Mellel and Bean: Great Word Processors

I just read MacWorld’s recent comparison of iWork Pages and Microsoft Office 2008 Word in the latest issue of their magazine. At the end of the article, author Jeffery Battersby offers up some alternatives to these two dominant word processors.

He suggests BareBone Software’s TextWrangler and Peter Borg’s Smultron as alternatives to TextEdit for basic editing. For full-fledged word processing alternatives, he suggests Hog Bay’s WriteRoom, Mariner Software’s Mariner Write or Nisus’s Nisus Writer Pro. These are all excellent programs.

But I’d like to point out two other alternative entries that didn’t make the list which deserve recognition: Bean for light text work and Mellel for complex and robust text editing.

1. Bean:

Bean is a quick-as-lightning rich text editor with all the core tools you need when you just want to write. It’s a wonderful alternative to TextEdit — it adds better formatting control, a nicer design, live word counts, and other goodies. Don’t expect to get all the features of Word or Pages in this package — it’s simple by design. In fact, there’s not much more to say about it. Best of all, it’s free.

By the way, if you want to set Bean to auto-open your text docs (.txt, .doc, .rtf, etc.), you can set this preference using the ‘Get Info’ dialogue box (right click on a file, choose ‘Get Info,’ select Bean from the ‘Open With‘ drop down menu, then choose ‘Change All‘). Alternatively, you can install Rubicode’s free RCDefaultApp preference pane and select the document formats to open with Bean from this panel. This is a bit of a side note, but RCDefaultApp is an excellent tool for assigning and managing document types (extensions) with programs on your Mac.

2. RedleX Mellel:

Here’s my word processor of choice. Mellel never crashes. It’s fast, fast, fast. It’s robust. It’s elegant and streamlined. It handles foot/endnotes, page styling and multiple languages extremely well. While I like iWork Pages for the quick and easy templating, I turn to Mellel when I want to put together a long and complicated document.

I’ll say this: it’s not for everyone. Some people don’t like the look and feel of this program — you can’t customize the app’s toolbar, the steely monochrome finish may put you off, and almost all of the functional choices for the app are arranged into a densely compressed floating palette on the side of the screen. Me? I’ve grown fonder and fonder of the design over time. It has a certain minimalist, Zen appeal. At any rate, you’ll very quickly decide if you love it or can’t stand it. Mellel costs $49 (which includes two years of free updates).

Now back to work on my Yojimbo review…

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.