This is my first post on this forum, and I want to share how I’ve been using DEVONthink Pro 1.5.4 in the past with Dropbox and share how I am now using DT Pro Office 2.0 Beta 5 in conjunction with the iPhone web app and MobileMe Back to My Mac. Although DEVONthink has the capability to manage ridiculously large databases, this post and mini-review are focused on cloud syncing and iPhone workflows using small databases. At the end there are suggestions that I hope the DEVONtech team can address.
For me, using DT with cloud sync is safest and most productive using small databases, so I cater my workflow accordingly. I use DT for online professional and creative research, centralizing information, brainstorming, personal/professional journaling/writing, and, of course, analysis and synthesis. For small database size, I try to use plain text and electronic/non-scanned PDFs when I can and very compressed JPEGS and RTFDs only as needed for my needs.
I do also use very large databases with scanned OCR PDFs and media files. I also use these with Dropbox. But they are more “archive and reference” databases instead of “working/syncing” databases. Obviously, version 2.0 featuring opening multiple databases is great for combining active vs. reference databases.
I do own a ScanSnap scanner. It’s amazing. But it’s not really part of my DEVONthink and Dropbox workflow. I owned the scanner and learned to use Adobe Acrobat Professional (included with the scanner) before I used DT Pro. I am 99% paperless and using Dropbox and Spotlight definitely makes life easier. I do feel that a DEVONthink Pro Office paperless scanning system can easily be implemented using Dropbox even with very large databases as long as proper backups are performed (discussed below). This is because unlike iDisk, Dropbox syncs are done incrementally. On a productivity level, how suitable this type of workflow would be depends on one’s broadband speed, number of documents uploaded at any given moment, time constraints/demands, and so on.
I’ve been using DT Pro 1.5.4 for about 8 months using Dropbox on 3 Macs and have been extremely happy as it is rock solid stable. The key to using with Dropbox is that only one computer can be in use with DEVONthink Pro at any given time. If there is a conflict, it’s no big deal, just delete the conflicted files once you figure out which files you want to keep (right click on the database file to “Show Package Contents” to “see” the conflicted Dropbox files). The other secret to using with Dropbox is to have as small of a database as possible. It’s possible to have a large database, as Dropbox is usually very stable, but it may take longer (much longer) to upload and download the syncing files.
My working/syncing database was around 15-30 MB. I just finished that project and have now started a new working database. One way I keep the database small in size is to only have 1 archived backup in the database (set in Preferences > Backup > Archives). I also use multiple reference databases that contain larger files that don’t need to be synced as often.
I don’t use Dropbox as a means of backup, only for syncing. For backup, I quit DT, and manually initiate a Time Machine backup to a FireWire 800 Lacie Rugged Drive so the package file is saved in it’s entirety. I set the DT preference to “Open windows that were open on quit” to get back to where I was working quickly. The frequency of this backup depends on how intensively I am working. Sometimes I may backup every 5-20 minutes if it’s important. I also use the DT ApplesScript > Export > Backup Archive to my desktop and then upload this zip file to my iDisk (I don’t like the Backup to iDisk AppleScript, “feels” too slow to me). I also may do this very often.
I just upgraded to 2.0 Beta 5, and I wanted to share my current workflow.
The iPhone is a game and life changer for me, as well as for many other people. It has completely changed how I structure my workflow. In designing and updating my workflow, I wanted it to be iPhone-centric. For obvious reasons, smaller databases work better for cloud and iPhone workflows.
For my work, the iPhone is a means of increased spontaneity and productivity in my creativity, analysis, and synthesis of materials. I find the auto-correct and predictive typing to work very well for me. It’s not just about DEVONthink, but also about all the other iPhone apps that help me with my life.
I upgraded to Office Pro Office mainly to have the web server functions for use with the iPhone. I am an intermediate level end-user/power-user but have no background in advanced computer science or networking, so I was very grateful to have the excellent DT user manual and excellent YouTube DT iPhone screencast as a guide:
I am using a spare Mac mini as the DT Pro Office web server and used the DT user manual and video above to setup a local network and Internet access to the web server using simple port mapping to my AirPort Express (the Apple AirPort manual helped too). Now I can access my DT database from my iPhone anywhere as long as I have 3G or Wi-Fi. For those who are squeamish about port mapping and networking you can also use the Lighthouse software as recommended by the DT Pro Office manual. It looks very simple.
As I stated earlier, the key to Dropbox is that only one computer can have the database open at any one time. So what do I do about the other 3 Macs that I use? That’s where MobileMe Back to My Mac comes in (I don’t know if MobileMe is available outside of the US, sorry).
Obviously, using the other 3 Macs I can access my DT database using the Web 2.0 interface. And yes, it works very well. Wonderful design and execution. Bravo. But what if I want to actually use the native DT application without causing sync problems with Dropbox.
Well I just use Back to My Mac screen sharing to go into the Mac mini and quit DT Pro Office. Voila. Now the Dropbox database is free to be used with any other of the 3 Macs I have. Once I want to use the iPhone again, I just quit the DT application on the current computer and using Back to My Mac I can open the DT application on the Mac mini server again.
The nice thing about using the Mac mini is that it is very small, very quiet, and very energy efficient, and it can be run “headless” without an monitor, keyboard, or mouse using Back to My Mac. Also Back to My Mac works via the Internet not just a local network.
The only major flaw I see with the current beta is that when creating a new note in the iPhone Safari web app, the new note goes into the global inbox and not the current database inbox. This is a major problem because I can’t access or read the new note I just wrote at all. This flaw is not present in the Web 2.0 browser interface.
Other flaws have been addressed in this forum. To allow iPhone zooming of PDF or JPEGS files, tap once on the image. Safari opens a new tab, and then zooming is allowed.
Overall this is an amazing beta. A total game changer. It was designed with the iPhone and cloud computing in mind while still retaining it’s ability to handle massive amounts of data. Thank you, thank you.
Some things I would hope future versions can address would be to allow iPhone editing of files, adjustable or black on white color scheme (like Instapaper, Amazon Kindle for iPhone, or TwitterFon/Twitterific), and also to have better rtf/rtfd font handling. I know this is a challenge, but Air Sharing does a great job rendering rtfd right now. Obviously, these are actual iPhone apps and not just web apps.
As of now my iPhone workflow still consists of the excellent Good Reader PDF engine/app, Notebooks app for reading/editing, and Air Sharing for rtfd files. But what they lack is proper cloud syncing and the DEVONtech magic and unity.
Once the DEVONthink iPhone web app allows new notes to go into the current database then I can probably forego the Notebooks app. As far as rtfd, I could probably just separate the text and image files into DT groups (folders). The only reason I would still keep either Notebooks or Air Sharing is just as a backup in case I had no 3G or Wi-Fi to access my DT database web server.
I really think cloud computing and the iPhone are the future and the present in many areas, especially for my type of needs.
Thanks to the DEVONthink team for implementing these core functions in their current beta. It’s looking really good, right now.