My Digital Shoebox: A Review of DEVONthink Pro

Growing up, I used to have this small square trunk with an airbrushed scene of lightly colored swans swimming in some fantasy pond. It matched my room and when I laid my eyes on it, I instantly knew what I was going to use it for. Storing letters. (No comments from the peanut gallery! I guess organization and storage toys *are* a part of my genetics.) When my best friend moved out of state, we started sending each other letters. At first, these letters were kept in a shoe box. But the letters soon outgrew the box and the trunk, was perfect to store the remaining years of letters we sent back and forth. Over 10 years worth of correspondence. We stopped writing when we went to college; our friendship getting lost in the hustle of classes and freedom.

That was 10 years ago. I don't know whether or not the trunk still exists somewhere buried in the basement of my parents' house. However, I've kept to my information hoarding habits and save almost everything I find important on my computer. Smudge (my Macbook) has emails dating back to 1998, all my college essays, random PDF articles from blogs or sites and lots and lots of downloads. I tend to go PDF and download crazy when I get bored at work. So I have quite the collection of PDFs, images and freebie downloads for various design apps I prefer to use. Of course, this doesn't include the things I keep on my home network server or the backups that exist there as well. Most of the time, these files get shucked away in my computer's filing system where searching and remembering what all I have stored there becomes a nightmare.

Honestly, I'm not sure I even know half of what I have digitally now. And it bugs me sometimes. Information is only as good as you're able to use and digest it, and I feel like I'm not using what I have on this system as much as I could be. Because of this, I've been researching digital information manager applications. I'm here to tell you there is a solution. One that threatens to replace a few existing applications on my beloved Macbook. It's called DEVONthink Pro and I'm in love. And it allows me to store, catalog, search and retrieve anything I feed into it.

Just like my little blue swan square trunk, DEVONthink Pro (DTPro) is my electronic shoe box. It stores EVERYTHING. And I mean everything. I'm able to import PDFs, movies, all my old .txt documents and images that I don't want to store in iPhoto. You can import or create new RTF files inside the application. The application can then retrieve and display these documents, all without having to open up another application. For those file formats that are not supported for indexing, like Apple Pages or JPGs, you can enter meta-info into DTPro that allows those to be searchable. I'm even able to surf the web directly in DTPro, for it ties into the Apple Safari engine. DTPro can also store web links, pages and complete and working site archives as well. It even includes a file type called Sheets that allows you to turn parts of your database into spreadsheets to quickly track collections or budgets. But this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what this app can do.

The other half of DEVONthink Pro is built into the search capabilities. DTPro can also quickly search and find relationships based off the things you put into it. So, let's say I'm trying to do some research on tarot and I want to find all the files or docs that contain correspondence elements, all I need to do is load up DTPro and then search for "creative tarot" and poof, the program returns a list of things relating to that topic as well as how relevant the application thought they were.

The way DTPro handles files is also amazing. You can store files in the database by having the application import and save them directly in the database or make a link to the original on the system. I hate duplicating files. To me it's a waste of hard drive space to have the same document copied two or three times. The fact that DEVONthink allows me to choose and mix and match which things I want to store in the database and which things I can link to equals true love. Never have I been able to link in files and have them sync up after I've added new items to the folder so smoothly. And if you choose to directly import the item into your database, then you can safely delete the external copy, thus eliminating the possibility for duplication.

So how do I DEVONthink?
In talking to Doug and others about setting up my databases, I've found that there really is no right or wrong way to set them up. DTPro is an empty shoe box in this regard. Doug has set up two databases, one for all things Holmes and the other for everything else. However, I've been told that other people create a singular database and stuff everything and anything into it. Having played with the application for a few months now, I see DTPro being used for two things: a all encompassing shoe box storage (or modern day bag of holding) or an index to files you keep in folders or on your system that relate meaningfully to you.

I've got two databases. The application allows you to have only one database open at a time. I elected to keep things simple until I have a handle on everything the application does. I stash everything and anything inno in one database. This everythinginno database keeps track of anything in my desktop's inbox, journal entries, DIY Planner ideas, stories, books from my library, thoughts, card deck designs for card games I play, etc. In effect, this database IS the digital snapshot of my life. First I create a folder (or group) in the app, then I either import or link all relevant items into that folder.

The second database acts like an index to keep all the digital scrapbooking ephemera in line. Like I said, during my downtime at work or at home, I download a lot of files. Mostly freebie digital scrapbook elements. Before DTPro, I had all these items stuffed in a folder where it was really hard to see exactly what each element was when they have a name like "082905_MochaLatteSwirls". Call me crazy, but I just don't get the visual of what that item should be. However, when loaded into DEVONthink, I'm able to quickly scan that folder and see exactly what each element looks like. And that, my friends, gives me more time for creating and making pretty pictures as opposed to wasting time just searching through all the elements in the folder, wondering which graphic I should use for conveying the right feeling in my art.

I'm still adding and building connections in this database so I have yet to really do much with the search capabilities. However, from my few small forays into searching, all I can say is wow... it's amazing what this software does in connecting files and finding similarities. The more you feed into this application, the smarter it gets. How can this be, you ask? Well, when you associate documents into your groups, you give the application ways to associate meanings to the files you enter. Therefore, with more documents and files, the better the application can understand how to create meaningful connections.

There's not a whole lot to dislike in this application. It's Mac-only, so you PC users will need to find something comparable on your end of the software pond. It IS a bit pricey as well, the DEVONthink Pro package costs $79.95; while the ubercool DEVNONthink Pro Office version costs $149.95. You can go to the website and download a trial version of one of the three flavors of DEVONthink. DTPro Office adds a whole slew of new capabilities like scanning and email backup integration. Support for iLife and iWork is minimal, files of those apps open in their native applications externally to DTPro. However, the application does natively open MP3, Quicktime movies, and all sorts of image file formats (like .jpg/.tiff/.png, etc.). I am hoping they build in some iLife and iWork integration in upcoming versions, as it'd be nice to use DTPro as a central place to find, sort and work on all my projects. Oh and I also noticed that while importing my MacJournal entries (one of the apps this software is replacing) that DTPro does not keep the original day of the entry. I had to come up with a new dating scheme to preserve the original entry date.

Sadly, for me, the biggest downfall to the application is the fact that the iPod export option isn't as advanced as the one in Voodoo Pad. I'm in the process of making a few podSite books (reference books on various subjects that are iPod friendly) and I was hoping that I could use DEVONthink to handle their creation. However, when you create .rtf files and links in a DTPro database and then export it to your iPod, it removes the links so you cannot actively read through the files as if they were a web site on your iPod. I'm hoping that this feature may magically appear in DTPro in the future as it'd make my digital information management needs complete in this one awesome package.

That said, if you need an excellent all-in-one research assistant/personal information manager on your Macintosh system, then DEVONthink is the one for you. It's fast, reliable, is able to index, cross-reference, search, handles almost all file formats natively and makes coffee for you in the morning (okay, it doesn't... but DTPro could do that if it wanted to). The DEVONtechnologies website also has a lot of DTPro information on it to answer all your questions, provide some highly useful tutorials and even a feature comparison chart that tells you exactly what features come with which version of the application, so you know exactly which version is right for you. But don't take my word on it, you can also read two other reviews, one by Stephen Johnson and our very own Doug.

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Trial version info

It says you get 150 non-continuous hours of runtime on the trial.

Nice. I'll have to give it a try.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Keep your eye out...

for deals from Devon. They seem to like to periodically give away, or practically give away their two bottom-end apps, DevonNote and DevonThink Personal. I got my copy of Personal with the MacHeist deal around Christmas. You need to keep your eyses open, but one place is Maczot. If it appears anywhere, this is one place it will show up.


DEVONThink vs. similar programs

I got the DEVONThink as part of the MacHeist bundle. I've tried it out for a while. It is extremely powerful, but I had trouble wrapping my mind around the interface.

If you are a Mac user and want to try a "dump everything in one place" program, check out Journler which is a great donationware program. It integrates quite nicely with other Mac apps.

On Windows, the best I could find was EverNote which has a free version and a Pro version. The Pro version really doesn't have any features I'd use. I'm quite happy with the free one.

I also use Linux, and haven't really seen any application like this. The only thing I know of like this is TomBoy, a desktop Wiki program for the GNOME desktop. I only used TomBoy a little bit, and it felt quite a bit like VoodooPad.


Journler thoughts

If you are a Mac user and want to try a "dump everything in one place" program, check out Journler which is a great donationware program. It integrates quite nicely with other Mac apps.

As for integrating, Journler has the nifty dropbox folder on the desktop. Simply drop a file (or, maybe, an alias) into it, and Journler will add it. It also takes full advantage of Quicksilver, if you have it installed.

Right now, I'm a bit torn between Devon and Journler.

However, I can say this, I dropped the complete text of the Polish Bible into both programs, and Journler was practically brought to its knees. Now, some things it tries to do are brutally slow. Devon also has suffered somewhat performance-wise, but has overall handled the massive input much better. I'm still playing with Journler, but its lexicon is now useless... :-(


interestingly enough


i too had both Journler and DEVON on my system to play with. I loved the idea of iLife integration and what not but found the system slow as well. That and it didn't seem as intuitive as DEVON did for me.

So I've decided to stick with DTPro for now. Who knows, I may upgrade to Office later... depending on my needs. I'd have liked to archive my emails, but... there's no mail support unless you copy/paste. which is what i've been doing.

I know you can write apple scripts to do things with DEVON, but...i don't know apple script well. Anyone out there care to take a stab at writing me an DEVONthink Pro import Apple Mail email script?


email archive

There is email archive support in DTPro, it is in the office version.

journler with large amounts of data

I guess I haven't really used Journler with large amounts of data yet. If you're in the habit of dropping whole Bibles into programs like this, I'd imagine not many would handle it well.

As for the interface, I prefer Journler's to DEVONThink. Working with the smart folders and keywords give you all kinds of options for getting organized.

These are both great programs, try them out and use whichever one suits your needs best.



I also prefer Journler's interface. And when you consider that you get much of DTP's features for free.... well, it's a no-brainer. ;-)


Journler vs DEVONthink Pro

You're right, Journler is indeed an excellent product, and one that I've taken for a spin a few times. The 2.5 version is definitely a vast improvement, and brings together a number of great features --such as iLife integration and a slicker UI-- that stand it apart from similar products.

That being said, Journler is (IMHO) better for smaller amounts of data, and is oriented towards an individual's usage where there is an emphasis on dates --as in a traditional journal-- as opposed to a large taxonomy, i.e., a directory structure. (I seem to recall the developer was looking to develop a more DTP-like application next, but I'm afraid I don't know anything more about that at this time.)

You can't beat Journler's price, especially if it does everything you need it to do, but for me the deal-breaker is DTPro's "artificial intelligence" for searching and finding related pieces of information. This is invaluable for a writer who needs an application strong in its research capabilities. For example, a search on "apes" can also find related items with "chimpanzees" even if the other word isn't mentioned, since they may both be found in articles about primates (a common thread linking the two). This blows me away. As an added bonus, the DEVONagent application is a much smarter way of searching the web and Internet-enabled databases, and it plugs directly into the DT applications.

Innowen's review above, along with the links for Stephen Johnson's piece and my earlier review, may help to yield some perspective about DT(Pro), although it should also be mentioned that the products have evolved significantly since Johnson and myself wrote the latter articles.

So my two cents: Journler for casual writers and collectors of information, and DTPro for more experienced writers, researchers, and collectors of vast amounts of ephemera. Journler is donation-ware and DTPro has a pretty long free trial period, so there's no saying that you can't download and explore both products and their capabilities. Go through their documentation and tutorials, and you'll be off to a great start.

all my best,

Journler vs DEVONthink Pro

DEVONthink, from what I understand, is meant to be your one-stop option to catalogue "stuff" on your Mac and not as a writing tool. I would compare DEVEONthink to Soho Notes or Yojimbo, and Journler to Scrivener.

Devon works just great for writing

I use it for that frequently. I even will set up separate chapters in their own "file". Devon's also great at exporting hundreds of files into one, huge rtf or rtfd file. Journler is only slightly less capable at this, but works too. I think the main differences between them are not so much capabilities (although Devon's artifical intelligence is way beyond anything else I've seen--it really does help categorize things), but the differences rather come down to what best fits your way of thinking and working. In some ways, Journler, with its drop-box folder, is even more flexible than Devon, for working with tidbits you get in day-to-day computer work. It's more a matter of fitting the product to your needs. This is a Good Thing.


No Thanks

The interface is too unmac like.

I prefer VoodooPad. I dump everything into it and simply use search to find it. Setting up folder hierarchies is simply a waste of time.