Question on feature gap between Devonthink and Obsidian

Having come across Curtis McHales video on using DT for other peoples ideas and Obsidian for your own my interest in looking into Obsidian has been renewed.

as quite a number of users here seem to use both and while reading through many / most Obsidian related posts here, there is a question I would like to ask: since the introduction of backlinks and more recently transclusion I am wondering if there are significant features left in Obsidian that Devonthink does not have besides the graph view? thanks for any views on the subject…

Ok, either my question was badly put or there is no interest, so I will give it another/final try by restating it:

With the recent additions to DevonThink (most notably backlinks and transclusion) and outside the graph view: What does Obsidian do for you that DevonThink cannot do or does not do as well? thanks for any pointers and / or use cases…

I believe you do not need Obsidian. DT has everything you need to focus on your note-making. Just enjoy DT and your notes.

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I have been playing with Roam Research for a few months in 2020 and also have used Obsidian, but in the end they did not give me anything I cannot do in DT. DT is a great place to store (and create) your notes and also store any other information linked to them. This is a big benefit compared to tools like Obsidian which are a great place to create and store notes but not (in my opinion) place to store other data. DT also has a better search.

In Roam Research and Obsidian the daily-notes, side-panel and embedded backlinks where the things I liked most. The graph I do not find very useful. You can use Obsidian together with DT, and there is nothing wrong with it. You can use DT to store other material and index/search your notes.

Obsidian is cross-platform, so if you are in a mixed Mac/Windows/Linux world you can use it everywhere.

In general I would:

  • use DT for creating and storing notes for work related or personal projects which mainly live in DT. This way I can store notes together with other reference material. For example research projects.

  • use Obsidian if you work mainly out of your notes, starting Obsidian and getting straight into your daily-note is a nice feature. For example like Curtis who uses (or did use) Obsidian for taking notes about books he reads.

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My two cents:

I also watched that video the OP mentioned, and it did motivate me to test Obsidian. However, next to the major advantage of having everything in one place, I can actually do more of what I want to do in relation to setting up a great Zettelkasten in DevonThink.

To give just one example:

In DT it’s possible not only to add cross-links, but also to specify these as different link types. To achieve this, I set up RTF custom metadata fields titled “supporting argument”, “qualifying/limiting argument” and “application”, into which I add the item links to those notes that have these relations to a given note. In addition, there are custom metadata fields where I add links for related resources and topics.

The great thing is that it’s then possible not only to open a note, see an overview of the different types of relations it has to other notes, and quickly navigate to them. In addition, by limiting search to a certain link type (searching only in a certain custom metadata field), it’s possible to display those notes where a given note has been added as one of the link types.

Especially if you have many cross-links, I find this kind of categorizing the links by type essential. Not currently possible in Obsidian…

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Speed! Simplicity (comparatively). Focus on writing and editing. Much better Markdown support. Extensions and full programmability. Plaintext filesystem database. Cross platform. Smaller system footprint when running. Just from the top of my head.

DT is to Obsidian what a huge word processor is to a sophisticated text editor. And both have their place and reason to be.

Your mileage and needs may vary very much.

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You can add every kind of metadata in Obsidian by using the Markdown header for that. It’s just a bit more geeky. As for categorising link types I would probably namespace them, i.e. label them accordingly.

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Could you please explain this? Thanks!

On my MBP, Obsidian kept showing under “Apps using significant power” even when idle. That never happens with DEVONthink. I assumed that’s because of the difference between an electron vs a native app. So I’m not sure about the smaller footprint.

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I too would like to hear from others on this.

  1. What is lost by taking notes in Obsidian and hyperlinking the content of those notes to items in DT?
  2. What is gained?

@brsma can you elaborate? Are you talking about keeping fingers on the keyboard, or something else?

I’m a little green to DT. I’d like to know how to hyperlink different notes. I use Roam research and like the [[]] linking and embedded notes. Is that possible in DT?

I don’t do linking very much, but having a quick search of the DEVONthink Handbook (and also in “Help”) I find “Document Linking” on page 36. Perhaps start there.

Perhaps download Joe Kissell’s Take Control of DEVONthink 3 book (it’s free). Suggest getting the hang of link-making with Rich Text first–it’s probably the easiest method. That book walks you through the basics of linking, Wiki-links etc. There is also a book written specifically about applying the Zettelkasten method to note-taking within DEVONthink. This one was written by Kourosh Dini who is active in this DT forum.

I can’t speak for @brsma, but Obsidian is undeniably more responsive than DevonThink, and more intuitive in its keyboard-centered interface. It’s easy to use with minimal mental friction.

This just comes down to Obsidian having a single purpose—doing one thing, and doing it well—rather than being a large toolbox that can fill many roles of the user’s choosing. I use DT as a general-propose data archive, and Obsidian as a notes archive.

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I agree with @anoknusa on the responsiveness aspect. As a user, I “feel” like there’s a difference between the two apps.
Obsidian feels ‘light’, I don’t leave it running all the time, and I don’t need to because it starts up so quickly (it’s like opening Apple Notes or notepad on Windows). I can open it and jam out a thought, TODO, or a reminder on the fly and the application doesn’t get in my way. I’ve been using the mobile version on my iPad for a while too, and even though it’s still a beta and it’s not fully-functional, the same ‘lightness of being’ applies on iOS.
In contrast, DEVONthink is much more deliberate. When I open DT, I feel more intentional and decided - I turn to it when I’m going to do some serious work and I need power.

That said, until I stumbled on the question by @toao, I didn’t realized that transclusion had been implemented in DEVONthink. I knew about backlinks, but missed the other. I might have to give DTTG/DT a try for my ‘on the fly’ notes.

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You certainly can, just make sure you go to preferences and check Wiki links > square brackets. You should read up on the difference between item links (edit - insert - item link) and wiki-links. Wiki links are great if you are only linking within the same database, and you don’t need them to work on iOS.

Does not mess up my data and leave me with orphaned zero length files.

I got bit badly by the bug in DTTG and lost over 400 files. Because they were in deep archive, I didn’t realize they were gone until I’d scrolled off several months worth of backups.

The primary function of a data mangement system is to not lose data.

All confidence in DT, DTTG and the entire DT ecosystem went out the window with that.

I’ll put up with the loss of key features like 3-pane view, the archaic and painfully difficult user interface, the cavalier attitude of suport when users explain why certain features are required or really useful and need to stay, and I did for over 10 years, but loss of data was the final straw. I’m moving out of DT as fast as I can.

Does obsidian provide more or better functions? Not really, there are a few that are better than DT. There are lots missing, but I will work around the issues to not risk losing data again.

Plus the attitude of the developers is miles ahead and more friendly than anything I’ve ever seen here. That, plus the vibrant and extensive plug-in develoment that is both encouraged by and supported by the Obsidian developers is a huge deal.

DT served me well for years but has failed me in a severe and unrecoverable way and I am leaving it now.

What is lost: A really nice Rich Text web clipper. DT does very well in this. Theimitations of markdown. Which can be difficult to deal with.
What is Gained: better control of your data. No hidden system it’s all there in plain files on your hard drive. More friendly support. More responsiveness to user needs. No attitude of “I know best so deal with it” Better linking in a much easier to use system. The graph view is actualy incredibly useful,nad you don’t see how useful until you’ve been playing with it for a while.

What we should all be able to agree on: Which application is “better” really is a case-by-case decision based on each individual user’s requirements and priorities.

I do want to provide a counter-perspective to @OogieM trashing the attitude of the DT developers on these forums. My experience has been very positive. Naturally, with the number of feature requests, the developers don’t immediately buy into every single one. But if you argue your point well, they are certainly friendly and open to implementing user suggestions. Check some of my recent threads for examples.

Also, someone asserted that Obsidian has “better linking” without providing any evidence or examples. This is not my experience, see my earlier post in this thread with examples that explain how DT is more flexible in a specific linking scenario. Frankly, IMHO there’s no value in just stating something without any background or facts to explain that view.

Some other arguments made in this thread are beside the point for deciding between DT and Obsidian. Bugs do happen, and users need to have a backup strategy. This is the case whether you rely on DT, Obsidian, or any other application to manage your data and notes.

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It’s not feature requests that have been my problem. It’s taking away features that are critical and that I depended on and the replacement options were/are not as easy to use. As a programmer myself I do understand the issue with feature creep but a new version should not take away features. I guess I got tired of the attitude that the use cases were irrelevant when they were extensively explained by many people.

OK here’s an example.
I created a note in OPbsidian and decided I might want to link something else. I type [[and a few characters of what I think I might have called the other note. Obsidian provide a quick popup of the best guesses and nearly always the item on top is the one I want to link to. On the surface DT appears to do the same thing. But the key feature that Obsidian has when I do this that DT does not is the location within my Obsidian vault where each potential note to link to is located is also shown. I can more quickly verify that I am linking to the final clean copy of the note and get alerted to an old one lurking in my inbox folder. There is no such feedback in DT so I can’t tell where the items I can choose from are and what state they are in.

Agreed. But it’s not acceptable for a bug to result in lost data when the user does a weekly verify and repair on all DT database, does a regular, once a year, rebuild and keeps a set of rolling backups. The probems in DTTG were not discovered until a 3 month backup had scrolled off. I actually went back to my oldest backup of a year ago and the files were gone from there so the problem has been around for a long time undetected. The suggested verify system that is in the manuals and recommended didn’t even provide any hint that there might be a problem. It was just by happenstance that I found out and then when I did start searching the problem was shown to be much bigger.

DT is a data archive system and as such needed to provide complete assurance that data stored in it would not be lost. By it’s very use it is highly likely that much of the data store din a DT database may not be accessed all that frequently so the user depends on the tools to ensure the data are safe and accurate. DT failed in providing that basic function.

As I said. The primary function of a data management system is not to destroy your data. There was a lot of trust bulit up as I’ve been using DT since 2010. It took a lot for me to decide to move. I hate changing tools but the problems are insurmountable.