Dt 3.0beta4 - Some thoughts about DT3

DT 3.0beta4 - some thoughts

I ‘bought’ DTPO 1. in 12/2006 but only fairly recently use it regularly (almost every day; in the early days, I found the steep learning-curve too time-consuming: the gradient has become easier - I am fitter too - but I often wonder whether I am anywhere near the top of how DTPO could cater for my requirements. Also, I have DevonAgent Pro 3 which I occasionally remember to use; and DEVONsphere Express 1 which I’d forgotten about until earlier today whilst checking my licences.

It seems to me that DT is marketed as a fairly comprehensive database organiser of documents, for note-taking, web clippings, and writing generally, a sort of one app fits all. From what I’ve read, DT is better for organising existing documents rather than creating documents from scratch. From scratch DT can do but as a note taker and for writing generally needs saveable customisation to make it user friendly: a user custom default template for example when clicking the Plain Text or Rich Text icons. I have found that the width of the editor can be narrowed with custom styles but document or page set up could be easier.

I got DTPO for the sorter and automatically date each entry, a feature I found lacking in other apps at that time. Perhaps to do with how I run my business, but I need to be able to automatically date each entry*. For me the sorter is the attraction because as soon as I hear the telephone ringing I select my keyboard shortcut so I am ready to start taking notes of conversation during the call before answering. After the call, click save on the sorter and I can resume whatever i was doing before the interruption knowing that the entry is safely in the inbox of my choice. *Since getting TypeExpander, having DT date each entry isn’t so important because I now keyboard shortcut prefix entries myself. So now I mainly use DT for clippings, random notes, and searching pdfs and from my experience this week OCR pdf, rather than Acrobat Pro X1 (but use Acrobat for my other needs).

As someone who creates efficient systems for my own management, the concept of the paperless office (life-style even) is attractive. Easier and quicker to search on a computer than in a filing cabinet. Presupposing that the computer is reliable! (Back-up to an external HD or some sort of ‘Cloud’ is ok but it still needs a computer in working order which is why I find it surprising back-up advocates rarely mention having a second computer available if the need arises.)

If in your life to date you’ve somehow managed to avoid paper communication or are setting up a new business or launching a new project from scratch then committing to software that suits your requirements is, with respect, a darn sight easier than those of us whose legacy is paper communication. In my case, my business, established in 1975, I have a small empire, much of which occupies seven 4-drawer filing cabinets, five floor-almost-to-ceiling bookshelves, odds-and-sods, 2 rooms. In a by-gone era, when scanning was rare except perhaps in very big companies, more than one sheet of paper on the same subject were often stapled together, duplex-printing unusual. To wade through one typically thick file of papers, removing staples paperclips and deciding what to keep takes me approximately 30 minutes - and that’s before scanning, itself not always straightforward when paper-sizes differ. In theory, to un-occupy physical space I could process one file a day but. in practice, apart from converting the past into gigabytes, about a month of my life would be spent concentrating on doing something unproductive.

That scenario is not I imagine untypical. Circa 5 years ago, I embarked upon the paperless principle. Outgoing communications to pdf, including printing emails to pdf (yes I know I could import emails to DTPO but I prefer to use pdf kept in Finder folders), most incoming similarly. I have partially kept up. Frequently, I hunt around for something only to find it where at the time I thought would be a good place to keep it. Every so often, I tidy up to get on track again. In the world of apps, the thought of enabling users to avoid such scenarios has resulted in a gamut of software developers, mouth-watering the prospect of making loads of money from selling apps to make life paperless. One only has to browse forums to realise just how many different similar apps people buy only to stop using soon afterwards. .

What’s all that got to do with DT3? All apps have their individual attractions but often, in my experience, their limitations are too limited, or rather the impression received by customers differs from the impression intended. The snag with any app that is not bespoke is that invariably the design is by people that have either created the app to fill a need in their own lives in the hope that others might have the same need, or base their thinking on the type of users they know. We customers, the vast majority I should think, are expected to adjust to what is on offer (and be educated/encouraged to imagine that how we do things now could be improved upon! ). Only if enough of us complain or agree with the wish list does the developer release a version with the ‘desired’ features. (Currently, I am using a beta of an app whose existing version I find very useful. I contacted the developer to find out how to alter the settings for something in particular. Not only did I get a reply by return, but also the latest beta incorporates a default setting of my requirement.) I appreciate that some apps are more complicated to code than others and DT is probably amongst the more complicated but as far as I am concerned the fact that my request resulted in a new feature, as distinct from, for example, being told as is common on this forum that there are no plans for the request, is, to my way of thinking the difference between a customer-focussed developer and one whose only aim is to get the app out of beta asap.

I have an acquaintance, a highly-qualified IT consultant, whom I describe as of the old-school. Unless he thinks something is logical, he dismisses any suggestion to the contrary. With respect, I have that impression of DT. Having in DTPO created software that in its time was quite possibly streets ahead of the competition, there has been no logical need to change things except to fix bugs and update to OS. But, during the 13 years since I first got DTPO 1 - now at version 2.11.3 - other developers in same target market haven’t rested upon their laurels. What others have capitalised upon is a new generation of customers, possibly younger but not exclusively, for apps that are beautifully-designed, intuitive and a pleasure to use. Personally, I think there is too much superficiality and not enough substance amongst consumer market apps, but that’s no reason to reinforce the substance as if the superficial were mundane. Design is not just about appearance but also how it works; and vice versa.

I appreciate DT3 is in beta and it’s DT’s product and DT entitled to do whatever they like with it, but a public beta ought to imply, surely, that it’s not simply about getting us to find bugs to be ironed out but also taking on board for the finished DT3 suggestions the developers may not have thought of? As DT’s customers, contributors might feel as though we are part of something ‘new’, rather than guinea pigs for testing what has been decided already.

I may be wrong, in which case I forgive myself, but I sense it might be taking development longer to get DT3 finished than envisaged. Sorry to say this but I can’t help thinking, in the process of updating the UI including redesigning layout and tightening the logic of features, that for users DT3 isn’t actually going to be as good as it could or should be. Had I not been a long-term customer of DT I doubt I would be excited by DT3. For example, with respect, the use of scripts seems to me, as a non-scripter and completely dependent upon the kindness of others, might not have been a bit of a cop-out >10 years ago when software for the masses was in its infancy but, nowadays, if scripts enable users to experience DT’s full potential then the feeling I have it’s as though the developers think it somehow beneath them to enable scripts to be used by also adding the feature icon to the toolbar, as distinct from searching for a script only via the menus.

The snag with software marketing is that benefits and features intended to attract customers are often easier said than done. I enjoy trialling software so it usually takes me seconds to discover whether beyond the hype an app is not all it makes out to be. With DT what attracts is an impression of ease of using and capabilities in popular parlance. Take, for example, save a workspace, I’m told from answer to my question elsewhere on this forum that the workspace save doesn’t include the user’s choice of columns in list view. Surely if you’ve taken the time to arrange the settings for what you see on screen to your liking it should be saveable so you can resume when you next open the app? Columns should also surely be auto-sizeable.

As for the sync, others don’t seem concerned so probably my failure to understand terminology, but I gave up long ago and unless this post results in simple one-by-one steps in plain English on what do to I can’t see myself having another attempt. I use Droxbox. With Scrivener, for example, the Dropbox sync set up was for me straightforward including the help and forum (which took account of my novice questions and misuse of terminology) so now whenever I save a project file I know that my other devices will have access to the latest version of the file whenever I sync update. In fact, it works so well for me that I am seriously considering using Scrivener for much of what I use DTPO for and from what I’ve gathered DT3 can do, whilst any pdfs I want with me wherever in Dropbox. And limiting my use of DT3 for web clippings, OCR and searching imported pdfs. (I also use Things: having had its limitations pointed out to me on this forum I now understand why DT doesn’t provide its own sync, but it does mean that whenever not at my iMac and copy content from the web I tend to use Things (or chunky copy to IOS Notes).

Conventionally, developers launch an app and, pre-supposing wanting a sustainable business, as time passes future releases incorporate user suggestions for features. Future releases might include bug fixes, but the main attraction to any user unaffected by the bug is the new features. Nowadays good ideas spread like wildfire and can travel around the world in nanoseconds. When the originator of a good idea launches an app but is subsequently slow off the mark, the popularity of the idea inspires newcomers to jump on the bandwagon promoting features that attract new customers but which to the originator are dismissed as nothing wonderful. When the originator does decide to update it looks like the update is catching up in which case nothing special so far as non-existing customers are concerned. Whereas what in my view should happen is that the originator should continue to be streets ahead.

Anyone can make money by providing what people want to buy now: the big profits come from anticipating what people will want and being there to provide it. And since the profit margin on software pricing is however much the market will bear, once the development costs have been covered, it is laughing all the way to the bank. (I note that DT promotes that DT is an investment, not a cost. With respect, it’s a cost. An investment is something that appreciates in value. Promoting cost as an investment is a proven way to justify the asking price; and since I understand DT gives discount to some categories of buyers, the higher price the rest of us pay subsidises the discount. )

It seems to me that DTPO.1 was streets ahead and DTPO.2 a slight improvement, but DT3 is a catch up, tinkering at the edges and putting off what users would like until some unspecified time in future. If I were asked to advise then I should strongly recommend DT3 be streets ahead again. Otherwise there is the risk that when DT3 is released, knowledgeable critics will be unfazed, new customers deterred by the complexity and omissions.

This might be too much to expect but if finishing DT3 is taking longer than envisaged then if only to avoid the disappointment that could arise if DT3.0 does not include most if not all of the suggestions made to the expiry of the final beta then surely it would pay for DT to take on board and become irresistible to the majority of the target market, not just existing users?

Thanks for the feedback! However, a public beta test is basically about finding bugs & glitches. Suggestions are of course always welcome, not only during a public beta test, and might be implemented in future releases.

that for users DT3 isn’t actually going to be as good as it could or should be

This is a highly subjective statement. What you feel is good, isn’t necessarily what someone else would see as good. I’m sure there are things you do that would make no sense to me, and vice versa.

the developers think it somehow beneath them to enable scripts to be used by also adding the feature icon to the toolbar, as distinct from searching for a script only via the menus.

Umm, a Script menu…
…and a custom script as a separate button…
both in the Toolbar.

sync… simple one-by-one steps in plain English

Sync is covered in the built-in Help > Documentation > In & Out > Sync.

An investment is something that appreciates in value.

With respect, it does, even if you continue to use DEVONthink in a singular way. This is even more true when you consider the flexibility inherently built into the application (and even more so in DEVONthink 3). Even more appreciation can be found in expanding your use of the application, whether using it in new contexts or using functionality previously unexplored.

And beyond any metrics collected or ROI, the appreciation and value is in the heart and mind of the invidual. We have many users who tell us they can’t imagine using a computer without DEVONthink. We have had many tell us very personal tales of how they’ve used it to:

  • Start and run businesses
  • Help in exploring their genealogical roots
  • Complete all phases of education, from highschool through undergraduate and graduate degrees
  • Even some who have used it to gather, research, and sort through heartbreaking medical diagnoses.

I believe each of them have their own deep valuation of whether DEVONthink has appreciated.

If I were asked to advise then I should strongly recommend DT3 be streets ahead again.

DEVONthink 3 is a big step forward in many ways, the UI being the least of it.

if only to avoid the disappointment that could arise

We have many new and existing users testing and using DEVONthink 3, with very, very little hint of disappointment. In fact, the response has been humbling in how overwhelmingly positive it has been from beta 1.
(See: https://www.devontechnologies.com/blog/20190530-some-nice-words)

if DT3.0 does not include most if not all of the suggestions made to the expiry

As @cgrunenberg pointed out, we welcome ideas, comments, and constructive criticism. However, making a suggestion is not "a guarantee" it will be implemented - now or in the future. Perhaps they will, perhaps they won’t. (And Criss will attest that I have many requests that are unfulfilled, and may never be. And that’s also why our robust AppleScript support is an even greater thing for me) :slight_smile:

If you could see the list of requests and “things we could do”, you would realize we could never realize even a quarter of them in a lifetime.

Also, remember, we are also not programming for one person. We have to assess not only the difficulty and stability of implementation, but the broader reach of features, i.e., how many Users will this benefit and how many are requesting this. (And yes, this is why some of my concepts and projects are self-implemented or not made public, since they aren’t broadly useful.)


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Can I suggest a happy middle between these two?

Every time I see a script or an interesting smart rule, I convince myself that as amazing as DT3 is, I could do 3 times more with it if I truly mastered using Applescript with DT3 and mastered the nuances of smart rules.

I have no problem putting in the work to learn Applescript, but I sense that alone would not be enough because I have asked experienced professional developers who use Applescript and they do cannot tell just from the Script dictionary for DT3 how to do certain things.

The “Take Charge of” book is planned; as nice as that series is, it does not really go into hardcore details.

What I am saying is - if someone were to write a really in-depth book on Applescript for Devonthink, with lots and lots of examples, it would be worth gold. And many of us might then be able to add the features we are missing and share them here with other users too.

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Every time I see a script or an interesting smart rule, I convince myself that as amazing as DT3 is, I could do 3 times more with it if I truly mastered using Applescript with DT3 and mastered the nuances of smart rules.

You won’t ever master AppleScript (or DEVONthink, for that matter), but learning to script is a worthy goal for anyone running a Mac, not just in regards to DEVONthink.

Regarding a book, the Automation chapter in the documentation provides plenty of information to get started. And these forums are full of years of posts regarding scripting, from very basic snippets to some pretty advanced scripts, from many different contributors.

I suggest you find a problem and work toward a solution. That’s the best way to start learning to script.

I’m using “you” a lot in my post because it’s relating to each individual user’s experience/judgement.

(1) Name three top reasons (or less) for you to decide using DT2/3. The answers will probably tell whether DT is chosen for the right purpose/s and/or being evaluated from the proper perspective.
(2) Name 2 apps that you think is better than DT in “totality” as a platform for text-based info management. Accept/reject DT by comparing it on a feature-by-feature basis to a portfolio of different apps is perhaps meaningless. If there is a dominant and specific purpose of yours and a particular app is doing a better job than DT, go for it. “Totality” and “flexibility” are the characteristics of platform app, much like (IMHO) Excel for numbers or Scrivener for writings.
(3) How long and consistent have you been using “DT2”. You’ll need to use DT2 regularly/daily across a period of several years to truly appreciate what a tremendous job DT3 has done in filling the “expectation gaps” of DT2 users.
(4) Some apps are exciting as a new toy and fun to try that are based on some blue-sky concept, but they don’t “stick”. I am guessing that many users keep coming back to DT after some sort of app-switching period (including me). I speculate that DT has become an irreplaceable app for daily workflow and mission-critical tasks to many researchers, lawyers, reporters, students, and users who need effective home assets management.

In sum:
(1) It is most natural to expect a mature app to take an evolutionary upgrade path BUT DT3 surprises me. I have never expected that ver3 will offer so many features that can drastically enhance my workflow. Such as smart rule, custom metadata, tight index folder integration, advance script dictionary, and not to mention the numerous enhancements in user experience. Of course I am assuming that all glitches will be fixed in the final release.
(2) Given my minimal experience, I think most innovations of any successful apps are path-dependent and user-driven. Document management is an “ancient” need since the beginning of the computer era. The success of DT3 is not to “turn the corner” by new ways of managing info but to help more and more users to … manage their info easier regardless of the chosen workflow!
(3) Personally, I’ll say DT3 has responded to, and way exceeding, the accumulated feedbacks across many years from all of the loyal, friendly, and professional users in this forum. DT3 shows that the developers genuinely understand what info-management is about, given the limited resources, they did a fantastic job in integrating their product with the ecology of MacOS (hopefully soon with future updates on iOS).
(4) Honestly, I am amazed that DT doesn’t switch to a subscription model like many US developers (and it’s good news to us users). Perhaps some good old software tradition is at work - don’t charge a customer unless there is an excellent new product that worths the money!

So, keep providing constructive feedback and wait patiently for the next version.


This might be a bit off topic, but frankly: AppleScript is a pain. Obscure, very small built-in functionality, not maintained/developed since ages, and far too much typing required. I’d strongly suggest to go with JavaScript for scripting.
Your experience with the AppleScript dictionary for DT confirms this – and it is basically the same with every other program on MacOS.

In my experience, a “beta test” is typically limited to bug testing. Features have to be pretty much frozen so that the bugs can be fixed (e.g. hard to change a tire when the car is moving).

It is during the “alpha test” that the features are not yet frozen and are up for addition/revision. But because the software is so fluid at this stage, it is typically extremely unstable, so alpha tests are rarely public.

I strongly disagree with this. JavaScript is much harder to learn, especially for beginners. And AppleScript has far more functionality than you are imagining.

Shortcuts support in DT3? Apple seems to be putting a lot of effort into Shortcuts, so maybe that is the future? I know, probably not as flexible or powerful as AppleScript, but for those of us who just want a quick shortcut (see what I did there?) then it may be all we need.

According to reports, (Guilherme Rambo, 9to5mac - Apr. 19th 2019) Shortcuts will becoming to the Mac in macOS 10.15 Catalina later this year.

Thanks for the suggestion! However, there are no such plans yet.

I have to second this. I’m not a professional programmer, but I’ve had my share of small automation problem-solving using Python and sometimes C#. I know my way around other languages as well but I could never be bothered to learn AppleScript, powerful or not. This is probably a very superficial remark on my part, but IMHO it just looks terrible, verbose and uninviting.

Actually the fact that AppleScript is almost human readable is one of its strengths. It’s perfect for creating workflows (that’s its actual purpose) but very poor at e.g. data or string processing.

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Just joining the chat a bit …

I used to do lots of vba coding to integrate MS Excel, Words, and Access 20 years ago. It seems to me that how object models are presented in code editor plays an important role for learning. In vba editor, the hierarchy of object model is call-up automatically (just type “.” right after the object and all its properties and methods will be pop-up for selection and all parameters are show for each elements to be manipulated). And all visual element is so easy to code in-place. This facilitates the learning of the language a lot. But learning AppleScript is very difficult (at least for me)! I have to review other scripts and check the script dictionary “a lot” to do what I need. Having said that, like all languages, once the structure/grammer are becoming habitual, it’s getting easier.

Not to mention the std script editor in macOS is a disaster. It’s virtually impossible to write anything longer that 30 to 40 lines in structural manner and impossible/extremely clumsy to check object and variables state for debugging (there is even no break point or code folding or screen splitting, I think?). Until I found Script Debugger, this app seems to have the right level of complexity for causal programmer, and AppleScript is becoming much easier to code under such environment. I just hope that the app will support java script, too.

I have used AppleScript (and a mix of other built-in tools in the shell), professionally (as in yes, I was paid for it) for almost 20 years now (or perhaps it’s past that now…)_. In all that time, I have used Apple’s Script Editor almost exclusively.

And no, I wasn’t writing simple one-liners all day long. I was writing multi-script, deep workflows, some on multi-million dollar projects in large or multi-national corporations. :slight_smile:

Amazing… perhaps there are more in the build-in script editor than I am aware of.
For me, it’s the right time to start reading Sanderson’s “Learn AppleScript” for leisure…

AppleScripting, like any other (programming) language, is a journey. You’re not instantly fluent in it, but it being more human readable makes it easier since the paradigm is talking to the computer in English.

Because of the way scripting works on macOS via OSA, you can pretty much do anything in JavaScript that you can do in AppleScript, and vice versa.

The problem is that JXA is very under-documented, and all the examples you’ll find online are for AppleScript.

But the good news is that as long as DEVONthink gets the OSA hooks, you should be able to script the application equally well from JavaScript or AppleScript.

(Personally I’d prefer examples in JavaScript, as every time I try to do something in AppleScript I want to smash my head against the desk.)

Of course YMMV. I’m not a beginner, and I found AppleScript overly verboseand lacking even simple things like regex support. E.g., I’d like to rename files in DT based on some part of their content. Doing that in AppleScript gets my mind boggling. Doing it in any decent programming language would be a breeze.

BTW: Talking to a computer in English might be nice for native english speakers. For everybody else, it is not necessarily a bonus. In the 80s of the last century, the French even invented their own version of Algol with all keywords in French – si … alors instead of if … then. Which certainly made things easier for everyone fluent in French :wink:

And of course you can solve each and every programming problem in every language, even in assembler. Just a matter of time, knowledge and personal preferences.

Any suggested reference reading for beginner in JXA in the context of using it in Applescript? Just trying to get a feel on how different can the two approaches be?

And another naive question to @bluefrog: Even if JXA can be used in Applescript, can it access DT objects in the same way the std applescript does?

(As mentioned by @BLUEFROG and OP in the last few years, I think Apple Script 1-2-3 (Soghoian & Cheeseman) and Learn AppleScript (Sanderson and Rosenthal) are two really good reference for beginning- and intermediate-level scriptures.)