Upgrade Devonthink or go for an alternative?

As the release of Devonthink 3 is getting closer, so is the need to decide what to do. I’ve used DT for the last couple of years, and like the fact that I can always find what I need in seconds.

But: the upgrade will cost me about 200 Euro (extra licenses needed), which makes me reconsider my use-case.

I use DT to store all my papers, articles, email and notes. Everything I get by way of snail-mail I scan and put it in DT. All web articles I’d like to read go into DT as pdf’s and I archive my email into it as well.

The new pricing model does force me to think of alternatives.

Any alternatives that could fit the use-case described? Should I just go back to using a folder structure in iCloud? I’d like to hear your thoughts on it!

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I’ve been using DEVONthink for years, and using the “beta” for version 3 since it came out. Great software.

IF you like searching for new software, learning new software, munging moving your stuff to somewhere else … perhaps go somewhere else. Maybe even just go with the capabilities of OSX without extra stuff. (iCloud is just a file server and doesn’t bring special features except for being ‘offsite’. The power is OSX).

IF you put value on “the fact I can always find what I need in seconds”, figure out the value of that to you vs. contributing to the continued existence of DEVONthink.


Not upgrading to v3 and staying on v2 seems to be a feasible alternative for the upcoming time. The only function that will be lost in Catalina is the OCR, due to dependence on a 32-bit library:

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Personally, I’d suggest you stick with DEVONThink. What is the cost in time to change software? You’ll have to learn a new package, move or redo all your stuff into the new system even if it’s just folders in iCloud, verify everything, change your backup and recovery procedures to handle the new stuff and more. What will that cost in time and aggravation when you can’t find something during the transition? How much will you lose of your use case to change? What features will be hard or impossible to implement in something else? How much more time will that new solution cost you on a per search basis? How much does upgrading really cost you when spread out over how often you use the software? Look at lifecycle costs not jus the large one time fee.


Divide your original purchase price by the number of months you’ve used DT. That’s your monthly cost.
If we assume some fantastic DT4 upgrade comes along in, say, 20 months, your cost for this version is £10/mo.

In addition to the monetary consideration, and as others have stated, you’re going to have to cobble together disparate tools to do the same things you do now.

  • OCR? That’s pretty expensive in itself. PDF Pen Pro? ($129) ABBYY FineReader (included with DT) ($119.99)
  • The see also suggestions? Not sure where you’d find that. HoudahSpot? ($52 for family)
  • Auto classify? You could use a rat’s nest of Hazel rules to do that, but AFAIK you’ll be writing those, it won’t be learning from you. ($49 family pack)
  • Then there’s the DEVONthink To Go issue. How will you replace that?

I’m sure there are twenty ‘leven (i.e. a lot of) things remaining that may need replacing.


I went through a similar process. In the end I stayed with DT and upgraded.

For me it was the ability to search near instantly through the PDFs and also how DT displays the search results. I could not find a similar solution with any other product. I tried Houdaspot, which is awesome, but it didn’t have a good way to display the search results. I don’t want to just find which document, but which sentence a word or phrase is in, but I want to be able to bounce around all the occurrences within a file. DT won me over.

Then I questioned the sync’ing. Another area I couldn’t replicate. I primarily rely on the iCloud sync’ing for 10gig of pdfs, text, latex, markdown, and movies, but I also need to sync an iCloud folder of documents via dropbox only for one device, then there is the many times where I am without the internet for a week or more at a time. Bonjour sync’ing to the rescue. DT handles all of this.

My only major ask is to easily create and manage versions of a particular document. I only have a few documents I need to do that with that I want in DT, so I index those folders and use git for the version control.

Just sharing my thought process…


There’s no need to jump to the new version immediately.

I own DTP2_Mac but haven’t used it for a couple of years, in favor of EagleFiler, which does less and is Mac only, but which I enjoy using more. Although I tend to upgrade good, unused apps anyway ‘just in case’ I’m not doing it this time. I don’t need the full features of DT3, the upgrade price is … pricey, and there are, depending on one’s needs, less expensive alternatives that can explored. If I needed Mac/iOS sync (it’s a desire, not really a need at present) I’d personally focus on some combination of Apple Notes with Notebooks or perhaps Microsoft OneNote.

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For a normal license upgrade DT I think it works out at about 99,- for 10 years (looking at the v2 lifespan) which is about 9 cents per month… So, a good investment, but stil no guarantee they will stay at the 10 year cycle.

I’m thinking about staying with DT but I think I’m the victim of the 99 cents era, not the 99 euro… Also, there’s only so much I’d like to spend on software and services per year, and DT is eating into that significantly this year.

What about using CURIO as an alternative?

Something to look at! I had not heard of it before

I looked into a few alternatives this week and came back to DevonThink. It just seems easier.


I’ll jump in as a user of both Curio and DT.

Curio’s a rather different beast - it’s much more in the nature of an organiser of information for planning, visualising, brainstorming and the like. Functionally, it’s much more like the late lamented Circus Ponies Notebook and similar apps, although the UI is wildly different and it has some very cool organising features.

It’s not really a repository, although you could use it as such. There’s a bit of discussion of that very thing here on the Zengobi forums

I use Curio for planning, with DT as my repository (you can link to DT items from Curio).

I reckon the DT upgrade is great value but:

  • If you don’t have the $99 available right now, it doesn’t really matter how good it is in the long term
  • Annoyingly, there’s a cool integration between Curio and DT that requires the DT Server edition, and that $99 becomes $399 which is a whole different thing. You can still link and embed DT items without DT Server, but it’s a less fluid workflow.

Curio has/is George too, whose support is excellent.

I have a found a pretty stable set up for me. It includes Devonthink where I store everything pretty much other than work in progress. My Documents folder is just three Devonthink databases. 200 Euros, that would be ok for me. I have dropped a few apps recently, streamlined my workflows radically and I feel the cost would be offset almost by that. I am tempted by Setapp, but that is totally nerdiness really. I need to get on with my work! I can’t really advise on alternatives because like in a good marriage, I ain’t lookin’ round. I love the app too and want to support it, I rely on the AI now too and don’t want to learn another one, I have this one in muscle memory.
I won’t go back to a folder structure either. In the paper days I was the guy with piles of papers everywhere and sort of ‘knew’ where stuff was in some way I still don’t understand. I find Devonthink gives me the same feeling. I can find stuff withouth really knowing consciously how I am looking for it. Sometimes just by going to history.

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Why not put your work in progress in DT?


FYI, ScreenCastsOnline did a screencast on Curio 11 in 2017. Although it is a couple of versions out of date, it should give a pretty good idea of how it can be used.

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Yes, I saw it - it was one of the things that convinced me to go for Curio.

There’s also a really good review here on Youtube.

I’ve also been searching a lot this week, and am coming back to DT every time.
Will probably go for a simplified setup, and keep it as the backbone of my document management. (Just because it is so good at that.)

I think I’m going to buy the upgrade first once the final version is released, and see whether I still need extra seats once I’m working with it.

I’ve simplified my mac and iOS setup hugely over the past year, going to stock apps for most use cases. This allows for a little wiggle room in the budget, so I think I can make this work :slight_smile:

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Good question @MitchWagner. I think it is because I often use LaTeX and it seems to be happier in the wild I might put it. Well it used to be and maybe it is time I checked: that happens to me these days quite often, my set up is so ‘stable’. That is an IT pleasure to me in itself by the way. I also use Ulysses a lot and found it was again weird if you tried to put things in Devonthink. I am sure there are ways to do it, but I see no point. I only really have two places to look for notes and papers, I start most things in Ulysses too and only move them for layout and render to PDF with LaTeX. I have things I will never use or need on thumbdrives, that I never look for in other words and are not even backed up because, well it doesn’t matter if they vanish. I use photos as notes quite a lot, reminders and so on: I don’t keep them and make that a virtue.

I might try what you suggest though to see if it works better now. Do you do that? Actually write and edit current work in Devonthink? I would be interested to know.
LaTeX can create a whole bunch of subsidiary files as it renders and I like them to be in a single desktop folder, Sometimes I only keep the output pdf too and just archive the rest on a thumbdrive. I think that is something I should revisit too.
As long as I have the pdfs I could probably edit anything using PDF pen or something? I have never had to do it. If I revisit anything short I usually rewrite it altogether as it helps me think about it that way. Longer things I just keep around the desktop for ever: maybe I should just put them in Devonthink. My files take up tiny amounts of data these days. Almost negligable so they are easy to store even with several duplicates.

I will try working on LaTeX in Devonthink when I get the chance and let you know how it works out: might be some time so be patient. Oh yeah, I know, desktop, I take that kind of literally and it is often my current work and some ‘at hand’ stuff.

Let me add to @StephenL s point about search power too. You can use complex search terms and regex effectively. I know it can be tedious to type them out everytime but I use snippets on KM or Launchbar if I need to do that. You can easily edit most regex expressions or search terms you use a lot. I hardly use that, I find simple one word searches enough usually, even the history function which is much negelected on fora but which I use often. I often have a rought idea of when I added anything so it works well for me, stuff is usually where I can see it chronologically. As people are saying, to recreate all this, plus the email function would be not worth the time alone for me using other apps even if I could achieve it.