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MacJournal 4 review

Verdict:

Review Date: 26 May 2006

Price when reviewed: download; $14.95 upgrade

Reviewed By: Tom Gorham

Our Rating 4 stars out of 5

Organiser or journalling application?

Mariner Software's MacJournal has always been difficult to categorise and this latest version, by adding podcasting support and vastly improving its blogging abilities, makes the program even harder to pigeonhole.

At its core, MacJournal is an excellent way of sorting ideas. You can assemble entries made up of text, images or sound files, grouped in journals in a pull-out Journals drawer. The organisation is flexible: journals can be nested inside others and, new to this version, journals and entries can be colour-labelled to aid identification.

But MacJournal is more than a basic notetaker. It offers features you might expect to find in a dedicated word processor, such as a live word count, list detection and the ability to edit the templates on which entries are based.

There are several ways to navigate entries and journals. The basic blog-style calendar at the bottom of the Journal drawer gives one-click access to entries made on highlighted dates, while a Search pane in the program's toolbar isolates entries that contain text matching a given term. Usefully you can also create 'wiki' links in entries - for example, typing 'NewTopic' in the entry window automatically links that text to an entry with that title.

An even better way of managing data is provided by MacJournal's new Safari-like tabbed toolbar, which allows you to quickly switch between entries, irrespective of the journal they come from.

MacJournal offers a startling range of sharing options. You can export in plain text, Word format, PDF, iPod notes or HTML - handily you can build your own CSS-based templates for HTML export. Equally, MacJournal makes it easy to protect your journal from prying eyes, thanks to the double security of password protection and AES 256 encryption.

Mariner Software has made so much of MacJournal 4's new audio capabilities, which allow you to record and attach audio files to an entry, that the first sight of its primitive-looking recording bar inevitably disappoints. But while it's hardly Garageband, it's fine for recording brief spoken entries and, thanks to a simple export menu, makes it far easier than most other podcasting tools to export podcast-compatible audio.

It was strange that blogging - the most popular way of keeping an online journal - was little more than an afterthought in MacJournal 3. Happily, version 4's blogging tools are vastly improved. As well as allowing you to post entries to .Mac or most common blog servers, MacJournal can also import the contents of some blog servers, so you can synchronise entries in MacJournal. This was a feature sorely lacking in the previous version.

But although importing works well for Atom or Livejournal-based servers, MacJournal still can't import entries from other blogging interfaces, such as WordPress or Movable Type, and although you can upload images to a blog, you have to specify an FTP or .Mac server to host them. On the plus side, we found that MacJournal 4 handles editing existing entries seamlessly.

An obvious danger with a program that offers so many ways to organise and store media is that you end up not quite sure where things are. MacJournal combats this with handy usability touches such as tiny icons next to an entry's title in the Journals drawer which show if it contains audio elements or has been uploaded to a blog.

But perhaps MacJournal 4's best way of marshalling information is its new floating Inspector palette, which lets you examine and edit the settings applied to journals or entries. For example, you can adjust keywords and background images across a journal or individual entries. And although by default they inherit settings from their parent journal, you can even specify different entry templates or blog servers for each entry. It would be hard to be much more flexible.

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