Nota Bene (word processor)

Nota Bene (word processor)

Nota Bene is an integrated suite of applications for writers and scholars. It operates on the Windows platform and comes in two major versions: Scholar's Workstation, and Lingua Workstation.

Both versions include:

  • Nota Bene, the word-processing application
  • Ibidem, a citation and bibliography manager
  • Orbis, a text retrieval application.

The Scholar’s and Lingua workstations are in most respects identical, except that the Lingua version is fully functional in a number of non-Western languages and alphabets. [see below]



Nota Bene (NB) began as a DOS program in 1982, built on the engine of the word processor XyWrite. Its creator, Steven Siebert, then a doctoral student in philosophy and religious studies at Yale, used a PC to take reading notes, but had no easy computer-based mechanism for searching through them, or for finding relationships and connections in the material. He wanted a word processor with an integrated ‘textbase’, to automate finding text with Boolean searches, and an integrated bibliographical database that would automate the process of entering repeat citations correctly, and be easy to change for submission to publishers with different style-manual requirements.[1]

Siebert licensed XyWrite code from the XyQuest company, and built his programs on it: the word processor Nota Bene, with its textbase Orbis (then called Textbase), and its bibliographical database Ibidem (then called Ibid). He founded Dragonfly Software to market it. He first showed Nota Bene at the MLA convention of December 1982. Version 1 is dated 1983, and version 2, 1986. Version 3.0 came out in 1988, version 4.0 in 1992, and version 4.5 in 1995. Version 4.5 was the last NB DOS version.

Nota Bene 5.0 was the first Windows version. It was shown in pre-release in November 1998, at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. Scholar's Workstation 5.0 was formally released in 1999, and Lingua Workstation 5.0 in 2000. Nota Bene for Windows suite retained and refined Ibidem, Orbis, and the XyWrite-based programming language XPL.

Version 6.0 appeared in 2002, version 7.0 in 2003, and version 8.0 in 2006 and version 9.0 in 2010.

The word processor

Nota Bene's word processor is fast but visually clunky; the interface shows its age. The toolbars cannot be customised; buttons are DOS-like; skinning is not possible. However, a simple, text-oriented screen has its merits for Nota Bene's primary clientele is academics in the humanities and social sciences, writers and lawyers—people who write books and articles that depend on scholarly resources and research.

They can present documents using a predefined academic style (such as the Chicago Manual of Style or the American Psychological Association), or a customized style. Documents and their entire scholarly apparatus can be quickly changed from one style to another.

Nota Bene contains the usual features of contemporary word processors, such as templates, spell-checking, change-tracking, outlining and hyperlinking. In addition, it provides three independent sets of footnotes/endnotes, the capacity to insert boilerplate from "phrase libraries," the means of generating indexes, tables of contents and cross-references, and tools designed to handle book-length manuscripts

Documents can be saved with the .nb extension; with a user-chosen extension (e.g., .txt, or .2010. They can be imported from and exported into most major word-processing programs via NB’s RTF filters.

Up to 36 files can be open at once in the same NB window. All open documents can be saved with one keystroke. A group of documents can be logged at program shutdown, then re-opened exactly as they were. Multiple groups of files can be logged for work on different projects.

The keyboard

Nota Bene has a large number of built-in keyboard shortcuts. Most commands can be entered in several ways, using a mouse, menus, toolbars, the command line, or keystroke combinations. The keyboard is fully customizable: users can modify virtually all alphanumeric and function keys, using the Ctrl, Alt, and Shift modifiers in over 450 key combinations.

Codes view and XPL programming

Nota Bene includes both a fully editable Show Codes view, and the programming language XPL, in which both simple macros and complex programs can be written. A manual covering keyboard customization and user programming is available on the NB website.[2]

The user list

The Nota Bene user support group [3] has existed since 1986,[4] and was among the earliest of such groups.

Strengths and limitations

The strengths of the Nota Bene word processor are speed, flexibility, customizability, the ability to handle book-length manuscripts, and integration with the Ibidem bibliographic database and Orbis textbase, using a common interface. However, it has several limitations. It is not well suited to collaborative projects, since it has no group-editing utility. It handles graphics and cellular tables far less transparently than Microsoft Word. Although NB documents can readily be converted into and out of Word and other formats, this is an extra stage when sharing documents, and the conversion process is sometimes less than perfect with text that contains large numbers of footnotes in multiple series, or text in non-Roman alphabets.

Finally, and most seriously, though the code is largely 32 bit, it still contains 16-bit elements, so users with 64-bit Windows must run it in a virtual machine such as XP Mode. However, the company says that the next version of the program will be fully 32 bit.


Nota Bene calls Orbis a textbase. It is a free-form text-retrieval system accessible from within Nota Bene. Its purpose is to retrieve information from text using simple or complex Boolean searches. The retrieved information can be viewed, saved, or incorporated into existing or new documents.

Orbis is fast; over 8 million files can be searched simultaneously. It shows matches in a table view, keywords highlighted and the full text in another panel. If the retrieved text is linked to a bibliographic record in the user's Ibidem database, Orbis can automatically insert the correct citation into the document, or open the source file for additional inquiry.

Orbis can do concept-based searches. For instance, if the user makes a synonym list that associates "authoritarian" with such terms as "caudillo" "strongman" and "dictatorship", a search for "authoritarian" will also find all passages containing those words.

The textbase has dedicated templates for interviews, and for searching English, Greek and Hebrew Biblical texts. It can be used to analyse congressional or parliamentary debates; lawyers use it to scrutinise case law.


Ibidem is NB’s bibliographic database. It is equipped with the citation and bibliographic rules of over 500 journals and professional associations. Bibliographical information for a book or journal need only be typed in once. Then, after choosing an academic style for a document, users can enter citations with one click. The entries are automatically formatted (as footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citation) according to the requirements of the chosen style, as are subsequent references to the same work, and bibliographies. If a publisher requires a different citation style, the user changes to that style, and all citations and bibliography change automatically.

Ibidem and Orbis can be hypertextually interlinked to each other and to NB or non-NB documents. After entering a bibliographic record into Ibidem, a user can take notes in a file linked to the record, use Orbis to search for term/s, and enter material into a document with the inserted bibliographical information automatically formatted to suit the rules of the academic style being used.

Ibidem includes Ibidem Plus, a user-customizable, non-bibliographical database, which can be used to enter any primarily textual information (e.g., film or CD data). However, unlike Excel, which can also organise such data, it does not have spreadsheet functions.


The Lingua Workstation integrates non-Western languages into the NB word processor, Orbis and Ibidem, including Hebrew, Cyrillic and Greek, and the International Phonetic Alphabet. There are optional modules for Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Coptic, Syriac, Ugaritic and Akkadian.

Users can mix languages and orientation (left-to-right/right-to-left) in the same document or even on the same line; words wrap properly from line to line. Lingua supports entry of over 1,700 different characters; over 230 accents; breathing marks, diacritics, vowels and cantillations, in virtually any combination; conjectural characters, three levels of superscript and subscript, and multilingual case conversion. Lingua positions vowels and accents very accurately, automatically taking into account the height or width of the character and selecting the correct form for letters that vary depending on their position in a word, such as the Greek sigma. Its font-rendering table enables highly accurate placement of marks for printing.

Five versions of Biblical texts are available for Lingua: the Hebrew Bible (Vocalized Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, UBS); the Greek New Testament (UBS, 4th edition); the Septuagint (Rahlfs); the Vulgate (UBS); and the King James Version. An optional Biblical concordance-building module, Tabula, retrieves texts from up to five Biblical texts in parallel columns.


Archiva, an optional module, is an always-on Web trawler. When users copy bibliographical data while online, it automatically converts the data to Ibidem format and puts them in a "Captured Records" database. It can search over 500 university, research and public libraries, including multi-library collections such as COPAC. Its Web-page-capture module can capture non-bibliographical information and turn it into Ibidem records. Its ISBN converter can configure scanned or typed ISBN numbers as Ibidem records.


  1. ^ Siebert, Steven (September 2000). "A Brief History of Orbis". Nota Bene News. 
  2. ^ Siebert, Steven, and A.D. Woozley. Nota Bene Customization and Programming Guide, 1994, revised for version 8/9 of Nota Bene, 2006 [1]
  3. ^ Nota Bene User List
  4. ^ [2], quoting: Shalev, Michael, Itamar Even-Zohar, J-P Takala and A.D. Woozley "A novice's guide to the Nota Bene user's group on BITNET." May 1995.

External links

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