DevonThink competitors

A number of DT competitors are out there, and we might do some assessment of their features. The latest I’ve seen is “Boswell” by Copernican:

My impressions: expensive ($99), not that versatile (reads only Outlook and Eudora e-mail), and ooogly interface. The one good feature is a comment area at the top of the entry, but there’s no other way to view those comments.

I’ve not tested it for speed or memory requirements, but perhaps others have. Comments on VersionTracker complain about price and the Classic-look interface.

Hmmm … just had a look at Boswell. In theory it does what DT does, but is very limited in comparison. 32K maximum document size for example. In my view it doesn’t begin to compare in most ways. I will look into it some more when I get a chance.

I like the way the developers describe the background to the product and its uses. They happen to parallel the way I use DTPro.

It does appear to have something called “auto archiving” that resembles smart folders by another name. DT Pro would definitely be improved if it had something similar. I would love smart folders to automatically store everything relating to specified topics. Anyone else agree?


A few years ago, I remember someone (I think it was Bill DeVille; apologies if I’m wrong) explaining that it wasn’t good to have writing in progress cluttering up the DT database, because DT’s searching and cataloging functions would be messed up that way. It was with this principle in mind that I seriously considered buying Boswell a couple of weeks ago, after seeing a favourable review in About This Particular Macintosh. I thought it could replace MacJournal/a blog/a chronologically arranged Mellel document, as the tool to store all my writing.

I’ve now come to the conclusion that a new piece of software is the last thing I need, and have pretty much decided to move as much of my research-related workflow as possible into DT. But I’m curious: does anyone believe that using DT as a writer’s tool is inadvisable, or even a misunderstanding of the nature of the tool?

I don’t have time to check the Boswell review again, but I believe the maximum document size issue was addressed well enough to convince at least me that it wasn’t an issue. Interestingly, though, while the review discussed keeping one’s own writing in Boswell (meaning one could then use DT as the store for others’ writing and one’s own completed documents), I think the Boswell website talks about storing all kinds of snippets, suggesting that the Boswell people think they’re serious competitors to DT. Especially when you consider the price, that strikes me as rather fanciful. But taking the ATPM tack, it may be worthy of consideration as something to use alongside DT. In use, it may actually be easier to have one tool for reference and one tool to write. Of course, Boswell may only make sense if you have plenty of money and haven’t already invested in CP Notebook, VoodooPad, StickyBrain, Ulysses, and all the others.


You have a good memory. I did say that in the past. I used to do my drafting outside of DT, and only imported finished projects into my database. I didn’t want my drafts to ‘contaminate’ what I started out thinking of as the ‘authoritative’ nature of my database references – especially for purposes of classification and analysis of information.

I’ve changed my mind. :slight_smile:

First, the writing tools have gotten steadily better in DEVONthink over time, so that I now find it a comfortable writing vehicle.

Second, I’ve found it more and more useful to be able to use the tools of DT Pro directly in my writing environment. Perhaps I’m editing a section or paragraph and want to try a fresh approach. It’s convenient to select the section or paragraph, clip as a temporary new document and press See Also or Word, exploring for ideas. This really works for me, especially if I’ve hit a bit of a writer’s block. There’s an old Tom Lehrer song with a great line: “Don’t forget why the good Lord gave you eyes, so plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize.” No, I don’t want to plagiarize, but I want to look for ideas and approaches to a topic. DT/DT Pro makes a great research assistant.

Third, my database has grown to the point that it is much harder to ‘contaminate’ than I had imagined.

Fourth, while I’m a rank amateur in many of the scientific and technical fields that I cover through an overall interest in science and environmental policy, there are some fields in which I’m as much an authority as the next guy, and probably better than some. I try to stick to those fields as much as possible. A touch of hubris? Maybe so. :slight_smile:

I like the RTFD format, which lets one use rich text including hyperlinks, lists and graphics. But RTFD isn’t a cross-platform file format for final output. For final output, depending on the project and purpose, I may use NoteTaker for PDF or HTML output, Create for fancier layouts, or Pages for transforming output to MS Word, including images, hyperlinks and bookmark links, header styles, footnotes and headers and footers. (I’ve got Word, but it can’t handle RTFD, while Pages does a great job.)

Example: Conversion of a reference in my DT Pro database to Word, using Pages as the intermediary. Download NanotechnologyDevWorld.doc from

For that matter, DT Pro itself does a good job of creating a Web site from a structured project such as the DT Pro Tutorial database. For grins and to show what can be done, I converted an earlier version of the Tutorial to HTML with a single click. Check out this URL:

Bottom line: I’ve come to like writing inside DT Pro.

Thanks for the clarification, Bill. I had myself wondered how much little bits of writing would contaminate a database with several hundreds or thousands of long documents, not to mention wondering exactly what contamination means in this context. But respecting your experience with the software I’d decided it would be prudent to follow your lead. So I’m very glad I asked again! As several other people have mentioned on the forum, getting answers with the sort of detail you provide is invaluable in helping us to make use of the tools we have.

The example looks really good. Could you clarify exactly what you did? You had a document (a web page?) open in DT Pro, and chose Export from the File menu. Then you chose …as Rich Text (RTFD) (?), opened the resulting document in Pages, did some cleaning up in Pages (?), and finally chose Export…Word in Pages. Have I got that right?

For me, instead, it would be utterly impossible to use DT as a writing vehicle. In order to write comfortably, I absolutely need at least two things: a rather sophisticated outline tool, and a footnote feature. The first enables me to give structure to my thoughts; the last to distinguish between what’s essential and what’s secundary, between the discourse and its justification, between the highway and the side road. DT has neither of them.

That’s why I write all my serious things in Mellel. And if Mellel didn’t exist, I would write in Omni Outliner Pro or something the like.

But we’re all products and victims of our own intellectual history, and of the conventions existing in some particular branche of science.

Bringing this forum back to Howarth’s original post, there is a brief review(about half-way down the page) of Boswell in Ted Goranson’s series on outliners. rickl made reference to this series in a post above; I thought I make the reference explicit.

[editorial comment mode] Mr. Goranson thinks deeply about the knowledge tools he uses and reviews. I don’t always agree with everything he says, but I always learn from each column. I have a pretty good idea of how much effort is required by each of those articles. If you’re “into” knowledge management tools, check out his articles, and if appropriate, drop him a line of encouragement. I hope he continues his series. [/editorial comment mode]

This series is a great jumping-off place to look at DEVON__ “competitors,” btw, though in truth I don’t think of any of software reviewed as “competitors.” I haven’ t found anything that does what DT and DA can do.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t I own, and use, several of these tools reviewed in this series. I do, as do the majority of the DEVON users on this board, it appears. That’s why DT’s utterly “transparent” export makes me happy, as does its support for OPML export/import. (I agree with Mr. Goranson that OPML is a somewhat limited vehicle to exchange data between knowledge management apps… but because it’s all we have, it’s the best we have.)


Right. I had previously captured the article from a Web page as a Note in DT Pro, then cleaned it up to remove unwanted images, etc.

All I did in Pages was add a header and footer. I think Pages generally still needs some improvements. But as a vehicle for transferring my RTFD material from DT Pro to MS Word, complete with working URLs and “bookmark” links, plus properly placed images, it works well. If I had wanted to take the time, I could have converted the internal links to references as true internal links. I didn’t do that, so they go to the Internet to the Science Magazine site (which requires a subscription for access).

Thanks for making the reference explicit, Fred. I actually had a different article in mind, Wes Meltzer’s review of Boswell 4. It’s actually quite fortuitous that I forgot to make it clear what I was referring to, because Ted Goranson’s series deserves wider recognition. As you say, he must put an immense amount of effort into each article. He eschews the generally recommended practice of dumbing things down to appeal to more people, with the result that, though I don’t understand everything he writes, I always come away knowing more than I did before reading, and challenged to think about a thing or two a little differently. I doubt that he gets a great deal of tangible reward for his efforts beyond expressions of interest, and there have been hints that he might cut back. That would be a sad loss.

Boswell 4.0

I just came across this old discussion and thought it was worth pointing readers to a comprehensive response from Amber Vaesca following the ATPM review of Boswell (mentioned above). It gives a good idea of what Boswell can do that DT can’t (hers is the penultimate comment). I think Boswell is one of those applications that puts most people off with its old-fashioned looks and seemingly complicated philosophy. In actual fact, it is wonderfully simple, and the best text archive I’ve come across (though, it can only store text).

Sometimes it’s quite interesting to look at an old thread, as well as to look at alternative document management systems.

I read the comments by Amber (recommended by jams) about Boswell and DEVONthink with interest. Boswell does have some unique features. But it’s not appropriate for me because I depend on so many non-text files among my reference resources. See for Amber’s comments.

Amber emphasized DT Pro’s dependence on organizational hierarchies to support functions of the AI features. That’s obviously true of the “Classify” function, but it’s true to a lesser degree of the “See Also” AI feature, which often gives me very good ideas even in databases that contain thousands of unclassified documents.

Amber made a very interesting observation about AI. She uses Boswell to store material that she herself wrote, and noted that she understands her own writing better than DEVONthink Pro could. That’s true. (But I think DT Pro could sometimes pleasantly surprise her.)

I was trained in chemistry and have published research in several disciplines (biochemistry, physiology and molecular biology). I’ve also got publications about science and environmental policy and public administration. My main database contains references bridging a number of scientific, technical and engineering disciplines, as well as policy, legal and regulatory matters. I’m reasonably competent in some of those disciplines but a rank amateur at best in many others.

DEVONthink Pro has no degrees or formal training in any of the disciplines mentioned above. It doesn’t “know” chemistry or conservation ecology, for example. The “See Also” feature in DT Pro depends on analysis of the terms used in a document, the “patterns” of their usage, and comparison of the appearance of those terms and "patterns’ to the other documents in the database.

So, when I view one of the 20,000 documents in my main database and click on “See Also”, DT Pro will present a list of “similar” documents. But it’s up to me to evaluate the usefulness of the suggestions.

It’s an interactive process. I’ll probably immediately reject some of the suggestions as “dumb” or simply not useful. Others I may judge to be relevant, but not particularly interesting. Once in a while a suggestion pops up that is really interesting, and that I would never have thought of – that’s what qualifies DT Pro as a very good research assistant. It has led me to a conceptual breakthrough.

A while back I wrote an overview section about research directions concerning a particular environmental issue. I got some favorable comments about my grasp of some of the research potentials. Guess what? That “grasp” was served up to me on a platter by DT Pro, although it was my responsibility to recognize the usefulness of the suggested relationships.

About my working environment: I do most of my note and draft writing directly in DT Pro’s rich text environment. My reference resources are immediately available. To finish and polish, a more competent vehicle is necessary. These days I’m using Papyrus 12 for word processing and spreadsheet work. Why? Because Papyrus 12 can save in a hybrid PDF file format that’s completely compatible with my database. I see such database content as PDF+Text. Yet it’s also completely editable (without having two versions) in Papyrus, and Papyrus is actually editing and saving the PDF file contained in my database. So document features such as outlines, lists, hyperlinks – in short, everything – looks the same in DT Pro as in Papyrus.

That means I can send my Papyrus documents from my database as email attachments or to a CD or Web site, and they are universally viewable as PDFs on any platform. Yet a colleague who uses Papyrus 12 on a Windows or Mac computer could edit or add internal comments on that same PDF file (unless I had encrypted it).

So Papyrus 12 doesn’t add to the “Tower of Babel” problem that has resulted from so many proprietary file formats. A Mellel document, for example, shouldn’t be sent as an email attachment to people who don’t have Mellel on their computers.

Wouldn’t it be great if Word, Mellel, Nisus Writer Express, OmniOutliner, Excel, Pages and other applications were to adopt that hybrid PDF trick?

A new info manager is born. Its name is NoteMind.

This app looks somewhat promising, though with a few features added to DTPro and some UI work, there wouldn’t be much competition.

I posted to another forum asking about similar data visualization for DTPro.

There are very promising features of Notemind. It can suggest similar documents like DTP (though I don’t know how good at that). But also suggest from the web (my first impression is good, fast and relevant) and from the hard disk (sloooow). Visualization is nice but needs more work, I hope DTP can beat it get DA viz with short previews (I expect it will be here with v2).

It is nowhere near DTP at the moment but competition is good for us :wink:

After playing a little longer and some correspondence to developers, I started to love “similar web pages” feature. They said that it submits the “five most unique” words to Google. It is surprisingly fast and relevant. This is my new most wanted feature for Devonthink. I bet they do the same in Spotlight to get hard disk results. I realized that it gets faster after the first few uses.

NoteMind has been updated to version 1.0.2:

Really, the more I use NoteMind, the more I like it. Lots of good ideas. We need more cool apps like NoteMind on the Mac platform.

This might be a good place to move or at least reference the forum thread on EagleFiler. … php?t=3386

See, just goes to show the limits of listing a topic under a single heading. Glad we have Devon and wikis etc. to help us show multiple relationships among topics.


I am trying to make DTP more apart of my live. In doing so, I am trying to read as many forum posts as I can. As you can see, I came upon this post regarding DTP Competitors. I went to your homepage as linked above and looked for “NanotechnologyDevWorld.doc .” I did not see it. Do you have a copy? I would like to take a look at it.

Good job! That was all done in DTP? Great!

Hi, Gino. I had taken "NanotechnologyDevWorld.doc " down, but I just put it up again.

It’s an example of how well Pages 2.x does in converting a Pages document to the Word .doc format. Images, links, everything.

Yes, the Tutorial database was created in DT Pro. Then it can be exported as a Web site by choosing the start page (Welcome) and selecting File > Export > As Web site.


Got the file. Thanks.