Until 2.0 came out, I had one use and one use only for DT which was to be my database for research projects. In my work, I typically dump hundreds/thousands of files into DT, either exported from DevonAgent or culled from my own archives, where I further sort and classify them into an outline which then serves as a basis for a final report. I found DT to be indispensable , mostly because of the Auto Classify function. There are alot of Mac programs than can store info but none that I know of that can actually assist in the classification process. I never considered using DT for other purposes mostly because, well to be honest, the database was quirky (to give it a nice name)- slow to load, lots of beach-ball time, and too many crashes.
Now that 2.0 is out and those quirks are gone, not to mention the other changes, I think DT could properly be called, I hesitate to say, a PIM! I hesitate because the PIM category has been the bastard stepchild of software since the early days of personal computing. I know because I dare say that I have used and abused almost every PIM that has come to market. For me, PIM’s have been like love, promising everything but in the end a disappointment! The promise was to be a “one stop shop” for all your critical information, a way to organize it all, and in the end, a feeling that you were in control of your info-life.
In my opinion the PIM classics were (PC world);
Lotus Agenda- way, way ahead of its time; died in 1992
Polaris Packrat- their last version promised everything but it shipped fatally broken and the company died (1998??)
EccoPro- this was killer, last edition shipped in 1997 but there is still an active user base believe it nor not
Outlook- enough said
Anyway, I could probably start a PIM museum but the point for DT is this is not a software category with a joyous history. I think the overall problem is that by its nature, Personal Information Management can become overly ambitious, trying to be all things to all people. For example, now that DT is so user friendly, I have started a database to serve as my overall repository and am going to try and use it as a true “global inbox” ala GTD. This immediately raises issues. For example, while its nice to be able to import email into DT, it’s not so easy to actually manage it from there. First, with only a QuickLook viewer, you have to open each message in Apple Mail in order to do anything at all other than see what’s in it. Second, I don’t see anyway to get quickly back to the original message in order to delete it for instance. Finally, even though you can import a mailbox, this is not an “active” link which updates as the mailbox changes meaning you have to drag the new stuff everyday which defeats the idea of being able to “live” in one program.
Another PIM issue is the lack of a calendaring function. If I want to start a to-do or appointment item from a DT item, I have to manually start a program like iCal and then enter the link to the DT file. Ok, its better than nothing and being able to link DT items is fantastic but it still is not very PIM like to have to do it this way. The problem is trying to strike a balance between adding these features without “feature bloat” that kills the product with too much complexity, overhead, etc. “Hooks” into existing programs like iCal is one good approach IMO.
A much bigger issue relates to file storage. Once a PIM goes beyond secretarial functions (mail, scheduling, etc) into the realm of file handling, the issues become clear. We only need a separate program to handle files because no operating system has ever been designed properly. Now that 2.0 stores files in their native format, albeit inside a dbase package, DT becomes what amounts to a “Super Finder” that allows access to the metadata stored by the program. Without that metadata for use in AI functions, storage of URL’s, etc, DT wouldn’t be much different from an enhanced Finder like Pathfinder. Even the lowly Mac Finder can do much of the basics such as groups and subgroups, metadata such as comments, labels, etc and if you combine that with a program like FoxTrot that can create customized indexes for searching specified folders, one could replicate much of the DT functionality.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting the use of Finder or Finder substitutes instead of DT. My point is that if the OS was designed properly, all of these things would be built in rather than having to use yet another program. Ideally, I should be able to open a Finder and do everything I can now do with DT. I blame it all on Microsoft’s and Apple’s original decision to use the file cabinet metaphor for storing PC files rather than a relational file system format (what the heck ever happened to Win FS anyway??). As it stands, we are left with a workaround that has some files stored in the DT “Super Finder” store and some files in the normal way. This is less than ideal because for some of us, this means placing a great deal of trust in the future of Devon. LIsten, I hope they live long and prosper but what happens if they pack it in someday and decide to relocate to Tahiti with all the money we have sent them? I have been though that before with a PC product for storing webpages called SurfSaver that willfully refused to build an export system for the product. When I decided to move on, there was no way to export the thousands of pages I had stored and the company even banned me from the forum when I published a less than ideal workaround that at least let users export text copies of the material!
I realize that there are far better export capabilities built into DT (not to mention the new storage format) but lets say the company disappeared tomorrow and eventually the product becomes unusable or a substitute came along. I would be left with countless files, the majority of which are web pages, with all of the content but no way to preserve the metadata representing the structure, URL’s etc. Yes, there are some workarounds but none of them perfect and an untold amount of work to preserve what I have already invested. A doomsday scenario perhaps but something that has to be considered for those of us whose livelihoods depend on the information. The point is that what DT does would ideally be built into a truly relational OS and then we would only have to worry about Apple going down which seems less likely than any small software house. That said, of course I am appreciative for having DT and what it can do and look forward to a long and productive relationship (hmm…sounds like love???)
Bottom line- I just hope Devon realizes what they are getting into by making the program so generally useful. The more flexible the PIM, the more varied the users will be and the more demanding they become. A custom metadata capability is one of the best ways to accommodate some of this demand but I think Devon is already aware of the need for this. Also, there will be a need for more PIM-like features such as alarm/calendar functions which I have already discussed. Most important, they better plan to be in business for a very long time!
Forgive my ramblings but it actually helped me understand my own PIM needs better.