Another newbie question - indexing vs importing


Sort of getting tired here.

Rather than defending myself, let me just say ‘horses for courses’.

I don’t want to write scripts to give me functionality that I expect out of the box.

I don’t want to worry about different versions of my files in different places.

I just want it to work - just make it easy for me to manage the mountain of stuff in my life. Help me be productive and organized.

I’m not looking to argue - if it works for you, great.

Again… this is a database, not a filesystem.

Here’s the analogy I rely on concerning DEVONthink: a library. If you have a book in the library, there is a corresponding card in the card catalog (I’m old enough to recall this fondly). The card points to the book. It isn’t the book. If I put the card in a different drawer, the book will remain on the shelf it’s on. Indeed, the ability to move the card around gives me the ability to reorganize things and not have the shelves affected.

When you are importing, DEVONthink is the books on the shelves.
When you are indexing, DEVONthink is the card catalog.

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So it’s a win that you can move files in DT - and the corresponding files on the hard drive DO NOT move? This is a feature?

Except it’s one of those libraries that don’t let you take books home. And there’s a lot of paperwork if you want to donate a new book.

And the naughty kids like to shuffle the cards around :slight_smile:

Anyhow, I stand behind my earlier points. DEVONthink could be much more if it offered this greater level of flexibility.

Absolutely, and one that comes in very handy in many use cases.

Again - you are NOT moving files. Even when moving things in DEVONthink, you are still NOT moving files. You are moving references (the cards). So the expectation of the shelves rearranging themselves is not logical.

In fact, in the internal structure of the database, moving FILES does not move files in the filesystem in the way you imagine when using importing. If you make a group of “James Project 001” in DEVONthink, there is no “James Project 001” folder in the Finder. That is only a bit of metadata, presented for your convenience. (And actually that’s really how the Finder works too! :mrgreen: )

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As Bluefrog mentioned, some changes to indexing are coming, but it will not make DTPO a replacement for Finder. Ever. That is simply not what the product has been, what it is, or what they want it to be. In general, I recommend working with what is, rather than what we think software ought to be.

I have used indexing for years, I have synced on multiple devices for years (including iOS), and I’ve really gotten a lot out of the functionality. Have I encountered problems? Oh yes. Very much so. It took me a while to wrap my head around things, and I am sure I still have more to learn. Many of the scripts already exist, if you want to use them. You don’t have to write them. I wasn’t suggesting that. It’s up to you if this approach makes sense in your case, I guess.

Personally, I think there is room for improvement. DT is far from perfect (for my workflow). But, in my opinion, DT is on the right track. If it doesn’t work for someone, I get it. Horses for courses, and all of that.

It sounds to me like HoudahSpot, Hazel, and Default Folder might be useful for you. None of them are Finder replacements, but they are pretty powerful, and can make searching, file management, and so forth a lot smoother.

As others have said, DEVONthink is not really a Finder replacement. I would recommend looking at the app Leap as a great Finder replacement focused on file tagging, and since you mentioned that you work with Adobe Photoshop files, you could also take a closer look at how you could use Adobe Bridge in your workflow.

I use all of these apps—the Finder, DEVONthink, Leap, and Adobe Bridge—depending on what my purpose is. You gotta use “the right tool for the job” and these are all good tools for what they are designed to do. (This is not to say that all of my software dreams have been fulfilled—I still have a wish list!)

As others have said, seems like you are most in need of a more powerful Finder replacement. Nat has listed some possibilities. You might also try Pathfinder.

To answer a couple of your queries; if DT moved an indexed file from where I left it on my hard drive (or the external hard drive I primarily use for that purpose) because I moved it internally within DT, I would be sending them some sharply worded emails! The behaviour I outlined above is as expected - DT is a database within which I have the power to move files wherever I want; indexed files stay in their permanent home no matter what I do with them, which is exactly how I want it. If I want to move them physically I’ll open them in Finder. Perhaps you are assuming that folders you create within DT are replicated exactly on the hard drive? They are not. DT has its own methods of storing things, but everything can be revealed in Finder in an instant. Bluefrog’s card catalogue analogy is excellent. I like to think of DT as a magician’s hat, into which I can stuff thousands of items and still find exactly what I’m looking for every time I put my hand in.

As for versioning, I use a different method to Bluefrog. Let’s say I have a pro forma invoice to send to clients. It’s a word document that lives in DT. I open it with MS Word and modify as needed (different client name, invoice number, date, etc). I then Save As to a folder on my desktop, to which is attached a script that comes bundled with DT: Import to Selected Group and Delete. The file is named whatever I want (i.e. Invoice 1, version 2, etc.). I am then presented with a HUD that allows me to select exactly which database and subfolder I would like to save it in. The file is then deleted from the desktop folder to avoid duplication.

DT is a powerful application, but obviously not for you. That’s a pity, as I find it to be a wonderful tool, which I combine with Scrivener, Notes, Adobe Acrobat Pro, Preview and Nisus Writer Pro for my workflow. Each of those apps allows me to do something different, but together work perfectly for my needs. I evaluate other apps occasionally to see if they will do the job better, and will replace any of the above if and when something better comes along.

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Funny how you all keep misunderstand me when I’m repeating the same thing over and over.

I’m not looking for a Finder replacement. I’m looking for a better version of DEVONthink. One that works seamlessly with the operating system - without duplicating files.

I can manage my files from DEVONthink, Finder or any application. It has powerful search, helpful metadata and a notebook approach that combines words and images much like real-world pen and paper.


I think it is because you said “My preference would be to use DT like a Finder replacement” and many of the suggestions you are making for improvements to DT are in line with this. I don’t think you need to duplicate files. I might have missed that part of the discussion up to this point. In fact, DT has a very nice feature called “replicants” that I think distinguishes it from most other personal information managers.

Anyhow, the developers and other staff read and participate in these forums, and I am sure they appreciate any suggestions from users. Naturally, they have their own vision for the app, though, so some of our suggestions may not make it into the app.

Sorry for misunderstanding, I guess I’m finding it hard to track what exactly you’re looking for because your needs seem to change with each post. You mentioned looking for a Finder replacement explicitly, but that now seems to not actually be what you want. I don’t understand why you think DT is duplicating your files. It doesn’t, unless you explicitly direct it to. Anyway, best of luck in your search for software that does what you need.

@hamesmicfish: To reemphasize Jim’s point, to treat DEVONthink as a file manager replacement for the Finder (which is not its purpose) misses the point of DEVONthink’s considerable powers as an information manager that includes artificial intelligence assistants.

I’ve been a heavy user of DEVONthink since its introduction. I’ve created a number of databases, each of which reflects a specific need or interest. Those databases do not include all the document files on my Macs. I’ve got thousands of files that I wouldn’t include in those databases, because they wouldn’t add to the information values of my databases.

I’ve had a long career in academia and government in the field of environmental policy and management. Like everyone, I also have bills to pay and financial records to keep. So I have two databases related to environmental issues, and another for financial data (and a number of other databases, as well).

The database in which I spend most time has some 30,000 documents covering a number of environmentally-related scientific and engineering disciplines, case histories of environmental issues, policy issues and laws and regulations. The total word count of that database is about the same as that of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Over the years I’ve lovingly updated that database, adding new content (including Annotation notes on references) and pruning out obsolete content.

A separate environmentally-related database contains thousands of references and notes on methodologies such as environmental sampling procedures, chemical analytical procedures for environmental samples, quality assurance procedures, environmental data evaluation procedures (statistical analysis), risk analysis procedures and cost/benefit procedures.

Why did I separate those contents into two databases, instead of one great big database? For two reasons. Example: If my primary interest is to research the literature on human health effects of mercury contamination in fish, I don’t want a search result to include potentially hundreds of documents related to methodological issues. Another reason is that by separating them, I greatly increase the efficiency snd effectiveness of DEVONthink’s artificial intelligence assistants such as Classify and See Also. The latter point is important, as I make heavy use of See Also and See Related Text, and those help make DEVONthink the best research assistant i’ve ever had.

I do my draft writing within a database, as that puts the information content of the database at my fingertips. Often, I’ll select one or several paragraphs I’ve written about a topic, Control-click on the selection and choose See Related Text. DEVONthink will present a list of documents that may be contextually related. I can see how others dealt with that topic, and perhaps gain a useful insight I hadn’t thought of. It’s also a great way to break writer’s block!

In sum, DEVONthink integrates the information content of database contents that contain documents of various filetypes, such as PDF, Word, Excel, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Powerpoint, rich text, plain text, etc. My databases do contain such filetypes. Under their native creators, these document filetypes are isolated from each other. In the Finder, although Spotlight can search across filetypes, there’s nothing like the artificial intelligence features of DEVONthink.

Avoid the trap of treating DEVONthink like a Finder replacement. It’s not, and instead is intended to provide far more power in information management and use than a mere Finder replacement, if properly used.

Now, back on the topic of deciding whether to use Index or Import for databases.

If you need to share documents in the Finder with one or more other applications, such as EndNote, Index-capture of those documents would be appropriate. Some of our power uses prefer Indexed databases, such as Greg_Jones. This can work well if properly managed. A database can hold both Indexed and Imported content,

My personal preference is for Imported databases. I like my databases to be self-contained, so that I can reorganize them easily (which I often do) without worrying about a corresponding structure in the Finder. Another reason is that I can easily migrate self-contained databases to a new computer, or even run them from an external drive without worrying about also copying any “dangling” external Finder files without breaking their Paths. Once I’ve captured a file to a database from the Finder, I’ll delete it from the Finder, or archive it to an external drive. But most documents captured from the Web are saved directly to DEVONthink, not to the Finder. As DEVONthink uses Apple’s filesystem to store files, even in the worst case (if the disk and OS are sound) all documents can be restored to the Finder level.

Whether you Index or Import, by all means use a comprehensive backup system. I use and recommend Time Machine, which is included in OS X. Were a database to become damaged, it’s an easy step to go back in time to a recent past before damage occurred and recover the database. Importantly, sometimes I delete a file and empty the Trash, then want it back. Time Machine lets me recover it.

I rotate Time Machine backups between two external USB drives, one of which is stored offsite in my bank safety deposit box. That’s cheap insurance were all my computer equipment to be lost in a fire or burglary. Given my slow Internet access speed and data limits, I can be up and running with a new computer much quicker than were I to use cloud backup.

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Actually I agree with you that it would be nice if there were an option to permit DEVONthink to manipulate indexed folder hierarchies directly, so that moving a file in an indexed folder hierarchy would actually move the file within the Mac file system. It never occurred to me to be as brazen as you and to request this as a feature. I think it would have to be an optional feature that would need to be turned on manually in DEVONthink’s preferences.

Thanks Nat.

…but take it to the next level.

Let people create databases to segment their data.

But a database is just a folder on your desktop.

You can add metadata to the files in this database via DEVONthink.

You can move files in and out of the database via DEVONthink.

Or you can move files in and out of it via Finder.

And DEVONthink still offers all the good indexing, search, AI stuff.

In other words, you can drop DEVONthink on top of the operating system and they play nice together.

You can already do all that stuff in DEVONthink Pro; the only thing that’s missing is the option to directly manipulate the folder structure and file locations in the Mac file system. If they were to add that feature you would have everything you asked for. Already you can directly and immediately change the file name, file content, and file system tags of indexed files, in the Mac file system, via DEVONthink Pro.

So a DEVONthink database is just a folder on my desktop.

When I create a subfolder in Finder, it appears in DEVONthink.
When I create a subfolder (group) in DEVONthink it appears in Finder.


Yes, you could think of it that way. If you index ~/Desktop/a folder/ in DEVONthink Pro in a database that contains only that folder, then effectively yes. You’ll probably want to store the .dtBase2 file somewhere else, as I do, but yes.

Yes. You’ll have to refresh (or update the index of) ~/Desktop/a folder/ in DEVONthink Pro by deselecting and reselecting the folder, or by closing and opening it, and then the new subfolder appears immediately.

(Correction: This works with new files but not new folders. I just tried this, and it looks like you have to hold down the option and command keys and drag the new folder into DEVONthink Pro. I had never created a new folder in an indexed folder before, so this is good to know. The folder structure of all the folders I index remains constant, although the files are constantly changing. If you were constantly changing the folder structure of indexed folders I can see how this would get annoying fast.)

No. This is what is not presently implemented. But it seems that DEVONtechnologies could implement this as an option that could be turned on in DEVONthink Pro’s preferences.

Yes, I think this would be a big change to the software architecture.

There would be no ‘indexing’ vs. ‘importing’ - all files in DEVONthink would be the actual files on the computer.

Another change I’d like to see is a notebook metaphor similar to real-world pen and paper. I’m sure others offer this already. I’ve only been a mac user for 2 weeks so yet to discover :slight_smile:

Also I’d like to be able to create different document types from within the program.

Would be a handy tool for me if this did exist.

I guess there is motivation by people like Evernote to not allow users to maintain their files in a standard format. But ‘open’ always wins the day.

Welcome to the Mac platform. There was a Mac app called Circus Ponies NoteBook that used a notebook metaphor, but the company that made it closed at the beginning of 2016 after 13 years in business. If you haven’t tried Apple Notes, you could try it too. There may be other apps that use a notebook-like interface.

If you haven’t already, I would recommend that you learn to use the Mac file tagging system. Mac developer Brett Terpstra has written some suggestions for better tagging. DEVONthink, Leap, and other apps can give you amazing control over tags so that you can maintain the set of knowledge tags and workflow tags that work for you.

I agree that DEVONthink is not as great as it could be for people like you and me who want to store everything in the Mac file system. I agree that if DEVONthink could interact better with the file system it would a stronger product.

Umm… Data > New From Template… :mrgreen: