DT Pro, Office, and other PIMs: a loving criticism

The following was just posted on a website discussing various PIM’s on the Mac. To see the criticisms I refer to, please see the post at Musings From Mars. And I am posting it here, and not on one of the threads about other apps, because it is feedback, ultimately.

I’m a die-hard DEVONthink Pro user. The AI features, its abilities to manipulate text, and interact with the greater mac ecosystem it lives in are wonderful (think scriptability like no other, services, automator). I have come to rely upon it exclusively for my pdf storage (of published articles and my own finished research/writings), my reading/research notes primarily (I’m a grad student who has LOTS of both), and for web-clippings secondarily. I have about 5 databases.

But here lies the problem. While I don’t agree with the tone of the previous poster, I agree that the features that the developers have put so much of their energy into recently are – to me – underwhelming. I tried to like “office”. I downloaded it, played with it, scanned to it, etc. I participated actively in its beta. And I’m sure there are people who will find it useful with the feature set it currently offers (it seems a lot of new people are posting on the DT forum since this was offered, and I’m happy for the developers…they are a great set of guys, and deserve an expanding userbase). And, unlike the previous poster, I do have lots of paper I want to digitize – a lot of articles I need to read and incorporate into my research are just not available digitally, despite the plethora of journals that are online. Like it or not, in many professions (like academia), you deal with a lot of paper. In the end, however, I found the quality and ease of workflow with Acrobat 8 was better than DT Pro Office. And so I quietly stopped using it. I “downgraded” back to DT Pro, I use Acrobat to do all my scanning and and OCR’ing (and I do quite a lot), and then I file the results quite easily into DT Pro. I think it all comes down to usage: for households that just want to run off a couple of pages of receipts and bills, for lawyers who need to file away a set of papers and file them away quickly and without thinking about them…I’m sure its excellent. But my usages (having the PDF’s accessible to Bookends, PDFs larger than 50 pages, highlighting, taking notes on PDFs, etc.) are different, and Acrobat fills them nicely.

So I think a lot of the problem has to do with how people perceive this category of software. Basically, I have come to realize that the current manifestations of DT Pro are best used as repositories – to use a metaphor, a library, with things I want to read, store, and access later. In that capacity, DT Pro is the best. But as a place to keep a journal of my meetings, a place to jot down quick info about this or that event, to file temporary notices and papers, a place to organize non-permanent information in conjunction with GTD-type apps…I find it to be overkill in some ways, and just not there in many others.

Which is fine. I have just come to realize that perhaps – as DT stands now – I need another alternative for that type of information, to help organize my life (and not my research) in conjunction with Mail, iCal, and my GTD app (kGTD, by the way, until OmniFocus comes out, simply because of the excellent way it integrates with iCal and thus my PDA and with Quicksilver to transparently and quickly get things in there).

So that’s how I came upon this page, basically trying to figure out which of EagleFiler, KIT, Yojimbo, Journler and the rest would be best for THAT purpose. I want something that is fluid and transparent in how it works, has tagging and quick reliable searching, won’t lock me in, integrates well with other PIM apps that are part of OS X, and works well with the Mac ecosystem of scripting particularly. It needs to accept every type of file that information can come in and allow me to view it and modify it easily (namely txt, rtf, doc, html, web archives, and PDF) since I get tons of information daily in any of these formats, and I don’t want to have to process, say, PDF into RTF just to store something…I don’t have time for that.

So while I want many of the features in DT Pro that the previous poster was clamouring about (and a few others that are academic related), I think it would be best if people – including myself – realized that there is nothing called one glove fits all. DT Pro is my library, application X (from those reviewed here) will be my notebook, and I have iCal for my calendar, Mail.app for my mail box, etc. etc.

And while I must admit that I wish that the DT developers’ resources had gone into improving the core feaures of DT and adding a few more features related to those core features (better AI, better ways of massaging and manipulating files already in the DT, transparent databses viz a viz the Finder, cross-databse searchability, multiple databases) instead of the OCR (which has so many limitations due to their licensing): to be fair, many of these features are on the horizon of 2.0. And more importantly, at the end of the day, it is THEIR app, and they probably know what’s best for their company. Now, on the flip side, it is MY app to, since I’ve invested so much of my effort into it, and in that sense, anyone who gets a license, works in the program, and contributes to the forums of an app is a share-holder. But a shareholder is not a CEO, nor a board of directors. And if it’s not working for you, then invest elsewhere.

To end positively, the fact that we have so much competition and selection here touts that the Mac is the creative OS. I love that many of these indie developers are so open to discussion and change. The folks at DT are like that, Michael Tsai of EagleFiler is like that, the gent doing Notebook, Jon at Sonny Software’s Bookends…all are very open, though focued, developers. Its a good place to be.

I’d add Keith of Scrivener fame and Jesse of Hog Bay Notebook. Also wonderful developers to interact with. Very different from the old Mac days where we had so little to choose from!

Nice post. Very thoughtful. I agree with your insights and comments about DT Pro and the need for other programs. I had in the past tried to find a ‘one-size fits all’ program and realized after time that not only was it not possible but not desirable. Each program needs to focus on what is designed to do and do it very well. That’s the conclusion I came to. Your post articulated that very well.

I’d be interested in what you come up with re your non-permanent paper filer. I have the same needs–needs to take all kinds of files, needs quick tagging system. Tagging isn’t such a huge deal in DT because I store so much in DT it would pretty much be impossible to keep up with tagging each thing, and DT’s search capabilities are strong enough for me to find what I need without much tagging (though I can use the info/comments pane if needed). But for the kind of information you are talking about, I would also want quick tagging. Good integration with other programs. I’ve tried several of the programs you mentioned and am still not quite sure which would work best.

Again, thanks for the post.


You don’t mention DevonNote. I use if for all of the purposes you list and it works just fine. It’s $19.95. You might give it a try, since knowing how to work with DT Pro is an advantage when using DevonNote.

The lack of being able to place PDF’s in there, that’s the problem. I get university notices, receipts, etc. in PDF a lot, and need to be able to toss those in too. Otherwise, it’s a nice little note-taking program.

Nice post talazem. And, yes, I’ve also been debating about upgrading to DTPO. I prefer the results that DTPO OCR’s gave me to the ones on Acrobat 8… I think that the errors are less (specially on small fonts and images), but still I’m far away from happy with it. The files are too big and the 50 pages limit doesn’t satisfy me at all. Besides, using Acrobat allows me a better commenting/highlighting than Preview, so I’ll never be able to drop it.

I’ll go and check the website you mentioned.

My greatest wish is that DTP 2 comes fast and we can see for real its value, most specially since I want to be able to comment/note/highlight inside DTP.

– MJ

Also, Notebook from Circus Ponies. It is my all-around, GTD, etc etc app.