DEVONthink (DT) is the most powerful personal information manager (PIM) out there, and the folks at DT just released a public Beta 3.0 for the app. If you haven’t used the app yet, take a look at some of the stuff people have written about it. Organizing data is something that takes up a significant chunk of my day, but DT manages to make it an enjoyable, enriching experience by enabling me to view my data in different ways and make new connections. If you’re already a user, then you’ll likely be pleased with the beautiful interface and some of the exciting new features.
- Indexing: Indexing used to be a bit tricky, but by integrating more closely with the system files (in other words, “mirroring” what you see in Finder so that moving files in one location moves them in another), they’ve made the process a lot more straightforward. Unlike the interface, this is a major change that will surely not please everyone, but I use the indexing feature a lot, and this will make my life a lot easier. As always, be careful when using a beta. Make frequent backups to be on the safe side.
- Interface: I had no complaints about the old one that dates back to around 2008 (?), but plenty of users did, so this ought to please a lot of people looking for a refresh. There are some interesting changes, but overall, I think it will feel more or less familiar. Because some of the icons (for example, “see also and classify”) are completely different, you’ll want to give yourself a few minutes to get up to speed if you are switching from DEVONthink 2.0 to 3.0.
- Markdown: This is a big one. Now that they’ve added side-by-side view for editing documents, it is now possible to create a fully linked personal wiki / zettelkasten in markdown. Just put the title of any file / group in your database into a markdown document and a link is automatically activated for it in both the text and preview windows. Wow. It sounds so simple, but with the exception of a few apps like nvALT (no longer being actively updated) and VoodooPad (infrequently updated), this feature has been quite rare. There are some speed issues at the moment, but hopefully these will get worked out in future iterations (this is still a beta, after all).
- Searching: Asian language support is still spotty, but it does seem improved, and there is a lot more granularity if you really want to drill down into the search results. You can make up for any of DEVONthink’s weaknesses in this respect by relying on Spotlight searches (I prefer using the HoudahSpot app).
- Security: Encrypted databases on the Mac. We already had end-to-end encryption (at no point while syncing is data unencrypted) that was zero-knowledge (no one but you has the password) contained within an encrypted hard drive on the Mac (FileVault). But, now we also have encrypted databases on the encrypted hard drive (useful if you are sharing a Mac, using it for work, or taking it into the Genius Bar for repairs). Wow. While other app developers are focused on paring down features (dumbing down apps) in order to make everything “intuitive,” DT is still adding deeper levels of functionality to an already rich feature set. It just keeps getting better every year for security.
There is a lot more to write, but these are some of the major changes that immediately made a positive impact on my workflow.
No doubt, students and others on a tight budget will balk at the upgrade price of $199. There is a student / educator discount (I don’t know how much), but I suspect there will still be some sticker shock. After all, when was the last time you paid this much for an app?
First, please note that DT uses a traditional one-time fee model for the app (as opposed to the subscription model favored by so many other apps these days), which means that it costs more now, but probably less over time. In my case, I’ve been using it for about a decade, and I think the price was much less at the time, so it’s only cost me a few dollars a year for a well-supported app. It’s pretty difficult to find a comparable deal out there. Over the same amount of time, you’ll easily spend two or three times as much for Word, Evernote, Ulysses, or any of the other subscription services. It’s more of a psychological barrier than an economic one.
Second, there is a lot of free stuff out there these days. For some, you are the product (Google KEEP), and you’re “paying” for the app with your personal data. For others, such as Evernote, the app is free with lots of restrictions (for a limited number of devices, reduced usage amounts, and no offline access to notes on iOS). Or, in the case of Apple Notes, it’s very difficult to get data in and out of it (DT has an importer feature for Evernote and Notes data), and it is impossible (?) to effectively manage thousands (or tens of thousands) of notes with its anemic organizational options. They’re all great apps (I’ve been a longtime user of Evernote–mainly with classroom materials these days), and if they get the job done for you, then I recommend sticking with them. Obviously, you don’t need the most advanced organizational app in the world to make a grocery list. But, then again, you don’t want to use a grocery list app to manage a research database with tens of thousands of items in it. Google around for researchers who have praised DEVONthink, and you’ll find quite a few (Rachel Leow, Luc Beaulieu, Alex Strick van Linschoten, Christopher Sirrs, Paul Ryan Katz, Avigail S. Oren, etc.). In my case, I also handle sensitive data about my educational institution and my students that shouldn’t be put anywhere on the “cloud” (someone else’s servers) without encryption, and DT is the most secure app on the market, so it’s the obvious choice for my workflow.
Whatever your particular needs, the Beta is fully operational and free of charge for now, so I recommend giving it a try.