Penultimate for iPad: A must for IT professionals

Erik Eckel recommends a simple and low-cost tool for consistently collecting notes, creating drawings, and making diagrams that can be printed, emailed, and saved as PDF files.

Some of the iPad's power comes from its ability to replace paper and eliminate the need to re-enter notes, drawings and diagrams for permanent documentation within IT departments. Diagramming applications, such as Omnigraffle, offer tremendous capacity. Sometimes, however, all an IT professional needs is a simple note taking and drawing tool. That's where Cocoa Box Design's Penultimate for iPad, a simple two-dollar app, shines.

Simple tasks done well

I find myself frequently turning to Penultimate, one of the best-selling iPad apps, when taking simple notes and creating straightforward diagrams. Often, when using the iPad in the field, time is of the essence. Either a client is explaining business requirements, I'm trying to record important system settings, I need to map a basic network closet's connections, I have just a moment to record a network configuration, or I'm needing to sketch a diagram to help a client understand how a network or series of elements comes together (I'm a big believer in the power of simple images to communicate complex issues). Penultimate is simple, straightforward, and easy to use and helps technical professionals communicate complex processes and ideas succinctly.

Some applications prove popular thanks to numerous options and features. Penultimate's success is due to its simplicity. The app presents simple notebooks, similar to Moleskines in appearance, that can contain just one or many pages. You change pages simply by pressing either the lower left or lower right page corner. Sliding the corner grip icon displays all the notebook's pages as thumbnail images, allowing for easy review and repagination.

A simple toolbar displays just three icons. Pressing the pen icon enables the selection of six line colors and three line thicknesses. An eraser, for selective edits, and a clear page icon are the only other toolbar selections.

Page types are limited to three. Users can opt for plain pages, lined paper or a grid layout. I've found the grid layout particularly helpful when diagramming networks, server closets and server racks. When drawing anything requiring accurate lines, however, I have found Penultimate works best when paired with a basic iPad stylus, such as Pogo's Sketch.

Other than a Wrist Protection feature, which helps prevent unintentional screen contact from generating stray marks on a page, there really aren't any other capabilities. The sole exceptions are printing and export functionality, critical to any note-taking, drawing or diagramming app. With Penultimate, you can print (when using IOS 4.2 and later) directly from a notebook and export notebooks or pages as PDF or Penultimate files. Single pages can also be sent or saved as images.

Recommended for IT pros

There are numerous apps available to technology professionals. But one that's almost required for IT pros is Penultimate. The app provides a simple and low-cost tool for consistently collecting notes, creating drawings, and making diagrams that can be printed, emailed and saved as PDF files. That's a powerful combination, especially considering how often IT pros need to document systems, diagram networks, record notes and settings, and create simple mock-ups to help communicate complex processes.


Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

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