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It's When I Struggle to Stay Alive, or Another Mendeley Review

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I usually don’t get personal with software reviews. I even praised TNT in the past for being extremely fast, even though it mainly does maximum parsimony. But Mendeley’s case is outstanding and their attempt to censor me, makes things personal. I’m the closest you can get to be a “no one” in the scientific realm, I have this blog, a site needing updates and a couple of applications that no one uses. I still have a voice, maybe a smallish one, but I have. And I don’t like hype. And I’m a masochist.

So, after reading several hype-like entries on the internet about how hyper-super-duper is the new Mendeley’s version, I decided to go against the attempted censorship (I guess everyone at Mendeley Corp, or Inc, vote for BNP) and common sense, and downloaded the latest version of the software.

As usual, I installed the application, this time on a Macbook (dual core) with 4Gb of RAM and running the latest version of Leopard. First step was to get a directory with some PDF files and import into the application. I found one in my backup disk with a little bit over 1000 files and selected it to be imported. Last couple of times that used Mendeley, I tried importing about the same number of files and the performance was horrible. On this first test on OS X, I must admit that Mendeley was a little bit better, as it “only” took 32 minutes to import the files. But I’m not mentioning that it need almost two cores to do it, peaking at 170% of CPU usage and almost 1 Gb of RAM. Of course, you expect to do it only once, so my advice is that you do it on a desktop (or maybe on a laptop not on your lap) and on a winter day (for people on tropical countries, I’m sorry) as the CPU temperature will go up considerably.

After importing the files, it was time to check (again!) how bad the recognition was done. I learned that I have a lot of papers titled “BMC Bioniformatics” and “Bioinformatics application note”, which I guess are really hot research topics nowadays. Then I went to check the ├╝ber-hyped PDF viewing capabilities. I double clicked on a random entry and the first page was displayed almost immediately, which is quite an achievement for this application. I tried scrolling down and the beachball came. I let Mendeley play with the ball for an hour and when I came back they were like good ol’ pals on the beach. I then force quit the application and Leopard was relieved. Sent the bug report to Apple, hoping they are not swamped with Mendeley errors (I imagine some random engineer in Cupertino scratching his/her head and saying “What the hell is Mendeley?”). After the said hour and quitting it, I restarted Mendeley. And this brings me to Mendeley’s interface.

And I must say on a Mac it looks awful. It’s like eating kidney pie (I’ve never had kidney pie, so I’m just guessing). What Papers have of style and charm, Mendeley have of blandness and lack of style. I might have become a Mac snob, but Mendeley is just Windows-ish. Windows 95, I mean. The toolbar, on PDF view mode is hideous, with icons that have the flair of a Ford Pinto. The list view is also very bland and screams of lack of style. They employ Ricardo Vidal, who creates great logos and drawings and is also an expert on things that look good, but they still choose to follow the hideous path. I don’t think I have commented on Mendeley’s interface before, maybe because I was testing it on Windows, which is an OS not known for great interfaces anyway.

So, what’s the state of Mendeley? If you remove all the hype and the PR, you might say it’s an moderately good application, that still has years and years of work ahead to become a good application. But that’s the problem of hype and PR: you expect Mendeley to be the software that will solve all your bibliographical needs and make you a cheese and ham sandwich at the end of the day. It’s far from it, and if the hype-PR machine wasn’t there I would give a break to all the major flaws that a beta application has. Poor code (greedy, CPU- and memory-hoarding), ugly and bland interface, poor PDF recognition and slow PDF rendering when panning pages (I haven’t tested the web capability. I’m not that masochist!).

Summarizing, Mendeley still sucks and the PR doesn’t help it work better.

Comments are open, let the bashing begin.