Yojimbo vs. Evernote vs. Together vs. Journler vs. EagleFiler

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Finding the perfect OS X information/resource organizer can be daunting. I’d been using Yojimbo myself for a while but its lack of significant updates since its initial release compelled me to start looking around for alternatives.

After some research, I narrowed it downed to these apps:

Clearly, the final decision on what to use depends on your needs and personal taste, and some people would probably want to see a couple more apps added to this list: MacJournal, but I found it too specialized in journaling to be practical as a data organizer, and DevonThink which is the most powerful of them all, but it’s so powerful that I don’t think it belongs here, and it didn’t fit my requirements. Here’s what I considered while narrowing it down to my final choice:

User Interface (UI)

Yojimbo: clean and minimal. The rock solid UI demonstrates the Bare Bones team’s mastery of OS X development and Cocoa.
Evernote: the opposite of what I wrote about Yojimbo… Check out the video below for some examples of the glitchy behaviors you get throughout the UI. Some of them are serious enough to be a deal breaker for me.
Together: one of the best UI in this list. Very pretty and great use of Cocoa. Unfortunately, a few UI errors (at the code logic level) make me cautious about the long term viability of using this app.
Journler: as pretty as Together, but cleaner, with great attention to detail and ingenuous touches spread throughout.
EagleFiler: it’s fast, functional, pragmatic, clean, but somehow manages to make OS X ugly… Easy to use, but definitely not sexy.

Winner: Journler

Examples of Evernote’s glitches in OS X

Data Entry

Yojimbo: between the “Drop Dock” and “Quick Input Panel” you got plenty of options to get your stuff in, as well as its metadata, without having to go to the app itself.
Evernote: as everything else in Evernote, the web “Clipper” is buggy. The OCR feature is intriguing though (I haven’t tested it myself). The menubar item is somewhat convenient. But Evernote’s main advantage is its iPhone app which can be great if that fits your workflow.
Together: the “Shelf” is pretty efficientl to get stuff in and out of the library swiftly. It’s almost as good as (and clearly “inspired” by) Yojimbo, but the shortcut brings up the main app windows if it’s open… And I generaly don’t like to have an extra tab allways present on my screen.
Journler: it doesn’t have a cool shelf or drop dock, but it provides similar functionality through the service menu and an actual drop box folder in its library. Not as cool looking as Yojimbo or Together, but since the drop box is an actual folder, you can add stuff in it even if the app is not running… So if that drop box is in a Drobbox… You can actually drop stuff in there from anywhere in the world for later review! And there’s a Quicksilver Applescript (I can’t find where I got it from anymore! I’m putting it for download here, if you know where the original is, let me know and I’ll update my post) for quick text entry too.
EagleFiler: similar to all the other apps here, there’s a dedicated shortcut to import the current selection in the database.

Winner: they’re all roughly equivalent, but Journler takes the edge because of its additional physical drop box folder option.

Data Access (Browsing & Search)

Yojimbo: it’s the only app that does not have smart folders, but “tag collections” instead. That’s one of the main reasons I looked into an alternative in the first place. The search is very fast though since its data is stored in a SQLite database.
Evernote: as I was writing this, I went back to Evernote to give it another look and clicked on a few tags in the sidebar, nothing would show up… I restarted the app and now it works… deal breaker again. Done with Evernote.
Together: even with the limited amount of stuff I entered for testing, I already noticed a slight lag in search results. And I’ve read in a few places that Together gets slow as its content grows…
Journler: because it’s a journaling app at its core, it’s organized around entries instead of files. You can add WIKI style links anywhere to other resources in its library. This approach turns the “file + comment” paradigm into “entry + attachment.” But you can set it to show the resource file instead of the entry when you first view it and get the best of both worlds (see video if you’re like “huh?”).
EagleFiler: just like everything else about this app, it performs respectably well and reliably, but in a very uninspiring way.

Winner: Journler, by far. It provides all the same features as the other apps in terms of search, tagging, etc… but its WIKI style behavior makes it possible to add not just comments to files, but sophisticated contextual relationships between them.

Data Portability (Export and Sync)

Yojimbo: it stores everything in a SQLite database, but it’s a breeze to export everything in separate files. Unfortunately, you can’t move the database from it’s default location, so if you want to sync, you’ll have to spend $99 for mobileme or $30 for Webjimbo.
Evernote: exporting your data will create an Evernote file, whatever that is… Not ideal. The sync of course is its one (and only) killer feature, with its iPhone app, website access, and synchronization between all your computers.
Together: it stores all the files in neatly arranged folders. You can easily browse them in the Finder. And it exports all files without any problem. Using Dropbox to store your library will provide basic sync capability. As long as you don’t run the app on 2 computers at the same time, they can share the same database. Moving the database is flaky though. And you can’t actually move it, you have to create a new one and replace it with a backup of the one you want to move. As long as they named identically it will work.
Journler: it has the same synch capability as Together available using Dropbox (I love Dropbox… can you tell? ;). Moving your data is easy: just make sure the app is closed, move the Journler folder, then restart Journler. It will ask you to locate you “journal” when it can’t find it in the previous location. There’s no native function to export files but there’s a great applescript available that makes it a breeze and which is actually more flexible than the native options in the other apps.
EagleFiler: this is where this otherwise underwhelming application shines. It stores the info in a SQL database but keeps the files in a separate folder, so you get blazing fast access to info but a clean archive easily accessible through the Finder. Exporting is also very easy and you can store multiple databases anywhere you want so the Dropbox trick should work (haven’t tried though).

Winner: Evernote for synching, EagleFiler for data storage and exporting.

File Type Handling

Yojimbo: doesn’t handle audio or video. The Image viewer and PDF browser are very basic. Control clicking on JPG lets you open in Preview, regardless of the default set in your preferences.
Evernote: actually not too bad compared to the rest of the app. It lets you open imported files in any app you want and the different viewers are decent.
Together: the PDF viewer is very good. You can open the files in there default app when control clicking in the list view, not the preview.
Journler: it has the best PDF viewer out of all of them, with outline and dedicated search field. It has convenient shortcuts right above the file preview that let you open the file in the Finder or your default app. You can also record audio and video straight from the app (if you have a cam or a mic).
EagleFiler: very basic handling of all file types, barely better than Yojimbo.

Winner: Journler.

And The Winner Is…

The Showdown Winner: Journler

I realize I only scratched the surface here, a feature per feature comparison would take too long to write… and read… So I opted to stick to the major flaws and qualities I came across while testing each app. Feel free to let me know if you think I missed something major.

DISCLAIMER: here’s a potential deal breaker regarding Journler: the developer might stop working on this app in the futur. Make sure you’re ok with that before you spend dollars on it… I personally don’t mind since it should remain compatible all the way through Snow Leopard. By then, it’ll be time for another showdown. If you’re uncomfortable with that, I’d recommend Together as a second choice.

UPDATE: Journler development has officially ended… Since I’m already using it, I don’t really have an incentive to start using something else quite yet, but if you’re shopping for a brand new system you might want to check out Yojimbo 2.0 or EagleFiler. Both of them are pretty solid options.

Filed under: GTD