Windows

Use Maple to manage and retrieve vital documents

Greg Shultz introduces you to document management system called Maple, and he shows you how to use it manage your document collection.

As an IT professional, chances are good that you have lots of detailed information that you have to keep track of in order to do your job effectively and efficiently. You probably have a multitude of documents stored in a multitude of folders on your hard disk. Using a series of documents and folders to store all your information is a pretty logical way of doing things, especially when used in combination with Vista's Search tool and Saved searches feature. However, it could be better -- especially if all that information could be made available in one place.

Well, I recently discovered a very nice document manager called Maple from Crystal Office Systems that runs perfectly on Windows Vista and produces what is essentially a document database. In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll introduce you to Maple and show you how to use it to manage your document collection.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Getting Maple

You can download Maple from the Crystal Office Systems Web site. Once you download it, installation is a snap, and you'll be ready to begin creating your custom document database in no time. You can download and try Maple for 30 days at no cost. A single-user license is $21.95.

When you access the Crystal Office Systems Web site, you'll also notice that there is another version of this document manager called Maple Professional, which provides a set of advanced features. You'll also find a free reader called Maple Reader that will allow other users to view any document database created with either Maple or Maple Professional.

Getting started

Once you have installed Maple, you can use the shortcut to launch it. When Maple runs for the first time, it will load the program's manual. As you begin to investigate, you'll soon discover that the program's main user interface is very much like Windows Explorer, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Maple's user interface looks and feels very much like Windows Explorer.

You'll use the tree on the left to create nodes that can represent both folders and documents -- you can even change the node icons accordingly. You'll essentially create a folder structure for storing your documents much like you would do on your hard disk.

At the top of the UI, you'll find two toolbars: One that will allow you to perform all sorts of operations for managing your document database, and a second toolbar that provides you with a whole set of word processor-like formatting controls that will allow you to create and maintain documents.

Maple has a ton of other features that make it an ideal document database tool. You can create links to other nodes, to files on your hard disk as well as to pages on the Internet. There's a built-in calculator, a dictionary, and a thesaurus. It has browser-like forward and back controls and even a full-screen mode.

Building a document database

Now that you have a good idea of what Maple has to offer, let's take a look at an example. As I write each weekly edition of the Windows Vista Report, I create a new folder to store each article and its screen captures. I create a folder for the year, a folder for each month, and a folder for each week. For example, September 2008 folder structure looks like the one shown in Figure B.

Figure B

I use a folder structure like this to store my Vista Report articles.
I essentially recreated the first two sections of that folder structure in Maple, as shown in Figure C. However, as you can see, rather than creating a folder for each week, I created a document node for each article and then imported the Word documents into each node.

Figure C

It was easy to replicate that folder structure in Maple.

When it comes to importing, you can easily import text files, HTML files, Rich Text Format files, and Word documents. (Unfortunately, Maple doesn't import Word 2007 .docx files, but you can easily import Word 97-2003 .doc files.) And, when you import these types of documents, they retain their exact formatting.

To import a document, just choose the node, select File | Import | Document, and then in the Open dialog box, select the file type and then find the document, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Once the structure is in place, you can easily import existing files right into Maple.
Once you create your document database, finding what you need is very easy. Just access the Global Search feature and type your search term. You'll then see a search results pane and can select any document. When you do, the contents are displayed and the search term is highlighted, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

Maple's search system makes it extremely easy to find what you are looking for.

What's your take?

Do you have a need for a document database? Will you investigate Maple? Do you use another similar tool? Please drop by the Discussion Area and let us hear from you.

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

15 comments
Schuylkill
Schuylkill

Maple simply re-creates the filing structure inherent in the operating system, with some extra bells and whistles. A true document management system stores the documents on a server, along with a database of customizable metadata, to allow for easy searching. For example, a law firm can search for all documents relating to a particular client or matter, or all documents that contain the word "elevator". A document management system will provide hooks into most common applications, so that when the user clicks on "Save As", the document management system will intercept that request to save the document on its servers, and force the user to fill out a metadata form. There are lots of good document management systems on the market, from specialty shops such as Interwoven or Hummingbird to bigger companies such as SAP, Oracle, and Xerox. Even Microsoft has a rudimentary document management system with SharePoint. There are also GPL-based solutions such as OpenKM. Any of these solutions provide far greater features and usefulness than Maple, with the further advantage that they do not need to be "imported" and "exported" - documents in true document management systems retain their standard formatting.

john
john

What's the point? Vista's indexed search is very good. Why would Maple be better, especially if I have to import documents I creat? Also, does this mean it is creating a duplicate copy of the document file? If so, it's even worse.

amkrap
amkrap

I've used Maple for about six months now and can tell you that it sometimes crashes on PCs with NVIDIA and ATI video cards. Their support is responsive but they have given up on solving this problem. We have been looking for a document database for some time now so any suggestions are welcomed.

reisen55
reisen55

Vista? This operating system has been dis-owned by Ballmer. Microsoft is advocating we just wait until Windows Seven (of Nine). Vista is a curiosity now, nothing more. Same as OS/2 Warp.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

A large organization can generate millions of pages of digital documents. Even a small operation can create thousands of important documents that must be tracked and retrieved on demand. How do you manage those documents? What applications and systems work for you?

dominic.diamante
dominic.diamante

Alfresco is also a promising open source alternative for a Content Management System.

success
success

KnowledgeTree is also a good free open-source DMS. I would love to find one with a Windows shell extension for file access, and the web interface for searching the meta data. Maybe there already is one?

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

What does that have to do with the product that is discussed in the article? Vista or no Vista keeping documents organized in a business is critical.

success
success

I would suggest using subversion as a document management system. There isn't the ability to save meta data about the document, but it does version the files of course. I worked at a small business (7 people including myself) and if they had that installed on a remote server it would have allowed much better communication, removed the risk of hardware failure (hard drives/dropped laptops), and allowed them to revert their files back to older versions for whatever reason. I actually implemented KnowledgeTree for them, but I think it was too cumbersome for them to use. They used it for a while, but then reverted to their old ways. I didn't have the power to change the culture or force user's to use it, so I just saw it as a learning experience. Edit: Whoops, didn't mean to reply to this comment, meant to reply to the main article.

anpahl
anpahl

We sell, install, train and support this product and use it ourselves. One-user? Under $1000. Searching is as complex or as simple as you want it to be. Documents stored in industry-standard TIFF format. Documents such as Excel and Word retain their original qualities and can be edited in same.

Schuylkill
Schuylkill

I know that several of the commercial DMS systems have these features. I don't know anything about the open-source ones, other than the fact that they exist.

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

Definitely not a full feature set, however, quite useful for a small organization on a tight budget.

success
success

Isn't that just SharePoint Search repackaged?

Schuylkill
Schuylkill

Interesting product - I had never heard of it before. I doesn't seem to have the full feature set of a true document management system, but it could certainly work in some circumstances. Similar to Google's search appliance.

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