My favorite (free!) document management system… just got discontinued. But it’s still the best out there, so grab it while you can!
Neat last month quietly announced that they were discontinuing their desktop apps, and focusing solely on their cloud product. In fact, they did it so quietly that they didn’t tweet it or even mention it on their OS X El Capitan status page. The only notice is buried on their support page. Thankfully, Neat didn’t yank the downloads at the end of March – so I just beamed them down for safe keeping.
You do not need a Neat scanner to use most Neat versions. This created a free rider problem, where many used their own cheaper scanner – and Neat for Mac’s free OCR and document management system. Rival solutions of this caliber cost around $100 to $300 when Neat debuted. Needless to say, I can understand their reasoning.
Since the links are publicly visible, here they are (I cannot mirror these, get them while you can!):
- Neat for OS X – 220.127.116.11 [El Capitan Final Release]
- Neat for Mac OS X 10.7/10.8/10.9/10.10 – 18.104.22.168 [Latest Pre-OS X 10.11 Release]
- Neat for Mac OS X 10.6 – 22.214.171.124
- NeatWorks for Mac OS X 10.5 or Earlier – 126.96.36.199
- Neat officially posted this product key to use freely with NeatWorks 188.8.131.52: NM2V4DDC-475C2-WN7Z9-MYFN9
- Neat for Windows 7/8/8.1/10 – 184.108.40.2064 [Full Version] – [Update-only Version]
- Neat for Windows XP/Vista – 220.127.116.113 [Full Version] – [Update-only Version]
Ahem, as I was saying before all the downloads… I can understand this change. It’s much better to charge per month for something, versus a one-time purchase that people may not ever upgrade. Plus Neat’s free rider problem was probably reaching epidemic levels.
A USB all-in-one scanner and printer is practically free at retail stores (since they profit from the ink). Many sub-$80 all-in-one’s now offer automated document feeders. Frankly, I’m not surprised more don’t use this solution – and I know a lot of people – particularly Mac users – who do!
Neat Could Fix This! (And here’s how!)
At the same time, I am completely uninterested in Neat’s cloud offerings – as I suspect most of their desktop customers are.
Neat offered the best desktop OCR-and-document-management solution I’ve used on the Mac. Worse, they never finished patching the app for El Capitan. Despite promising to do so, they still have only published a partial fix beta. For some reason, Neat has said they won’t code-sign the older scanner drivers, and thus people with those older scanners have to follow a second guide.
Clarification: Following criticism from this article, and elsewhere, Neat announced that the last beta release would be rebranded as a final free Mac release. It is unchanged however from their final, still-buggy beta release.
Here’s what I would do – Continue development of Neat Desktop as a paid software product. Break free from the Neat-branded scanners, but keep building the desktop apps as an alternative to the cloud. Many of us don’t want all their documents stored in the cloud, for various reasons. Despite its age, Neat still has one of the better solutions out there.
PC sales are not the same as software sales. My 10 year old Mac Pro could run Neat’s software with gusto. I want to pay for the software, I don’t want my documents in the cloud.
Maintaining Neat Desktop, and continuing its development, is probably the easiest route to take a depreciating asset, and turn it around into a profitable one.
I, like many Mac users, would pay $49 annually for major releases that improve performance, and add features to Neat Desktop.
Realistically, Neat is unlikely to take my advice. The call has been made, and their management would probably seem flip-floppish to investors to pull an about-face, even if it is the best corporate move for Neat Company.
So now, I have some decisions to make.
Plan A – Set up a Legacy Neat Desk (pun intended)
I have an old Mac Pro that I can dedicate to using as a document management system. It can still do other stuff, but it would basically sit with my NeatDesk scanner, forever running OS X El Capitan (I do have the partial bugfix working, but others have struggled… particularly with older Neat Desk scanner models).
My “Neat Mac Pro” would then PDF up documents and store them in an encrypted file server, so I could flow them where I need to via remote access.
Pros: I don’t have to buy anything new.
Cons: Much moving stuff around, having to dedicate a system to one task. Can’t update OS X on the dedicated system, because it will break Neat Desktop. Off-site document retrieval could become a hassle/challenge.
Plan B – Scrap Neat Desktop, use something else…
Honestly, there’s too much choice here. Long-time Mac developer Mariner Software has Paperless, which is a frontrunner – and it has a Windows version too. But I’m almost hesitant to even mention one, because I feel obligated to list over a dozen alternative apps. Abbyy, DEVONthink, and DocMoto also have highly-regarded solutions, but tend to be way too expensive for my use cases.
For example, DEVONthink has scanner integration, but only in its most expensive version. Same dichotomies for the others. Neat did all of this, in one product – Scan, adjust scan, OCR document, and store/search/manage.
Paperless is clearly my frontrunner, but as they note on their support site, unfortunately, it has the same major drawback as Neat Desktop: You can’t portably access your library across Mac and PC. That’s a royal pain for business users who have a mixed office. Plus there isn’t an iOS or Android integration beyond emailing photographs of receipts (which is more time consuming than one might think at first).
All the mobile-first solutions rely on the cloud, and while I get that, they all fail for that reason. It would be non-trivial, but logical, to set up something similar to what Banktivity (formerly iBank) does with Mac and iOS. I really, really wish there was a document management system that followed that workflow (preferably, with Mac and Android support).
Pros: Continued OS X update support, no fears upgrading OSes, Mac-Windows cross-compatibility (Neat Desktop never did that), and supporting small businesses
Cons: More cost, tons of time testing rival solutions
For now, I’m going with “Plan A” and will be moving many objects around tonight and tomorrow to prepare for it. I hope at the least this will improve my paperless-office efficiency by co-locating my NeatDesk scanner next to my Mac. But I’m on my second NeatDesk after scanning thousands of documents (and business cards, etc) with the first.
I am going to conserve its life by scanning trade show business cards on my flatbed in groups, and I don’t plan on buying another one.
Hopefully, someone will soon implement a desktop-and-mobile solution that uses NSD and Bonjour to allow people to scan remotely (with mobile devices) and sync over LAN to a secure workstation for OCR and sorting. Without costing a fortune.
In conclusion… Hey, Neat, you’re in the pole position to deliver this! With all the data security topics of this era, some of us do want to rage against the cloud… and rightly so.
Update: Do not attempt to upgrade to macOS Sierra if you are still using Neat Desktop. See comment(s) below for details.