The other day one of my coworkers mentioned that he needed a flat-file database tool that was easy to use and ran in Microsoft Windows 7, and he asked me if I could make a recommendation. (I love being asked questions like this when I already have an answer.) I quickly responded Maple! To which he replied, what? Like the Tree? I said, yes, just like the tree. I then explained that was the name of the tool that combined the power of a word-processing application with the organization structure of Windows Explorer to make one of the best flat-file database tools that I have ever used.

After we installed it on his system and I began teaching him how to use it, he wondered why he hadn’t heard of it before. I wondered the same thing and thought that there may be others out there looking for this type of tool. Therefore, in this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I’m going to introduce you to Maple from Crystal Office Systems.

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

Getting Maple

Once you download Maple from the Crystal Office Systems Web site, installing it is a simple procedure with the Maple Setup Wizard, shown in Figure A. You can download and try Maple for 30 days at no cost. A single-user license is $21.95. And, Maple is compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista, as well as Windows 7.

Figure A

Installation is a very easy procedure.

When you access the Crystal Office Systems Web site, you’ll notice that there is another version of the program 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.

Using Maple

As I mentioned, by combining the features of a word-processing application with the organization structure of Windows Explorer, Maple is not only powerful but very intuitive. If you’ve used Microsoft Word or a comparable word-processing application, you’ll be right at home when it comes to creating documents. And of course, you’ve been using Windows Explorer for a long time, so you’ll be very comfortable creating a folder-based organization structure.

When you open a new database, the only thing that appears is the root of the folder tree. You can then rename the root and begin clicking the Add Node icon on the toolbar. You can organize the structure using the Add Sibling as well as the Move Upward and Move Downward commands. Of course, you can just drag and drop nodes wherever you want.

By default each node is represented by an icon that looks like a piece of paper, but you can fine-tune your organizational structure by changing the icons — there’s a wide assortment to choose from and you can even add your own.

Each node is essentially a document, and you can use the impressive word-processing capabilities to design and format your documents any way that you please, as shown in Figure B. For example, you can use any font installed in Windows, predefined styles, colors, and tables and embed images just to name a few of the word-processing features. If you want to replicate the same layout in multiple nodes, you can even create templates, just like in Word. There’s even a built-in spell checker.

Figure B

The combination of a Windows Explorer-like structure and powerful word-processing features allows you to create a very organized system.

Many other features

Maple has many other features that make it easy to keep your information organized and readily available. For instance, you can use hyperlinks to connect nodes inside a file as well as to documents, folders, and applications on your PC. You can also create links to Web sites and e-mail addresses.

While you can create documents, you can also import existing documents. You can import text files, HTML files, Rich Text Format files, and Word documents. And, when you import these types of documents, they retain their exact formatting.

Once you create your document structure, finding what you need is very easy. Just access the Global Search feature and type your search term, and you’ll see a search results pane where you can select the appropriate document.

What’s your take?

I haven’t really found anything that I can’t do with Maple, and I encourage you to investigate it. Do you have a need for a flat-file database tool like Maple? Do you use another similar tool? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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