To say we live in the information age is the height of understatement. Of course, we also live in the age of misinformation.
How do you save and store and retrieve all the bits and pieces of information that flows across your Mac every day? Mac power users choose from a growing number of Mac personal information managers—PIMs. Here’s the good, the bad, but no ugly of 4 major Mac PIMs.
What’s A PIM To Do?
How valuable is the information you track on your Mac? Bookmarks? Certainly. Email messages. Yep. Documents? Naturally. All these are standard forms of information and all already have a place to live.
Bookmarks are maintained in your browser. Email messages get stuck in Mail.
Documents require a little more organization because there are so many kinds of document files. Excel. Word. PowerPoint. Photoshop. Most of us simply create appropriate folders and dump those files in the Mac’s documents folder.
Songs go into iTunes. Photos to into iPhoto. Movies go into iMovie. What about everything else? What about quickly needed PDFs or documents that don’t get filed? Or, bookmarks that require some action? Or notes, or serial numbers, or usernames and passwords?
What about all those scraps of information that you don’t really want to store away for posterity in Documents, but that you want nearby for quick retrieval? That’s where a PIM becomes an important and often used Mac app.
Battle Of The PIM All Stars
I work in a school with a few hundred teachers. That means a few hundred opinions on what kind of information is worthy to be stored. My job is to make sure their apps do the work they want done.
Yojimbo – One of the more expensive and more capable Mac apps is the popular Jojimbo. As an information manager, Yojimbo might be the most complex and capable, but like the others, there’s not much of a learning curve. If you can drag and drop you can use Yojimbo’s basics within minutes of installation.
Whatever pieces of information you have—notes, text scraps, bookmarks, serial numbers, passwords, PDFs, whatever—can be dragged and dropped into Yojimbo’s handy shelf. Once in Yojimbo retrieval is handled two ways. Search, and organization. Organize Yojimbo into folders and items. Notes. Bookmarks. Recent items. Images. However you want it, you get it so when you drag and drop you automatically drag and drop into the correct location.
Yojimbo uses MobileMe so you can access your information from other Macs and keep an off-sight backup of your files. Alas, there’s no iPhone version yet, though some web apps provide remote information access.
Together – One of the more elegant Mac PIMs is Together, which also allows for files to be organized, and features a pop out shelf. Together works the same way. Drag, drop, done. You determine how bits and pieces of information are stored and organized, but getting the information into Together could not be easier.
Together features MobileMe sync, Spotlight searching, and handles more file types than Yojimbo. Rate, label, tag and group files in the Library (it works much like iTunes). Mac OS X’s Quick Look feature works on many files, but Together can also edit different file formats, including documents, images, PDFs, web pages, and more.
The pop out shelf can be opened via drag and drop, or via keyboard hot key. The Favorites section gives you quick access to frequently used groups or items, and allows for quick Notes creation.
ShoveBox – Two of the requirements I get from teachers is the ability to drag and drop information to save, and something that also syncs with the increasingly popular iPhone. ShoveBox is the only app that comes close to both requirements.
As with the other Mac apps, ShoveBox captures and stores all those bits and pieces of information that you need to keep handy. However, there’s no pop out shelf, but a place in the Mac’s Menubar to drag and drop, so it’s nearly (but not quite) as convenient.
Organizing bits and pieces of information is somewhat similar to Yojimbo and Together—create and drop into self-created folders. Retrieve easily via search, recently added files, or wherever you stored the files.
Increasingly, our school’s teachers want to get access to information from both their Macs and iPhones. ShoveBox is the only app that makes it easy—there’s an iPhone version.
EagleFiler – Rounding out the shootout is EagleFiler which does much the same thing with personal information but in a different ways. Instead of the Menubar option, or the slide out pop out shelf, EagleFiler uses a floating Drop Pad. Drag and drop your files onto the Pad for storage.
After that, EagleFiler’s manager looks remarkably similar to Yojimbo, Together, and ShoveBox.
The toolbar is at the top, the triple view panes display the Library of items, details for each, and what’s inside each folder.
EagleFiler is a bit more geeky than the others, and features keyboard shortcuts and menu selections to import files, including email messages. Everything email gets saved—the message, attachments, flags. That makes EagleFiler a decent way to archive older messages.
Create and manage multiple Libraries and store them wherever you want on your Mac, or iPhone, or iDisk, or USB drive. You can open more than one Library at a time. Encrypt a Library for extra security. EagleFiler uses its own search indexing and can actually dig into files that Apple’s Spotlight doesn’t see.
Organizing is easy, too, by using file kind, tags, labels, and folders. EagleFiler is a bit more complex, due to all the organizing capability (which seems to spawn more pop up windows for features), but the learning curve is steady, not unlike Together.
Clearing The Dust
Here’s the problem with these four apps. It’s not easy to choose one over the other, though they each do the same things in slightly different ways.
All are elegant and with a gentle learning curve. All have a user organized Library that’s easily learned and used. Backing up the Library is easier in all but Yojimbo. The pop out shelf in Yojimbo and Together is easier to use than ShoveBox’s Menubar drop or EagleFiler’s floating Pad. ShoveBox has a quick and easy sync to the iPhone version.
That means the shootout leaves each app standing, but each with a few bullet holes. You won’t go wrong using any one of the four. Fortunately, you can try out each one to see what features fit your work style. Personally, I like Together’s elegance, but miss an iPhone version. Your mileage may vary.