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Paperless: A solid, easily customizable document manager for OS X

There are several bloggers here at TUAW who are slowly moving toward a paperless office. Steve Sande has had the best success, sharing some of what he's learned about culling out the piles of paper in his freelance business.

However, it doesn't stop reams of paper from entering your life, or to even begin to manage it. Paperless from Mariner Software, formerly known as ReceiptWallet, aims to pull all of the paper pieces of your digital life into one location, then encourages you to keep going by adding to it by creating separate databases within the program to sort out different parts of your life -- a digital file cabinet, so to speak. Paperless works with almost any scanner and even offers a few bundled packages with Fujitsu's ScanSnap scanners that include a boxed version of Paperless. Yes, the irony of including a boxed version of a software designed to make your life paperless isn't lost on us.

The folks at Mariner were good enough to let us dive into the software.

Look and feel

Upon launching Paperless for the first time, I got the option to create a new library and prepopulate categories, which I did. Then the app offered to scan my hard drive for all PDFs and import them. The program crashed while doing so, but was up again quickly. I was presented with Paperless' feedback form, which allows you to tell the company what you were doing when the crash happened and even pick which email address they can use to contact you. While not automatic, like Apple's crash reports, it is nice to actually describe what happened.

After a second try, I got a glimpse of the main window. It's set up similar to a GTD program with an inbox and several prepopulated smart searches based on when you placed a document into the software and the type of document entered. You can create new collections using the options in the bottom left. An inspector box is on the right, allowing you to change the name of the document. Like importing photos into iPhoto, Paperless doesn't delete the main copy of the file from your hard drive. However, an option in the preferences allows you to delete the main file once it gets added to Paperless.

Using Paperless

To utilize Paperless fully, it's worth taking a few moments to go through the preferences and the file menu to turn on some options. In the preferences, enable the "show paperless icon in Safari" option to add a button to Safari that allows you to save any PDF you view in the browser to Paperless.

Paperless also has a few handy droplets in the File menu. There's one that uses the PDF menu in the Print dialog of any application to give you the option of saving a PDF to the Paperless library. A second will add a droplet for the Finder, which I actually added to my dock.

You can view documents as a list, grid, Cover Flow or in a variety of reports that you can customize by tagging certain data with documents. You can go crazy with customization here, adding labels, merchants, titles, categories and more. While it might seem like a hassle to set up, it's going to be worth it once you get in the groove of using the program. Double-clicking on a document opens up the full PDF. You can split and edit the PDF documents.

You can make different libraries for different things. I can easily see myself creating separate libraries for my TUAW work, other freelance work and personal documents.

OCR engine

As with any program of this nature, what makes or breaks it is the OCR engine. It's pretty OK. I first tested it with a couple of receipts from a recent trip to the vet. Paperless interfaced flawlessly with my Canon scanner, was able to determine that the paper I scanned was a receipt, and it tried to fill in the price field. Because of the way my vet broke down the charges, the OCR in Paperless was unable to determine how much I spent, so I entered that in myself. I tagged it and filed it away. Scanning multi-page documents was just as easy. This one I tried with my income tax return. While Paperless didn't do anything fancy, because I haven't set up many categories or subcategories as of yet, it handled compiling the multi-page document with ease.

Backups

The big drawback to Paperless is that there's no straight backup solution to cloud storage. No way to save to Dropbox, MobileMe or similar services. You can backup to physical media -- CDs, DVDs and Time Capsule -- or create a backup file. That file can be put into your Dropbox or MobileMe folder.

Paperless is US$49.95 and is available through Mariner's website and the Mac App Store. It requires OS X 10.5.8 or higher.

While many would be happy with a free program like Evernote, if you're looking to get started in building a paperless office, it's hard to beat Paperless for complete customization. It's worth considering when making the move toward a paperless office.



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Software Mac

There are several bloggers here at TUAW who are slowly moving toward a paperless office. Steve Sande has had the best success, sharing...