alright, this is going to be somewhat longer. also it is not so much for folks already using DevonThink, but for those thinking about moving over from evernote in the light of the recent massive feature & performance loss in the evernote clients as part of their move to the electron platform in version 10 of their software.
also as a disclaimer: while I have migrated my data and processes over I am still learning (a lot), so my information on devonthink is likely an underestimate as I have just started learning its ways.
but let’s start from the beginning: I have been an enthusiastic evernote premium user for about seven years and accumulated about 14.000 notes there. my main uses cases are:
- a GTD implementation based on thesecretweapon dot org, which I have adapted to my needs over the years.
- a read it later process
- my tax filing process
- what I would call my personal wiki: about 2.000 statistics of all kind that I have collected over the years, manuals, howtos, etc.
- archiving stuff I want to store and find again (but hardly ever need)
to cut a long story short: all these processes have migrated into and work seamlessly in Devonthink. this is due to Devonthink having similar capabilities to Evernote and then many many more and I will expand on on what I ran across here - in any case I am feeling a little like a kid in a candy store: I never even thought half that stuff I m coming across would even be possible before migrating.
so let’s start with the stuff that will be more limited in devonthink than in evernote. the / my list is short:
Devonthink lives in the apple ecosystem. if you are a windows/android person Devonthink is not for you. there are some work arounds with the most expensive license as you can setup up a web server on your mac to share your data with windows machines, but that still requires at least one mac.
sharing of data is more cumbersome, even among apple devices. you can share a database (more on databases later) across a number of cloud services of your liking (all of that happens e2e encrypted wih you having the keys, btw!). so while this certainly works it is nowhere nearly as simple as in evernote.
as my hardware over the years gravitated towards apple and I found out I am only sharing notebooks/notes with four other people, neither of these findings turned out to be a show stopper for me. if it is for you, you can skip the rest of this…
the first items that really resonated with me in devonthink were twofold:
the performance and responsiveness of devonthink as native mac & ios apps is impressive, especially compared to the new evernote clients. however being a native app it is also making full use of the operating systems features as it is not held back by considerations of cross plaform compatibility.
data security: to me there is data that does not belong in the cloud unencrypted, regardless of wether this is for legal reasons or for privacy reasons (e.g. financial or medical data). with their latest update evernote has removed local (i.e. non-synced) notebooks as an option and requires everything to go to the cloud where it is stored in the clear or at least with keys they have. with devonthink you can not only encrypt your data with your own keys locally but also as you send it to a cloud of your choice for syncing. what a difference and what a relief - you actually own and manage your data yourself.
so once my decision to migrate had been made the actual data migration was close to a walk in the park. with evernote still being installed on my computer, I simply told devonthink to import my evernote data, the machine was busy for an hour or two and voila my data was migrated.
there were a few documents that devonthink didn’t know what to do with, but mostly these were my fault as for some reason those files didn’t have a file extension. once I corrected that, that issue was fine. finding them was easy as well as devonthink gave me a detailed log file of everything going on with the migration - very re-assuring. (on a sidenote: devonthink also found a number of duplicates across my 14k notes, which I thought was kind of cool).
after these migration / starting observations my impression is Devonthink does everything I am used to from Evernote, just better, with more features or from a wider angle. there are however a few conceptual differences to consider:
Devonthink uses multiple databases, which took me a little while to digest as the concept does not exist in evernote. in evernote everything from my map of a 1980’s computer game to my workout routine or an article on quantum mechanics live in the same database - as there is only one. in Devonthink you can split that up, which makes lots of sense as the built in AI (cool stuff! - more later) will give you better context if there is, well, actual context between the data. but of course you can continue with your big, flat database as well. up to you.
notebooks in evernote become groups in Devonthink. as opposed to evernote however you can nest these groups as deep as you want, the same way you are used to from folders in your computers file system.
the basic element in Evernote is a note, while it is an item in Devonthink. and here lies a fairly fundamental difference between the two. in evernote you can have a note with some text, an audio clip and a pdf, no problem. in devonthink this note will be three items: the text, the audio clip and the pdf. initially I considered that to be a disadvantage as the note can be a convenient “container” for information that is supposed to be seen / processed together. while that is true it turns out in my day to day routine this is just a minor change, in fact an improvement as I tended to put multiple pdfs into a single note, but rarely scrolled down far enough to look at the ones further down. as I can now nest my groups / notebooks deeper each subject has its own group and in my example the text, the audio note and the pdf would be three separate items in a group (i.e. unless you put them into a specific document that can carry them).
outside of these subtle differences my processes are working just as smoothly as they did with evernote and I have only just started to scratch the surface of what I can do / how I can improve my workflows with all that new functionality. let me briefly talk about a few features I have stumbled across and I can’t wait ti utilize more fully over the coming days and weeks:
tags work very similarly to evernote with a welcome exception: if you want you can organize your tags and have notes inherit the parent tag of the assigned tag automatically.
indexing: now what a neat concept. in evernote you put stuff in a note. it is thus in evernote and you can find it again. well, in devonthink you can obviously do that, too, but there is an additional mechanism: I do have two old external hard drives with files I couldn’t quite motivate myself to put into evernote in my initial digitalization push all these years back. in devonthink you can attach the drive to your mac, have devonthink index the data but not import it. so you have the metadata in devonthink, you can search it, but you don’t have to store all these additional gigabytes on your mac. what a great idea.
“saved searches” vs smart groups / smart rules: to create a matrix view into projects in my GTD process across all categories (now, soon, later, waiting, etc) I had set up saved searches in evernote which are both quite clumsy to setup as well as to maintain. with devonthink the equivalent to a saved search is a smart group, which has a much cleaner interface as well as many more categories to search by. but that is not all as in addition you can also tell devonthink to carry out specific actions for those search results using smart rules - can’t wait to start experimenting with those.
the built in AI: devonthink can show you documents / items that are related to the one you are currently looking at. supposedly the AI is becoming even better over time, but even initially I have already been surprised a couple of times by documents / data the AI suggested to me. and that is of course data I already had, but just wasn’t aware of at the moment.
ok, I am now coming to details, but I really enjoyed finding all three of these, so I wanted to share my joy:
- you can give your tags different colors - now isn’t that nice?!..
- devonthink actually has recurring reminders! - something I wanted in evernote forever! and don’t even get me started on the many ways these reminders can alert you.
- last but certainly not least: the map view, showing your geolocation metadata on a map, that evernote had axed years ago, does exist in devonthink! it is in a somewhat strange spot, but it is there! I always loved that feature!
alright, this is it with my 1st impressions as a devonthink newbie coming in from evernote. if you are thinking about doing the same, hopefully these lines can be of help…