Is Yojimbo Still Relevant in 2013?

I’ve been using Mac for years, but sometimes there are apps that everybody else swears by that I’ve never used. One of those apps is Yojimbo, which has a long history on the platform and is something many popular bloggers completely swear by.

Recently, Yojimbo was upgraded to version 4.0, which brings with it a new syncing option and — well, not much else. But in today’s day and age, is a service like Yojimbo still relevant when our Macs aren’t our sole tool anymore and we’re all using iPads and smartphones everywhere we go? Read on to find out what my thoughts are on the state of Yojimbo in 2013.

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What Is Yojimbo?

I know a lot of people who have only started using the Mac platform in the past couple years, and if you’re anything like them, you’ll have no idea what Yojimbo is. Yojimbo is an easy-to-use catalogue program of sorts for any file on your Mac, be it a miscellaneous PDF or an online password. It’s heavily built on a tagging architecture that makes finding files easier, and it integrates with Spotlight so it’s still easy to find files.

Yojimbo is a place where you can store anything.

Yojimbo is a place where you can store anything.

The idea is simple: All you need to do to save a file in Yojimbo is click and drag into the dock or the little Drop Dock that sits on your screen at all times. If you want to save a URL or a password, all you need to do is copy the item to your clipboard and then hit F8 (or, for many of us, fn+F8). Yojimbo is what Shawn Blanc has somewhat referred to as an Anything Bucket for your Mac. If you don’t have a place for something on your Mac, Yojimbo is where it could go.

Yojimbo is best when you make use of editable labels.

Yojimbo is best when you make use of editable labels.

Yojimbo stores all of your files in its own database. You can give them labels or search for them with Spotlight. If you ever want to leave the app, it’s easy to export files and head out.

I could make this review very simple for you: Yojimbo is very good at what it does. But that would be selling the review short, because what it does might not be enough in 2013.

The Syncing Problem

The first, and biggest, issue for Yojimbo is sync options. With Yojimbo 4, Bare Bones Software has finally made it possible to sync between Yojimbo on multiple Macs. If you have more than one Mac and you have a place for Yojimbo in your workflow, or you already use it, syncing alone probably makes this a must-have update.

Syncing is now an option across multiple Macs, but I only have one so it feels irrelevant to me.

Syncing is now an option across multiple Macs, but I only have one so it feels irrelevant to me.

But syncing requires a monthly subscription at $3 per month. And at $30 for the app, or $20 for an upgrade license, that starts to add up. Your first year of use is going to cost over $50, no matter how you slice it. And to make matters worse, the sync solution doesn’t include syncing to mobile devices.

There’s an iPad companion app, available for $10, but it’s only a companion app. It’s not meant to be like Yojimbo for the Mac, and it doesn’t offer you the ability to manage files or add tags or anything like that. Yojimbo on the iPad is just a way to view your Yojimbo catalogue. It syncs over wifi, but it doesn’t require a $3 monthly subscription. It’s an entirely different sort of sync.

This button, which is configurable to sit on any side or corner of your display, is an easy way to click and drag files of any sort into Yojimbo.

This button, which is configurable to sit on any side or corner of your display, is an easy way to click and drag files of any sort into Yojimbo.

In other words, at the end of the day, you’re still better off dumping all your files into a Dropbox folder than you are in Yojimbo. And that’s an obviously huge problem. I have an Anything Bucket of sorts in my Dropbox account; it’s a folder labeled “Other.” And I’m not sure what I’d do without it, but at the same time, it’s also nice to be able to add things to it from any device.

Yojimbo Vs. Everything Else

Yojimbo still does some things really well, don’t get me wrong. The oft-cited receipt example is one such thing: Instead of printing as a PDF, you can save a receipt PDF to Yojimbo and add a label to it to keep it all organized. As nifty as that is, I don’t remember the last time I needed to keep an Amazon receipt for my records — and if I did, there’s a paper receipt in the shipping box. Of course, some people will find this service useful, but $30 for a receipt tracker is a little pricey.

It's easy to archive a webpage, but Pinboard does it better.

It’s easy to archive a webpage, but Pinboard does it better.

There are some other things that Yojimbo does well, like web archiving. If there’s a webpage you want to keep track of, you can simply save it to Yojimbo, and an archive of that page is kept safe for you. As fantastic as that is, I can count the number of times I needed or wanted that on one hand in the past six years. And if I did really have a burning desire for it, I could use a service like Pinboard and get access to the webpages I need from any device — not just my Mac.

And Yojimbo as a password saver sounds great, except that 1Password does it better and Mavericks is going to do it natively this fall, and use iCloud to keep all of them in sync with our iToys (and Mavericks is probably going to be cheaper than Yojimbo).

Labels are a great taste of what's coming in Mavericks, but that's the problem: They're coming to the Mac with Mavericks.

Labels are a great taste of what’s coming in Mavericks, but that’s the problem: They’re coming to the Mac with Mavericks.

Furthermore, Mavericks is also bringing tags to Finder. In effect, Apple is turning your entire Mac into an Anything Bucket with this feature. It doesn’t make Yojimbo irrelevant, but it does strip it of one of its core differentiating features.

Evernote and/or Simplenote kind of make this feel impractical.

Evernote and/or Simplenote kind of make this feel impractical.

When it comes to notes, I think most people I know — even my mother — have moved on to Evernote or other similar cross-platform apps. Remembering serial numbers might be handy for some, but again, Simplenote or Evernote are great for that, and they sync across multiple computers and devices without a $3 fee. And at this point, I think even Shawn Blanc is taking a similar stance.

A Couple Caveats

I’m the first person to admit that I’m not always right, especially when I take a stance that I know will be controversial. I’m sure that some people will have a use for Yojimbo, but I don’t think I’m one of them. I know that some apps, like 1Password, are also more expensive than Yojimbo at the end of the day. But they’re also supported across multiple devices, including Android.

I also can’t rag on Yojimbo’s design. This app is solid. Version 4 introduces a full-screen mode, and the entire thing is easy to navigate. I have no problems finding my way around, and I think anybody who uses the app for even a short period is going to feel like they’re living in a second home.

My Final Heavy-hearted Thoughts

And this is what makes Yojimbo work: It’s so utterly charming and ceaselessly appealing. It does do some very cool things, and the hotkeys and ceaseless automation for the app make it an interesting buy for many Mac users. But for those of us who rely on other devices for our workflows — and at this point, I know a lot of people who do — I’m not sure that Yojimbo is an appropriate buy.

At the end of the day, Yojimbo is a beautifully-designed and solidly-coded app. It works well, and it does exactly what it advertises itself to do. But Yojimbo still feels like it’s stuck in 2009 as far as its approach to multiple devices. And that’s a crying shame. Unless you’re a diehard Mac user and don’t rely on any other devices, my advice is to try out the trial before you buy. I doubt it’s going to be as flexible as you’ll need it to be.


Summary

Yojimbo is a wonderful cataloguing app that’s insanely easy to use. It’s superbly good at what it does, and it’s one of the best Mac apps I’ve had the pleasure of using. Unfortunately, it’s just a Mac app. In today’s age, I don’t think that’s enough and I can’t recommend it for everybody.

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