Stupid Newbie Question

Okay, downloaded DevonThink, I read the PDF manual, scanned through the forum, and I’m still confused about what exactly the relationship is to the acutal files and how I would utilize the application. Something about it gives me the feeling that if I had clearer understanding, it would become invaluable.

I don’t know if I’m just particularly dense or not. I don’t even have clear questions, but I’ll try with a few below…perhaps the answers will spark the understanding. I think my confusion more centered on the file relationship…

  1. Does deleting a file in DevonThink delete it on the filesystem?

  2. If I have “Copy Files to Database” does it really copy the file to the database, and thus can I delete the file on the file system?

  3. Given #2, does that mean for all files, you work from within Devonthink?

  4. If you don’t copy files to database, and edit file from within DT, does it change the filesystem file, or something inside DT?

This depends on your import options. Have a look at the preferences for the various file types. Files can be completely imported or just linked to it.


For all completely imported, yes.

Text and rich text files are never linked but always imported. Other files like images or PDFs cannot be edited from within DT.

Hope this helps a bit,


(The treatment of this absolutely fundamental issue leaves much to desire in the present manual of DT, and should be treated thoroughly, and in a cristal-clear way, in its next version)

Okay, that helps quite a bit.

Will play with it some more, that should answer the remaining questions…

obatron, as a new DT user, I feel your pain. DT is a terrifically designed and constructed app, as well as a terribly documented one.

one lesson i’ve learned is to essentially ignore the user doc and come here to this forum with questions. There are many knowledgeable users who are very willing to patiently help folks like us out.

As pointed out already a few times, we’re aware of that. The documentation is as old as the first version of DEVONthink and has been updated a least a hundred times in the last three years. This is why we completely trash it and make a new one for DEVONthink (Pro). It will take some time, though.



Eric…i appreciate that and I’m not trying to pile on about it. But a new user hasn’t seen that pointed out and addressed previously and the doc is so incomplete and often incorrect that it leads a new eval user to wonder if it’s them. Combine the learning curve of this app with the state of the doc and trying to do an eval of it can be a VERY frustrating experience. Just trying to assure the initiator of this thread that it’s not him.

in the meantime, perhaps you guys could put together a tutorial to help drive people down the learning curve, teaching them the basics of what this great app does. it could help fill the gap while you prepare the new doc, and could be generated much less time than new user doc.


The user guide/help/reference materials for DEVONthink are spotty at best, incomplete, and even wrong in cases where application development has resulted in changes from documented information. For experienced users, Version History notes are often the best references for new or changed features, but that’s a terrible source of information for less experienced users.

It’s not surprising that the most consistent thread of comments about DEVONthink on the user forum is about inadequate documentation, especially the kind of documentation that helps users understand what they could do using DEVONthink, and how to attain their personal objectives for the application.

DEVONtechnologies is a small firm. The developers are, quite properly, putting their resources almost exclusively into application development, not the user documentation.

So DEVONthink itself is becoming one of the most powerful tools available on the Macintosh (or any other platform, I would argue), but the existing user documentation doesn’t give new users clues as to how to approach that power.

Should DEVONtechnologies devote more resources to user manual and help documentation? Yes – certainly in the long run – but that’s a daunting task, especially as the application will continue rapid development and changes. Many years ago, I wrote the user manual for a useful little Apple II database program put out by Silicon Valley Systems. That was easy – the application was a one-time development effort. I don’t think I’d like the job of writing complete user documentation for DEVONthink.

Meanwhile, there are two other ways DEVONtechnologies can help users. The first is already in place, the user forum. The forum is very active and provides users an opportunity to ask questions and discuss features and tricks. (Even here there can be problems, because answers to questions that were appropriate at the time may now be incorrect because of terminology or feature changes.)

The second important user assistance effort should be downloadable tutorials covering a variety of topics, and available from the DEVONtechnologies Web site. These would be modular items, easy to import into or delete from one’s DEVONthink database, addressing common user queries, tips and tricks, troubleshooting and introductions to new features.

This kind of effort would require relatively small resources from DEVONtechnologies but could be important to drawing in and assisting users, with positive impacts on marketing and sales. Modular tutorial/case example files would be easier to update than a formal user guide, when changes are made.


[1] The medium

What better medium than use of DEVONthink groups and files, exported (File > Export > Files and Folders) and archived (ZIP or DMG), that can be imported (File > Import > Files and Folders) into a user’s database? The topic can be written in rich text, providing tools such as screen shots, hyperlinking and Wiki linking as appropriate for the task. The very use of this medium would familiarize users with what can be done in DEVONthink!

After reviewing the topic, the user can choose to keep the tutorial file or to delete it.

[2] The topics

Useful topics can be gleaned from queries to DEVONtechnologies Support and the user forum. These could range from topics appropriate to first-time users to those useful to power users. Certainly, changes of procedures or terminology in the application and introduction of new features would trigger corresponding topics.

I’m a proponent of tutorials and case examples, even if there’s a well-done user manual.

The best way for a new user to learn DEVONthink is to play with it. The value of tutorials/case examples (especially for a blank, new database) is to encourage and assist the user to learn by doing.

Very few (if any) people start learning a new application by reading all the way through a user manual. In fact, I’ll maintain that a well-done user manual for a rich and deep application such as DEVONthink will seem daunting and incomprehensible to someone who is approaching it for the first time. That’s not putting down the value of a reference manual, which becomes more and more indispensable as the user learns the application and begins to use it to explore features and for troubleshooting.

Even experienced users can learn new features, examples of what can be done, how-to, etc. from tutorials/case examples.

[3] Development of tutorials/case examples

DEVONtechnologies staff can use this vehicle to enhance user support and to provide documentation and illustrations of new features as they are introduced. If I were DEVONtechnologies (which I’m not) I would view this approach as a good way to support users and satisfy demands for documentation – and even as a good approach to lay out and help maintain more formal application documentation. Why? User satisfaction will lead to more sales – hence more users benefiting from DEVONthink.

Queries and discussions on the user forum can me ‘mined’ for interesting topics. It would probably be a nice touch to give attributions to those who make interesting queries or comments.

Finally, it would be a good idea to invite users to suggest topics, or even to submit tutorial/case example files to DEVONtechnologies for consideration.

[4] Maintenance and quality assurance

Maintenance and quality assurance of the downloadable files should be the responsibility of DEVONtechnologies.

DEVONtechnologies staff should monitor feedback from Support queries and the user forum in order to continuously improve user assistance.

Comments? (I’m posting both on this thread and on a new thread.)

I think I finally had the DevonThink ephiphany on its use. It occured when I was trying to explain what I knew of it to a friend. I basically said:

Some see DevonThink as a means to search and organize documents and files on their system, and question it’s viability when Tiger comes out with its Spotlight application. However, it is not just a document search tool, it’s more of a personal self-created reference encyclopedia.

My advice to “experience” this for new users is to

• Step back from the import question and ignore your curernt files.
• Configure the application to store everything in the database
• Start working with it by putting pieces of information in it as you find them such as web pages, links, files you download, graphics you find interesting, etc. Group them as you see fit.
• When you are going to create something new from scratch, do so from within DevonThink, use its search capabilities to reference some of the things you’ve been collecting to help in the creation of your document. This is where the DevonThink’s power starts to “shine.”
• Now is when you start to move (don’t copy or link to them unless you’re really comfortable with how DevonThink handles files) your existing stuff into DevonThink.

After a while, you’ll have an application with a large number of distinct items, categorized and searchable. This then becomes like an electronic search/refernce book created by you, having only the information you’re interested in. As you create/write you have a searchable reference tool.

So, how close am I? Have I really seen the light?

that is precisely how i view this tool.

the only thing i would change is i would never import my files from Finder into DT. my file system is my file system. DT is my “personal self-created reference encylopedia”, and never the two shall meet.

the other way I explain this app is "you know as you are using your computer you come across all kinds of interesting and relevant information you’d ideally like to archive but you have no clean way to do it? you can bookmark links but you can’t search through the content that way, you have to remember what links lead to what material. you can print stuff out but now you are turning your office into a local branch of the town library. you can save the info as a rtf, pdf or word doc but now you are inundating your file system with tons of stuff you know really doesn’t belong there.

DT is the perfect answer to this question. Let’s you store virtually anything, and even better, FIND it almost instantly.