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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