in Mac apps, organization

Mac PIM review: Part I

This is the first post in a seven-part series comparing Mac personal information managers.

NOTE: (March 1st, 2009) I’m still going to get the PIM 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.

Here’s the problem: chaos. Your cavernous drive is slowly filling up with text, documents, PDFs, images, bookmarks, emails, multimedia files, and notes. You’re struggling to make sense of it all. You like the idea of having a central repository to manage all of this stuff, so you search around for a good Personal Information Manager (PIM) for your Mac.

Now you have a new problem: choice. The good news is that there are a hefty number of productivity and organization applications for the Mac to help reduce your clutter. The better news is that they all offer ample free trial periods. The bad news is that they all claim to be the perfect solution for organizing your mess of information, and you just don’t have the time to test them all out.

I’m not going to try to sort through all of the Mac-based PIMs in this series. Instead, I’ve chosen five applications to review. While this is a bit more than I intended to tackle at first, I think five is the magic number. I settled on these five because they represent the best of the best of what’s available for the Mac. All of these applications share a similar feature-set: the ability to store, organize, and retrieve personal information from text notes, to images, to PDFs, to web pages all from one place. The difference, of course, is in the details.

Let’s start with a summary of each application (listed in reviewing order):

1. Yojimbo — Version I’ll review: 1.5.1

Initial release: Jan. 2006 | Current price: $39

From the developer (Bare Bones Software): Yojimbo makes keeping all the small (or even large) bits of information that pour in every day organized and accessible. It’s so simple, there is no learning curve. Yojimbo’s mechanism for collecting, storing and finding information is so natural and effortless, it will change your life—without changing the way you work. There are as many uses for Yojimbo as there are users of it. It accepts almost anything—text, bookmarks, PDF files, web archives, serial numbers or passwords—by dragging, copying, importing or even printing!

Snapshot of usage/interest in the Mac community:

iusethis: 911 users
versiontracker: 2,178 downloads of current version (all versions: over 22k)
macupdate: 1,900 downloads of current version (all versions: over 29.9k)

Other versions available: No


2. DEVONthink Personal — Version I’ll review: 1.9.13

Initial release: Feb. 2002 | Current price: $39.95

From the developer (DEVONtechnologies): DEVONthink stores your documents, scanned papers, email messages, notes, bookmarks, etc. in one place. Access live web pages seamlessly from within DEVONthink to review, extract further information. Create RTF documents, edit them in full screen, and cross-reference. Clip data from other applications using drag-and-drop, Services, or the Dock menu. Search, classify and show relationships between your documents automatically with the help of Artificial Intelligence.

Snapshot of usage/interest in the Mac community:

iusethis: 362 users
versiontracker: 748 downloads of current version (over 33k downloads of all versions)
macupdate: 575 downloads of current version (over 26.8k downloads of all versions)

Other versions available: Yes

DEVONnote: Only handles plain text, RTF, text clippings, MS Word; URLs; HTML only as plain text ($19.95)

DEVONthink Pro: You get everything in DT Personal, plus the following: a three-pane view option; no upper limit to images/PDF items; full CSV/TSV file support; import ability from Address Book and iData 2; export to OmniOutliner ($79.95)

DEVONthink Pro Office: You get everything in DT Pro, plus the following: email archive support, scanner support, OCR capability, and web access/sharing for your databases ($149.95)

3. VodooPad — Version I’ll review: 3.5.1

Initial release: March 2003 | Current price: $29.95

From the developer (Flying Meat): VoodooPad is a garden for your thoughts. Plant ideas, images, lists and anything else you need to keep track of. VoodooPad grows with you, without getting in the way — no fences to box you in! Type in notes, highlight important words or phrases and create new pages. Drag and drop folders, images, applications, or URLs into VoodooPad — they’re linked up just like on the web. With powerful search, nothing will be lost or out of reach. The more you put into it, the better it gets.

Snapshot of usage/interest in the Mac community:

iusethis: 443 users
versiontracker: 1,134 downloads of current version (all versions: over 34.7k)
macupdate: 765 downloads of current version (all versions: over 27.9k)

Other versions available: Yes

VoodooPad Lite: Offers inline editing and realtime linking of pages; only supports Unicode, Rich Text support, and image embedding (free)

VoodooPad Pro: You get everything in VDP standard, plus the following: a built-in web server, meta values for pages, event triggers, and the ability to encrypt whole documents ($49.95)

4. Together — Version I’ll review: 2.0.10

Initial release: Aug. 2
004 | Current price: $39

From the developer (Reinvented Software): Keep your stuff together, find it again instantly. Together lets you keep everything in one place. Text, documents, images, movies, sounds, web pages and bookmarks can all be dragged to Together for safe keeping, tagged, previewed, collected together in different ways and found again instantly.

Snapshot of usage/interest in the Mac community:

iusethis: 255 users
versiontracker: 595 downloads of current version (all versions: over 15.8k)
macupdate: 330 downloads of current version (all versions: over 16.3k)

Other versions available: No


5. EagleFiler — Version I’ll review: 1.3.2

Initial release: Oct. 2006 | Current price: $40

From the developer (C-Command Software): EagleFiler makes managing your information easy. It lets you archive and search mail, Web pages, PDF files, word processing documents, images, and more. Use it to collect information from a variety of sources. Organize them into folders and annotate them with tags and notes, or leave everything in one folder and pin-point the information you need using the live search.

Snapshot of usage/interest in the Mac community:

iusethis: 83 users
versiontracker: 391 downloads of current version (all versions: over 11.2k)
macupdate: 226 downloads of current version (all versions: over 9.2k)

Other versions available: No


I want to say a few words about why I’ve presented a ‘snapshot’ of usage/interest for these five programs. I debated wether or not to add this level of detail because, frankly, one could argue that it doesn’t really mean much. Still, it was a useful exercise. It allowed me to get a rough idea of the current popularity of these apps. Anecdotally, I suspected that Yojimbo was one of the more popular PIMs at this time, and this unscientific ‘sample’ at least bore out that many people apparently use it. I also compared users and downloads between these four apps with some of the other popular PIM apps for the Mac and concluded that my selection was a good representation of the field.

Importantly, this exercise also forced me to do a lot of searching and a lot of reading: I didn’t just count download and users, I read all the comments on each of the three sites (iusethis, versiontracker, macupdate). I now have a much better platform from which to dive into my reviews. I also spent several hours reading through reviews from other blogs, as well as reading through material on developer’s sites.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that I did this retrospectively. In other words, I chose these five programs for personal reasons: I currently use Yojimbo for short notes, snippets and serial numbers. I use DEVONthink to store all of my writing clips and ideas (fiction, primarily). And I like to use VoodooPad as a learning/flash card tool (right now, I’m using it to store notes as I learn javascript). What initially led me to these three applications is what is often called ‘buzz.’ As someone who follows Mac software rather closely, I heard (and read) repeated positive comments, so I gave them a try. Simple as that. Am I happy with them? Not entirely, but they’re pretty good. How’s that for an answer? I promise to offer a bit more detail for the reviews!

For the other two apps — Together and EagleFiler — I’ve not yet used them. However, they were recommended by readers who know a heck of a lot about Mac software (and organization), so I added them to the list. From what I’ve read so far, they appear to be rising rapidly in popularity among people I consider power users. I will use review these two programs last to take advantage of the full evaluation period (Together offers a 15 day trial; EagleFiler offers 30 days).

I’m going into this series with an open mind. I’m perfectly willing to abandon my current multi-app workflow if I find another app (or apps) that better serve my needs. This last statement ‘serves my needs better‘ is an important distinction to make: my needs are not your needs, so I’m not going to claim that my conclusions will apply to all users. What I think will come out of this is a fairly good synopsis of each app which I hope will serve as a launching point for readers who are trying to figure out where to begin.

I’ll be evaluating these applications with an emphasis on the same set of questions I’ve used for other reviews on this site:

1. Could I figure out how to use the application with minimal fuss (without documentation)?
2. Was I still enthusiastic about using the application after a week of use?
3. How well does the app integrate into the Mac OS?
4. How did the program ‘feel?’ How ‘Mac-like’ is it?

Of course, I’ll also be looking at questions specific to info managers: how well could I organize all of my stuff? How easy is it to get data in/out? How is the information stored? What organization tools are available? How scalable is it? How easy is it to find what I’m looking for?

I hope to get these reviews out in fairly rapid succession, but I have to warn you that it’ll take some time. I’m going to evaluate the applications I’m most familiar with first.

Stayed tuned for a review of Yojimbo.

  1. With DEVONthink (Yes, with a small t! 😉 Pro Office there’s actually a third (or fourth, if you count DEVONnote, too) version. Also, as far as I remember, DEVONthink Personal doesn’t really handle WebArchives (or at least it used to be that way), so I’d be interested to know why you chose to review it over the (“regular”) Pro version.

  2. Well, here was my late-night thought process: I didn’t add DEVONthink Pro Office because it seemed that the additional ‘paperless office functionality’ placed it in a different category. In retrospect, I’m going to add it to the list. It IS part of the DEVONthink family, after all.

    As for why I chose to review DEVONthink Personal instead of Pro, I decided to compare apps within a similar price range (between $30-40). The Pro version is certainly more robust (and perhaps more feature-comparable to the other apps in this roundup), but it’s twice as much as the others. I’ll discuss this more in the DEVONthink review, because I think it’s an important point.

    DEVONthink Personal can import live pages and archived pages, but you can’t create an archive from within Personal (as I believe you can with Pro). You have to either clip the text you want or save the page as a web archive from your browser then drop it into Personal (not very convenient).

    I can’t believe I spelled DEVONthink three different ways!! Wow, that’s sad. I keep insist on writing ‘DevonThink’…

  3. I have a favorite out of those you’ll be reviewing and I’ll be interested to see which app you prefer out of the bunch.

  4. I am surprised that VooDoo pad is on the list, it doesn’t deem to fit with the rest – seems more like a personal notebook/wiki than a document/clipping archiver.

    And I am surprised that SOHO notes isn’t on the list, as it seems to fit in this category better (and is relatively popular).

    In my own personal search for the ultimate filer, I have narrowed it down to DevonThink Pro, Yojimbo, SOHO Notes, and EagleFiler, with EagleFiler looking like the winner so far…

    I have found that I struggle between needing an information managers (Yojimbo, SOHO Notes, et al) and note takers (NoteBook, NoteTaker, OmniOutliner, et al), wanting the best of all these apps in one app.

    I look forward to your reviews!

  5. I specifically want to add VooDooPad because it seems like an odd member in this group, yet it does a lot of what the other apps do…just in a very different way. It’s a unique alternative method of managing information that does a good job at archiving various types of information — and it holds its own with in this category. It just follows a different paradigm.

    I considered adding SOHO notes, but decided not too. I’m an old StickyBrain user…but I dropped it when it merged with SOHO notes. I have to say this is largely a subjective decision on my part. There’s something about this app that harkens me back to my Windows days (which is not a good thing)…I also read through many user comments and reviews regarding this app and it was a real mixed bag. Seemed like a lot of people were quite frustrated with it. In the end, I went with apps that I think are of comparable popularity and quality. I certainly won’t hit all the worthy PIM apps in this roundup.

    Speaking of apps I didn’t add but are worthy of review, I also passed over Circus Ponies Notebook and Journler, both of which seem to meet the PIM criteria and are quite popular.

    All I can say is that it was a tough call, but I think I have a good cross-section here. Perhaps labeling my grouping the ‘best of the best’ was a bit of hyperbole, but I’ll stick by it. Makes it more interesting that way. One thing I’ve learned already: the definition of a PIM is quite broad and ambiguous. At any rate, I hope these reviews will be of value for those out there trying to pick and choose.

    Thanks for the comment!

  6. One important data point when I chose my PIM was how documents are stored: are they still in the file system, or in some database? Also, beyond the documents themselves, it may be interesting to discuss how easy it is to access the metadata one enters when managing them within the PIM (typically tags, notes, or labels).

  7. Excellent – I’ll keep this in mind as I look at these apps. It looks like EagleFiler is the only one to use a flat file structure. This is very appealing to me – a ‘foolproof escape route’ to grab my data and migrate to something else if the need arises, independent of a database that might get corrupted or a proprietary system that may go out of service some day. So, if I get this correctly, EF is basically a front end to organize your data within Finder. Is that right? When you say ‘access the metadata,’ you’re referring to search and filtering from within the PIM? Thanks, as always, for taking the time to comment.

  8. As KIT used to store things in the file system, Together might still do it as well. If it does so, like EF, it is indeed a front end to organize the data. There are some limitations though (I’ll only talk about EF, as I have not used Together since it was KIT): even though file changes are detected and dealt with, adding or removing a file must be done from EF itself. Otherwise EF would not see the new file, or complain a file is missing (in this case one can always tell EF to remove the file from the library).

    About metadata, I also meant how it lives outside the PIM. I’ll also only describe what I know, which means EF. Tags are copied to spotlight comments (if the preference is checked), labels are Finder labels, and notes are RTF files containing a link to the file they are a note of. (At the moment it’s an x-eaglefiler: link, so you need EF to follow it, but I recently asked if one could also have the path of the file in the note and Michael Tsai has added this feature request to his to-do list). So this basically mean that even if you stop using EF, all your tags, notes, and labels are still preserved and can be accessed. (For instance using Leap, if one owns it 😉 ).

  9. Together stores data in the finder as well. I’ve been trying it out and now am going to try EagleFiler for comparison. The latest version of Together has a few quirks in recently added features, such as autotagging, but I assume these will be worked out soon. It allows you to export tags to spotlight comments but that’s an after-the-fact manual option. It has groups (like itunes playlists, smart folders, and regular folders. Notes created within the app are proprietary format but can be exported as rtf. It’s a nice app but in some ways a bit complex in terms of making use of the capabilities and still has a few rough edges that i’m sure will be corrected as the developer is customer oriented and responsive.

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