DEVONthink as a Spotlight browser

Recently I’ve switched to keeping nearly all of my data files in a single directory (~/Documents). The only exceptions are Music, Pictures and Movies, since these file types are specially handled by custom asset management software, such as iTunes.

The way that I deal with my data now is that I use tagging, assisted by such software as FileSpot and TagBot. Every file in my Documents folder gets tagged, with every tag relating to the file. The directory hierarchies I used to have have been turned into tags, so everything that used to be in the “Lisp” directory is now tagged “&lisp” (among other things).

When I want focus on a particular subject, such as when I’m working on Lisp code, I create a Spotlight find narrowed to the &lisp tag and whatever else relates to my task (maybe I’ll confine it to just PDF files, for example).

But what I’ve found is that DEVONthink can be used as an alternative Spotlight browser. Here’s how it works:

I created a new database and indexed in my Documents folder. This brought in about 45,000 files, and imported all of the Finder Comments – where the tags were stored – as entry comments within DEVONthink.

Now, instead of having manual folder hierarchies, I still use folders but I make them into smart folders by using a script that searches for matching tag names based on the name of the folder. So, the “lisp” folder would look for entries that match the “&lisp” tag, etc.

This gives me several advantages: the smart groups in DEVONthink are persistent, they remember their display characteristics better than the Finder (such as what was collapsed and expanded the last time I viewed it), and I can narrow a DEVONthink search to just the contents of the smart group. Also, I get to use See Also across the entire data set.

In this mode of usage, no files are kept in DEVONthink at all, and I just need to synchronize for time to time to pull in whatever new files I’ve added to my Documents folder. Things are just a tad slow because I have so many files, but I’m hoping the future will bring faster hardware and faster versions of DEVONthink, so that this solution can keep pace with my every-growing digital library!