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Let Yojimbo Guard Your Information Castle

The latest entry in the ever-growing roster of information organizers comes from Bare Bones Software, maker of such programs as Mailsmith and BBEdit (and its freeware little brother, TextWrangler). Yojimbo, whose evocative name means roughly "bodyguard for hire" in Japanese (as in the classic Kurosawa film), is distinguished by its ease of use and the way it supplies structure to certain types of data.





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Yojimbo’s approach to maintaining information is simple. You have a single database of items, called the Library. An item can be text (possibly styled, and possibly including images), a URL (called a "bookmark"), an archive (either a Web Archive of the sort that Safari now knows how to save, or a PDF), a serial number, or a password. (Arbitrary files, such as images or Excel documents, or aliases to such files, cannot be stored as items in Yojimbo.) A particularly nice touch is that you can create a PDF and save it into Yojimbo in a single move, using the Save PDF in Yojimbo command in the PDF pop-up menu of any application’s Print dialog. (You might use this feature, for instance, to store copies of receipt pages from Web orders.) Any item can be encrypted, and to enable this, you must assign the library itself a password; password items are always encrypted. A preference lets you decide whether you want to be prompted for your password every time you decrypt an item to read it.

You don’t have to work directly in Yojimbo’s window to throw items into it. A system-wide hotkey summons the Quick Input Panel, in which the current clipboard contents are turned into an item and where you have an opportunity to determine what kind of item it is and assign a title. There is also a drawer at the edge of the screen (the Drop Dock), into which you can drop items. Finally, you can drop text and PDF files (one at a time, or in batches) on Yojimbo’s Dock icon to import them. Unfortunately, there’s no way to import a tab-delimited text file of passwords or serial numbers into individual password and serial number items, making it difficult to migrate existing collections of data from other applications into Yojimbo. And Yojimbo isn’t scriptable with AppleScript, so the best way to transfer such existing data to Yojimbo may be organically, as you use the information.

In keeping with its goal of direct simplicity, Yojimbo supplies only a modicum of organization. You can flag an item, or assign it a label (a color). You can create "collections" (like iTunes playlists or iPhoto albums) and assign an item to one or more of them. There are also some built-in "smart collections" which present categories of items, such as all text items or all flagged items. And a search field lets you find items based on their titles, contents, or comments, instantly. (But you cannot nest collections, create your own smart collections, or save a search.)

In situations where it makes sense (bookmarks, serial numbers, and passwords), Yojimbo provides a set of fields to hold the different pieces of data in the item. So, for example, a bookmark has a name field, a location field, and a comments field; a serial number has a name, the serial number, and four further fields. This is a good use of structure where it makes sense, without imposing it on the text and archive item types that don’t need it. However, you can’t define your own fields for custom types of information. If this became possible in a future version, you could use Yojimbo to store (for example) recipe references, with fields for name, cookbook name, page number, and so on. I currently use iData 2 as a lightweight flat-file database for this sort of thing, but surely the point of an information organizer should be that you can keep any kind of information in it. As so often, I’m reminded with nostalgia of the wonderful WebArranger, which permitted you to define your own item types, each with its own set of fields.



You would expect from the thoughtful and accomplished folks at Bare Bones a certain clarity and slickness of interface, as well as a showpiece that takes advantage of the brightest and best among system technologies. With Yojimbo, that’s just what you get. Yojimbo is a Tiger-only application because it relies on the latest Mac OS X advances. For instance, it’s a Core Data application, so that your items are kept easily and automatically in a SQLite database. Yojimbo also makes all non-encrypted items individually available to system-wide Spotlight searches, by representing each one as a stub in your Caches folder. (Whether you regard this as a felicitous choice depends upon your point of view. I don’t want more matches in my Spotlight searches; I want fewer!) And if you have a .Mac account, Yojimbo can use the .Mac SDK to synchronize your Yojimbo data between machines, so you can retrieve your passwords and serial numbers while using your iBook on the road.


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Bare Bones’s Yojimbo Web page asserts that the program has "no learning curve"; and this, allowing for the usual pedantic disagreements over what the phrase "learning curve" means, is absolutely true. Download it and run it; in less than a minute, you will know exactly how to put data into it and find what you’ve put in. Much as I appreciate the effort that Bare Bones has put into Yojimbo, though, it’s not a particularly ambitious application and may not compel people to switch to it from other programs that offer roughly similar features. Nevertheless, anyone who has hesitated to try any information organizer because they all seem overly complex and confusing might well be attracted to Yojimbo’s direct simplicity and should certainly give it a try.

Yojimbo requires Mac OS X 10.4.3 or later; it costs $40 for an individual license that may be used by one user on multiple machines, $70 for up to five users with multiple machines, or $30 for educational users with a single machine. The demo version expires after 30 days.

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