I just read MacWorld’srecent 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.
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.
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).
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):
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.
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.