My Thoughts on 2.0 (warning: long and rambling)

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

The worst:

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.

For one, the performance of relational database file systems really sucks. Kind of an unsolved problem.

Which is certainly also true for plenty of other apps (including Apple’s) that use private metadata, etc…

If that matters enough to you (or anyone else) then using Dtech products as currently implemented may not be the best choice. Same with other products, of course. Where shall we draw the lines?

Ideally and truly indeed. Reality wins. :slight_smile:

I can relate (umm) to most of what you’re saying and trying to better understand the rest. Also considering how parts of it might be practical/possible, or something like that. You sure broad-stroked the topic, from obvious to grandiose. :slight_smile:

You know about Ironic Software’s soon-to-be-released Open Meta project? Still too early in the game to do more than speculate about it.

Mmm. I’m curious to see how well that fares, and what DEVONtechnologies plans on doing. Ironic has some pretty smart coders… I could see it becoming a de facto standard.

(And then Apple would implement their own, of course)

Well it matters…the question is how to weigh that risk against the functionality the product provides. Clearly, I have chosen to use the product but that doesn’t mean the issues aren’t in the back of my mind.

Sorry if it wasn’t more clear but have always had the problem of making big leaps and expecting others to fill in the details. As for possible, I am confident it is possible since as I wrote, the OS is already capable of doing most of it. Just look at something like Pathfinder side by side with DT sometime and I think you will get the idea. OSx already has metadata so how hard would the rest of it be to incorporate and Finder is already one of the weakest parts of the OS (I still can’t believe there is no built in file viewer.) Bottom line is that in 2008/9, we should not have to use multiple programs to manage files. That should be the job of the OS.

Sounds promising. Will I be alive to see an implementation?

Anyway, the riff was me thinking out loud to help myself understand what was bothering me. I got started on the subject because I was staring at the contents of one of the new 2.0 databases and started wondering why I now had two completely different file structures- one for my “normal” data and now another for my DT data.

Hell man…I am impressed that you even took the time to read it! :smiley:

I should add to this that I now am back to having to use three different search programs- Spotlight, FoxTrot, and now DT2 in order to deal with the complexity which again violates the “one stop shop” PIM principle.

YES! YES! A transparent window on the filesystem! You could store files inside of the database or add aliases to external folder hierarchies.

It’d pwn 8)

I think that’s intended if all goes well, i.e. robust enough to supplant the current one of using Spotlight Comments for this purpose.

Unless it was clearly inferior I doubt anyone (including Ironic Software) would mind. In fact, all the better if this somehow encourages Apple to do it.

Forgot to answer this:

Yes…that was my point. The question is whose longevity is the best bet?

I guess what I was trying to say boils down to this:

DT is essentially a file-viewer + metadata + search. OSx already has a file-viewer (Finder), rudimentary metadata (comments), and Spotlight. So, why do we need two separate systems for doing the same thing as it adds complications like needing to store files in different places, adding the risk of trusting your metadata (representing huge investments of time) to companies with an unknown life expectancy.), etc.

My argument was that the OS should be doing all of this. It was just a thought and not a criticism of DT which after all is giving us the abilities that the OS does not have. Maybe it was obvious, but when I looked inside the new DT2 database and saw file structure, it just seem crazy all of a sudden that after all these years of OS development, this stuff is not being done by the OS. It seems like a no brainer to me.

Yes. Agree entirely! I, too, have tried virtually every PIM known to man, including Ecco and Info Select. Was personally saddened at the demise of Agenda. And would personally spank the project manager responsible for Outlook. :laughing:

While I take many of your points, one glaring omission about the strength and unique quality of DT: the AI.




I didn’t mean to imply that the AI was unimportant. In fact, in other posts I have identified the AI as one of the most important reasons I use DT. However, that doesn’t detract from my main points and if the OS was doing what it should, it would open up the possibility for any number of ways to “piggy back” AI.

None of what I wrote should be taken as a criticism of DT only as a lament about the sad state of the OS vis a vis the file structure after all these years.

OS X is good at organizing and indexing the files. Spotlight works great as an index, and its real-time nature and flexibility is quite useful.

Where it falls down is flexible browsing, and really in the query front end. Things like a good search front-end are tricky and difficult problems to solve, and something DT excels at.

I probably agree… but am ultimately more interested in alternatives to traditional file management that’s built around last century’s still-stubbornly-dominant desktop computing metaphor.

I’m not the Indifferent Doormat other guy. :stuck_out_tongue:

Well…its hard to be interested in an ideal world that doesn’t exist!

I will check out the thread later…sounds interesting.

That’s what I get for not writing “… interested in considering alternatives …” as I’d originally thought to?

I think we are both confused. I meant that it would be hard to be interested in what I was proposing (OS level) because its not going to happen.

Anyway, I read the thread and I agree totally with IPhoto being a model for how things should work- a library from which one could drag to a structure and that would simply tag the items without actually moving them. Deleting the structure would simply remove the tags.

Any chance this will all be possible once DT implements the “tagging interface”??

And from the Web PDFs thread:

Yep, that’s the basic idea.

I doubt it, but would love to be wrong. Seems hard while DT groups are still more physical than virtual containers.

Have you seen Journler’s Smart Families? I tinkered with them briefly when they were implemented, but decided not to keep using that software. I’d love something like those in DT.

Hmm…guess the problem is with Groups…how hard could it be to duplicate the Together groups along with the DT folders…all they are in essence is a tagging interface where dragging an item to them assigns a tag which is removed when the Group is deleted. The idea just makes so much sense…a Library from which one creates virtual structure to be created and destroyed as need arises. I hate this mess of items, duplicates, replicants, and indexed items I have created with DT.

I have used Journier in the past but don’t remember the groups. I will check it out when I have time

I’m also a seasoned PIM user, including PackRat and Ecco. Currently my PIM-of-choice is OmniFocus (Mac) and I love it–especially the synchronisation with iPhone over Mobile Me. Now I’m running DTP2 I can see many more opportunities to incorporate GTD techniques into my Devon database. At the moment it cannot be a complete replacement for a mainline PIM for the reasons outlined in your post (particularly the lack of calendaring). The challenge comes in deciding what to put in the PIM and what to put in Devon without unnecessary duplication.

I have taken initial GTD steps in DTP2 by creating smart groups for To Do, Pending, Review and Sometime (using appropriately named labels as tags) and grouped them under a " - Schedules" folder which sits at the top of the folder list, immediately under Inbox. My task now is to concentrate on using OmniFocus for simple tasks, with pointers to DTP2 where necessary. It just needs a bit of discipline. In the meantime, I am feeling more organised than last week.