There may be some other tools inside of JMRI that can be debated as to whether you like them or not....but this one is just a must use. Once you have all your engines in this you can throw out the book of notes that you have as this is just to easy. You will need an interface between your computer and the layout. My layout is run with Digitrax and my interface is RR-Cirkits Loco Buffer USB. This plugs in to one of the ports on a UP5 and into a USB port on my computer.
You will also need something that will boost the power to your programing track to enable it to read all new sound decoders. I use DCC Specialties PowerPax. You need this or one like it even if you are not going to use JMRI because sound decoders need more power to read right. If you can't read a decoder this is most likely why.
The Decoder Pro interface uses plain english and visual not CV numbers. This never used to be an issue but now with so many options in sound decoders it really shines. Once all the info is saved for an engine you can copy it to another engine or reinstall it especially helpful if your decoder has a hiccup and loses some of it's settings. It also makes setting up speed tables much much easier. When I am going to fix a decoder problem for someone the first thing I do is read the whole decoder. I also do this with all my new decoders and any used ones that I buy. This way I get to see what is really on the decoder. If the decoder has lost its address or I am adding a new or changed address I will do this while it is on the programing track. Then I will put it on the layout and do the rest of the programming on the main because I can see the change as soon as I enter it.
Guys will tell me what CV numbers they have changed or what new inputs they did. They may as well be speaking a different language as I do not understand what the numbers mean because I am used to just reading what the description is in Decoder Pro.
If you have not used it you should at the very least have someone show it to you. The PowerPax only costs around $60 US and the Loco Buffer USB costs around $62 US.
There are different products out there that you can use for interface and as a booster these are just the ones that I bought back in 2010 and they they are still available.
The Loco Buffer also gives you the ability to connect to Engine Driver or WiThrottle through JMRI using WiThrottle window.