Basic EccoPro Outlining

By Don Dwiggins

Ecco outlining is as close to WYSIWG as any Outliner I've seen. Some applications apparently use "outlining" to mean "organizing information in hierarchies", and use various kinds of presentations and operations derived from their interpretations of this. In Ecco, an outline can be created, edited, and viewed as a document in outline form. (In this description, I'm purposely ignoring the many useful things that can be done with items in an Ecco outline, in order to focus on this aspect. Also, I focus on the most common and basic operations on outlines -- the ones that will be "at your fingertips" when you've gotten some experience with the application.)

The unit of outlining is the "item", which is roughly equivalent to a paragraph in a word processing application. It contains rich text, possibly including embedded newlines, and can be of indefinite length. The usual tools are available for editing text in an item (which is done in place in the outline, without losing any visibility to the neighboring items): cut/copy/paste, Ctrl-B to make text bold, Ctrl-I for italic, etc. Menu items are available to change font, size, style, and color. All font settings can be made down to the character level.

You begin with a blank "notepad", which looks like a sheet of ruled paper. Click on the first blank line, and a small bullet appears, with the cursor placed to its right. After typing the item, you can press Ctrl-Enter to begin the next item at the same level (Shift-Enter to embed a newline in the same item), Ctrl-R to begin a new item at the next level down, or Ctrl-L to begin a new item at the next higher level (if the item's not at the top level). (You can use these when on any item, to insert a new one after the current one.) The outline structure is shown by indentation in the usual way.

If the currently selected item already has a child, pressing Enter will insert a new child before it; pressing Ctrl-Enter will insert a new item at the same level as the current one, after all its children. (If the current item doesn't have children, Enter will insert a new item at the same level.)

Outlines can be collapsed and expanded, either globally (all items at a given level) or locally (subitems of the currently selected one). Hold down the Ctrl key while pressing a digit (1 through 9), and all items at that level and below (in the entire outline) will be hidden. With an item selected, hold Ctrl and Shift to get the same effect, but only on that item's children. For convenience, Ctrl-H is the same as Ctrl-Shift-1 (hide all descendants), Ctrl-J is the same as Ctrl-Shift-2 (show only immediate children), and Ctrl-G will expand all descendants of the item.

To move an item up or down a level, use the Alt-LeftArrow and Alt-RightArrow keys. Alt-UpArrow and Alt-DownArrow keys move an item up or down with respect to its siblings at the same level. (In all these moves, the children of the item move with it.) An item can also be moved with the mouse anywhere in the outline, at any level, by "grabbing" the small bullet and dragging it. As the mouse moves, a small indicator will become visible in each place where the item can be "dropped", to make it clear what the effect of releasing the mouse button will be. If several items are selected, they can be moved as a unit by grabbing any one of their bullets. To cancel the drag operation, return the mouse to the item you started at and release.

As with text, entire items may be deleted, cut, copied, and pasted. To select an item, click to the left of its bullet. To select several items, click and drag, or hold down Shift while pressing the up or down arrow keys. Also, as with most text editors, Ctrl-Shift-End will select all items from the current to the last, and Ctrl-Shift-Home from the current to the first.

Items may be split or joined. To split an item, put the cursor in it at some point and press Ctrl-Shift-S; the text after the cursor will become a new item just after the current one. (As with pressing Enter, the new item will become the first child of the current one if there's already a child; otherwise it'll become the next sibling.) To join a sequence of items, select them all and press Ctrl-Shift-J; their test will be pasted together, separated by spaces, and appended to the first item. (These operations can't be undone.)