Review: Shovebox – Powerful but simple data organizer

Like many people, I have a serious need to get organized. My computer desktop is a uncharted maze of links, pictures, documents, half-completed projects and of course, folders full of totally random stuff.

The problem I run into is that many programs which promise to help me organize are either too complex, require too much thought or don’t work in an intuitive way. The perfect app for me is one that can scale to match my level of ambition. When I’m lazy, it must be drop-dead simple. When I’m in a hurry, it must be quick. On those rare occasions when I really want to really wade through my stuff, it must be powerful enough to help me and flexible enough to stay out of my way. That’s a pretty tall order, and very few apps have measured up. I’m happy to say that Shovebox from Wonder Warp Software is a great piece of software and possibly one of the best organizers I’ve encountered.

Basically, what Shovebox does is help you to manage all your files, notes and ideas. It can store documents, links, images, pretty much anything. A little inbox icon sits up on the menu bar and when you drag a file to it, it gets instantly copied into your shovebox database. If that’s all the organization you care to do then you’re done.

If however, you want to take things a bit further, Shovebox will oblige. Choosing the “organize” option from the drop-down menu will take you to the program’s main storage area where all your files are kept. Here you can do things like rename them, color code them, assign them to folders and even export them to different formats on the way to somewhere else.

Shovebox Simple Data Organizer

Shovebox also has a few niceties that deserve to be mentioned. It has 2 note-taking functions, one called “quick jot” which summons a very basic “stickie” type note and one called “text note” which adds some additional features like titling, spell check, printing, etc. Anything you write in either of these 2 tools is automatically added to your shovebox archive for later. Both methods work equally well. You can also capture still pictures with titles from your iSight camera or capture anything from the OS X clipboard.

If all this still isn’t enough organizational mojo for you, Shovebox also lets you define your own “rules” to automatically sort incoming data based on parameters you establish. It can sort by file type, name or date. It can look for keywords in the body of a document or even sort by the time of day in which the data was added. You can set your own hot keys for creating a text note or opening the main organization panel. For the uber-geeks there is also support for Applescripts and it can even execute shell commands. nifty.

There are a few niggling limitations I’ve found in my time with the software. The first is that I can’t seem to get it to create nested folders inside the main organize screen which seems like an odd omission… and while you can color code individual files, there doesn’t seem to be any way to color code your folders, which might be nice if that sort of thing helps you.

If you try to import something into Shovebox that it doesn’t understand, there is also no visual cue to let you know it’s stumped. This can lead you to multiple attempts at dragging and ultimately to frustration. To be fair, I’ve only found 2 things Shovebox wouldn’t import. The first was a quicktime movie. The second was a folder full of web links. This last item is particularly unfortunate because the lazy bastard in me was very excited over the possibility of dumping a folder full of items into Shovebox and having it sort everything out for me. Perhaps that’s a functionality they can add to an upcoming version.

Shovebox is a universal application for OS X 10.4 and higher. It’s $24.95 which may feel a bit spendy for this type of application (okay, so I’m cheap too), but it is well worth the money. There are programs you buy, programs you try and programs you actually use. Shovebox has quickly become a program I actually use and that is the first step towards a desktop picture you can actually see.


REVIEW UPDATE: In talking with Dan, the developer of ShoveBox, he let me know that the software will indeed ingest multiple files at once, as long as they’re not inside a folder. I tried this with about a dozen weblinks and it worked just fine. My love for ShoveBox grows.