An Embarrassingly Simple Way to Future Proof without Plain Text

This is so patently obvious that I’m embarrassed to post it, but I do so with the hope that perhaps this will help others who have struggled as I have or who have thus far resisted using or abandoned reliance on plain text.

There are three primary arguments in this forum for using markdown with plain text:

  • Plain text is, for all intents and purposes, future proof.
  • Plain text using MD is flexible—one can use any text editor, and one can export the documents in various formats.
  • There is less distraction and temptation to fiddle when using plain text.

There are other advantages, e.g., small file sizes, fast and reliable sync, and a few others.

But, plain text with MD can be clunky and involves a lot of compromises. This is why I’ve struggled so much with settling on writing and note-taking apps.

I want my cake and to eat it too.

Then the obvious occurred to me; because I already have DEVONthink Pro, just use whatever rich text editor I want. When finished, periodically or immediately, send them to DT, convert them to PDF+text and store them in an archive database in DT. This is one step further than merely creating a PDF. Having them OCRed automatically by DT adds the ability to copy/paste the text as needed or convert the file to other file formats. The files are future-proofed.

Duh! :man_facepalming:

The advantages are obvious:

  1. I can use the features (including styles for TOC creation) of rich text editors (word processors) for writing and formatting easily, including the insertion of citations, pictures, tables, and more. Let me hastily add that for those concerned that applications like Pages and Word are distracting writing environments, they both can be set up to eliminate toolbars, etc., so that the focus is on the text, not the tools. Here is Pages in such a mode:

That is no more distracting than a document in Obsidian or iA Writer, and I can use keyboard shortcuts for bold, italics, styles, and more just as quickly and easily as I can use markdown syntax.

  1. I will have OCRed archived PDF+text versions of my work should I ever need them, e.g., because a file format has been abandoned or a file has been corrupted.

  2. I can easily convert to other file formats using DT’s conversion feature.

It seems to me this gives me the best of all worlds. The features of rich text AND future-proofing. Do I end up using more storage? Sure, but it is relatively cheap and worth the investment for what I’m gaining.

I’ve set up a recurring reminder to export, convert, and archive my files periodically to ensure all my work is protected and archived.

As I said, this is obvious. For me, this brings a bit of closure and calmness to what has been an unnecessary struggle between feeling like I needed plain text and the friction and compromises inherent to relying on plain text.

Let the arrows fly–I can take it! :rofl:


Are these notes easy to edit afterwards?

Unfortunately not!
Devonthink is using PDFkit, like the most other apps on the Mac.
PDFkit is using an very old PDF Standard (I think 1.3?) that was invented some 20 years ago.
For longterm storage it is recommended to use PDF/A (A=Archive) which can on a Mac currently only be created via special apps like Adobe Acrobat.
The worst thing about that: Even if you create a PDF/A with Adobe, if you are altering it within DT3, or any other PDFKit App, PDFkit is simply coming its old formate over the PDF/A, and therefore altering it towards PDF/X (1.3?).
So, there is currently (latest confirmed Dec’21 from DT!) no reliable approach for a secure long term storage of PDF´s st this moment, while using an app like Devonthink, with an PDF handling via PDFkit!

Yes, very easy. I simply convert the PDF+Text file to another format, for example, a rich text or markdown file. Here are examples:

Two file formats in DEVEONthink

Image of the two files in Preview as the PDF (LEFT) and in Drafts in plain text/markdown (RIGHT)

I may be missing something but because I will convert the PDF to rich text or markdown, I’m not too concerned. I suspect that for my needs, this is future proofed enough. After all, I’m not managing the national archives. :rofl:

Yeah, you miss the different ways PDF´s are “created” for the different version and formats.
So, in the worst case, you can end up with an PDF, where the quality of the underlying “picture” became so worth, that you can not read it anymore, and have a “Text-Layer” that became damaged, or is otherwise not usable anymore.
You probably won’t be able to convert them in that case!
While PDF/A should take care, that the “picture” remain usable over the time, so you can get the informations still out.
It is of course completely up to you, and all other user, to use it to store your informations!
I just wanted to point out, that your information, that your approach on this way is “future proof”, is just not right.
Even PDF/A has a lot of problems, so a PDF created with this format has to be checked visually thereafter to be sure, that it is not became “damaged” during the conversion.

PDF is convenient, and you have good chances to be able to use your documents even after years, but it is not to be considered “future proof” unless you take special measurements, which are impossible while using DT, as it is altering your PDF´s with PDFKit, as soon as you changed anything within your PDF, even if you created a PDF/A in advance.

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+1 on PDFs being fine for archival as long as their untouched. The value of plain text for long term is in the inevitability of having to edit it and ensuring you don’t need dedicated software to do so.

For me, PDFs don’t reach that qualification.

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I am curious though, what you consider compromises in plain text (because I agree but I imagine they’re different that one I consider compromise!)

Thanks for the clarification. Am I correct in understanding that the file is not changed unless OCR is run on it in DT? I can easily change that setting if needed.

The loss of helpful features and ease of use, for example, using styles that are easily changed and converted to TOC, ease of creating bibliographies, ease of creating tables, and more. All are possible in plain text using markdown but decidedly more cumbersome.

No, the file is changed in the Moment you create the PDF, and use a format other than PDF/A for this!
If you choose PDF/A (e.g. via Acrobat) you can’t do anything with this file outside of Acrobat (while saving back into PDF/A after you are done!), that requires the file to be saved again (OCR, Change of page direction, sorting, deleting single pages, Annotations, and so on), as the file will be saved with PDFkit in an different format (most likely a PDF/X version).

Thanks, I learned something. Well, I’m not going to use Acrobat so the bottomline is that I’ll take my chances. Between using a Word processor from one of the biggest companies in the world, multiple backups, and file conversion, I’m “safe enough”, “future proofed enough”. I may use a script to automatically convert a PDF+Text File to Rich text in DT to add another layer of protection.

Since it is not practical to edit the PDF, your system requires keeping both Rich Text and PDF versions updated. I am not sure that qualifies as a workable “solution.”

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Glad you’ve got an approach that works for you! Sounds like a lot of converting back and forth for my tastes

Not really. The PDFs are automatically OCRed by DT and I only create rich text files of my own writing, not all of the articles I send to DT. The ability to convert a PDF to another format as needed is useful and adds little to the workload.

How do you convert from PDF+Text to Rich Text in DT3? Natively it only converts from Rich Text to PDF.

You can convert this. Unfortunately, depending on the OCR you end up with a bunch of words, without any context, as some OCR is saved in lines, and some in columns.

I think you are. PDF/A isn’t anything special. It appears to be the simplest form of a PDF, no encryption, embedded fonts only, etc. IMO, as long as you are just printing documents your great, great, grandchildren should be able to read your files.

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If someone makes a statement, the next sentence should probably not start with “It appears”… :thinking: :smiley:

I apologize Herr Vorsitzender :grinning: