MacJournal 5 review
Review Date: 28 Feb 2008
Price when reviewed: (about £18)
Reviewed By: Giles Turnbull
MacJournal is something of a veteran in its field, older than most of its competitors and historically happy to compete on its own terms.
It has never tried to be anything other than a personal diary and journal application. In real life, though it is useful for much more.
Overhauled for Leopard, version 5 is an impressive step forward. It includes new features, improved usability and a noticeable move towards a simpler workflow.
The old MacJournal relied on two drawers that slid in and out on either side of the editing pane. One displayed journals and entries, the other acted as an Inspector.
Following the trend evident in many other document-management applications, the drawers have been ditched in favour of a much neater Mail-style sidebar.
The most important aspect of MacJournal's interface design is customisation. The defaults for both the toolbar and the info bar (which appears immediately above an entry's editing pane) are minimal. But delve into their customisation options and in both cases you are offered a huge array of possibilities.
The info bar in particular is worth a closer look. With it you can add a great deal of metadata to an entry without having to open up the Inspector (which still remains but doesn't offer nearly the same user-friendly approach as the info bar).
It's not until you start rummaging around in the options and preferences that you realise quite how feature-packed this application is. One look at the number of toolbar buttons on offer confirms that.
It's a credit to Mariner Software's development team that it has deliberately kept many of these functions out of sight for the new user.
When you open MacJournal for the first time you are shown a sensible - but small - subset of what it can do. It's up to you to explore further.
With an application as packed with features as this, it makes a lot of sense to allow users to discover each one over time rather than try to squeeze them all into the toolbar at the outset.
High on the list of new features is Smart Journals, through which you can bring together all entries that contain a particular search string, or collate entries according to the usual metadata criteria you would use to make a Smart Folder in the Finder.
MacJournal will also now accept almost any kind of content including URLs, movie files, PDFs and word processor documents. Anything it can't open is stored anyway as a file link that can be opened in the appropriate external application - it's still assigned a status, priority, subject and label in the info bar.
Another useful change is the ability to have more than one MacJournal document open at once. Again this is hidden from newcomers who can simply use the defaults and stick with the single auto-saved document provided from scratch.
Entries are no longer restricted to the journal they were created in. Entry aliases look just like their equivalents in the Finder and behave the same way, allowing you to store a single entry in more than one place.
These are overdue and welcome extras, putting MacJournal in a much stronger position against its competitors in the note-taking and information-management fields. And it still offers excellent built-in support for the most popular blogging systems.However, it can't download existing blog posts from your server.
MacJournal has always been a decent application, offering more than might have been expected. But this upgrade is an important one. It feels like a more mature (perhaps middle-aged) application now and is suited to much more than just writing a digital diary.
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