Desperate call for usage suggestion

Dear all,

I am completely new to DEVONthink and the community and I would like to ask for any helpful suggestion on how to start using DEVONthink. I have done my research and read through a lot of the documentation and tips and tricks from various pages online. However I still struggle to find a place in my workflows for this software. Here is what I am looking for:

  1. Extensive file management: All of us know this. Tons of files in tons of folders and one’s digital life just turns into making complex folder structures. I imagined DEVONthink as a “super-finder”, that would allow me to use tags, advanced search features and perhaps automatically generated folder structures, while maintaining its database AND my files in the file system in sync. Is there a way to do this? I did not find any. Apparently, I misunderstood the way DEVONthink handles aliases. Since aliases remember the original file wherever it has moved (apart from symlinks), I expected that if I added aliases into the database, I would have the ability to move the file in the filesystem as well as in the database. Other than that I am not really sure how to use DEVONthink as a file manager, since the mess on my hard drive will remain if I sort files in DEVONthink?

I have already given up managing files in various parts of my digital life, like photos. There I do not need separate file management, since that is handled by iPhoto. I do not need media management since that is handled by iTunes. Given the fact DEVONthink behaves, I can only imagine using it as an updated list of all my photos, MP3s or movies. Any other suggestions here?

  1. Document stream management, multiple service sync and mobile access: Another part of my digital life where I have given up on file system entirely. Since I work with tons of articles, my collection is handled by Evernote which allows for instant preview of PDF content (and also indexing). Since I am already an Evernote Premium user, this part of my digital life is covered very well. Any suggestion how to use Evernote with DEVONthink together? Is there a possible advantage over Evernote? I noticed the scripts for moving data between Evernote and DEVONthink, but I am not sure why would I even want to merge my data? Perhaps just keep all files inside the DEVONthink database and export the structure into the file system and Evernote from time to time?

  2. Software and development management: As a developer, I maintain a lot of different software versions and it would come in handy to have more extensive information about it. What I would for example like is to make a log of all my installed software as it gets updated over time as well as maintain a separate hard drive folder with latest installers that I could get a quick link to. Also, any possibility of using DEVONthink with SVN or git, perhaps to keep logs and diffs?

In summary, I imagined that DEVONthink would take my hard drive and somehow magically turn it into a nice and tidy place. Yes, sound like a fairy tale, but nevertheless a worthy effort. I outlined just some cases on how I imagined I would use DEVONthink but it always seems to be doing something different from what I expected. Perhaps I am going about this all wrong. Any helpful suggestions appreciated. Many thanks.

Thank you for replying to my politeness with trolling. I know how to use Google. Was it really necessary to link me to Let Me Google That For You to demonstrate your superiority? As I already mentioned in the post, I tried various use cases but none of them seem to fare better than what some other software does already. That’s why I am asking for suggestions, since I ran out of ideas. You do not have to automatically consider me being and idiot, because I ask questions. I would expect that behaviour on any Linux forum, but not here.

Hey, let’s play nice in here.

@N4M3Z: You misunderstood korm’s intentions. (Also, If you’ll notice, his postings number 3000+. If he was a troll we would have dealt with him as such a long time ago.)
Many times people just try and shoot a quick reply out in the middle of a workday, or at other times when they don’t have the luxury of giving a lengthy response. korm is a very busy guy and still participates on these forums despite his schedule. I think he just was trying to give you a little heads-up… no ill intentions.

As for me, I am offsite and don’t have the time to respond at length (and maybe others will beat me to it with their perspectives). Thanks for listening. :^)

@BLUEFROG: Allright, thank you for explaining his standpoint. I only asked a question and I think I outlined it quite clearly that I already tried some of the suggestions on the web. I guess no ill intentions were meant.

It appears that you are thinking of DEVONthink as merely a superset of the Finder, an alternative file manager for the clutter on your drives, with tagging thrown in for good measure.

I’ve been a heavy user of DEVONthink for a long time, and never approached it from that perspective. Instead, I create database for specific purposes, that take advantage of the environment and tools that DEVONthink supplies to help me achieve those purposes. Only selected files that I capture from the Finder or from the Web make it into my databases. Like you, many of my files, such as photos, music and videos, are well managed by Apple’s databases for them; no need to move them into DEVONthink, except for a few that are copied to add value to one of my projects, for contextual reasons.

Let’s look at two examples of my databases, for each of which DEVONthink adds a great deal of value to the items placed in that database.

  1. My Financial database includes documents such as online banking and investment transactions, contracts, purchases, invoices, receipts (many scanned in from paper copy and OCRed) and similar documents that help me track financial status, and that are extremely useful at tax preparation time; indeed, they include my tax filing documents. They are organized by year, then by type of data for that year.

The information content of various filetypes, such as PDF, rich text, HTML, Excel, etc. gets integrated and searchable in this database. DEVONthink searches are powerful, and if I wish I can add additional metadata such as tags, Labels, Labels, or Spotlight Comments to any document and include those in searches.

Suppose I’m looking at an invoice from Acme. I can Option-click on “Acme” and instantly see a list of all documents in the database that contain that term.

Suppose I want to remind myself of the invoice payment date. I select the invoice in DEVONthink and choose Scripts > Reminders > Add as Event to Calendar. That will create an even in my Calendar, and I set an alert to remind me to make the payment before that date. When that alert pops up, I open the Calendar event and click on the referenced document, which opens in my database.

In sum, that Financial database helps me record, track and act on my financial information.

  1. My Main database holds tens of thousands of references and about 5,000 of my own notes reflecting my professional interests in environmental policy, law, science and technology. I use it for research and writing, and this is where DEVONthink really shines. My draft writing is done within the database, so its information is at my fingertips. I make heavy use of See Also and See Related Text when looking for ideas. If one of those AI assistants suggests a promising reference I can append it as a new tab item, making it easy to jump between documents without losing scrolling position in them.

I also make heavy use of the Annotation template (which has a keyboard shortcut) to make notes when I’m reading. Annotations can be made for documents of any filetype, are searchable and automatically create links to and from the referenced document.

For a project I’ll create a working group that holds notes linking to useful references. Another note holds links to subgroups that hold the sections of the draft, serving as a working table of contents for the project, with progress notes on schedules, state of completion of the subsections, etc.

It’s easy to add new content, especially from the Web, using content captured via a browser, or search results from DEVONagent Pro.

All in all, a rich working environment.

I also keep a journal in DEVONthink, miscellaneous, often daily, entries of activities, plans, schedules, etc. From this rich text document hyperlinks can lead to any other document in any open database.

I’ve got other databases for other purposes. You will find on the user forum descriptions of many other uses of DEVONthink by academics, researchers, journalists, writers, etc. I recently saw comments from an attorney on how he includes in a database created for a case, photos and videos of depositions, because he can create searchable linked Annotations of the photos and videos, adding value to them.


I used Evernote for some years and during the last 12 months intensively as an archive for everything - incoming and outgoing snail mail, mail archive, archive of visited web sites etc. Since the degrade in software quality, performance and stability across the Mac, iPhone and iPad I switched to Devonthink, which has pros and cons.


I can use it in the same way I used Evernote: Put documents into it, tag them, move them to a folder, do OCR, find related documents.

The See Also panel works much better than the related notes of Evernote. Like in EN I try not to over-organize the stuff (-> “Shit-Work”). I set a date, a few tags and move it to a folder. My main folder are called “incoming” and “outgoing” :wink:. Devonthink really shines in finding corresponding documents, something which I had to create manually in Evernote with links.

It supports a preview with Quicklook plugins. Most file formats which I enabled with those plugins for the Finder get displayed in Devonthink. I can see the contents of zip files for example.

Basic image editing is built in.

It support sheets.

Sync with a cloud. I sync to a local NAS. Mobile Macs sync via a VPN connection into my local network. So I have complete control over my data.



Interface is a bit harder to use than Evernote.

Syncing is harder to use than with Evernote, which is built around a cloud service, while Devonthink is built around a local storage. With the current version you can sync, but you have to set it up.

No “merged” notes, like a text with an inline pdf. These are separate files in Devonthink.

Mobile client is years behind the Evernote client. Remember the Evernote client which could only edit plain text? We’ve not even arrived there. But since the Evernote client is currently so unstable and looses my data this seems to be irrelevant. You can always connect to the website, a local DT installation can create and go through all your notes.

No direct input from Web Services with the exception of RSS.

Bottom line:

I wouldn’t recommend using both products on the same data which then gets copied around everytime. This sounds like something which will end in a mess. Switching from Evernote to Devonthink is easy, but still a big step which requires an analysis of which data you have, how you add the data to Evernote, where you want to read which data and where you want to edit which data. Think about that and you know if Devonthink fits in.

@Truhe: Thank you on your feedback on Evernote integration. I had the feeling it would be contra-productive to try to maintain the same data in both Evernote and DEVONthink (unless someone can really show otherwise). I mostly use Evernote to store anything I want to easily access later from anywhere (computer, phone, tablet etc.) without relying on Google to find what I already found earlier: articles from the web converted to readable format, various documents/scientific articles, references, RSS feeds etc. Evernote really excels here. I consider it as a sort of an advanced email and archival tool, like you did.

I guess the correct approach here would be to decide on a specific area of my life and start feeding related stuff into DT2 database and see how this goes. e.g. I could keep all the general scientific papers of interest inside Evernote notebook, and use DT2 for a specific subject which is currently under more detailed study. That way I don’t really care if something is in Evernote as well or not, since it relates to the work I can only do on the computer anyway.

The only thing is that I am still a bit reluctant to completely rely on the DT2 database to store my files … could you elaborate on what is the size of your database and how it performs once it gets > 1 GB? Also, what about versioning of the dabase? I wouldn’t expect this to be compatible with standard versioning systems?

@Bill_DeVille: Thank you for your usage scenarios example. I am going to try something of what you suggested. I guess that when I first looked at DT2 I failed to understand that I have to leave the idea of using file and folder names for organisation behind. It probably is just enough to get all related files together, dump them into DT2 database and work with it there. No aliases. I guess you can later export everything you have inside DT2 in some sort of file system hierarchy? (say, if I had to move from Mac to another OS for example). At least I saw some export functionality, although I am not sure about the result with a > 1 GB database?

Since you mention a lot of different use cases, could you elaborate a bit on what software integrates well with DT2? For example, does it work well with BibTeX/LaTeX? Scrivener?

Thinking about all this, I can probably now envision using DT2 as a store of all the relevant information I require during writing an article or a presentation (Beamer/PowerPoint). It is probably the first use case I am going to test out. One thing which absolutely irritates me about academic writing is the necessity to keep all figures in different resolutions (unless vector format is supported). Would DT2 handle that sort of thing well?

DEVONthink stores document files in their native file formats and in Apple’s file system, in the folder named Files.noindex, inside the database.

The file size of the aggregate of document files isn’t the most important measure of database size, as documents are not loaded into memory unless opened. The most important measure is the total number of words in open databases (File > Database Properties), as that affects index and memory requirements. Assuming a common mix of filetypes, a 1 GB database would be among my smaller ones.

As database sizes grow, performance degrades only when free RAM is exhausted and Apple’s Virtual Memory swap files are used to swap data back and forth between RAM and disk.

At the moment, the aggregate total words in my open DEVONthink Pro Office databases is 39,484,115 (about the word count of Encyclopedia Britannica). I’ve got several other applications open, including Safari (which is by far the heaviest user of memory at the moment). My MacBookPro has 16 GB RAM. Currently, I’ve got 8,311.1 MB free RAM. There are zero pageouts and no VM swap files in use.

All processes run at full speed—no spinning balls.

If you want database versioning, set Time Machine to do hourly backups. :slight_smile: Also note that DEVONthink by default has three internal Backup folders that hold earlier states of the database metadata, and that rotate as internal backups are performed manually or by schedule. Restore Backup is a reversible reversion to the state of the database as of the time the selected backup was performed.

Note that with the semi-exception of Formatted Notes (a variant of HTML), DEVONthink has no proprietary document filetypes. Word documents are opened and edited in Word, for example. DEVONthink provides an environment to help manage and use the information of a collection of documents.

At any time the contents of a database can be exported to the Finder and the organizational structure used in the database will be reflected in the export.

You will find discussions about integration with other software by searching the forum. Scrivener is a popular topic.Re LaTex, you might want to capture a PDF into the database (if multiple files are involved).

I have no idea how people handle multiple resolution figures. Vector graphics would solve the issue, or link to alternative resolutions. Graphics of any type can be included in a database. Back when I was writing papers for publication, shortly after we stopped using clay tablets, I drew graphs on big sheets of white cardboard, and submitted photos of those. :slight_smile:

shortly after we stopped using clay tablets<<

And at 5,000 or so years: still going strong! LOL

I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this thread, since it made me to climb over the difficulties understanding the capabilities of this software at the beginning. I am now a loyal user and I bought the Pro version. Thank you.

Welcome aboard! :smiley: