Unclutter offers digital pockets for your OS X miscellany

I have really mixed feelings about Unclutter for OS X (US$2.99). On the one hand, it's a pretty cool idea. The app offers a pull-out "drawer" on your desktop that lets you store files, make notes, and view your clipboard. On the other, parts of the app are unintuitive to use and could stand some design improvements to enhance the user experience.

To begin with, I struggled to get the app to respond until I realized that you could not just click and drag from the top of the screen. I needed to use the scroll wheel to entice the application window to appear. Once I mastered that, opening the app became an easy process.

Unclutter offers digital pockets for your OS X miscellany

The window consists of three embedded panels, each of which you can pull out and let float on your desktop. When pulling out each window, the other items resize to accommodate. When you close them (incidentally Command-W does not work, you have to click on the close X buttons), they return to the pocket window.

I'm not entirely sure why anyone would extract the component panels and I'm a little surprised the developer even offers this feature, but there you have it. You cannot, however, push normal Finder windows into the pocket (I tried).T

With Unclutter, you can:

  • Preview the contents of your clipboard (left)

  • Store files into a central folder for easy access (middle)

  • Make notes (right)

The idea is that the app gives you this instant availability without taking up space on your desktop. In practice, the three sections feel disjointed, consisting of one strong utility (the file drawer) and two rather weak ones (the Notes and Clipboard preview). I wonder why they were merged together into a single app.

The Clipboard preview does exactly what it says on the label. It shows whatever items you've copied to the system pasteboard. If you copy a picture, it shows the picture. If you copy text, the text. It does not, however, reflect any styling hints you've copied (all text is shown in the same common font) and if you copy multiple images, it just lists them. I was hard pressed to find a compelling reason why the developer included this feature, but it's there.

As for the Notes section, the built-in OS X Notes app does a far better job and is accessible with just a few keystrokes (Command-Space, Notes, return). OS X Notes offers tabs, sharing, and search, none of which are part of the Unclutter interface. I'm guessing the developer hoped to provide a single quick "to do" central scribbling area and it does work for quick reference. I'm just thinking that, again, it's a superfluous feature that should have been trimmed, with the app focusing on file access.

The strongest portion of the app is that file storage, offering a pull-out drawer with a quick file reference. For those who wish to keep their desktop clean, this is the best of the Unclutter uncluttering tools. You can drag your files in, and access them by opening the pocket window.

It's a pity then that the other two utilities take up so much of that pocket space. As is, most people will struggle to put more than a half dozen to a dozen reference items in, even users with large screen real estate. The app offers no option to disable the notes or clipboard viewer, and if you drag them out of the pocket, they're stuck on your desktop, doing the opposite of uncluttering.

Adding files to the pocket was another task I struggled with. And unlike the opening and closing of the pocket, one that came with no hints or instructions. In the end, I figured out two ways to add files. First, you can drag the file panel out to your finder and add items by drag and drop. But far easier (and discovered much later), I found you could just drag files to the menu bar (this opens the pocket window) and then pull back down below the menu bar to drop them into the file panel.

When you copy items to the panel, they're stored in a rather obscure folder in your personal library, specifically:

~/Library/Containers/com.softwareambience.Unclutter/Data/Library/Application Support/Unclutter/FileStorage. This is part of the OS X sandboxing system.

Unclutter offers digital pockets for your OS X miscellany

In testing, I created a test RTF file with an easy-to-distinguish name ("snickerdoodle") and added it to my drawer. I then allowed Spotlight to update indexing.

Unclutter offers digital pockets for your OS X miscellany

When I attempted to search for it with Spotlight, it could not be found. This would not be as much of an issue if Unclutter created aliases and left the files in-place, but since the actual file moves into the FileStorage folder, its unfortunate location may cause side effects like this.

Unclutter offers digital pockets for your OS X miscellany

Dragging the folder back to the desktop, immediately restored its entry in the Spotlight search.

As utilities go, I think Unclutter has a pretty cool basic idea -- the pocket drawer that can be accessed with a simple mouse combination. I'm just unhappy with some of the implementation details on what is otherwise a promising concept.