Improved documentation but...

Yes, the documentation for 1.5 is a big improvement… But is it possible to explain what this phrase means? “By making groups and documents checkable, Devonthink Pro Office can also be used as a very simple outliner. Unlike other outliners, DT Pro Office uses documents as items and groups for items that have sub-items. Use with the Horizontal Split view to create an outliner look-and-feel.”
Question: What’s “checkable” got to do with outlining?
Question: Why only in horizontal view and not the vertical split?

Hi, Jeff. This goes back a few years into the history of DEVONthink. There were users who requested an outline-like view, because they were accustomed to setting out the headings and subheadings of a writing project, then filling them in by writing appropriate content.

What do check boxes have to do with outlining? Some outliner apps have used them. Here’s what they do. Suppose you have created groups/documents for your principle and subsidiary topics. If you haven’t finished “filling in” a topic, the check box is blank. When you are satisfied with the content, you check the box. The group that holds complete topics will have a checkbox checked. But if there is any remaining incomplete topic, the checkbox will display “-”. So this is a visual cue as to the completeness of the segments of an outlined project. It’s also a searchable cue, as one can search for the documents in a group with an unchecked box. The bigger the project, the more useful those checkboxes can be.

Why the Horizontal Split as the preferred view for such an outliner structure? It offers the closest approximation to the visual appearance of a project’s outline structure when that project is opened in a separate view window.

Yes, there are users who swear by this as an intuitive approach to a writing project. Although I’ve never been heavily into outliners, I sometimes use that check box trick myself.

Usually, all those segments of an article or report are then merged into a single continuous document, then copied over into a more powerful word processor for final polishing.

You might be surprised by the number of books, scientific papers, theses and student papers written using this UI.

When people talk about UI, they might consider that those 6 basic view options into the database contents have evolved to satisfy a variety of user needs and working preferences.

There have been some recent suggestions that the current Three Panes view be modified so that all three panes are inline. I wouldn’t mind an additional view that does that. But I don’t want to lose the utility of the current Three Panes view, as I like to add other sortable columns to the right of a document name, which is easy to do in the current view but would severely reduce the width of the text pane on my MacBook Pro, if it were displaced by the suggested alternative.

UI isn’t just about “looks”. It’s primarily about function. Each of the current views into the database provides functions to satisfy user needs, and each of them is user-modifiable by the addition of additional columns with sort orders. So they enrich the user’s working environment. I spend most of my time in the Three Panes or Vertical Split views, but each of the other view options comes in handy at times.

Some document management applications have only one view into the database. I think that’s a lousy idea for an application such as DEVONthink, which isn’t restricted primarily to a single purpose such as a PIM, or to a single document type such as text or PDF.

Can the UI of DEVONthink be improved? Certainly. But not, I would hope, by impoverishing the working environment. An improved UI should enrich the functionality of DEVONthink for the wide variety of needs by its users. An improved UI should be attractive and intuitive (KISS) to a first time user, but provide serious tools and an adaptable environment to the power user.

Thank you, Bill. First, I want you to know how grateful I am for all your help this year. You’ve been generous with your time, and patient with me.

Thank you for explaining the “outline” issues. I suppose, I expect hierarchical indications for an outline – I. II. A. B. 1. 2. a. b. etc. – which is why the checkbox-outline connection threw me.

I would never want to see the three-pane view sacrificed. I would add to the UI rather than subtract from it, particularly if something is working (If it ain’t broke…). The beauty of the UI are the “angles” it offers the user on information.

I wonder if adding an actual hierarchical format to the UI, one that more closely emulates an outliner, would not also add functionality: I. II. A. B. 1. 2. a. b. etc., as opposed to “traingles.” By itself, DT (as a database) is more or less hierarchical, even with the “Finder”-like triangles. Would it be difficult to add symbols --I. II. A. B. 1. 2. a. b. etc. – in place of arrows, or even make it something for the user to toggle on or off? That would increase the functionality, albeit to a small degree.

Here’s my gripe. DT Pro has a peculiar contradiction – it’s intuitive and it’s not. There are some logical inconsistencies that need to be worked out. I, for one, would not expect to go to the “Data” menu to find “group” “outline” and “sheet.” I might expect to find “group” and “sheet” but certainly not “outline.” What is more, I would never expect to go searching for them under Data/New/ ~. To me, a “Data” menu contains information, not alternative “views,” “commands” or “actions.” Perhaps, the alternative would be to create a dedicated “Command menu” (or an expanded “Tools” menu) where a user could find different actions: CTRL-R for instance, Shift-Command-H.

These are not significant criticisms given the scope of DT, but “ease of use is the essence of functionality.” Users – writers-scholars-bunglers-humans --can’t dedicate themselves to learning the intricacies and nuances of a program in order for it to first yield results. By and large, DT succeeds at that. However, digging down into those nuances becomes increasingly valuable overtime. What’s the solution to helping the “average” user up the learning curve, a better help menu? Or, perhaps, menu commands can be hyper-linked to the help menu, allowing the user to ctrl-click the link (the command) which would open a help item, which would contain further links.

At the very least, there should be a command list added the tutorial (or to the help menu, both?) that is searchable and linked and possibly puts DT’s A.I. to good use, so that, for instance, a user can ask DT: Where is the command that will show me … fill in the blank.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year,

And a very Merry Christmas to you, Jeff. You made some good points.

I can see why one might question the logic of putting some of those commands under the heading of the Data menu; but similar questions could be raised if they were moved to other headings. And there’s a problem with putting too many menu headings up, especially for computers with limited screen real estate.

Why are so many items placed up in the menu bar? That’s tied to the environment of the Mac operating system. For people who want keyboard shortcuts or automation via scripting or Automator, menu items are important. If they are not there, they may not be available. That’s why you may have seen user requests that an option available as a contextual menu option also be placed in the menu bar.

Note, though, that the toolbar does cover most of these commands and is a logical place to look for them. The Actions button lists them as options. And one can customize the toolbar with individual “most loved” actions.

It’s true that when I talk about actions and commands I usually refer to the menu bar. That’s because I can’t assume that everyone has all of those actions/commands in their toolbar. And some users work almost exclusively with the menu bar and pay little attention to the toolbar of views and documents.

I use only a few of the most common keyboard shortcuts and rely on mousing (trackpad) for the vast majority of commands and actions. But I do tend to economize on cursor movements, so I use the toolbar a lot. That Actions (cogwheel) button has a number of good things in it. And I do customize the toolbar for the actions/commands I most frequently use.