DevonThink — What's Great About It
DevonThink has been my repository for any items that I want to safely keep for several years now.
It has served me well during this time and I have accumulated a large volume of PDFs, images, web links and many other items. That’s one of the most important attributes of the application. You can throw virtual anything at and it will store it for you.
The screenshot above shows you what the software looks like before you open any databases. I have set up several different databases which relate to different aspects of my life. They include:
These four databases represent parts of my life which I regard as distinctive enough to organise my information collections around.
Home is a database which contains insurance documents, receipts, financial data, identity documents and so on.
This database hold the research and other background items that I gather during any of my various creative projects.
My productivity database is where I collect useful guides to organisation, blog posts and workflows and many other items to do with becoming a better organised person.
This is where any work related items are kept.
About a year ago I got out of the Google eco-system as completely as possible. I did this largely for privacy reasons and to be honest I’ve been very happy with the way this has worked.
One problem I wanted to overcome was not losing my email history with Gmail. As you can see in the above screen shot, this amounted to 54,389 emails.
I extracted my email data as an .mobox file which I could have loaded onto my email client. I decided not to do that and instead created a separate database called Gmail in DevonThink.
This allows me to search for an email item using DevonThink’s super powerful search engine. The best of both worlds.
One of DevonThink’s super powers is its search capability. I particularly like the fact that it has a form of artificial intelligence. This works by serving up items which DevonThink considers to be related. When you OCR PDFs, this can be a very creative way to link unlikely items together.
DevonThink stores everything you save on your hard drive. This can be considered a good things when it comes to security and privacy as you never have to worry about what’s in the cloud.
DevonThink comes in different flavours. The one I’ve been using is the Professional version. This is another advantage of the software which is that you don’t pay a recurring subscription. You will pay to upgrade when major new versions arrive however.
DevonThink — What's Not So Great
I’ve really enjoyed my time with DevonThink and there’s little doubt that it’s a very powerful piece of software. These are my reasons for moving away from it.
The Downsides of DevonThink
Local storage is a blessing and a curse. You don't have to worry about your private data in the cloud, but at the cost of poor cross device functionality and for an SDD hard drive MacBook user, a big storage dilemma.
As already mentioned, DevonThink is a Mac based app. It does have an iOS companion app — but it's still not very good. If you have more than one laptop it can also be hard to work with your databases.
There is a learning curve to using DevonThink. This is a reminder of its inherent power. If you're collecting large volumes of research material and need all the power this software possesses, great. But if not, then it might begin to feel like overkill.
DevonThink has had a recent facelift, but to my eyes the user interface is still utilitarian. That's a selling point for some, but I enjoy using software that's pretty as well as functional.
Although you don't pay for a subscription, DTPO is expensive to buy at $199.
Why I Chose Keep It Instead
Keep It is the successor to Together and is developed by Reinvented Software. I had a previous flirtation with Together so was keen to see what the company had done with the app. These are the aspects of the software I like.
I really like the new software. To begin with, it looks and behaves more like a modern OSX product. Maybe I’m just superficial, but if a piece of software looks nice and is a pleasure to use, that makes it better to use too.
There is a separate iOS app which is knitted together with the OSX version through iCloud. The sync is fast and so far is working well. The iOS app is also well designed and much better than the DevonThink iOS app. This means it is far easier to access your information on the go.
Storage in the Cloud
This was one of the main reasons for looking for an alternative to DevonThink. The app offloads to iCloud like other Apple apps, which means the local storage overhead is far more manageable.
I’ve concluded I don’t need all the power that DevonThink offers. I’m much happier with a simpler product which serves my needs very capably.
Keep It can store documents in all formats.
Instead of different databases I’ve organised my materials into folders as you can see in this screenshot.
This enables me to have all my material in one place, suitably offloaded to the cloud so it never hogs too much of my precious SDD storage.
Making The Switch
I found the process of migrating items from DevonThink to Keep It surprisingly pain free.
I simply selected the folders I wanted to move in DevonThink and then opened them in Keep It. I made this easier by converting everything to a PDF. I then configured PDFs to open PDFs with Keep It.
I moved other documents by asking DevonThink to show me the items in the finder and then dragged them into Keep It manually.
Keep It offers a couple of different ways to send or archive emails into its database. I’ve found the rules based method works well. You can also add Keep It as a service and send items to the database using this method too. The different methods are described ion detail here.
How do you store the information you collect?