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Yojimbo 4 brings syncing, highlights iCloud woes

Good news for Yojimbo fans: version 4 is now available, and it syncs across Macs.

(Pause and wait for for chorus of 'hallelujahs' to subside.)

I've been a Yojimbo user for years, but in case some of you don't know what it is, I'll start by quoting Bare Bones' own website which describes it this way: "Yojimbo makes keeping all the small (or even large) bits of information that pour in every day organized and accessible. It's so simple, there is no learning curve. Yojimbo's mechanism for collecting, storing and finding information is so natural and effortless, it will change your life, without changing the way you work."

Yojimbo is not meant to hold your entire PDF collection, or all of your images, or all of your bookmarks. It isn't meant to replace Google or the Finder or even Spotlight. It's meant to be that place which is always in reach where you can put something, anything, when you don't want to lose it but you can't (or don't want to) deal with it right now. It's easy to get things into Yojimbo, it's easy to get them out again, and it's easy to search and categorize what you have there. Yojimbo is often referred to as a "digital junk drawer" but to me it's more like the stuff I keep piled on or around my desk but don't put away because I don't want to lose or forget about it. It's that digital 'inbox' where you can throw anything that you might need to sort through later without thinking too much about it now.

This is an important role which is easily underestimated. The reason I know that is because I have become aware of the fact that I don't have one now – which means that I have several. See if this sounds familiar: I have a text file with some quick notes that I've jotted down. I have some 'flagged' emails which I hope I will remember means I need to followup on them next time I see them. I have some articles that I saved to Pinboard and some PDFs that I saved to my "To Read" folder and some files on the Desktop, not to mention a few things I tossed into OmniFocus. Too often things go into one of those 'buckets' and I forget about it, mostly because there are too many of them. More than likely I waste time trying to decide where to save them, and I know I waste time trying to find them, if I even remember to look.

One of the great things about Yojimbo was that it did syncing of a variety of different kinds of information. Unfortunately, that's also been a major thorn in its side lately.

Sync, sank, stunk

When Yojimbo was introduced, it used MobileMe syncing to bring your data across your Macs. Way back in 2006 Yojimbo was described as having "Seamless .Mac syncing" and that syncing was always an essential part of the app. Unfortunately, it relied on MobileMe, which Apple eventually shut down. It seems to be a pattern with Apple that web services don't have a very long life and never really get the attention and "polish" that people hope for when a new product comes along. By the time Apple finally killed off MobileMe and the loathsome, atrocious iDisk, few people were sad to see it go, and we were all encouraged to see Apple's new efforts towards iCloud.

Until it arrived.

What iCloud does extremely well is file syncing. You save a document in Pages on your Mac and a few seconds later it will show up on your iPad or your other Macs. It's fast and easy, not to mention free for the first 5 gigabytes.

What iCloud does not do well is database syncing, or in technical terms: "Core Data" syncing. Now, I'm not a developer and I won't pretend to be here, but if you have been paying any attention at all, you have probably heard Mac and iOS developers complaining about iCloud. If you missed it, allow me to direct your attention to Ars Technica which featured this issue in an article almost six months ago Frustrated with iCloud, Apple's developer community speaks up en masse.

Bare Bones Software's Rich Siegel is featured prominently in that article, but he also echoes many other developer complaints about the way that iCloud works. He also explained why Dropbox is not an viable option (again, Dropbox does file syncing very well, but not database syncing). If after all that you want an even more thorough, yet easy-to-understand explanation, you can read Rich's Tumblr post The Gathering Storm: Our Travails With iCloud Sync from earlier this year as well. He also links to several other developers who spoke about the problems they faced with iCloud syncing.

The bottom line is this: Dropbox doesn't have the necessary tools (yet?) to sync databases, and iCloud is supposed to have the necessary tools, but it doesn't work.

Which left Bare Bones with only one viable option: a 3rd-party sync solution.

Sync Rises

If you are familiar with Evernote, you know that it syncs via its own service, not iCloud and not Dropbox. The same is also true for OmniFocus and several other applications. DEVONThink can sync to Dropbox, sort of, but it requires that you go into Dropbox and turn off automatic syncing and sync things manually. (I tried when they first introduced it, and quickly abandoned the idea as more trouble than it was worth. You'd get roughly the same effect if you just copied your data to Dropbox when you quit the app.)

Bare Bones has decided to offer a syncing solution which will cost US$3 a month. The syncing is handled through Wasabi Sync which describes itself as "Core Data cloud syncing done right" (as opposed to, say, the way that iCloud currently wörks). The first 30 days are free so you can try it and see if it works for you. You can also try Yojimbo 4 free for 30 days by downloading the demo from BareBones.com.

Before anyone complains about Yojimbo syncing, let me remind you that it is still cheaper than Evernote. Also note that Yojimbo for iPad still happens over your local Wi-Fi network, so you do not need a sync subscription for that. (Before you ask, no, you cannot directly sync Yojimbo for iPad from your Wasabi sync account. When I asked Rich Siegel whether that would be added, he politely declined to make any 'forward looking statements' but certainly left the door open for that possibility. One thing at a time.)

Final words, for now

In a perfect world, Yojimbo would have been able to sync via iCloud and the BareBones folks would not have had to spend the past year of their lives trying to make it work before eventually giving up and implementing their own solution. But right now iCloud just does not work for database syncing, and you don't have to take my word for that, there are lots of developers who will (and have) shared their frustrations. Again I would refer you to both Frustrated with iCloud, Apple's developer community speaks up en masse and The Gathering Storm: Our Travails With iCloud Sync and remember that syncing files is a lot easier than syncing databases.

Yojimbo is a great Mac app by a great Mac development team who sweat the details to make something excellent. That's why BBEdit has been around for over 20 years and still growing strong. Yojimbo is not DEVONThink or Evernote, nor are they Yojimbo. They do different, if similar, things. If you have been frustrated by having little bits of your digital life spread out in several different places, I would strongly encourage you to check out Yojimbo. I'm very happy to have it back in my dock.