DEVONthink alternatives?

This sounds like the sound could be said of OmniFocus. OF2 isn’t cute or playful but it is also a powerful too.

When OF2 first came out, it was blasted for losing its UI from OF1 - mainly custom themes and the layout that increased data density. DEVONthink, like OmniFocus 2, gets blasted for it ugly UI but is still loved by bloggers.

After using devonthink, I have learned to look past it’s “ugly” UI. It’s not cute to look at and it’s not a toy. It works and I use it a lot.

Thanks. The cross-platform and URL-based linking to documents are really appealing, along with the automation capabilities. But I already have a lot of capture systems in place (mostly driven by an always-on Mac running Hazel acting on Finder items in Dropbox, so I can save on MacOS or iOS and have them taken care of) so that’s less necessary. I’ll keep giving it a try.

I can’t remember where I read it, probably their forums, but I did hear they are working on a re-write of the GUI. The DevonThink people have received plenty of feedback about the UI and I trust they will eventually address it.

I found there is a lot of customization in the app that allows you to turn it into a more simplified pleasant interface yet have access to all the power underneath it.

– Stephen

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Yes, they’ve said that version 3 will have a new interface. No data on what or when.

Dang that UI is dreadful. The metadata panel looks just like a Finder inspector from OS 10.5 or so. It allows tagging but the tag entry window 1) is tiny and 2) doesn’t resize to content. Just a nice clean custom metadata panel would really help. I can display tags in a List view, but they are not editable.

The big problem with indexing is that it doesn’t make it available on the iOS app, right?

That is incorrect. Indexed documents are available in DEVONthink to Go.

I think it is worth mentioning since 1) I initial though the same too 2) recently mentioned on the MacPowerUser Facebook page: that while the meta data is a proprietary format, your files on OSX are stored in the file system, even if you import them. I routinely edit PDFs in PDF Expert, edit all my text based files in Sublime, and DEVONThink sees the changes and indexes them. Similarly for iOS, you can use the Files app and see all the documents across all the DEVONThink databases. You can edit the files using Textastic, PDFExpert, etc…

For me the huge selling point was the flexible and encrypted sync. Multiple sync locations that can be redundant including directly between devices. I have some databases with thousands of PDFs that rarely change. Rather than take up space on dropbox or my webdav server, I sync directly between my Mac and my iPad.

Completely agree about the interface but I couldn’t find another piece of software that is as capable or scriptable.

Not affiliated. Just a happy user.

– Stephen

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I just want to mention that I’m still with DEVONthink. It has it’s shortcomings but it’s all in all a very very powerful app. I feel documents and notes are actually organized safely and don’t just float around in iCloud/Dropbox.

I am now using integrations with everything like airmail, use the “Save PDF to DEVONthink” option multiple times during the day, and use it for organizing things I have to act on.

For the interface, I made the topbar to “text only” and tried to make the UI as minimal as possible. On top, I use KeyboardMaestro to get rid of all the weird shortcut quirks that I never got used to, like CMD-N creating a note with the keyboard content.

I’m currently using Scrivenor as a general repository of notes and files, primarily on iOS but also on Windows/Mac. My needs are basic but it feels very solid, has an impressive feature list and reliable sync (dropbox). It’s aimed at authors (I am not one) to help organise reference materials and write. I just use the former.

On the subject of Devon Think, is it a viable iOS only solution or is the iOS app mainly a companion app?

Version 1 of DEVONthink to Go was very much a companion-app only, and extremely limited at that. The current v.2 (been out for a couple of years now) is more powerful and useful. I don’t use it stand-alone myself, but I know that there are users on the DEVON forum that report they are successful using it that way. Having said that, if I were to switch to an iOS-only platform, I could probably substitute Readdle’s suite of apps to meet my (also basic) needs.

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This got me to go look at “DEVONThink to go 2”. It actually looks pretty awesome.

Among other things, it seems to be very comprehensive file manager with built in MarkDown support. This is (for me) the perfect combination.

I’ve been playing with it for a few hours and as an experiment transferred several hundred files from Dropbox into it. So far I’m Really impressed…

I think I had a look at the desktop version years ago and was put of by the price and clunky UI. On iOS the price is in the range you’d expect (and want!) to pay for robust productivity software and the UI seems intuitive with good drag/drop support.

I´m a longtime user of DEVONthink, and I do like it. But it would be lovely if Omni group created and app for storing referencematerial with the possibility to archive, that could link documents and files to other omni-products like Omnifocus and Omniplan. I mean it would be lovely if referencefiles where deferred if the linked task in Omnifocus was. Also imagine if it had a someday/maybe option that actually is clean and not cluttered.

I have tried quite a few different apps for filing and yes they may work, but none of them is so well designed and great as the other omni products.

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Chiming in again - 1 month later.

I am currently in love with DEVONthink. I started to embrace OCR and tried going completely paperless. For that I went ahead and shoved everything into Abbyy and similar tools.
DEVONthinks classifier is killer! I could drop a OCRed document without any manual input into my Database inbox, and DEVONthink can with very good accuracy suggest the correct place where this document most likely belongs, and what documents could be related to it. Before I even tag or rename that is.

The UI is still clunky, but turning it minimal and only using the ‘Split View’ helped a lot.
I expanded it with a couple Applescripts for moving things around, and rewired a bunch of the keybindings with Keyboardmaestro. Not perfect (I really need quickjump, quick move to), but it’s getting better!

On my phone I started using Workflow to interact with DEVONthink to go and move everything from emails, notes, pictures and other things that need an action into it. The sharing extension can create a task with deeplink in omnifocus, or I could just select an item and hit ‘copy link’. I also have workflows that import something into DEVONthink and directly create a task in Things/Omnifocus

So my workflow currently is:

  1. Collect: Use scanbot / document scanner for collecting physical documents, sharing/clipping/send to DEVONthink for digital things. Use workflows within Alfred to rapidly shovel files and text dumps away. Create tasks when necessary in Omnifocus/Things with deeplink back to DT. Everything ends up in the inbox of either app, nothing floats around in ‘void’ like my email mailbox or document stack at home.

  2. Classify: Run OCR on physical documents, sort from inbox into correct database. Tag things, assign contexts/dates and organize

  3. Act: When it’s time to do the task or when I want to do more research, I usually don’t need anything else except DT and my task manager. I don’t need to search for the correct email / document because everything is neatly organized, linked and synced within DT. Not much more to explain here, we all know Omnifocus :p

  4. When done, if the document is important, I archive it in DT (into a separate Archive database) or kill it.

So yeah, DT silently turned into one of my most used and most important apps on my mac and phone. It gives me great piece of mind to know that all my important things are encrypted, backed up to multiple locations and organized in a clear way. And even if not, DT can likely find them anyway.

DT single-handedly replaced a ton of apps for me: notes, bookmarks, reading list, articles, document manager, RSS reader, archiver, sync agent, file search, data encrypter

I’m still not at a zen and am still trying to figure correct tagging out, but step by step I’m getting there.

Some things I wish for:

  • Prettier markdown preview/editor on mac
  • Quick move / Quick open / Quick navigate
  • Classify from Global Inbox into correct databases
  • A nicer UI
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dvcrn: thank your for your post, that really inspire me!

How have you set up the “masterfolders” in DT? One archive and one reference materials for ongoing projects?

Myself I have one tikklerfile, one archive, one someday/maybe and one for active projects. But it´s still a bit messy.

I would love to hear more in detail what scripts you use and how you use them? And it you have time, how your workflow looks in practise.

Thanks anyway for posting, just this is helped my thinking about handling reference material

I’m far from being a DEVONthink expert and mostly just mess with things until I find something that sticks. Currently I have 5 databases (strong encrypted and synced to my NAS at home and Dropbox at the same time):

  • Notes&Articles: For clipping articles, rapidly jotted notes, or other random things. This is a more temporary
  • Documents: For serious documents, everything from contracts, bills, OCRed scans, tickets, etc
  • ~Company Name~: Database for documents/notes that are strictly related to my job. Meeting notes, specs, emails, reading material, project related things
  • Local index: Database consisting only of folders that are locally indexed in DEVONthink for search. Not syncing this one. I point it to index my companies Dropbox, some code snippets, or other text based documents
  • Archive: Long term archive. I move things to here from the other databases when I think something might be necessary at a future point like old tickets, emails when switching jobs or accounts, etc. This db is not synced to my phone.

My workflow is to just shovel things into the inbox, then a few times per day move it into the correct db and classify from there (classify directly from the global inbox is something that might come at a later point).
I set up Abbyy with Hazel so that when I upload something to Dropbox for example, my mac automatically OCRs the document with Abbyy, renames it, then imports it to DEVONthink.

On mac I use Alfred / Keyboardmaestro to quickly add text or files to the inbox. Being a engineer, I also added a devon shell command to do the same (devon somefile.txt).

On iPhone I use Scanbot to upload into my Dropbox hotfolders (or directly to DEVONthink if it doesn’t need OCR or is sensitive enough for me to not want Dropbox to see it), and a handful of workflow actions to:

  • Copy my current clipboard
  • Track expenses
  • Save an email and create a task in Omnifocus/Things with a reference back to it

That’s mostly it :)

I’m not sure if I should offer a thought here or not. I’m still on the “dark side”…using Win 10 on an old HP laptop that is on its last “leg”…so to speak.

Anyway, I am already in the process of looking for new Mac applications that I am planning to try and/or use as soon as I migrate to my new MacBook Pro.

My current document management application (FileCenter Pro) is not cross-platform and the developer doesn’t seem remotely interested in developing native Mac apps…so, they will soon be history for me!

(Not interested in running Windows in boot camp, Paralells or anything else - saying goodbye and good riddance to all things Microsoft as well. Word/Excel may remain sadly…but there are native Mac versions.)

Anyway, I digress. Have you heard of, or tried, EagleFiler by C-Command Software? On the surface it sounds like just about everything I need. It has a nice interface that looks a bit like iTunes. If I do purchase it, the cost is reasonable at only $40. The license allows me to use it on multiple Macs OR another user and I can have separate accounts on the same Mac. (If you need multiple user accounts on multiple Macs you need to purchase additional licenses, but they are discounted depending on how many you need.)

You can check it out here:

I tried it and it’s good - certainly worth the money. I went with DT in the end because of the IOS “To Go” version, but I think Eaglefiler is a very good product

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EF is outstanding. It’s robust, flexible and the (tech) support is amazing.

Its main benefit is that all your files are stored in a conventional subdirectory in a conventional hierarchy of the conventional filesystem.

It’s essentially a sophisticated ‘wrapper’ to those files. That also means that if you ever moved away from EF all your docs and files would be stored and 100% accessible in an entirely exportable, transparent format; and not some proprietary pseudo-system.

There are some limitations and the design is somewhat dated. But it does its job superbly… I’ve used it for, what, 15 years or more, and never regretted it.


That’s a good point to make t might be critical to your workflow. I prefer the convenience of DT IOS sync, but I’m aware that there’s always a risk in proprietary formats