How do you use DevonThink??

I am very interested in how others are using DevonThink.  I believe it is a great program and I want to learn to get more out of it.

I use it primarily as a library of client and marketing notes, book summaries (that I have created), and reference manuals (PDFs).  

I’m not sure I’m getting as much out of it as I can, so please post how you use DevonThink.



Joel, I’ve been using DT for months, but I’m still learning.

I run a small foundation created to support international environmental science and technology exchanges. I’ve got thousands of references and notes (text, RTF, Word, PDF, HTML, IE Archives and others) that will ultimately be incorporated into DT databases. Topics of interest cover a broad range from environmental policies, laws and regulations, to research and technical literature on environmental media, risk assessment and health effects of hazardous substances, environmental sampling and assessment, site remediation, and so on. A major objective is to support graduate training and education. In the past, I’ve done water quality literature reviews specific to a number of countries (Egypt, Poland, India, Chile, Phillipines) or on topics such as leather tanning, solid waste management etc. relevant to developing world environmental topics.

On a daily basis I scan the Web for references that I’m putting into DT. Sources include journals such as Science, Nature, Environmental Science and Technology and many others, plus governmental Web sites. Content is added to DT either through RTF capture from Safari via Services (RTF), with manual copy/past of the item’s URL or as LightningText PDF conversion (resulting in separate storage of the original PDF file, plus RTF content and link to the PDF file in DT). Adding content in these ways is quite fast, although it would be nice if DT automatically input Web URLs. For Web searches, I’m looking forward to playing with DEVONagent.

DT is also used to hold project notes, relevant email, etc. I would like to see hyperlinks to foreign files and other DT content added – as I suspect will hapen in the Standard Edition.

DT works wonderfully for me for searching and associating information (although I would like a bit more Boolean search power). Printing and exporting from DT remains a bit weak, but I’m using workarounds for the moment, and expect to see future DT versions that will be more convenient in these respects.

House-keeping notes: I moved the DT database off my boot partition to allow plenty of room for expansion. I routinely backup the database to still another partition, and periodically do backups to CD-ROM.

Thanks for the interesting post, Bill. Could you explain more about setting up and adding content via RTF capture in Safari via Services?  I’ve just begun to learn DevonThink and Services, and this looks particularly useful.  Thanks again.

RTF capture in Safari via Services:

Highlight some text in Safari. Look in Safari > Services > DEVONthink and you’ll see an item “Take Rich Note”, for which the keystroke shortcut is Cmd-Shift-). Pressing this keystroke sends the selected text to DT.

A few words to save confusion and frustration. If you click a hyperlink to go to a new web page in Safari, the URL of the new page is selected (highlighted) in the address bar. If you now select some text on the page to send to DT, Safari keeps the URL highlighted whilst you highlight the text, so you have TWO items highlighted - the URL and the text. IIRC, this causes the Take Rich Note option to be dimmed, but leaves the Take Plain Note enabled. If you opt to take the Plain Note route, your text will not be copied to DT - just the URL. The motto is to check whether the URL is highlighted. If it is, click somewhere on the page before selecting your target text, otherwise you’ll end up with URL + text highlighted. I think it’s only Safari that does this.

Services are one of the unsung and underappreciated features of OSX. It’s a bit like the ideas of OpenDoc, if anyone remembers that. Services allow you to use some features of one program in another program. Suppose you are writing a doc in TextEdit and want a screen grab. Hitherto, you’d have to switch programs, grab a screen and copy/paste. Now you leave the cursor where you want the screen grab in TextEdit, go to Services > Grab, make the screen capture and it immediately appears at the cursor point in TextEdit. Initially Services only worked with Cocoa apps, but they may now work with some Carbon apps (I’m not sure about this). I’m certain that Services will become a much appreciated feature of OSX once people get to realise the potential. Use Services now in DT, but remember to keep the DT browser closed to avoid making it the frontmost app whenever you send an item to it via Services.

> DT is also used to hold project notes, relevant email, etc. I would like to see hyperlinks to foreign files and other DT content added – as I suspect will hapen in the Standard Edition.


a possible way to get ‘hyperlinks’ to files on your harddisk is by installing ICeCoffEE. You can get it at You must enter a valid file url in your text and by command click the file will be opened through ICeCoffEE in the corresponding application.

You can get a valid file url if you open the file in a web browser like Safari and copy the url from the address field. It is not the most convenient solution but seems to work.





>>RTF capture in Safari via Services

I highlighted text in Safari, clicked Safari>Services… but there is no DevonThink sub-menu. Any ideas why not?

Do you have DEVONthink installed in "/Applications"? Mac OS X only recognises services of applications residing in the applications folders. Do you have other services installed that may interfere with DEVONthink (there are nasty bugs in Mac OS X leading to service collisions)?


Thanks for the tips so far. I’m not best pleased having just bought Tinderbox before discovering DevonThink on a Tidbits discussion - DT seems far better for my purposes.

Any advice on how to use DT alongside/instead of one of the standard bibliographic databases? I use Endnote. Endnote is particularly convenient because it is often specified as a download option when accessing journals and I suppose I am also stuck having to continue with it because of the ‘cite while you write’ feature. Endnote has been described as the (bloated) Microsoft Word of bibliographic databases and I much prefer the lean elegance of DT

But abandon use of Endnote? Or what is the most convenient way of running it and DT in tandem?


I absolutely agree about Endnote, which I only use because my univeristy has licences for it and I get it for free. What ridiculous amount do they charge for it? But yes, it does have its uses.

As for integrating it with DT, I have few suggestions, besides copying Endnote’s formatted citation into the “Comments” field of DT, so that I can conveniently search the publication details of the articles I have stored in the database. I’d be interested to hear other suggestions.

I would be interested in Tinderbox for its novel way of organising and representing notes and ideas, but don’t intend to buy it - I’m looking forward to DT integrating certain Tinderbox-like features (like outlines, “maps,” and so forth) sometime.

We’ll add the possibility to import/edit structured data (like CSV, tab text, maybe bibtex) to the Standard Edition. Then you’ll be able to view this data either as a table or as a form and therefore it’s possible to create some kind of “sub databases” (like address or bibliographic databases) inside DEVONthink.

>We’ll add the possibility to import/edit structured data (like CSV, tab text,
> maybe bibtex) to the Standard Edition.

How about whatever Apple uses for their address book - "LDAP" I think?
I hate new standards (wry grin).

Speaking of which, I had to explain to two different Help Desk people at my office’s Technology Services group what “ASCII” means the other day.

They were baffled when an application turned all the 16-bit text into "y-with-an-unlaut" over it, even when I opened up an ASCII table, showed them what its number is in binary, and counted for them all the way up to eight fingers.

No wonder buffer overflows remain a problem.  

This sounds just soo good. Please make BibTeX databases available with SE (maybe not the first release, but some update version).



I am responding to the original question.  I am a missionary/pastor serving in Japan.  

I have a large database of sermon notes and written sermons organized by chapter and book of the Bible.  DT helps me out when I am writing new material because it is easy to find out what I have already written (perhaps even several years ago) on the same topic.  This helps keep me consistent and helps me build on ideas that I have used before and yet still expand upon them with the new material.  I have never been able to do this effectively with any other program.

I use it as an all purpose note-taker.  Since I switched out of Entourage (to Mail and iCal) I have been using DT as my main notebook and now I like it much better than Entourage.  I think why I like it better is the multiple layers of folders.  I used to just label everything but as notes multiplied it got much more difficult to keep it organized.

I do a lot of training materials that have to be translated into Japanese as well.  I use Devon to keep multiple copies of things organized and track drafts.  Similar thing with worship music that  we use and their Japanese translations.

In fact I hardly ever even use Word anymore – I usually do all my research, thinking and composing of materials in DT and then only copy/paste it over to Word for the final formatting and printing.  

Killer suggestion would be to allow outlining with hyperlinks in the text to seperate files for each part of the outline.  For example, I have now an index document for each training folder that describes each unit.  Even better would be an indexing feature – perhaps a pref that could be turned on and off – that would automatically make an index (1. first doc link  2. second doc link)  of any folder with more than n number of items.  Then make it editable so that you could go in and put comments under each line describing what is in it.  (or even an auto summary feature)

Another suggestion would be an "abstract" setting – that would automatically pop up a summary of every document in the folder.

I actually used to write e-mails to myself to do the kind of note-taking that I am doing now in DT.  I would draft them and then store them in various folders.  Thanks DT – this is much more elegant - plus it has lots of other nice features.


They’ve always worked in Carbon apps if the app writers included the code to tie in with Services. Unfortunately, not all Carbon applications writers/publishers have taken advantage of this highly useful OSX feature to enhance their products.

i’ve heard these referred to before as “wiki-style” links … like an online wiki. Notebook uses them. I think they are very cool. For an example, look at Notebook’s tutorial, which is entirely written as a notebook db, with multiple links connecting the entries. (That’s Hog Bay Notebook, to clear up any confusion caused by the multiple programs named notebook).

I believe DEVONthink is going to pan out much better for me in the long run though. I like the search engine in HBNotebook, but I like the powerful classification/keywording in DEVONthink even better.

Cross-links (or “wiki-style” links) will definitely come. And version 1.8 or 2.0 will feature a realtime search too (the current DEVONagent beta already has such a feature  ;D). But today we’re going to release DT 1.7 first.

I found DevonThink the other day (found an interview in the ‘MacWelt’…) and I have set it up for maintaining my daily work (Database Developement, Consulting, etc.). Almost every Job is a project, with maymany files. For design work, we ‘draw’ relationships, methods, processes, etc. in OmniGraffle, ToDo-Lists are OmniOutliner-doc’s, other stuff is written with BBEdit, graphics as PhotoShop-docs, etc. , then the DB-files, version over version (most of our work is FileMaker-stuff - no other way for documentation, no sccs-like stuff)

With DT I can have all this stuff organized and I can create a short description - with a ‘new RTF-doc’ (the ‘next’ and ‘prev’ - buttons can be used for ‘tracing/short-note-writing’ all the documents in a folder, the folder comes into DT as ‘link’. Each document can be opened with one click.

Some of the documents are used in more than one project -with DT they can be easily found, Version-descriptions are easy with the ‘Replizieren’ - function, etc.

It’s very cool. The big problem at the moment is the ‘actualizing’ of a folder. With this feature, DT would be almost perfect.

I’m not sure if it fits all my needs - but its better than everything else I have had.

I stumbled onto a comment about DT while looking for notepad apps in VersionTracker. My problem at the time was that I was collecting downloaded PDFs (technical reports, etc.) for research that I didn’t know what to do with, plus text notes, clips, etc. I couldn’t find an effective notepad app to index the files in and most of the files I wouldn’t need for some time, so just having a bunch of filenames staring at me wasn’t going to help in six months or a year.

To optimize DT for my needs, the learning curve was a bit steep, but well worth it. When collecting data online, PDFs are ideal one-click information sources, and were handled great in DT. Text also was easy to get in, either my notes or text from webpages, etc. Getting the whole webpage/site in while preserving it’s formatting flexibility took a while to figure out, but now with upcoming versions should be relatively simple. Images are my current challenge, at least indexing them coherently with relevant text files is.

I now think of DT as an organizer for my life, specifically for information related to my academic research. What will be the true test for me is getting large amounts of data back out in an efficient way – to write and cite a thesis, for example. Realizing the relative infancy of the software development, I’m even more excited about the future. When considering more traditional methods of research gathering, I’ll gladly take this any day.

I found DT recently and just bought it.  I have three things I use it for at present. First of all, I download lots of web pages related to areas of interest (everything from astronomy to politics) because 120 gig hard drives allow such excesses.  I am now arranging all of the pages I’ve downloaded into groups in DT so I can find the ones I want easier.  The one quandry I’m having is whether to save the actual web page in DT, so I can see it as it was designed, or only save the text I’m interested in and keep a link to the saved page if I happen to need it later.  Obviously the first method takes up more disk space, but I’m guessing the fact that DT won’t have to save all the little gifs and stuff will make it faster.  In those cases where there are pictures I want with the page I can always cut and paste them in with the text.  The process is still in development.

Second, I’ve found it a great way to catalog the many digital photos I’m taking with  my new camera.  I know I can use iPhoto, (or the photo browser in Photoshop, which is painfully slow on my iBook 700)  but I’ve heard too many squirrely things about it, and its a little basic for what I need.  Since I can open any photo in Photoshop directly from DT, it works great for me.  My one request of DT here would be to have a visible note section for pictures (a text window to go with the picture window) so I can easily put in notes.  I know I have the info window to put notes in, and I know I can put each picture in a text document and type what I want in it, but an always visible note box would be very nice.  I trust that this will be a possibility in the future.

Third, I use it to catalog HTML and other web related code so I have easy access to it.  Whether it is my own or something I’ve ‘borrowed’ from a web page, I can easily classify it and have ready access.  Again, I’ve just started, but I trust DT will work well for this.  I’m not an actual web person but I play with the stuff.  I’m helping a friend put together a web page for his small  business, and so far using DT for organizational purposes is working out nicely.

I own Tinderbox, which is a great program, but I found that using it for storage such as this was cumbersome.  I still use it for notes and brainstorming and keeping email, and I love it, but DT is now the program I use to store data.  It would be wonderful if Tinderbox documents could be stored and accessed via DT, but thats probably asking a bit much just now.

I was excited back in 1985 when I got my first Mac, because of MacWrite and MacPaint.  You can kind of imagine how happy I am now with DT.