, yes? I wish the WO database could do more than just store DOCX files of a project…such as storing any image or graphic files associated with the project. As it is now, I use a separate database program, Ultra Recall ($100), for non-DOCX files associated with a project…and, of course, WO for the work product. So, it would be too cool if WO served both roles. That would be an awesome expansion of WO’s capabilities.

    Comment by Preston Mitchell on November 19, 2011 at 2:42 am

  39. Hi Preston, that’s possible and a good idea, but the first thing is to make the important changes first.

    Comment by Edwin on November 19, 2011 at 9:55 pm

  40. @Preston,
    Sorry, I forgot to answer your question, of course old project files will open in the new version.

    Comment by Edwin on November 19, 2011 at 9:56 pm

  41. sukru

    Hello Preston;

    I bought the writing outliner last year with a great expectation but i can’t use it however it’s a brilliant idea because of the reasons some of them you adressed.

    I recommend you to check two free softwares working together in order to develop writing outliner which are i am using now although i have the writingoutliner.

    One is chapterbychapter; the other is officetabfreeedition…

    Using them together is faster; simple…there are no bugs..but also not enough

    i’m telling you this to give you an idea..if you can integrate the features of these two softwares and the features of writing outliner i think that’ll be a great job..

    1) the software should be externally opened with a link (without firstly opening word)
    2) the items should be hyperlinked to each other
    3) I think an external folder for the word files is not bad thing as long as it can be managed from one centre..


    Comment by sukru on November 21, 2011 at 12:39 am

  42. @Sukru,
    I think Writing Outliner already include most of the features those two tools you mentioned.

    1) is not possible, since Writing Outliner is a add-in and needs to be hosted by MS Word.

    Comment by Edwin on November 22, 2011 at 11:32 am

  43. AR

    Any updates on this, Edwin? I’m sure it involves a pretty significant amount of coding. Just curious.

    Comment by AR on December 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm

  44. @AR, sorry for the late response. Your answer is here: http://writingoutliner.com/writing-software/blog/writing-outliner-v1-5-20-790/

    Comment by Edwin on December 19, 2011 at 11:55 pm

  45. Hello Edwin!
    First, this truly is a wonderful add-in and I thank you for developing it! I have Word 2010 installed on my system and the add-in works great with it. It does not seem to work in Word 2013, however. Is there anything in the works to make the add-in compatible with Word 2013?
    Thank you!

    Comment by MIchael Kahler on March 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm

  46. @MIchael Kahler, yes, while the succeed product Project Folder is not ready yet, but I will have something to show with a video demo shortly.

    Comment by Edwin on March 24, 2013 at 1:56 am

  47. @MIchael Kahler, check http://writingoutliner.com/writing-software/blog/writing-outliner-supports-win8-and-word2013/ for Word 2013 compatibility.

    Comment by Edwin on April 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm