When to use DTPO vs Finder?

I’ve been using DTPO for several weeks and learning more uses for this outstanding software. It’s so useful I’m concerned about over-using it (like a replacement Finder of sorts, only one on steroids)!

I need some advice: When do users find it helpful to store information in DTPO versus the Finder? For example, I do a lot of business with the insurance industry. I have contracts with them. I have a master folder titled “Insurance,” and then within it, one folder for each insurance company I do business with.

It’s relatively easy to find what I need. I could put the contracts, etc. into DTPO easily and store this information here only. So when does it make sense to use DTPO vs simply the Finder?

In advance, many thanks for all the input!

DEVONthink and Finder are not the same thing. Finder is an Apple-provided interface to your computer’s file system. With the right commands, Finder can be used to browse every nook and cranny of your computer. (“Finder” is mis-named, though. It doesn’t “find” anything. When you search in Finder you are actually using Spotlight; a different tool.)

DEVONthink databases are stored in your file system just like everything else on your computer. DEVONthink cannot be used to browse or find any document that’s not stored inside the database or indexed by DEVONthink in that database. DEVONtechnologies makes other products that can search your file system – but that’s also a different story.

You have a choice whether to buy and use DEVONthink. You don’t have a choice about Finder – but your computer would be of little use without it. You don’t have to choose between Finder and DEVONthink – they are two different things.

Rules of thumb: put documents in a database that are related to a work project, or a personal project, or a theme (like “household records”), or a client, or your research, or a book you’re writing. And so on. Don’t put things in a database that are better managed by Contacts, or Calendar, or a task list app, or Bookends, etc. DEVONthink’s AI features – Search, See Also, Classify – are excellent for discovering relationships between documents or locating particular documents, or tags, or other identifying characteristics of your documents.

Some users go off and start stuffing everything into databases. From what I’ve seen, that usually ends up in a big confusing mess. Start small.

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korm (again) gives some great advice. One thing I’d like to press home a litte harder is this simple understanding about DEVONthink: DEVONthink is a database, not a filesystem.

That may seem like a simple concept but it’s easily forgotten since DEVONthink presents your data in a familar view of folder (Groups). The Groups you see are not in the Finder (and yes, I am ignoring indexing since even indexed files in indexed groups can be moved anywhere in the database without any automatic effect on the filesystem). Since these Groups don’t exist in the Finder, you can’t make aliases to them, etc. as you can in the Finder.

Back to your point, DEVONthink is for information management. The Finder is for file management. The Finder can’t make logical connections between documents, DEVONthink can. The Finder allows you to move this file into this folder, then these into that folder, DEVONthink doesn’t organize your files this way… and doesn’t need to.

As korm also pointed out, smaller and more focused databases are a great idea. You can create them at whatever level you want. You could create an Insurance.dtBase2 for all your insurance info or a BobSmith.dtBase2 for client level info, or anything in between. Try it out, play around, and don’t be afraid to work on one style and either abandon or merge it to find what style suits you.

Korm and BLUEFROG, thank you very much for taking time out of your busy day to answer my question and help; I appreciate it!!

BLUEFROG, your thought “DEVONthink is for information management. The Finder is for file management,” is specifically what is confusing me as to what is the best method of storing some of the information files stored in my computer (I am aware though that what is ‘best’ for one person is not necessarily what is best or ideal for another).

Please accept in advance my apologies for being redundant, but I’m still feeling confused here (maybe it’s because there are times when one could place documents appropriately in the database or in a folder in the Finder…I’m not sure): In the example I presented, I am working with a lot of insurance companies and have lots of contracts. I can’t imagine why I would cross reference them (but that may be because I simply haven’t yet had a need or was aware how useful that might be, because I hadn’t used DTPO until now) contracts with one another.

Thank you again guys for your input and time.


No need to be apologetic – some of the concepts are a little foreign, especially if you’re not used to the concepts behind a database tool.

Here’s a simplistic answer to your latest questions. DEVONthink doesn’t care where your data is – it’s cares about what it is. Finder doesn’t care about what your documents are, it cares about where they are.

If you cannot imagine why you need to cross reference your contracts, but just want to track them, then it sounds like Finder is a good (and free 8) ) way to organize your files. If your usage is going to be limited to situations like putting contracts into folders and labeling the folders, then it’s possible the other features of DEVONthink would not help your work.

Good Morning Korm, and thank you for your additional thoughts.

Man, was I asleep when I chose the Board index to post my original question; seems like I’m in the wrong area of the forum…Ooops :blush:

Anyway, part of my desire is to keep things organized in one place whenever it makes sense to do so. For example, I attend a lot of continuing education programs either in-person or online through webinars. Usually, I receive handouts or PDF’s at these workshops that I would keep in DTPO; some of these handouts include the PowerPoint slides used by the presenter. I also usually audio record the event for future reference. So, storing the written material from the continuing education programs makes sense here as the information can easily be tagged and cross referenced. But it seems that storing the audio recording of these events–even though I know DPTO can’t cross-reference them (though I can easily tag them to show up in a search) also makes sense too, as the material is related (albeit not searchable). On the other hand, I could store only the written material from the CE course in DTPO, and keep the audio files in a folder in Finder; but then I have related information spread across the computer, vs having it all in one place to quickly search. I’m probably over-thinking this :unamused: Am I missing something here or does this make sense to keep related documents and audio recordings in DTPO?

In the same vain, I have read t/o the forums that some folks store their financial docs and receipts in DPTO. I am confused how that is helpful vs storing in a folder, a.k.a., how is having a fully searchable receipt for dinner with a client for example, or a purchase at the office supply store more helpful then having it simply in a folder in the Finder with the date and where the receipt was from (e.g., 7/11/15 Staples - Purchase Printer)?

Boy, am I confusing myself :exclamation:

hi. from my perspective, files and folders work just fine for stuff you don’t plan on doing anything with – you made something, you filed it away, and you might go and “find” it again with finder someday, but that’s about it. you don’t necessarily need dt to file stuff away, though it can help in this regard (see below).

for me, devonthink is for stuff i not only make and file away, but something with continuing relevance to my life. for instance, i have lesson plans and lectures, and i might use the see-also feature to find materials from the past that might be relevant to class this week (works as well for study/ research as it does for teaching). finder doesn’t have artificial intelligence. it cannot do this, and so you cannot leverage your past work to do something in the future unless you happen to remember the file you made. there is probably less serendipity in a file/folder system, so you are unlikely to run across something useful while looking at any particular file. dt puts that info right there on the screen for you all the time.

the ai is also nice for sorting stuff. i’ve gone paperless, so having everyhing automatically filed away for me is a huge help. you might want to consider indexing in order to enjoy the benefits of finder without having to decide whether to put something into dt or not.

There is also no harm in putting files into DEVONthink (judiciously, not a data dump), even if you don’t know what you may do with them. I keep my finanical records in a database but have no real expectation of doing anything DEVONthink-related with them. But if I wanted or needed to… :smiley:


Do not use forward slashes in filenames. In fact, it is always the safest bet to limit yourself to hyphens, underscores, and a single dot (.) before a file extension. (And yes, I’ll give a pass to spaces.)

If you put your audio files in your DEVONthink database that holds course material, you can use Annotation (Data > New from Template > Annotation – there’s a keyboard shortcut) notes for them that are searchable, and that can hold your summaries and comments about the audio. And as there’s a timeline visible as you are listening to the audio file, you can include in the Annotation note comments about a segment of a recorded lecture the timeline information. Now you have searchable information about that lecture, and you have a way to fast-forward in the audio file to listen again to a segment that you found to be important.

Annotation notes can also be used to provide searchable information about video files, and can also include timeline information to the location(s) of segments of interest.


Thank you VERY much for all the tips, suggestions, input, and thoughts. Hugely helpful.

And Bill, your note on how to actually use audio’s of lectures with an Annotation note, is very cool and will be really useful!! :slight_smile:

Have an awesome weekend guys!