On Things, RapidWeaver

1. Things integration, tagging

Cultured Code’s Things is slowly and methodically nearing release — something I suspect many people eagerly await (or not, considering we now get to use the Beta for free!). Last saturday, Cultured Code released a small version update with a big new feature: system-wide To Do integration. Enter a To Do in Things, and it’s instantly in Mail and iCal. It’s a significant step in the evolution of this task manager. It’s been enlightening to watch this app progress via the updates and the Things blog. The developers are clearly focusing an extraordinary level of effort to get this right, and it shows. I can’t wait to see the companion app for the iPhone/iPod Touch due out at the end of June.

I received a comment this week concerning my original (and aging) Things review. I questioned the scalability of Things in that review (i.e. ability to manage hundreds of To Dos), and reader Mark countered that Things scales just fine provided one develops a good tagging system. I think this is largely true — more so as I’ve become a better tag manager and better versed in how to use Things.

The trick, then, is to develop a system of tagging that works. If you have a good tagging structure for Things, you can share it on the Things wiki (on the Real-world tagging examples page). There are two useful entries there to help get you started. Hopefully more tagging gurus will share their ideas and solutions. For more on tagging, check out Ian Beck’s TagaMac site (particularly his intro to tags).

By the way, wouldn’t it be nice to have a dedicated wiki for community-contributed tagging solutions, usage examples, and tips for all Mac apps that support the venerable tag?

2. RapidWeaver 4 first impressions

RapidWeaver 4
You may have heard that RealMac Software’s RapidWeaver 4 came out this week. The most noticeable difference in this Leopard-only upgrade is the user interface, but there are also some significant under-the-hood improvements. If you are upgrading from an earlier version, ensure you update your third party plug ins first, then install the upgrade.

The new interface meshes well with the ‘Leopard look’ and is sleeker and easier to look at. It also includes a far amount of eye candy (e.g. black pop up windows, iconic representations of your files flying past during file open and upload). In short, it looks good. Note to RapidWeaver: I don’t need to see each file loading when I start up RW. Just show me the progress bar. All those file icons whipping past is a nice use of Core Animation, but it’s superfluous. Same goes for the file upload progress indicator.

I like the new toolbar that runs across the top of the app. At first, I was lamenting that I could not customize the shortcuts on the toolbar. Then, upon further inspection, it dawned on me that everything I need is already there. Good design.

The left-hand sidebar icons that represent individual pages of your site are now easier to recognize. RW pages are easy to pick out, as are third party plugin pages (e.g. a Blocks page now looks, appropriately, like a big yellow block).

One thing I don’t like is the ‘Add a new Page‘ view in the UI — it looks pretty, but I can’t see the version number of my plugins as I could in earlier versions of the app (I tried clicking on the plugin name, as I would in Finder to reveal a long file name, but this had no effect). This used to be an easy way to see if I had the most current plugins installed.

There are now four new themes. You can now search through your themes or filter them (based on RW version, or if they originated from a third party). I like this. The one minor problem I’ve noticed is this: if I change the theme view to display smaller icon sizes, it doesn’t stick. Once I close the document and open it up again, the theme previews are once again set to the default size (which are a bit too large).

One of the biggest changes is the adoption of a new file format based on standard XML. This is good news for people with very large sites, and good news for third party integration possibilities. I can vouch for this: publishing is dramatically speedier.

Be sure to check out the new Extras folder in the download. It includes a well-designed new PDF manual, the SDK for Theme development, and an assortment of web badges to add to your site.

I’m quite happy with this update, although I could not find a changelog anywhere on the RW site that clearly delineates what’s new. I’m sure it’s there somewhere.

And speaking of the RW website, it also received a major refresh (RealMac does this with each major release, offering up their previous site design as a new RW template).

The RapidWeaver forums have also been totally revamped. There is now a main community discussion section, a technical support section (which is now the primary means to get technical support for RW), and community forums in various languages other than English. A note for people who were used to the old forum: look for the search function inside the categories. It looks good, but I was disappointed to see that my account indicates that I’ve not made any posts (i.e. it appears my account was reset with the new launch. I don’t know if other users face the same situation).

Delicious Library 2 Hits the Streets

Delicious Library

Delicious Library 2 is now out. DL offers a novel way to catalog your books, movies, music, software, toys, tools, electronics and video games using your built-in iSight as a barcode scanner. If you’ve never used it, give it a try. It’s a great tool to catalog your stuff. It makes it easy to track who you lent your possessions too. And it’s an invaluable tool for insurance purposes (take it from someone who moves frequently — it’s worth the price of admission for this use alone). This is one of those applications you point to when people ask why you use a Mac.

If you own an earlier version, there are many, many new features to check out that make this a worthy upgrade. A new license is $40, an upgrade is $20. Those who bought the last version before this update (version 1.6.6) will get the upgrade for free.

The Phoenix has Landed

Congratulations to the team behind the successful landing of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander this weekend. In the coming months, the Lander will send back data that will hopefully answer questions about the past and present climate of Mars, the Martian arctic’s ability to support life and the history of water on the planet.

Here are some different ways you can follow the Mission on your Mac:

1. Phoenix Mars Mission website

This site is, as you would expect, the primary source for the latest images, video, news. There is some great blog content here, too. As an aside, check out this CIO article about the behind-the-scenes challenge of serving up web content for the mission in near-real time to tens of thousands of people at once. It’s especially impressive considering that the imagery content is streaming in from millions of miles away.

2. Twitter with the Phoenix

Yes, even the Phoenix Mars Lander has a Twitter account. This is a convenient way to get regular updates — and the spacecraft is even responding to user questions (the tweets are written in the first ‘person’).

3. Visit the Mission on Second Life

And, yes, there’s also a Second Life site for the Mission.

4. Mac screensaver, widget

You can download a couple of Mac freebies over at the Phoenix Mars Mission site. The Mac screensaver features current imagery that auto-updates each time it is launched. The widget provides current Martian weather data.

5. Get the iTunes podcast

There’s also a Phoenix Mars Mission podcast hosted by the University of Arizona. This is the first time a public university has led a Mars mission.

I’ll leave you with an interesting fact: there is a DVD fastened with Velcro to the Phoenix Mars Lander. It’s called Vision of Mars, and it’s a compendium of Mars-related text, art, and radio broadcasts from the 19th and 20th century compiled by the Planetary Society. It also contains 250,000 names of Society members and space exploration enthusiasts. According to the Society, it’s “a message from our world to future human inhabitants of Mars.” The disc, billed as the ‘first library on Mars,’ is reportedly the most expensive DVD ever made. It’s comprised of silicon glass and is designed to last for 500 years.

If it were up to me, I would have attached a Nintendo Wii.

Site update

I’ve received a couple of reader comments over the past few months asking if I would consider creating a lighter-colored theme. The gist of it is that the dark colors of View from the Dock are fine for short posts, but some people don’t enjoy reading the longer review articles on the dark background (my wife is included in this category).

In response, I created a ‘light’ version of this site. You can choose the light or original flavor from the new ‘Switch Style‘ drop-down list in the left column. It’s persistent, meaning it will remember your choice…provided you have enabled cookies for your web browser.

I also got rid of the registration requirement for commenting and added a ‘CAPTCHA‘ to prevent spam and verify commenters are human. The one I choose is reCAPTCHA. The nifty thing about reCAPTCHA is that one of the two words you are required to type is a scanned word from a book that cannot be read by computerized Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. By entering the word, you are helping to digitize an old book. That is a truly great idea.

So, if you registered for this site — you don’t need to log in anymore to comment. If you’re new to the site, you do not need to register at all to comment.

Random Bits

If you’ve been following the PIM series here, you know that I recently delayed my reviews because the Worldwide Developers Conference is just around the corner (a time of year when many Mac apps are updated). But I have a confession to make. This delay is also a convenient excuse! I haven’t had time to devote my energies to the PIM review series over the past couple of weeks, and this offered a valid reason to postpone. With the recent update of two of the five apps in this review series (Together and EagleFiler), I plan to be back with the next review soon. I may change the order of the reviews and start with the recently-updated apps as a precaution.

Speaking of the PIM reviews, there has been an interesting development regarding this series: Alan Schmitt of Metadata posted a very well-thought out argument that VooDooPad shouldn’t be part of this review series since it’s a fundamentally different sort of application. Alan makes a distinction between PIMs as data organizers and PIMs as data creation tools: while the former is focused on manipulation of metadata, the latter is focused on manipulation of data. I think this is an excellent point. What I’m thinking about now is how the various Mac info managers fit on the creation vs. organization spectrum. I’ll post my thoughts soon.

Meanwhile, here’s a short round up of odds and ends that recently caught my interest around the Macosphere.


1. Get Satisfaction

Get Satisfaction
Get Satisfaction is a community-driven customer service site with an aim to create new and better connections between companies and users. It’s a place to get tech support, a place to gripe about a product or service, a place to interact with employees from a company, and a place to share ideas. For companies, it’s a great way to manage tech support and directly engage with customers (and it’s free). For customers like you and me, it’s a very interactive and interesting way to get help with an app or service (or just to monitor what people are saying). I also like the newly-added ‘Overheard‘ feature on Get Satisfaction, which allows companies to track what people are saying about them in the Twittersphere. It’s an interesting way to view a narrow segment of Twitter posts. It’s also a novel way to generate tips and ideas for posts for bloggers (for instance, I can monitor the worldwide Twitter stream of all posts that mention Apple). I have the sense that Get Satisfaction is a harbinger of things to come as social networking/microblogging evolves and matures. It’s a great tool that is worth your time to check out. Let’s count down the days until it’s bought by Google.


2. Alternative Twitter Views

I’m still adjusting to the Twitter phenomenon. The best description of it I’ve heard so far comes from Adam Christianson of the MacCast, who noted it’s like iChat without the commitment. I like that. At any rate, here are a couple of interesting sites that provide alternative views of the Twitter stream. The first, twittervision, is a mash-up of Google Maps and Twitter. As you might expect, it displays Twitter posts in realtime on a world map. The second, Firehose, presents a realtime Twitter timeline. These sites aren’t particularly useful, but they are interesting. The Firehose stream is particularly mesmerizing.


3. Delicious Library 2 Nears Release

Delicious Library
The developer of Delicious Library, the barcode-friendly media cataloguing tool, announced the availability of a Beta download of version 2.0 yesterday via a Twitter post. If you buy the current version of DL (1.6.6), you will get the 2.0 upgrade for free. If you’ve never tried DL, download the trial and check it out. It’s the slickest use of the built-in iSight camera that I’ve seen. Note that the 2.0 Beta is optimized for OS X Leopard 10.5.3, which has not yet been released.


4. Ready-Set-Do! GTD App Updated

Ready-Set-Do!, a Getting Things Done workflow app, updated to 1.3 recently. This isn’t as much an application as it is a cleverly packaged set of Applescripts that allow you to manage the files on your Mac using GTD methodology. From what I’ve read, this app is for people who really grok the GTD process. It appears to be most similar to Midnight Inbox, in that it aims to serve as a GTD command post to manages all the files on your Mac by creating alias links (in other words, files are not actually moved around, they are only referenced and managed through the Ready-Set-Do! interface). Interesting idea.


5. Links for web developers

blogwell's Top 100 Resources for Web Developers
I’m kind of tired of ‘top ten’ style lists, but blogwell.com’s 100+ Resources for Web Developers is a good reference and summary.


6. Graffletopia

If you use OmniGraffle, you must check out Graffletopia. Here, you can choose from over 300,000 free stencils to use in your OmniGraffle project. GraffletopiaIf you’re unfamiliar with OmniGraffle, it’s a tool with which you can create diagrams. If you peruse through some of the Graffletopia styles, you will quickly get a sense of just how useful this tool can be.

Scanner Art

Here’s a project idea for the long weekend. Have you heard of scanner art? The basic idea is this: you scan things and you try to make something something artistic with it. Is it art? Is it really photography? Some say yes, some say no. I say, ‘Who cares?’

I have found that I can get some extraordinary results with my trusty scanner (the Epson Perfection 4490). I particularly like how the scanner captures intricate detail in natural objects. Here are a few samples of items I’ve created (click for a larger view).

Edge.org, where the stunning work of Katinka Matson is often featured. Intrigued, I started experimenting with my scanner. I don’t have any sage advice about creating scanned artwork, but I do have a few tips:

• Ensure you clean the scanner bed really well before you scan
• Be prepared to spend several hours cleaning up dust and artifacts from each image you scan with your image editor of choice (even if you DO clean the bed well, you will spend a good deal of time on this task).
• I prefer to scan in the dark with the lid of the scanner open. It produces nice clean lines and a black background, which makes it easier to extract the image.
• This is a great way to experiment with your image editing program (I use Photoshop), particularly for creating interesting backgrounds, arrangements and frames.
• Try scanning anything and everything. For items that might damage your scanner bed glass, some say to try using a transparent film (e.g. a rigid piece of clear plastic of the type used to protect business reports in days past). Haven’t tried this myself — I just use the ‘be really, really careful when scanning’ method.
• Try playing around with arrangement and layering of your scanned items.
• Scan the same item from different angles, then try piecing it together the various images into one montage.
• Scan the same item at different resolutions, then try assembling something interesting from these scans.

If scanning objects appeals to you, check out Scanner Magic and Photo Vinc for more tips and ideas.

PIM review delay

NOTE: (Dec. 2009) This series is back. Check it out.

Last week, Reinvented Software released Together 2.1, a very substantial upgrade from version 2.0 (which I was planning to review).

This release highlighted the problem with reviewing a series of Mac applications right before the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in June: there’s a strong possibility that some of the other apps I plan to review may also be upgraded at or around this event. The moral of this story is that it’s best not to start a review series right before WWDC. Bad planning on my part. So, I’ve decided to postpone the PIM review series until mid-June to ensure I focus my attentions on the latest and greatest.

One final note: I received some feedback on my Yojimbo review from a developer at Bare Bones Software. I’ve posted it as a comment to the review if you’re interested.

a.viary.com invitation

I received an invitation to beta test Aviary today, a new web-based creative suite from a company called Worth1000. I received access to Phoenix (an online image editor) and Peacock (an online pattern generator).

From the Aviary site:

Aviary is a suite of rich internet applications geared for artists of all genres. From image editing to typography to music to 3D to video, we have a tool for everything. At Worth1000, we are creating a complex ecosystem for artists and providing the world with free, capable collaborative tools and an approach to collaboration and rights management that will turn the marketplace for online art on its head.

I haven’t done much with it yet, but I tried it long enough to determine the image editor is responsive and fairly feature-rich. If you want to give it a try, shoot me an email. I have five two invitations to pass on.

Microsoft Launches WorldWide Telescope

I just spent an hour playing with Microsoft’s just-released WorldWide Telescope. At first glance, you may dismiss this is as just another space simulator like Starry Night, Stellarium, Celestia, or Google Earth. However, I think it will stand on its own as a unique and extraordinary offering. 

WWT allows you to surf around the galaxy, seamlessly viewing stitched images from our civilization’s best telescopes. Panning and zooming around the galaxy is exceptionally fluid — faster and more immersive than other offerings I’ve seen. The technology behind this is Microsoft’s new high-performance “Visual Experience Engine.”

As one not ordinarily impressed by Microsoft products, I have to say that I really like WWT. The navigation controls are easy to use. The imagery is incredible. As you’re sailing along, the thumbnails along the bottom of the screen instantly update to show you what’s in the neighborhood. You can change views on the fly to look at galaxies, constellations, and other formations at different wavelengths. Overall, you get a sense of where you are in the universe better than other tools I’ve used. One other feature that stands out: slick multimedia guided tours from experts and enthusiasts — and you can create your own tour, too.

I’m always happy to see a new, free astronomy tool for the public. This is certainly a great addition. The only bad news is that it’s Windows-only.

I thought I wouldn’t get the chance to test this package out given the minimum system requirements to run WWT on your Mac:

– Microsoft® XP SP2 (minimum), Windows® Vista® (recommended) with BootCamp
– Mac with Intel Core 2 Duo (2.2 GHz or faster) processor recommended
– 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM; 2 GB RAM recommended
– NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics card with 128-MB SDRAM or recommended
– HFS+ hard disk format (also known as Mac OS® Extended or HFS Plus) and 10 GB of available hard disk space
– 1440 x 900 or higher-resolution monitor

I don’t have Windows on BootCamp, but I do have VMWare Fusion 2.0 Beta. My Mac isn’t quite 2.2 GHz. But I decided to try it out anyway. After some wrangling, I got it to work. Here’s what I’m running:

– MS XP Home Edition SP2 on VMWare Fusion
– 24-inch iMac Core 2 Duo/2.16GHz/2MB RAM running Mac OS X 10.5.2
– VMWare Fusion 2.0 Beta (Settings: 2 virtual processors, 1120 MB RAM, Accelerated 3D graphics enabled)

This worked well for me, with a few caveats: I experienced video and audio stutters when clicking on an object for ‘more information’ or when starting up a tour. I also found the tours played back much more smoothly (with better image quality) after I let them play through once, and then played them again. I also had to reboot after I was finished running the application through VMWare — my Mac was quite sluggish afterwards. Not bad trade-offs, all things considered. One note: I tried cranking up the alloted RAM for my virtual Windows installation all the way up to 1830MB (VMWare’s recommended max for 2GB RAM), but this did not work. I experienced severe sluggishness, probably due to memory swapping. It worked fine once I turned the RAM back to 1120MB.

I would run BootCamp, but the version of Windows I own (Home Edition) is not compatible…and I don’t want to buy a newer version of Windows. If you’re in this camp (and your Mac is as good or better than mine), this is a working alternative if you want to try out WWT. It’s worth a look. If you run Windows on BootCamp, definitely give it a try.

Mac PIM review II: Yojimbo review

This is part two of a seven part series comparing Mac Personal Information Managers. Today, I’m going to look at Yojimbo version 1.5.1.

As I sat down to begin this review, I pondered discussing the Yojimbo/samurai metaphor, when it struck me that the name of the company is perhaps more relevant. I had never considered why this company is called ‘Bare Bones Software,’ but maybe it has something to do with a focus on creating applications that hone in on the bare essentials. It’s just a theory, but Yojimbo certainly qualifies as bare boned: it’s a lightweight, simple and elegant information manager.

But designing a simple and elegant application is a tricky business. You need to strike a delicate balance between functionality and user configuration options. You need to seek out and destroy bells and whistles. Unnecessary bloat and clutter must be avoided at all cost. If an application gets it right, it ‘flows like water‘ (to borrow a Taoist metaphor). It feels good to use. Of course, it also works very well. Few applications meet this high standard.

I think Yojimbo is on the right path, but it’s not quite there yet.

Mastering the Onslaught

Yojimbo is an information manager and note-taking application made by the people behind the acclaimed industrial text/code editor BBEdit. The tag line for Yojimbo is ‘Master the Onslaught.’ I suppose the metaphor goes something like this: Yojimbo is a samurai at your disposal to slice through your information overload. And, as a samurai, it’s going to slice with style and maximum economy. While the name and the tag are cool, does Yojimbo live up to the imagery it evokes? For the most part, yes.

Looking at it from the viewpoint of the user interface, Yojimbo stands out from the competition. A person who knows nothing about this app can, as advertised, jump right in and start collecting data. The user controls are standardized Apple fare, so you know what to expect. In fact, there’s not much to say about the user interface because there’s not much to it. It has a distinct minimalist feel to it. You have a left-hand column for organization (à la iTunes); you have a main window that displays your library; and you have a sliding split pane in the main pane to preview a selected item in your library (just like in Apple Mail). Aside from this, there is a standard popup inspector window that may be toggled off or on to display relevant info about a particular folder or library item. You may also customize the Yojimbo toolbar by adding/deleting your favorite items.

If there is any criticism to levy against the interface, it’s that some users may pine for a few alternative layout options. Personally, I like the interface. It’s one of the things that drew me to the program.

However, the samurai metaphor doesn’t hold up as well for me when it comes to organization, filtering and searching. It’s quite good, but it’s not great. I’ll get to this in more depth soon, but first let’s look at getting data in and out of the program.

Capturing Data

The type of data you can enter in Yojimbo compares favorably with other apps in this class: you can stuff it full of text, MS Word documents, RTFs, PDFs, image files (except for RAW images, a reasonable exception), bookmarks, and web archives. You can’t, however, import any other proprietary document formats other than Word files. While the range of document types Yojimbo accepts is about the same as other applications in this field, I think Pages documents should be supported. This is a Mac app, after all.

I should add that you can also add emails, but they are only imported as bookmarks — if you drag and drop them into the app you create a link back to the originating app (i.e. Mail). To get the actual email message text into Yojimbo, you can use this free AppleScript created by a Yojimbo developer (I use it in concert with MailActOn).

AppleScript support is a strong feature of Yojimbo, by the way. A quick web search turns up many user-generated scripts free for you to try. The only problem here is that they are a bit hard to find. I wish that Bare Bones would compile user-created scripts on their site.
In addition to dragging and dropping files into the app, you can directly type in new notes in rich or plain text. Unique among the PIM crowd, Yojimbo also provides two built-in templates to handle password and serial number data as well, which is a nice touch. One welcome addition would be a user-defined open template (or user-created templates). For example, I would like to create a car maintenance record template with field names that I define.

There are several other ways to add data besides direct input and the ‘drag and drop.’ Yojimbo also offers a ‘drop dock’ that integrates into any corner of your Mac screen. I put mine in the lower left-hand side of my screen and made it as transparent as possible so it doesn’t stick out. The drop dock allows you to directly drag and drop to the main library or directly to a specific folder. I prefer this type of ‘drop box’ to those that in other apps that sit directly on the desktop because I can get at it without leaving the program I’m working in.

The only minor complaint I have about the drop dock is that you have to click precisely on the word ‘Yojimbo’ to minimize it. If you miss the target, it stays extended. If you are an Apple Dock user, you can also drag items to the Yojimbo dock icon. This will import the item to your library, but will not allow you to add an item to a specific folder.

Another way to add data is via a hotkey (F8 by default). This is my favorite feature. With Yojimbo running in the background, F8 will bring forth a quick-entry menu to import your clipboard. While this is handy, you need to know that it only handles text (a note, bookmark, password, serial number, or web archive). If you copy a file (a RTF, Doc, image file or PDF, for example), you can’t import it with this function. If you try, what you’ll get is an unlinked icon file representing the file type for the document. That’s annoying. It is nice that you can directly convert a copied URL from your browser to create a web archive, though. According to the developer, Yojimbo will ‘examine the clipboard, and guess what kind of item you wish to create, and will default to that editing panel.’ If Yojimbo guesses incorrectly, you can select a different item type by using keyboard shortcuts. This feature works well for me. One thing I don’t get, though, is why the drop-down menu includes ‘image’ as an item choice since this quick-entry method doesn’t properly import images copied to the clipboard.

You can also enter data into Yojimbo with AppleScripts (like the previously-mentioned Mail script). And there are user-created scripts out there that let you add special bookmarks to your web browser for one-click bookmarking or web archiving to Yojimbo. Finally, you can use the Apple Services menu to import copied text or URL direct to Yojimbo. This is handy if Yojimbo is not currently running and you want to quickly add an item or link from a given open application.

With so many different options to get info into your database, Yojimbo truly makes data entry an effortless process.

Organizing and Finding Data

Now let’s next look at how data is organized. Here’s where I have a bit of trouble ‘mastering my onslaught.’
Yojimbo offers several ways to organize your stuff. First, you may create folders and drag items to these folders. Yojimbo calls these ‘Collections’ for obvious reasons. The most important thing to point out about the Collection folder is that you may not nest other folders. For example, I can’t create a Collection for ‘food’ and place individual folders for various food categories under this top-level folder. Many users have asked for this, but Bare Bones developers have ruled this out from the start. Why? Presumably because they have decided that the built-in search and tagging functions are the best way to organize.

The app includes ten options for ‘smart’ collections (you’ll probably be familiar with this concept from the Finder or iTunes). Smart folders are basically saved searches. With Yojimbo, you can view flagged items, recent, unsorted, untagged, archives, bookmarks, images, notes, passwords, and serial numbers. The frustrating part is that these smart folders cannot be modified in any way, nor can you create your own smart folders based on criteria of your choosing. Why not?

In addition to the ‘dumb’ and smart collections, Yojimbo also serves up ‘Tag Collections.’ This is a smart folder that collects items based on tags you’ve assigned to items in your library. While it’s nice that you can choose to collect more than one tag into a tag collection (for example, you can gather all of your items tagged ‘food’ and ‘recipe’), there are several major shortcomings. First, you can only create a collection based on tags. You can’t create a more complex collection (say, all items with ‘food’ tags AND all flagged AND all recent items). Next, you can only collect tags that meet ALL conditions. There is no option to choose ‘ANY’ as a selection condition. This means that I can collect all items tagged ‘food’ and ‘recipes,’ but I can’t collect together items that have the single tags of ‘food’ or ‘recipes.’ What I would like to have is robust smart folder support, similar to what I get in the Finder or in iTunes. Yojimbo is really tying our hands by not giving us more control. The last problem is that the tag collection folders you create provide no clues about what tags are being collected. The only way to tell is to open up the tag collection for editing, or to choose an item in the collection and taking a look at the tags.

One final note: you can’t drag and drop into a Smart or Tag Collection. This makes sense in that these ‘folders’ really aren’t folders at all, but are collections of items that meet certain search parameters. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could drag an item into a Tag Collection, with Yojimbo automatically appending the tag or tags for that collection to that item?
Yojimbo also offers two other ways to organize data: flagging and labeling. Flagging is a way to keep track of hot items that require follow-up, although you could assign any meaning to a flagged item. A flag can either be on or off. Chances are, you’re already familiar with the flag from other Mac apps. Me? I don’t use them very often. Color labeling is a common type of organizational method as well (most notably in Finder). Unlike Yojimbo’s built-in Smart Collections, you get full control over labels. You may change the name of a label and you may choose the colors of your labels. While you can select multiple items and label them in batch, you cannot create a rule to label items based on tags. You also cannot add a color label to a folder. You can, however, search for items based on label names, which is nice (I can search for all ‘work’ labels, for instance). I’m not a big label fan (in Yojimbo or any other app), but I might use this feature more if I had the ability to create more complex custom Smart Collections (a very handy app called Hazel is a great example of how useful this can be — and it’s using built-in Mac OS features!).

Now back to tagging. Yojimbo emphasizes tagging as a primary organization method. Indeed, tagged collections can be handy. But it’s not good enough. And here is my biggest problem with Yojimbo: I need better tag management options. What I would like to see added is an on-the-fly tag filtering similar to what I’ve seen in Things and OmniFocus. If Bare Bones won’t give users the nested folder, then they might consider providing a more interactive method to filter through tags.

And speaking of tags, an inspector just for tags would be handy: a place to view them, batch change them, delete them. It would also be nice if Yojimbo would label orphaned tags in this list that are no longer being used. Note that it’s currently not possible to change or delete a tag.
The ultimate test of how well your data is organized is put to the test when you try and find something. One easy way to do this is use Yojimbo’s very speedy search engine. I have no complaints in this department. You can search by any word in an item, by tag and by label. Since Yojimbo is Spotlight-enabled, you can also search straight from Spotlight even when Yojimbo’s not opened. I love having the ability to search for certain tagged items from my Yojimbo database using Spotlight. Very handy.

As for the search function within Yojimbo, it could be made better if we had that inspector pane with a list of all of our tags (what if I can’t remember the tags I assigned?). The other way to find what you’re looking for, of course, is via your Collections. I’ve already talked about why this doesn’t meet my needs. If I had full control over my smart collections, Yojimbo would be a much better tool for organizing and finding things. I would personally also like the added ability to nest folders. I know, I know…hierarchical folders are so 20th century…but many people like to manage their data this way. Yojimbo went half-way by providing folders, so why are they against providing a nested folder option for those who want it? I don’t get it. If the idea is that you shouldn’t really need hierarchical folders, then the developers should get rid of them entirely. I’m all for that — provided I get much better tagging, filtering and smart folder creat
ion capabilities.

A Few Nuts and Bolts

Now I need to add a few additional points about how Yojimbo physically handles your data. Consider how to get your data back out. It’s very easy to do with Yojimbo: simply select what you want from your library and choose ‘export’. However, it’s important to note that the only metadata that will be preserved once you export your stuff are item creation dates. Your tags, labels, and flags will be lost. That’s a shame.
I’m quite unhappy with this. Say, for instance, I someday decide to move some of my Yojimbo data back to the Finder so I can manage these items with Leap (a tag-centric program for managing all the files on your system). I would lose all my carefully crafted tags! Thanks to reader Brab for suggesting I check out metadata ‘persistence,’ by the way. I wouldn’t have thought of this myself.

I also need to comment briefly on how Yojimbo data is physically stored. While some PIMs store your stuff in what’s called a flat file structure (in other words, directly in the Finder), Yojimbo stores everything in a SQLite database tucked away in your user library. While I’ve never had any trouble with the database, I came across many comments on the web from people worried about corruption. If the database gets corrupted, all of your data is potentially hosed. That’s a bit worrisome.

But there’s nothing much to worry about if you regularly back up your system. You can back up your Yojimbo database with Time Machine, in case your wondering. I came across some posts on the web suggesting it doesn’t work, but it did for me. I tested this by deleting my entire database from my user>Library>Application Support>Yojimbo folder, then I replaced these files with a backed-up copy from Time Machine. It restored just fine.

One more thing to consider with Yojimbo is that it duplicates a file upon import. So if I drag a PDF into the application from my Documents folder, it will still be in my Documents folder. I’ll just have an extra copy of it now stored in the Yojimbo database. I’m not crazy about this. I could delete the origninal files, but then I’m relying on one database to store all of my precious files. I could keep two copies (one in my Document folder, one in my Yojimbo database) but things would get confusing if you later changed something in one of those versions; they wouldn’t be in sync. My solution: I choose to not import most of my documents into Yojimbo. I primarily use it as a digital junk drawer.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Yojimbo supports encryption for individual items. It works great, but I wonder why Yojimbo doesn’t have a built-in Smart Collection to view all encrypted items. A work around for this is to create a tag called ‘encrypt’ for all your encrypted items, then create Tag Collection or search on that tag.

The Verdict

Yojimbo is a PIM that occupies a specific place on the info management spectrum. That place for me is as a lightweight tool to quickly and easily capture snippets of info. Yojimbo provides a good home to all of those little bits and pieces that don’t fit anywhere else on my Mac. It may not be the best solution for a complete desktop information management solution (by ‘complete,’ I mean an application that you are comfortable using as an archive and repository for ALL your critical data — including long and complex documents that you frequently edit). If you need this type of functionality, you may want to consider another solution.

I think Yojimbo excels at grabbing data of all varieties, but I’m less enthusiastic when it comes to finding what I’m looking for and filtering through my data collection. As my database grows, I find it increasingly hard to keep it organized and find what I want.

Still, there are many things that I really like. What I appreciate most about Yojimbo is how easy and quick it is to add new data. I’m also quite fond of the minimalist user interface.

1. Could I figure out how to use the application with minimal fuss (without documentation)?
The developer states that there is ‘no learning curve.’ I found this to be largely true, but there are a few features you may not discover if you don’t read the instructions. When you first launch Yojimbo, by the way, Bare Bones includes a helpful note that summarizes all the big ideas about how to use the app.

2. Was I still enthusiastic about using the application after a week of use?
Yes, but I’m growing less enthusiastic as my database grows larger. I’m particularly frustrated that I can’t create more complex smart folders. I also would like to see more robust tagging support.

3. How well does the app integrate into the Mac OS?
Very well. In addition to the variety of data entry methods I detailed in this review, Yojimbo supports .Mac syncing for other Yojimbo installations on your network (and you can use your one license to install Yojimbo on multiple Macs in your household!). Yojimbo data is also spotlight indexed. This means you can search from spotlight on a tag name, and all of your Yojimbo items that match that tag will pop up (Yojimbo does not need to be running to use this). Super. By the way, if you want to access your Yojimbo database remotely (from a web browser or on your iPhone), a company called Flying Mac sells a slick Web 2.0 app called Webjimbo to meet this need. The downside? It will cost you an additional $30.

4. How did the program ‘feel?’ How ‘Mac-like’ is it?
This application has a great feel to it. The controls are intuitive. It’s sleek. And if you want to know how Mac-like it is, consider this Apple article.

Yojimbo is not perfect, but it’s a reliable, speedy and handy tool in my toolbox. I think Bare Bones have hit on a solution with broad appeal, but there are a few areas that need refinement before I will say Yojimbo ‘flows like water.

That’s it for the Yojimbo review. Next up on the Mac PIM review series is an examination of DevonThink Personal. Stay tuned.

NOTE: (March, 2009) I’m still planning to complete the rest of the reviews in this series. Really. I’ve been busy with multiple work projects and haven’t had the time to dedicate to these reviews, but I will get to it.