RIP, Circus Ponies Notebook

A man’s dying is more the survivors’ affair than his own.
Thomas Mann

One of the best programs for the Mac just died. Circus Ponies Notebook is no more. At least according to their website. (Thank you Mio for the heads up.)

RIP, CPN, I’m going to miss you.

No idea why they folded. The software was a joy to use and a great way to work with digital data. The outlines, the notebook metaphor, so many great ideas.

Hmm, although there were warning signs months ago — and I did get a couple of comments about its looming end (e.g., here). But still surprising and devastating if it actually happens.

Anyway. I’m going to grief for a while, but I’m also going to plan how to get my data out of the CPNs and into another program. I guess I have time until I get another mac that uses a version of OS X which CPN does not support. But to be on the safe side, I’m going to start looking for alternatives soon (somewhat constrained by being currently swamped by work).

Perhaps I’ll use Omni Outliner, perhaps I’ll use another solution. But to look at the positive side of things(*), I’m forced to think about my infrastructure again — in an non-superficial manner. Who knows, it might actually lead to an overall improvement.

But damn, one of the lynchpins of my information infrastructure just died. Something with which I have made a lot of happy memories — mostly creating stuff.


And thank you CPN for all you allowed me to do. Including one diploma thesis, one dissertation thesis, two books (one of them a pretty good book), and lots and lots and lots of other stuff.



(*) Not much can faze me today. It’s been one of those days …

Categories: Circus Ponies Notebook, Improving your Creativity, Infrastructure, Tools, Writing

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29 Comments on RIP, Circus Ponies Notebook

  1. You’re welcome Daniel,
    I’ve been too saddened by the news. Such a great app. Keep an eye on the news as CPN might have been purchased by another app developer (some rumors point at Google subsidiary Alphabet). Meanwhile, I’m going also to look at a replacement app although we’ll be safe until at least next operating OS X system is out.
    Kind regards,

  2. Hi Daniel, we exchanged a while ago about CPN and Omnioutliner (to which I moved, following your suggestion, after changing my workflow), and I’m also saddened by the news. Aquaminds Notetaker (which I liked better and was more stable), then CPN: apart from OO, there is not any viable OPML solution on the market, it’s terrible. And there seems to be a general trend of closure in academic software: Sente seems to have gone belly up as well. Scary, and time consuming as well (moved to Bookends, took some getting used to). As long as Devonthink stays alive, I consider myself safe and lucky. Best, Charles

  3. Hoi Charles,

    oh, Sente’s also in trouble? Waow. I mean, on the one hand, it’s a strong reminder who important it is to avoid data islands, but still … I would understand it if Microsoft Word would fold — that software is terrible. But Circus Ponies Notebook? Okay, the layout hasn’t changed in ages, but the functionality? Hrrrm. Anyway, I’m currently trying out Omni Outliner again. It does have some advantages — although I do miss the notebook style. But I’m still playing around again. In any case, strange times …

    Best regards


  4. Well, the Sente team stopped responding to messages months ago, and suddenly closed their tenderapp, leaving all users to dry – there was a lively community, which provided most of the help, and the shutting down of the forum is simply unacceptable. Well, time to move on / away, which, as it turns out, is not so simple. Bookends’ developper built a nice export interface, and was really helpful (even providing a new build within hours) when I ran into troubles, but I discovered that Sente was doing its highlighting not in pdf kit but in some proprietary format which doesn’t export well (or at all): so the annotation and highlighted contents are kept, but the placeholders and highlights themselves are lost (unless one wants to spend hours exporting them by hand – I personnaly have 4657 refs as of today in my main (now Bookends) database). So yes, we should be wary of proprietary systems. I just hope the two other cornerstones of my workflow, namely DTPro and Ulysses, won’t encounter problems as well. But frankly, the sente thing is really related to their business model: program + unlimited server space for 70$, and nothing else for 5 years, that wasn’t sustainable!

    The switch to OO is not simple at the beginning, but it turns out OO is highly customizable (I built a template with the same colors as CPN, resembling a notebook), very stable and fast. Not so bad after all.

    All best, C.

  5. Mark Prazoff // January 8, 2016 at 10:08 pm //

    Aloha all,
    Yes Circus Ponies notebook will be missed. Apparently the reference to Alphabet was meant as a joke, although some outlets reported that CPN had been bought by Google. So moving forward, what are the alternatives? In essence, Curio is a vastly more feature rich environment that can be used as a notebook, and handles outlines, as well as many other types of input – tables, mind maps etc. Well worth a look – it has an extraordinarily responsive developer.

    On its own, OmniOutliner is no notebook; it only handles a single outline at a time. It can, however, be combined with something like Together, DEVONthink or EagleFIler. The OmniOutliner pages are created by QuickLook preview, which interestingly enough allows for node folding, but they are only viewable at 100%. The secondary program indexes the OmniOutliner documents, which allows for search. Double clicking opens the document in OmniOutliner and changes are saved back to the hosting PIM.

    Finally there is OneNote, a program to which CP NoteBook always compared itself. Unfortunately, only the free version is available on the Mac, so data mused be saved to OneDrive, a deal breaker for some. Also, tags are currently not able to be customized in the Mac version, making them of little value. Nonetheless, a rather capable notebook that continues to steadily gain features available in the Windows version.



  6. It’s unfortunate that CPN is leaving the stage. Does anyone know of a good way to store CPN-notebooks in another format so notes don’t get lost or inaccessible with the next Mac X update? Exporting as an .rtf or .doc is not very handy… It would be nice of the folks at CPN would offer at least some kind of solution for their paying customers or perhaps even publishing the code so the software can live on open source.


  7. What do you want to do with the information? Do you still want to work with it, or do you just want to use it as reference? If it’s reference only, even a simple PDF export (printing it, click expand all in the dialogue) would work. But if you want to continue working with it, I’d look at the program you want to use now. You can export CPN files as .opml, which gives you the hierarchical structure (and can be opened by, among others, OmniOutliner), but you wont get the images. You’d have to insert them again, either per drag and drop via the CPN, or by looking in the CPN file (attachments subfolder IIRC). But yep, an export program would be nice. Something that creates an outline with the images.

  8. Thanks for the reply, Daniel. For me personally, images are not a barrier as I hardly use them in CPN. However, I would like to continue working with the material. Apart from outlining, I use notebooks to bring together information that constantly needs updating (e.g. reports on the progress of students), and an export to PDF is not enough in that case. I was not aware of the possibility of exporting .opml-files. But do I really want to invest money in another ‘closed’ software program that might one day go the same road as CPN? I’ll sit on it for a while… I sent the CPN-team an e-mail to hear if they might consider some/any support to CPN-user needing to make the transition. You should understand that this is one of my first ‘deaths’ of a software program I use regularly.

  9. Hoi Freddy,

    yup, it’s one of the first deaths of software for me too. Sure, some apps vanished, but I hardly ever noticed it or had already moved on.

    I’ve transferred a three or four CPNs manually to OmniOutliner so far. It works, but slowly (for a 260+ pages CPN about 6 hours). Some bugs (e.g., if you use dividers, pages after the dividers might be indented further in, which is a problem of CPNs export), but those can be solved. And so far, I really like OmniOutliner, but the same rules apply here as well: no data island. And OmniOutliner has more export options than CPN.

    But yup, not a nice situation at the moment. Transferring the files made me realize just how much I love CPN. To be honest, it would have severely needed an update, in style and options available — and a better iOS solution, esp. for phones (love OmniOutliner here, incl. that it supports folders). Downside, costs you about 130 Euro (Pro Mac version and iOS version).

    But yeah, I should have something for a posting soon.

    Best regards


  10. When I remember and am procrastinating, I try to export from OmniOutliner into a few other formats. Word and OOML, mostly. Of course a lot gets lost but it’s there for emergencies. As a check against obsolescence.
    I stopped using CPN about 5 years ago, and I will just hope that I never have to go back to any work I did then!

    I just got an email from CPN with a “last chance $20 for version 4” sale.

  11. Waow, when the software is discontinued that surely is a “last chance”. Would have been fairer to give it away … no sense in buying something that will become unusable within the next few years. As for exporting, at least you can export (print) the CPNs to PDF. Not perfect, not changeable (easily), but at least a bit more future proof.

  12. Oookay, I did receive the eMail as well. So, they want $20 to a paypal account to get a license key and a download link. Really? No public download link? No way for people to get the last version as install file? As endings go, this is pretty abysmal …

  13. I have learnt about the end of Circus Ponies NoteBook through this page. I have been looking for a replacement and I have come across with this I wonder wether somebody uses it or knows about this program and can make a comment about it.

  14. It looks nice judging from the screenshots on the website, but if I see it correctly it’s a one-man one-woman project (and one bird). And I’d be weary of these projects for really long-term use. So I am much more partial to OmniOutliner. But if anyone has tested it, I’d be interested to know how the program works (for you).

  15. I too found out about the demise of CPN on this page. Feels like a kick in the stomach, like when Adobe abandoned Pagemaker. I have maybe 50 notebooks, dating back to 2004. CPN’s notebook format and import abilities enabled me to add notes & clip items to an easily reviewable form, which seemed to intuitively mesh with my mind.
    Maybe I can adapt Curio or Scrivener to work that way. I do use DevonThink Pro but for everything, whereas CP’s Notebooks were for aspects of some specific project, and so easy to flip back and forth in.
    RIP indeed.

  16. Yep, I hate to bear bad news. But so far, I’m liking OmniOutliner (for me, the outlining aspect is the most important feature, something I would not have with Scrivener). Also started to use Keynote (yup) for a high-level view of current project ideas (something for a later posting, if it works or I find out why it does not work). But yeah, sad.

  17. Cynthia- have you tried Scrivener? I have the program for writing and this would be a good alternative, but what format etc. have you tried?

  18. Dia Souza // June 2, 2016 at 8:15 pm //

    CRUSHED to find out today about CPN’s demise. Saw this thread and wanted to grieve with other mourners… and discuss alternatives, since now it makes no sense to create new work with CPN. Is there a specific reason why no one on this thread has mentioned Evernote? I haven’t worked with it, but it *does* seem to function like a notebook.

  19. Hjfusmc // June 16, 2016 at 2:40 am //

    Shocked and disappointed. It feels like I am saying goodby to an old friend. That said, like others, I am moving on. Dia Sousa, my first thought was Evernote. I downloaded it several months ago and did not spend much time learning to use it, opting instead to remain with CPN. Now it looks like I have little choice but I will check into OO as well.

  20. Personally I don’t like Evernote. I want to have the files with me, not dependent in any way on an online service. As the saying goes, if you do not pay anything you’re the product, and I don’t gamble with my ideas, or my work.

  21. Disadvantage with OO is that you can end up with a lot of OO files when you use folders as sections and notebooks. In essence, a file for each page. Advantage is you can use the Finder (limit to current folder and subfolders) to quickly search all pages. It’s not as coherent as a CPN file (damn, I really miss it), but it works. Personally I don’t trust Evernote. I want total control over my data.

  22. Ender2k // July 17, 2016 at 4:34 am //

    Trying to export notebooks to PDF and getting heading and images, but no actual cell text. Word export doesn’t get me images, tables, other objects.

    Don’t need to work with the data (all my notes from grad school), just want to be able to refer to them, so PDF is great.

    Any ideas?

  23. Hoi — good question. Looks like a very strange problem. If I were you, I’d check the export settings, perhaps try to go via another export format first (e.g., export to something else, then turn that file into a PDF). Perhaps reinstalling CPN (if you still got the installation file) might help. Also trying it out on a different computer would be an idea. But very hard to give good advice here, sorry & good luck.

  24. Hi, today I tried to purchase CPN and found doors closed… Really sorry about that, especially because I thought about CPN for Mac a lot since I got the version for iPad (which I didn’t use much finally …)
    Searching for a NoteTaking App like OneNote for old hardware (Powerbook/iBookG4) I found a thread at MacRumors about this topic giving information about a bunch of software for this purpose which included CPN and got me back to the roots …
    Being a Windows-Only user until 2009 I’ve seen a some soft-and hardware vanish over the years…
    To preserver the state of their blooming I’ve found virtualization the best way to keep everything going the way I was used at their best days.
    For PalmOS there’s a virtual WinXPpro
    For WinXPpro theres Fusion on my IntelMacs (ElCapitan)
    For PPC/Rosetta-software there’s Fusion with a virtual Leopard-Server
    For Win2k there’s VirtualPC3 on OS9
    For Win2k/WinXPprp there’s VirtualPC7 on Tiger/Leopard on PCC

    As long as CPN is running on your current version of OSX there’s no hurry to migrate everything to another proprietary software.
    And if macOS should rule CPN out, there will be Fusion and OXS SnowLeopard-Server (which is currently much cheaper than LeopardServer) which will rund CPN forever (or at least for the lifetime of Fusion).

  25. I too am sad to see CPN go … and worried that the next notebook I use will eventually go the same way. Years ago when I was a Windows user, I had everything in OneNote; when I made the transition to the Mac, it was a fairly tedious process getting all my notes over – I even ran OneNote in a VirtualBox for a while, which sort-of worked. Anyway, I’ve decided to not go through that again. I’m going to use RTFD, as it’s a standard format. There’s a little RTFD editor called Bean which displays exported CPN pages beautifully, it’s quite fast, and (essential for me) it auto-scales embedded images. Unfortunately it doesn’t do any kind of folding, so it’s not perfect. Yes, it means lots and lots of folders, but I can mark the root of each notebook’s hierarchy as a package, so everything stays together. And I plan to write a small Python folder browsing app and tie the two together with Keyboard Maestro. A bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, admittedly, so if there was an adequate replacement, I’d welcome it.

  26. Theodore Papoutsakis // September 24, 2016 at 11:02 pm //

    I’m a long time user of CircusPonies Notebook having purchased it in a box (remember those) back in 2006 from an Apple Store. Like many here, I’m at ends about what to do with ten years worth of information and more notebooks then you could want to count, but CPN was a big part of both my professional workflow as well as for personal projects. Working in film, theater & radio CPN was a really flexible program for structuring materials of all sorts and the fact that you could embed PDF, Word Docs, images, movies, etc. into the individual pages or sections was simply fantastic. It’s nesting capabilities via it’s dividers feature are second to none and for structuring projects and gathering information it gave you the illusion of a “notebook” or more likely a loose leaf binder with unlimited possibilities. I think the best two features though were its table of contents and the multidex which were extremely useful and powerful and whether I was creating a project or managing one, CPN never failed me. It’s a sad sign of the times when a piece of software that was widely used by both professionals and students simply vanishes without a clear exit strategy except “thanks & good luck!”

    Still it’s a disturbing trend and even Apple has left me and other creative individuals hanging in the wind with the termination of Aperture and the drastic changes to Final Cut Pro without a clear exit strategy that becomes increasingly frustrating and expensive depending on the size of all the assets one has gathered for those programs. Even Pages, Numbers and Keynote were all dumb downed to come into line with their ios counterparts, and while I love my iPhone, the power to stick bubbles and such into my texts isn’t my idea of creative software upgrade. I think many are really questioning Apple’s commitment to the profession creative community and the stale lineup of their hardware also seems to indicate another major shift (from Intel to ARM) or a lack of interest that is puzzling.

    In searching, I came across your blog and like you and the others here, I’m trying to find a way to keep my information and assets going, readable and usable for the future. Reading posts and blogs all around, I think some people are really freaking out to get their info out of CPN and into another format/program but as long as you are running Mac OS X El Capitan, CPN should continue to work and work well. I have even been running CPN on the betas Mac OS Sierra and CPN seemed stable and usable and continues to be so with the two GM releases as well. I’m curious if anyone else has experimented and what their experiences have been.

    Still there may be a software or even hardware changes in the Mac ecosystem one day to render CPN unusable so what to do? The iTunes App Store and the App Store for the Mac are all full of “note taking” apps and one has to honestly wonder how long any of them may last in the years to come. It’s clear though that many are built as file organizing software that have word processing features built in to various degrees and in many respects it doesn’t give you a natural feeling of really using a note book/binder as CPN does or even AquaMinds Notetaker (is that still alive or what?).

    I am finding Scrivener along with it’s ios counterpart to be an acceptable replacement for newer professional projects and not bad for exporting material from CPN as a PDF. You can organize assets, documents, images in a fashion that works for you but I do wish the interface were customizable as the fonts are so tiny on my 27” iMac.

    For the personal journal I have been keeping in CPN (running several thousand pages) I am finding that Mariner’s MacJournal isn’t a bad substitute at all. Setting up a journal is really easy via their built in calendar feature and while there is no automatic way to transfer my pages over other than simply cutting and pasting it preserves my formatting along with any and all attachments. It’s time consuming (very time consuming) but it will keep my info alive and going in close to it’s original form. It too is built on that file management/word processing style of software and they have been around for many years so I am hoping I’ve made a good choice. This works too for other smaller scrapbooks and the like.

    Outline by Gorillized isn’t a bad app either for Mac and ios and they are actually attempting to get CP Notebooks to transfer over with mixed results. Their customer service has contacted me and even asked to test out their transfer process and to even donate a CPN for experimenting on their end. The results aren’t too bad with simple notebooks but with more complicated ones there are still many problems. I like the software but the lack of intense nesting options and an index prevent me from loving it right now. Still other CPN users should give it a look and perhaps pressing them into getting that import function to work perfectly would be advised.

    As per your suggestion I tried using OmniOutliner but it turned my CP Notebooks into a dog’s lunch and with so much to restructure afterwards it wasn’t worth the effort.
    Cutting and pasting into something else actually works better depending on the program. I’ve looked at Yojimbo,
    DevonThink, Together, Curio, Ulysses and others and again as with Scrivener or Mariner’s MacJournal they all seem built around the same basic design with different emphases, strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day even exporting CPN to disk as a website can keep your information and assets going and available.

    Whether if it was the skeuomorphism of CPN that looked too old school for new users or whether creating a viable iPad/iPhone companion app was simply too frustrating something drove them to close up shop. Indeed Scrivener took a while for their ios app but it appears they got it right. Other vendors will warn you however that their apps sold via the App Store may not have all the functionality of the one that they sell directly or with their ios counterpart. Apple’s sandboxing of software has become sandbagging for the consumer.

    I used to make fun of colleagues and friends who kept and keep old hardware around for either emergencies or to keep an old piece of software going but now being in the same seat I am thinking of getting a used Mac or MacBook to keep some other along software with CPN afloat for a while.
    Quixotic I know but CPN was unique.

  27. Rick Stroud // November 1, 2016 at 6:20 pm //

    If anyone is still out there I slowly stopped using CPNB when I discovered Note Plus. For me, a writer, Note Plus and Scrivener have got everything covered.

  28. Theodore Papoutsakis // November 29, 2016 at 10:18 pm //

    CPN continues to work extremely well under mac os sierra including all recent betas and regular updates. I have been testing it on separate hard drives and in several configurations and CPN continues to perform with out any glitches or problems. This may give many the breathing room to transition to another app and to get their data out to another format without panic. While I find Scrivener and Mariner’s MacJournal to be excellent programs, nothing still comes close to the utility of CPN.

  29. Hmm, that’s good to hear … still, probably best to change soon.

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