DEVON-Technologies has recently released the 2nd public beta of DEVONthink 2.0, and I’ve taken it around the block a few times and gotten a pretty good sense of what’s new in this long-awaited update.
DEVONthink is the granddaddy of all the notebook/information manager applications that have been cropping up over the last few years. It’s a big, Swiss army knife of an application, serving a number of roles, including:
1.) a very searchable storage unit for nearly every kind of file 2.) a quick capture tool for webpages, web archives, text and images 3.) a wiki 4.) a text editor / word processor 5.) an outliner 6.) media player / PDF viewer 7.) web browser
I’ve had a DEVONthink license for going on 5 years now, and I’ve used it in quite a few different ways. In the heyday of my use of DT, I mainly used it to capture webpages as archives for reference and as a bookshelf for my giant collection of PDFs. It was a great for a knee-jerk information packrat like myself. Quick capture, easy sorting, and efficient retrieval of data. Loved it. But…
It suffered from a few major drawbacks that prevented me from using it more, the most debilitating of which was the fact that you couldn’t have more than one database open at a time (and if you only had the Personal edition, you couldn’t have more than one database PERIOD).
2.0: a long time coming
while the developers were responsive and helpful in the rare instance where I ran into trouble, they were incredibly slow to update the application to 2.0. I’m a believer in the “it’ll be done when it’s done” philosophy of making things right the first time, but I bought the application in 2004 (after a year or two of on-and-off illicit relationships) and it was at version 1.8 then. It’s February of 2009, and they’ve just released a beta version of 2.0 in the last few weeks. Resource shortage or no, that’s just a bit too long to coast in the face of rabid competition from the likes of Mori, Circus Ponies Notebook, and the biggest stealer of DT’s marketshare, EverNote.
But now that 2.0 is here, I’m seriously considering shelling out for my license upgrade and rejoining the DT camp. And I’m doing it for 4 reasons:
Reason 1: Hummingbird writer
I have been using Scrivener for my primary writing tool for a few years now. Scrivener has many of the free-form organizational features of DT and is the best app I’ve ever used for content composition. It’s got great outlining and notecard features, and it’s got a terrific fullscreen editing mode (much better than WriteRoom). But I’ve been uncomfortable with it on some level since the beginning. I actually feel anxious when working on a project that has many different text files in it. And shockingly, I’ve only recently figured out where that’s coming from:
I write like a hummingbird.
Scrivener is limited to a single window. Now, it’s true, that window is subdivided into many different panes, several with text editing capabilities. But it’s all within the same window. This matters because I’ve determined that I don’t write best in a single window, and I never use a fullscreen mode.
I write all 4 of my weekly posts at the same time, cartwheeling from mindmap to mindmap, outline to outline, and draft to draft. I write until I hit a point of friction, and then I move to the next one until I get hung up, move on, etc., etc.
MindNode allows me to have multiple maps going at the same time. OmniOutliner allows me to see all my outlines at the same time. But Scrivener only allows me to have one document visible at a time.
DT, on the other hand, allows me to have as many files open as I want. It even lets me have several instances of the same file open at once. I’m able to flit from document to document, nibbling here and there. The only headache is window management, and, admittedly, that’s a very real problem. But at least, I’m not writing anxious. That’s not fun.
It’s not going to replace Scrivener for full-on writing, but much of my planning and plotting (and blog writing) is done in multiple windows simultaneously, and thusly, DT is perfect for these tasks.
Reason 2: Multiple, simultaneously open databases! (HUGE, despite short section)
As stated previously, DT 1.x only allowed 1 database to be open at a time. This huge shortcoming has been dispelled with the addition of multiple, simultaneously open databases.
Now I can flit between projects as easily as between documents.
Reason 3: The new (Global) Inbox-centered approach
Since I collect information from the web constantly, I need a logical place for a new clip to be dropped. I added this functionality to previous versions of DT, but I’m happy to see this metaphor be officially adopted.
Additionally, they’ve introduced the global database, an always-accessible holding place for newly collected items awaiting processing and sorting. This is big, too. I don’t want to always have to verify that I have the appropriate database forward when I clip something from the web.
This hasn’t actually been activated, as of beta 2, so I haven’t been able to test it. But I do hope that I can choose where this global database is kept, for ease of syncing between my notebook and desktop Macs.
Reason 4: Dropbox can pierce the monolithic database files
I’ve already touted the glories of using Dropbox for syncing between my machines, and after a quick test, I was able to check a huge dealbreaker off of my list of non-negotiable must-haves.
Dropbox is able to read the hidden contents of a DT database file and back up just the parts that change instead of the entire package.
On the flipside, Dropbox sees the package wrapper simply as a folder. So that if you needed to restore your database due to data loss, you can just download the folder to your Mac, and it magically appears as a DT file. Handy.