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DEVONthink: Integrated Information Manager

The latest release of DEVONthink [download] seems to scratch several itches I’ve been having lately. Specifically, I confess that I’ve been dashing (very unproductively) between a mountain of txt files, Mail.app, Entourage, two Moleskines, and an Instiki wiki trying to fashion the best solution for managing an amorphous collection of work, web, writing, and extracurricular projects. No single solution has been just what I needed, and, frankly, it’s been debilitating to try and maintain it all (Danny calls me the “patient zero” of productivity fads). It’s like tending rabbits, I tell you. While I know DEVONthink won’t solve all my problems, it looks very promising at corralling some of my thornier information management issues.

So far, I love the way that DEVONthink imports and manages stuff as well as how it draws informal but often rich semantic connections between documents. It has taken everything I've thrown at it so far (incl. Word files, photos, and Quicktime movies), and it still feels fast and stable (knock wood). I’m still getting my head around all the features and am still trying to find the best way to keep a database maintainable and well-organized, but I’m definitely intrigued.

I might also add—coming as this does on the heels of my reviewing two products that many of you found too costly—that DEVONthink rings up at just US$40 (further discounted for students). Given the power behind this app and the flexibility of things you can build with it, I find that gobsmackingly affordable.

So, DEVONthink nerds: if it suits you, consider sharing your thoughts on how to put the app to best use. I’m looking at you and your buddies here, Mr. Fred Reynolds. I know you guys have some pretty hot-rodded setups, and I’d love to hear how you do it. Ditto for good links to tutorials and tips on other sites. Also you can trackback this entry with posts about personal setups and novel uses you've found.

Jed Hartman's picture

I use DT primarily as...

I use DT primarily as a notetaking app. I wasn't aware of MacJournal; it looks on cursory inspection like that does much of what I use DT for. However, DT's interface really fits my head.

I've seen lots of other apps that could be used for taking and filing and searching notes in various ways: Stickies, TextEdit, CopyWrite, MacJournal, VooDooPad, Hog Bay Notebook, Tinderbox, etc., all having different strengths and weaknesses. But for me, the DT UI is the one that clicked; it feels comfortable to me in ways the others don't. As a result, I actually use DT to take notes, after a couple of years of taking all my notes in untitled Eudora messages that I sometimes couldn't find again later.

I like some of DT's smaller features, too. I like highlighting text; I like the mini word processor features (named styles, rulers, etc); I like the ability to create HTML links and Wiki-style links to other DT documents; I like the import capabilities and the HTML renderer (my other main use for DT is holding onto web pages I want to revisit later and/or blog about); I like the multiple views; I like the export-as-RTF; I like the fast search; I really like the ability to create "replicants" (aliases) of a document to facilitate filing the document in multiple places in my hierarchy (wish I could do that with printed documents); I like the password protection. I expect to very much like the ability to create a table document (basically like a database table, I think) in the upcoming DT Pro. And the ability to have multiple DT databases at once -- there's a sort of hack that lets you switch databases in DT Personal, but I'm told Pro will let me have multiple DBs open at once.

I don't use a lot of DT's features -- I don't store PDFs or images in it yet, I haven't yet put all my email into it, I don't have enough documents in it to find auto-classification useful. (And I doubt it'll ever be useful for automatically sorting into categories like "Funny web pages" and "Interesting quotes".) I don't use the "concordance" feature (listing every word in the DB), though I think it's cool.

But for what I do use DT for, it does what I want and works the way I want it to, better than any other app I've seen. I've talked to a fair number of people to whom the interface doesn't feel natural, so I know it's not for everyone. But I sure do like it.

...As for Spotlight, see DEVON's Spotlight vs. DEVONthink page.




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