I'm going to try quitting DevonThink

I’m starting a tech experiment today: How much am I actually using DevonThink? Is it actually adding anything to my productivity, or is it just another layer of complication on top of the Finder?

DevonThink is an extremely powerful document management system for the Mac. It’s very popular among academics and other professional researchers – such as lawyers and authors – for its powerful search capabilities, with its ability to automatically surface related content.

I went all-in on DevonThink almost a year ago, after using it on-again-off-again for about 18 months before that.

After all this time, I haven’t found that search all that useful. And I can’t think of anything else in DT that makes it worth the extra layer.

A particular problem with DevonThink is that I find myself needing Microsoft Word a lot, and DT has only limited Word support. You can keep Word documents in DT, and view them, but you can only edit them in Word itself. Same for PowerPoint, which I also sometimes need.

I’m just going to stop – or minimize – adding new projects to DevonThink and see if there’s anything I miss. I’ll continue using it as an archive for work-related documents. If I find that there’s something I miss in using DevonThink as my daily driver, well, it’s easy to go back.

That’s a great thing about DT: It’s easy to get information in, and easy to get it out again.

As an alternative to DevonThink, I’m going to give Obsidian a workout, in conjunction with the plain old Mac Finder.

Obsidian is a new tool for building personal wikis – like Wikipedia, but for your own use, filled with content you create and find yourself. Obsidian is hot stuff among the digerati, along with the similar Roam Research

Roam Research bills itself as “A note-taking tool for networked thought,” which is a pretty good description of Obsidian’s mission too. To be honest, Roam looks in some ways more appealing than Obsidian, but Roam is cloud-only, which makes it a non-starter for me.

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I’m a very heavy Obsidian user and it has become central to my workflow in the past few months. If you need to work with a lot of Word files, know that Obsidian has even more limited support for them. I’m curious, why don’t you open those files from within DT itself in Word? DT is a document manager first and then a notes app second, it does not replace apps especially for proprietary formats. Obsidian, on the contrary, is a stellar notes app first, and not a document manager at all.

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Do you use DT? How are you using Obsidian?

I do open – and store – the Word documents in DT. I’m wondering I my life might be simpler without DevonThink.

As for Obsidian: I’m thinking of running that in parallel with the Finder. Markdown docs would be in Obsidian, and Word docs (and everything else) would be in the Finder. Same folders for both.

I’m envisioning my Obsidian structure as being very folder-centric, at least at first.

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Random thought: use Hook to help knit together Obsidian notes and Word docs related to the same project?

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Great minds think alike! I’m thinking of doing just that.

I use both. Obsidian is my Zettelkasten, journaling, brainstorming tool: only my words (or rephrasing of others’) go in there.
DEVONthink is my document repository. It’s a library of project support material (documents, articles, books). I use deep linking extensively, from Obsidian to DT, allowing me to get back to source material and documents immediately.

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That may be how I end up using DT and Obsidian together.

What value do you get from DT over the Finder? Is it the search?

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I also use Obsidian and DT. I also thought about getting out of DT to simplify things.

Ultimately, It’s the clipping and highlighting and universal external linking that I would miss.

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A couple of things might keep me in DT:

  • Clipping – I assume you mean web clipping here? That’s powerful, but it’s a subset of DevonThink’s power to take EVERYTHING. In particular, I like dropping email messages in a DT group with everything else for a project. I’m not seeing an alternative for DT’s ability to store email and webpages with other types of documents.
  • MAYBE tagging and replicants? I keep thinking I’ll make more use of replicants and tagging the I actually do.

And of course I can always index rather than import.

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You can, of course, open .docx files from DEVONthink in any application you own that edits .docx. You can of course index your documents instead of importing them into a database.

I’m pretty sure DEVONthink very consciously has limited editing capability for anything other than plain text (includes markdown), rich text, and very limited HTML. To try to be your only editor for .docx – and any other file type – would result in enormous complexity, cost, and probably user annoyance that the editing is “just not good enough”.

Not trying to convince anyone to use or not use DEVONthink. Just suggesting expectations need to be tempered with reality.

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Thanks!

This is a good time for me to throw in that I’m not disrespecting DT here. It is an excellent application for those who need its power and complexity, and the Devon Technologies team provide fast, friendly support.

Also, I’m aware that members of the DT team read this forum and are welcome to participate in the thread. Indeed, I thought for a microsecond about posting there instead of/in addition to here, but immediately concluded that was NOT the place to post a topic about NOT using DevonThink!

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Search indeed, excellent even on iOS. Also custom metadata, much more powerful organisational features and I prefer the sync. I also like that I can preview and create files much more easily and deep linking is ironclad.

EDIT : Forgot to mention end-to-end encryption for sync which is much too rare a feature.

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DT 3.6 also adds native backlinks to the Links inspector pane, so it works even better now with Obsidian. For me, DT3 also adds a ton of value for reviewing PDFs. The built-in PDF annotation suite is actually quite powerful (even if the UX could use some work) and the “Extract Highlights to MD” is amazingly valuable as well.

DT3 sits at the center of my daily workflow just as much as Drafts and OmniFocus!

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Unfortunately, as of yet Hook does not work with Obsidian – but the Hook team is investigating and working with Obsidian’s developers.

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I have also been closely looking at how I use DevonThink.

My use case:

  1. Index my documents folder mainly for searching
  2. Archive email for searching
  3. Occasionally (twice a month) I save articles for offline storage.
  4. RSS of my MereCivilian Blog.

I also wanted to simplify, as my use case is simpler.

Therefore, for iOS, I use https://pdfsearch.app/ for searching as my documents folder is on iCloud, this is relatively easy. Supports Dropbox and OneDrive.

Archiving will remain in DT - limited to Mac only and I am ok with this. Same goes for offline articles storage. To be honest, I have over 200 articles on DT and I have yet to find a reason to go back to those articles.

Hope this helps.

I am also realising the importance of using tools that fit your use case. No point having something powerful when your needs a simple. I suppose this was one reason I switched from Omnifocus to Things 3 about 3 years ago now.

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Both seem to be very active and enthusiastic developers, so hopefully we’ll see something soon.

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@MitchWagner Sounds like we might need to form a support group for you! :rofl: Sorry, I couldn’t resist that based on the title of your post. :grinning:

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I don’t use Hook, so I can’t vouch for it, but people seem happy with this solution to Hook/Obsidian integration: https://forum.obsidian.md/t/compatibility-with-hook-productivity-on-mac-os/2021/30?u=ryanjamurphy


Curious about how this goes, @MitchWagner! If I didn’t have DT already I could probably go without it these days, but I do like clipping and saving the web there. It’s also my PDF-formatted RSS reader.

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Not who you are asking but for me keeping thousands of small snippets of stuff (plain or rich text files) in finder is a PITA. I much prefer them to be corraled in DT in my folders where I can use them and edit and work with them. The database I use most often that is on all my devicesconsists of that sort of stuff and there are over 3600 items in it.

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But what value do you get from groups vs. folders? For me, groups are the same as folders.