Macsimum Review: save space, save trees, stay organized with Mariner's Paperless
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Macsimum Review: save space, save trees, stay organized with Mariner's Paperless

Those already familiar with the former ReceiptWallet app will understand its purpose and feel comfortable within Paperless; after Mariner announced its acquisition at Macworld Expo on January 8, the 19-year-old company recently released the rebranded app as Paperless, which features only "... minor aesthetic and branding improvements ... More feature and bug updates will occur later." (Registered users of ReceiptWallet can receive a free upgrade to the new version by contacting sales@marinersoftware.com). Logan Ryan, Mariner's marketing guru, told me that the first minor update will occur in September, and Paperless 2.0 will arrive next year.

Several years ago, frustrated with my two-drawer filing cabinet's packed folders and total lack of organization, I decided to go digital since nearly every manufacturer provides user manuals, product info and warranties on the 'Net these days in addition to printed versions. (And many, such as Apple, only provide comprehensive information virtually.)

Nice idea, but even that failed because my Mac's hard drive quickly replicated my filing cabinet; PDF user manuals here, product info there, important receipts I'd manually scanned all over the place. Missing was either the self-imposed discipline and methodology to keep things organized or, ideally, something that could help me achieve that so I could actually find something when I needed it.

Paperless offers the latter in a powerful, elegant Mac-like fashion. Think of it as iPhoto for your receipts and product documents.

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Hot

Installation is simply download, drag and drop into your Apps folder. Like every app Mariner offers, you can run Paperless in a fully-functional demo mode (30 days in this case) and, once you're satisfied with it, purchase an unlock key for 45 clams. (A boxed CD version is available for $50, as is a downloadable family 5-pack for $100, but the boxed version flies against the whole idea of going paperless/reducing clutter, doesn't it?)

The interface is very Mac-like and MacNuts should quickly feel at home. The cover flow view of stored info allows quick-scroll access to a specific receipt or document, and double-clicking a cover flow thumbnail instantly opens the image or PDF in a window you'd swear was Apple's Preview app, given how familiar it looks/works. Above that is a list-view area offering details about each entry, which can include the Merchant, a Description, a Notes section and a Category, among other options, all of which are user-defined and the key to the powerful organization within Paperless. Take a moment just once to input any of these and assigning later entries is a simple matter of selection from a drop-down menu.

On the left of the main GUI window is an iPhoto-like sidebar. The Library shows everything entered into Paperless; the "Recent Receipts" section provides stock smart-folder access based on entry dates, but like iPhoto or Mail, it's easy to create more sophisticated "Collections" – an easily-accessible group of receipts, user manuals, warranty info, etc., for a specific item, category type (such as "Automotive," as I created in the image above), type of document or whatever a user needs.

On the right of the main window is a collapsible sidebar drawer, which offers easy entry of pertinent info or assignation of new entries to previously input Merchants, Categories, etc., via drop-down menus.

Regardless of when you import something into Paperless, it's a snap to set an entry's Date to the purchase date, when it cleared your bank or credit card account, when you added it to Paperless (the default), when it was written/superceded by a later version (in the case of user manuals)... again, however you want/need to define it.

Paperless can easily import receipts/scans/documents already on your hard drive, which I found useful because I always use the Mac OS X "Save to PDF Web Receipts Folder" option for my online transactions instead of printing something. Moreover, importing two-sided receipts or multiple separate docs is also easy. The Import function offers a handy "combine receipts" option for existing separate files, such as multi-page receipts, creating a single entry within Paperless.

If your Mac has an iSight camera, you can import a photo of a receipt directly into Paperless using a Photo Booth-esque Import option, including the three-second countdown and the "white screen" flash. (Try not to place your finger over the total, though.)

Finally, Paperless bears an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) component, which "reads" anything a user scans and treats it as editable, Spotlight-searchable text, thereby auto-filling pertinent entries upon import. When it works, it's a timesaver and impressive - I imported an existing Apple Store (online) receipt for my iPod Classic, and Paperless could discern between the iPod cost, sales tax, shipping and the total amount, correctly adding the latter to my entry for this item. Paperless also allows export of receipt info to .csv (comma separated values) and .qif (Quicken) files.

Tepid

One aspect I'd like to see enhanced within Paperless is the addition of an "import type" menu option. Currently, anything brought into Paperless is treated like a receipt and the app diligently searches for a dollar amount total. When I imported the PDF user manual for a window air conditioner, for instance, Paperless added "$10.65" in the Amount box, but it was really reading the Energy Star annual electricity estimate of "10.65¢ per kWh." (I only wish I could've scored this A/C unit for 10 bucks!) While Paperless quickly scans everything for dollar amounts and it's easy to zero-out the assumed cost after import, I'd just like to be able to designate something as a receipt, user manual, etc., up front.

Also, admitting that this has been my longtime beef with the way iPhoto handles images by default, I'm not thrilled that Paperless likewise creates a copy of existing files, storing them in the Document folder within a single "Receipt Library." In other words, if you import an existing scan/PDF on your hard drive, Paperless creates a second copy stored elsewhere, just like iPhoto does by default. Drilling down into the Package Contents of that file indicates that the Paperless version uses less space than the original, but I've never liked the duplication, finding it an unnecessary waste of hard drive space and confusing in large libraries. I'd rather see this app handle files as iTunes does, i.e., organizing the originals into a single folder if a user wants or just accessing them throughout the hard drive via aliases. To it's credit, Paperless does immediately offer an option to delete the original file when importing, but adding a check box like iPhoto now has to turn off the default duplication would be welcome.

Cold

The "Scan" button within Paperless triggered the scanning function on my HP Photosmart C7280 with no set-up necessary by me, and importing a receipt directly into the app was easy. Unfortunately, try as I might, I don't believe it's possible to first crop that scan manually when using this quick-scan button, and the Paperless auto-crop option didn't work either, so my imports always showed the image and the rest of the empty scanner bed - both ugly and using more hard drive space than necessary. Moreover, whenever I tried to scan a multi-page receipt from within Paperless, my scanner triggered for the first page but then left me staring at the Spinning Beach Ball, requiring me to force-quit the app every time. For the purpose of this review, I'm going to lay the latter problem on my scanner, since that's where it seemed to occur, but undoubtedly, Paperless faces a difficult challenge of working with a myriad of scanners, even if it relies on TWAIN.

My Temp

Overall, I love this app. It provides the single entry point that helps me organize, and later quickly access, anything/everything I consider important. Whether you just want to keep track of important financial paperwork, the myriad of warranty and/or user info associated with the stuff you purchase, or any project you're working on involving digital files on your Mac - such as an employment search involving job postings, your resume, cover letters you've sent, replies, etc. - Mariner Software's Paperless application offers the ease and user-definable sophistication you'll want to keep your digital stuff organized.

In addition, as a longtime paid-and-registered user of other Mariner apps (Mariner Write and MacJournal), I've always been impressed with this software company. All of Mariner's software is focused and lacks the MicroSloth Bloat, reasonably priced, very Mac-like and the company is admirably responsive to user help requests or suggestions, as well as speedy updates in light of Apple OS X updates. I fully expect Mariner to continue this tradition and look forward to the first release of the next Paperless update as Mariner begins to enhance everything this app already offers.

Between now and Oct. 31, 2009, Mariner is offering an exclusive discount to Macsimum News and MacOSG Forums users. Just enter the code "macs" (without the quotes) when checking out of the Mariner eStore to receive a 35 percent discount on everything Mariner offers.

Macsimum rating: 9 out of 10

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