A new software project: A onenote replacement for mac...


I have recently tried a couple of proposed equivalents of Microsoft Onenote and found the Mac offering pretty disappointing. Would Devon Technologies ever consider going down this path. It’s a category of product which would work wonderfully in conjunction with Devonthink. While there is some overlap in purpose and function, a notebook app differs from a more database style app by allowing you to manipulate elements such as text, images etc… in a much more in-depth way, and when presented in a feature rich way, can become an indispensable tool in which to record and make notes for lectures, write documents, and build on the sorts of information that might be stored in a database. While DT has a really handy rich text editor, it’s not uber powerful the way that Onenote is, with multiple tabs and pages, open notepages (where you can write anywhere) and a clear visual analogue of the notebooks we are used to using in the real world.

While there are unique aspects of such programs, there are functions which overlap with DT, such as using these programs as a way to store and collate masses of information. Onenote notebooks are similar to a database in the same way that DT databases are similar to notebooks. However, the important visual and functional differences leave room for BOTH of these categories of programs to be used together in a very dynamic and powerful way.

For my part, I have been using DT to pull in and organise huge amounts of data, including pdfs, webpages, images, and rich text. However, when I really want to get into an area, I like to open an notebook so that I can bring together all this information and play with it in a rich and powerful way. At the moment I have been using Circus Ponies Notebook. I have been collecting clippings and rich text notes in a hierarchy of groups, and am using some of this information to really link all these disparate parts in a semi-liniar notebook. It’s a little bit tricky to do this with Notebook. It’s a really nice program; particularly the “multidex” feature, but you can’t access at all of your notebooks through the same interface, as you can with onenote, and there is no way to imbed links to finder-based files or folders as you can in onenote. This means that if I add for example a PDF from DT, these is now a separate copy in DT and Notebook- it makes it very clumsy to work with my clippings!

Having a notebook app which interfaces completely with DT would be such a terrific boon! Especially if the UI, for example, allowed you to replicate or duplicated groups of files from DT to your notebooks with ease, or allow you to apply DTs AI to all of your notebook. What do others think?


Hi jonathon & everyone,

I recently began organizing my data in DT Pro and I’m very pleased with the lots of opportunities it provides. I have OneNote on my Bootcamp Windows, but 99 % of the time I’m working with Mac OS & DTPro, which is of course a completely different kind of software (and the one I clearly prefer for my purposes if I have to, and, well… I obviously have to).

But something is indeed missing… It would be more than useful if you could create a kind of notebook as in OneNote, in which you can collect different types of data i.e. write stuff down, put in pics, diagrams… I know that there are ways to connect data like this via links etc. but as jonathon put it a

would be fantastic. And a unique selling point for DT on the software market, as far as I can see :wink:

I have no idea about the technical issues behind implementing such a feature, but as I imagine it you guys at DT don’t even have to invent a new notebook kind of file format in which all the bits of information from a notebook (or whatever you may call it) are stored in. Maybe you could just provide a kind of pinboard on which the user can graphically assemble selected data (which is separately stored in its respective file formats).

No matter how you do it… a DT / OneNote hybrid would tremendously improve my workflow :smiley:

Zengobi’s Curio is normally regarded as the closest Mac equivalent to OneNote.* There are also one or two much simpler but less capable competitors.

Personally, I’d be against Devon Technologies grafting a notebook on to DevonThink. Experience suggests that the most useful applications on the Mac platform find their niches and develop within them. Applications that try to straddle too many uses end up as “Jacks of all trades, masters of none”. That may be because of the great developer effort often required to make even a tightly targeted application succeed (as DT may be finding with sync-ing?).

*I’m hesitant to mention Curio in this forum; it seems bad manners to name what some may see as a rival. But my argument is effectively saying that DT isn’t, and ought not to be, a rival to Curio.

I agree;

"Applications that try to straddle too many uses end up as “Jacks of all trades, masters of none”

Splitting DT in that way could really undermine what it does best! I can really envisage a kind of “sister” program, which is separate but they complement each other in style and function,


Just a suggestion. As I understand it, MS’s new SkyDrive offers direct usage of an online version of OneNote. It’s all free. I have not signed up for this but assuming it works like I think it does, there’s no reason why you couldn’t save the link and work with OneNote online within DT’s browser.

I could be wrong but it costs nothing to try it.

Tom S.

Curio is excellent, and .curio files have an acceptable Quick Look, or Curio web exports indexed well in DEVONthink. (Although the pages are rendered as non-searchable images). I don’t think it’s a competitor of DEVONthink, because DEVONthink is built to import, index, use anyone’s Quick Look, and be compatible with most file types - nor do I imaging DEVONtech want to invest the resources to match the functionality of complex editors such as Curio.

Front and center on DEVONtech’s web site: DEVONthink is a “document manager” and “Organize and work with all your documents in one place, regardless where they come from” and “information management reinvented”. It’s seems pretty clear that the mission isn’t information creation (e.g., document creation).

It’s quite surprising that everyone besides me is against the idea of enhancing DT with a bit of OneNote. I kind of imagined that a lot of people had the same wet software dreams like me :slight_smile:

First, I’m totally aware that DT is a document manager and not (yet) a tool for document creation. That’s what I bought it for and that’s what it does perfectly well. As I said, I’m very pleased with my DT Pro and I have already recommended it to friends because of its great features and usability. So I’m definitely not at all ranting about a missing OneNote feature here.

But since this is the Requests & Suggestions part of this board I’m sort of puzzled that the majority so strongly advocates for keeping DT as it is. The main concern seems to be that adding new dimensions to DT would make it confusing and impractical - a half-baked jack of all trades, as someone mentioned. I do understand these worries but I think that you could place a little more confidence in the Devon Technologies team. Adding new features doesn’t inevitably mean screwing the whole software just like keeping it simple doesn’t necessarily lead to perfect usability.

Well, I admit that “merging DT with OneNote” sounds quite exaggerated. Like some really weird software mutant… sorry for that :unamused:

I basically just want to be able to graphically arrange basic bits of information in one place, be it a notebook, pin board or whatever. Just like now one can put pictures or tables in RTFs - just a little more 21th century :wink: DT’s information creation feature of course don’t compete with a full-fledged Word, Excel or the like, but it wouldn’t be as useful if one couldn’t write stuff down or create simple tables, right? So why not expand this kind of basic information creation?

I’m aware that people like programmers, engineers etc who use very specialized software will not benefit from this or at least it won’t much simplify their workflow. But people like me whose profession mainly requires them to read and write (and find stuff that has been written or read) will benefit a lot. Of course I can use a different software for every part of my workflow, but let’s be honest: it’s more work than flow. I don’t do rocket science, so creating files and building a database to suit my needs shouldn’t be rocket science as well. I also read the DTech website and guess what: I belong to one of those professional groups DTech particularly intends to cater to. So I think I’m not being too unrealistic here :stuck_out_tongue:

In the end, DT is about knowledge management, so adding ways to arrange information would integrate perfectly well with its main concept. I know that the DT team has to fix other, more urgent issues at the moment and I know that the kind of enhancement I dream of will probably not be done in the near future. But I put my 2 cents on the counter anyway 8)

PS: Thanks for mentioning Sky Drive, tshanno. I don’t have a Windows Live ID yet so I can’t check it out now, but I’ll take a look at it these days.

Hi Ali,

Welcome to the thread. I’ve tried the skydrive version. I think it’s a great webapp and I really like skydrive as a whole, but at the end of the day it’s only a webapp. It doesn’t have the sophistication that the pc native app has, and really only seems to function as a mobile front end for the pc version (e.g. has few features),


I use DT in a similar way to that described by Ali. It use to collate clippings and notes from my broad areas of interests (particularly psychology, but also politics, other sciences etc…). I use it to organise the information into a semi-linear structure. I have areas I work on over a long period of time, and might add different clippings to a certain topic (for example, the neurology of fear) over a year or so. Once I want to really get stuck into a topic, I start document creation. I want to build on the work I have already done in a rich way. I have previously being using the rich text feature, which is great because I could link it to my existing knowledge database through the copy link feature. But I really want something more powerful; some of the notebook apps, Onenote in particular, provide just the thing for phase two of my learning process!

I do get the reservations about adding a quite different set of functions to DT; it is certainly designed as a document manager and does this well. But there is overlap in document management and the type of document creation one does with a notebook program such as Onenote. I want to be able to incorporate documents and even the structure of my long tended DT database into a dynamic document creator. I can use (at the moment at least) a program such as Circus Ponies notebook as a document creator, but given its separation from DT, there certainly is more work than flow.

So I suppose I used this forum as way to suggest that Devon Technologies might be the people to fill this gap with a new software creation! I really have no idea if they people at Devon Technologies have been considering a new line of software, if this could be part of a future direction or if it is way out of line with their corporate plan. It may also be evident that I’m not from a software background, and don’t really understand the process involved in software creation.

However, the idea of an application that could embody the dynamism between the linked processes of document management and document creation, is tantalising indeed.

At the very least, it would be great for the people at DT to consider creating some functions to facilitate a dialogue between DT and one of the existing programs, such as Circus Ponies notebook, such as being able to create a link in CP’s notebook to a document in your DT database.

The genius of Christian’s and Eric’s concept of DEVONthink is a document management system that accepts documents of a number of filetypes, stores them in their native filetypes, allows integration of their information content, and includes in the kernal of a database artificial intelligence assistants that assist the user to organize content and to compare contextual relationships. DEVONthink databases are typically scalable to larger size than other Mac databases. Content can be added in a variety of ways, and a rich environment is provided to work with information (including large scripting dictionaries in DEVONthink Pro and Pro Office).

From its release 10 years ago, DEVONthink has avoided introduction of proprietary filetypes in database content. That has allowed the developers to focus on evolving the principal features of the database, rather than on development of, for example, a propriety file format for document creation. Most users create plain or rich text notes witin DEVONthink, using Apple’s text editors built into the operating system. Users may also (or alternatively) create new content using other apps, including word processors, outliners such as the Omni apps, Circus Pony Notebook, OneNote, etc.

About 9 years ago, I tried using Circus Ponies Notebook for content creation, based on research in my DEVONthink database—as well as a similar notebook outliner. That allowed true outliner convenience. But that created two problems; the new content was in a filetype that couldn’t be directly rendered in DEVONthink, and providing the content as searchable PDF in DEVONthink by “printing” it meant that subsequent edits of the original required deletion and reprint of the PDF copy. (True, Apple’s later introduction of Quick Look means that, for example, an OmniOutliner document can be rendered fairly well in DEVONthink, and so minimizes issues of viewing, searching and updatingcontent created with such an app.)

But I soon switched to using rich text within DEVONthink for content creation—so all my notes and drafts are done in rich text. Why? Because writing within the database makes all of DEVONthinks database content and tools immediately available, and that"s not possible if I’m writing in an external application. Suppose, for example that I’ve typed a technical term, and wish to see if that term has been used in other documents. Option-click on the term, and there’s a list of other documents. Or I can select some text in my note and use the contextual menu option to see related text. A list of other document that may be related appears; those that seem interesting can be opened in new tabs in my note’s view, for easy inspection.

True, my rich text notes are not as pretty as OneNote. But I can easily create free-form outlines or use lists and tables, include images and clickable links, etc. I can then copy/paste my drafts into Pages for polishing. (I use Pages for this step, even if the final product might be a Word document. Reason: elements such as images transfer to Pages by copy/paste, but a second step would be required if pasting into Word.)

Some users compose new content using markup conventions in text documents. That can be powerful. and I would use this for writing a dissertation in math or physics. (Back in my Apple II days, I often used the Gutenberg symbol and layout marking conventions. That allowed, for example, diagrams of complex chemical structures when printed to an ImageWriter, as well as text formatting and layout.)

I suspect that such markups of text will become more popular, as it mimimizes problems of rendering documents under both OS X and iOS. Rendering is usually as HTML. A number of such apps for Mac and iOS are available.

Bottom line: While I haven’t talked to Christian about his plans for the “next level” of DEVONthink, I wouldn’t expect to see a proprietary document format.

I suppose in a way DT already do have a proprietary file format: the database. What if a second application could also use this format; but access it in a different way? A group could be represented in a notebook with each item inside the group showing as a page. YOu could open and manipulate the same data through the notebook app and through DT?

The notebook idea is not so much about making the data look good. It provides a different visual spatial representation to the filing hierarchy that is used in the finder. Devonthink has a similar visual spatial analogy. The notebook analogy provides a format that people are used to using in the real world. Both of these can be used to represent the same information. Been able to use the notebook form in an app which is compatible to DT, with the ability to visualise data in a notebook form and with features like outlining and audio recording, with all the great innovations and functions that DT offers (replicants, tagging), would be truly wonderful. It would provide a tremendously flexible platform to create, edit and visual data.

Other than the skeuomorphic paper notebook metaphor – isn’t this what DEVONthink already does?

The same could have been said about the transition from DOS to GUI. These are stronger than simple metaphors; They provide a cognitive medium through which we can interface with technology. Plenty of arguments have been offered above as to the relative advantages of a notebook allegory over what is currently offered by DT.

There are an equal number of arguments against digital skeuomorphic design as it tends to clutter and complicate the interface, and many users do not have real world experience with the original, physical design. Round, volume knobs that must be turned with a click of a mouse? iCal’s leatherette desk calendar with torn pieces of paper is one example-how many people under the age of 35-40 have ever used a real calendar like that on their desk?

In any event, I expect that the transition from DOS to GUI had more to do with point and click with a mouse/track ball than a skeuomorphic design. You can probably tell that I am not a fan of digital skeuomorph myself. :slight_smile:

If I could have one enhancement to the way DEVONthink presents data it would be the Scrivener-like ability to select multiple documents and view and print them as one. Sure, we can merge documents, or we can drop a bunch of stuff into an RTF, etc., but all of that is a hassle and doesn’t make a nice presentation.

Notebook metaphors aside, I think that single enhancement – which is obviously possible with Apple’s current GUI toolkit – would go a long way to making DEVONthink more usable in the sense that @jonathon envisions.

Amen to that-count me in for wanting that as well. Another valuable feature of this with Scrivener is that one can cut-copy-paste between documents from the single, combined document view. Much easier than trying to do this with tabs in DEVONthink.

I’m glad to see that someone mentioned Scrivener, as this would be my suggestion. I actually prefer Scrivener to OneNote, and I have seen several people with workflows that pass data between DEVONthink and Scrivener. It’s a good pairing.

I found a way somewhere between writing everything in DEVONthink and using external programms with cut & paste: QuickCursor.
It’s a small app that lets you use an external text editor without having to manually copy & paste the text. When I’m in DEVONthink and I want to write something that the database environment doesn’t lend itself to, I press a shortcut and iA Writer opens. I write whatever it is I want to write (in fullscreen, so there’s no distractions) and then just close iA Writer. The text appears in DEVONthink automatically.
It saves just a few clicks, but for me at least, over time it makes a world of difference. I hope it’ll work with Ulysses 3 when it’s out, because the beta looks fantastic.

The big wish I have for DEVONthink is support for more filetypes. No update to DEVONthink could replace everything for everyone, but if it could read Curio files, Ulysses files, Scrivener, Circus Ponies Notebooks, maybe Tinderbox, those applications’ files could be included in DEVONthink’s AI search and we could sync them to DEVONthink To Go, while still using those programms for more specialized work on specific projects.
That’s the dream, anyway.

I have QuickCursor, but I don’t use it because it works by copying and pasting to the clipboard, and that mucks with LaunchBar’s clipboard history, which I use quite a bit. What I really like is indexing iA Writer’s iCloud documents into DEVONthink. iA is one of a very few developers who have figured iCloud out-they do it splendidly. The also do folders in iCloud, which is new also (iCloud does limit folders to one layer deep). I can edit text files in DEVONthink and watch them update almost instantly on my iOS devices, or vise-versa. Similar results can be had with other apps and Dropbox, but the DEVONthink/iA Writer/iCloud combo is just slick!

I use Launchpad, too. I put iA Writer in its ignore list, so it doesn’t muck it up.
But I guess that only makes sense if you use iA exclusively for QuickCursor, otherwise you’re bound to lose something eventually.