Cache is a secretive Microsoft Garage project that first leaked a few months ago. This week, I was allowed to join the beta, so here’s a quick peek at this new app.
First, a quick history: Cache—“a visual bookmarking tool”—was first revealed by Twitter’s WalkingCat back in late August. As Brad wrote at that time, Cache works on both Windows 10 PCs and iPhone, and “allows you to drag text snippets, images, web pages, files, URLs, notes and nearly anything else you might need into the app and then instantly have it available on your iPhone.”
Contrary to our original understanding, the Windows version of Cache is not a UWP app, though it does look like one: As Rafael found out in October, it’s just a .NET/WPF app and you just download it from the web like any other Windows desktop application.
Rafael’s initial hands-on was based on leaked code, but this week, I was allowed an official peek at the still-in-beta app, which is still available in both Windows and iPhone flavors. (Presumably, it will come to at least Android should it move forward into public usage.) That said, it doesn’t appear that much has changed since October.
But let’s get what it is out of the way first. Cache has been likened to everything from Reading List—an add-on app for Internet Explorer in the Windows 8 days—to Pocket, a useful service I use every single day. Back in August, WalkingCat noted that Cache seemed “kinda similar” to OneClip, another Microsoft Garage project, albeit one that never materialized. Today we know that Cache is indeed OneClip, but with a new name. But how does it relate to OneNote, an admittedly heavier tool that can also be used for similar purposes?
Microsoft describes Cache as, yes, a visual bookmarking tool,” one that helps you “centralize all related content around your projects and ideas.” Nebulous, I know.
The parallels with OneNote are hard to escape. Cache lets you “have all your content organized around the projects or tasks [that] are important to you. It brings everything (files, emails, web pages, images, and more) to one place, regardless of the app it was created in.”
Projecting the understood intent of this tool, then, it seems that the rough idea here is the same as with OneNote, where you are using a single tool to collect information that you will later transform into a document or communication of some kind. But OneNote and Cache differ in the implementation details: Where OneNote is organized like a paper notebook, Cache uses project-centric organization. And as a more modern tool that was built specifically for the needs of today, it looks and works a bit differently than does OneNote.
Put another way, Cache seems designed for the UNIX-like single-task-based app model that is common in mobile, whereas OneNote is still an old-school monolithic desktop application at heart. OneNote is literally about notes, though you may of course bundle or link to other content types. But Cache is about collecting multiple content types in projects. Some of which may be notes.
Asking why Microsoft would duplicate functionality like this misses the point. “Microsoft” isn’t collectively doing a thing here. This is a Microsoft Garage project, which means two things: It is driven by a single human being. And it is specifically designed to address a modern need. So if it happens to duplicate functionality from a legacy Office application, as it does, so be it. This is Microsoft experimenting with mobile. Throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.
As Rafael did before me, I spent a bit of time pulling different kinds of content into a sample collection I created in the Windows application. (Cache uses collections instead of notebooks or sections.) And as you might expect, the content opens elsewhere when you select it: Word documents open in Word, text documents open in Notepad, and so on. That said, basic image types like JPEG open right in the app for some reason. And text snippets—like text dragged from a web page—also open right in Cache.
One nice bit: You can dock the app to the side of your desktop so it’s always there when you’re doing research and want to drag things over to it. That works pretty well.
I was given access to the iPhone app as well, but I’ve not yet heard back from Apple to get the TestFlight-based access I actually need to use the app while in beta. (I use TestFlight for other pre-release apps, too, like Bear, a writing tool, and Google Chrome.) But I feel like I’ve waited long enough on this post, so I’ll address the mobile experience when I can.
I’m not 100 percent sure “where” Cache data is stored, and I do wonder if it relies on the source of the information you’re caching to stay where it is. For example, if I drag a document into Cache and then delete that document, does the cached document no longer work? And if it does work, where is it stored?
Until this thing is better baked, I won’t bother to figure this out, and of course I’d like to see the mobile app in action and compare the workflow speed and efficiency to that of OneNote.