Desktop applications for 'Information Management' that go beyond conventional card-index style databases are hard to find. The ideas behind such software are perhaps not that well known, so a prototype program, Knowledge, has been developed to put them firmly into the public domain.
'Idealist' - a long-discontinued program developed for Windows by the publishers Blackwell - was taken as a source of inspiration. This type of software indexes text as it is entered and allows rapid text searching, making it useful for storing notes and observations as well as archival information. Users of Idealist included museums, medical practices for storing patient records, academics for bibliographic databases, and even by the police for use in investigations. Nowadays there is specialist commercial software for many of these purposes, but for individuals who want a straightforward desktop application for building up databases of the things that interest them there is little to choose from. This is despite the fact that libraries for text searching, such as Xapian and Lucene, are now freely available.
Knowledge was coded in Python to save development time and, while incomplete, allows the ideas behind Information Management software to be explored. Knowledge goes beyond existing KDE applications for storing textual information in a searchable format (Knotes etc.) because the data is stored in a highly structured way, which provides many possibilities for both the GUI display of data, and for searches. The data is stored in records, but unlike most other databases these are flexible as fields within each can be arbitrarily added, removed or re-ordered.
Each field contains data of a certain type, such as text, an image, a web address, or a number. Most field types allow a caption to be stored with the data. Search operations for integers, floats and dates have been implemented; text searches are not yet available. The user must define the fields that are needed, for example Year (integer), Cost (float), Author (text), Title (text) etc. These definitions are stored with the database. Each field type has its own style settings, so for example Author fields can be declared to be green with italic text. The user must also define Record types, and a default combination of fields for each. These are used in search operations, for example it is possible to search the entire database for Records that contain a Year field that contains a value between 1989 and 1996, or the search can be restricted to Records of a particular type, 'bookType' perhaps. It is possible to have Records of many different types within a database. Search operations produce a hit-list of records, which can be stepped through with the keypad + and - keys.
Every Knowledge database has a 'Home' Record - and there is button to set the hit-list to this record. The Home Record typically contains navigation information to help the user. 'Macro' fields can be included in any record, but are especially useful in the home Record. In a Macro field, a button is displayed, which the user may click to execute some commands which the user has defined for that field.
Typically these are search commands to create a new hit-list (perhaps all Records of type 'bookType'), or perhaps just to display a record that contains hints for using that database. This feature (also borrowed from Idealist) helps the user to structure their data, and helps to aid navigation for large databases. The Macro language is not implemented as yet - but the power of the idea should be evident.
Writing the prototype database has taken one year (including the time to get to grips with Qt and SQL). The project is too large for a part-time project, and now that the prototype is far enough advanced to allow the ideas to be readily understood it is time to try to attract the attention of some experienced KDE developers. The prototype program uses the Qt libraries, but the desire is to switch it to KDE libs to make full use of KDE facilities. The author can be contacted via kde-apps (user agkdb) but currently a cool project webpage is lacking. So besides developers interested in working on Knowledge, anyone who wants to set up such a page is more than welcome!