Data Management

See if DEVONthink for Mac works for your data management needs

Derek Schauland introduces DEVONthink for the Mac -- a database management application that helps you store, organize, and search many types of data in one handy app.

Keeping track of documents, files, and folders becomes increasingly more challenging everyday. The volume of data that needs to be tracked, on my laptop alone is astounding and to do that using the traditional file/folder hierarchy becomes less useful with each document.

While surfing the Internet to solve a different problem, I came across DEVONthink and was a intrigued to see if it could help me manage my information.

What is DEVONthink?

DEVONthink is a database for tagging and tracking information of all kinds. Using tags and groups to classify your data, DEVONthink helps to make you more productive by storing your information in a very searchable manner.

Content can be imported into the database from Finder, email, web bookmarks, and pretty much any other source you can think of. When working on documents stored in the database, you can access a preview of a document from the DEVONthink application as well as push it out to be edited by the application associated with the document. For example, this post was stored in DEVONthink as a Word document. When I edit it from within the database, Word does all the work, but the save goes back to the database and all changes are kept. This is a feature I was not expecting, but is definitely a pleasant surprise.

Figure A

DEVONthink Pro Office (click to enlarge)

Tagging

Those of us with blogs or who use the Internet regularly are likely familiar with the idea of tagging -- adding keywords to your posts that help them be found more easily. DEVONthink supports this as well, allowing tags to be added to every document, item, or folder stored within the database. Using tags can increase productivity by decreasing the time needed to find documents you have added to the database.

Grouping

Similar to tagging, grouping allows you to pull similar documents together. These are more directly related; for example, I have created a group for TechRepublic posts within DEVONthink to keep my post submissions together. Think of this as a folder style view to help with sorting and overall organization.

To speed up the grouping process for particular types of information, you can create smart groups. These are groups defined by criteria similar to search criteria; if a piece of information matches the criteria for a smart group, it will be added to that group automatically. When information no longer matches those criteria, it is removed from the group automatically. Using smart groups can save time and cut down the number of groups that need to be managed manually.

I also noticed that updates to the files contained within the database were immediately reflected in an open preview for one of my stored documents.

Search

For me, this is where its at with DEVONthink. Sure I have to remember to save things in the database, but once they are in there... I can find anything from the search box in the upper right hand corner by title, tags, groups, or metadata, just to name a few.

The search doesn't stop there; it also supports fuzzy logic so you can find documents by getting close; you don't need to remember exactly what something is called to locate it. You do need to turn on the fuzzy logic feature for your search, but with a click okay, you are off and running.

Figure B

Search with Highlighting

How to get things into DEVONthink

The best ways to get things into the DEVONthink environment is to use the Sorter, which installs with the application and sits off the left edge of your screen. Simply dragging items over the handle on the screen will allow you to drop them into the inbox for the database and just like that, they are in there.

While working on this post, I tried dropping an image from the snag it previewer into the sorter and it saved in the database without a problem.

If you are an Automator user, you can also use DEVONthink as a target for automation. I have not gotten too far down the path for Automator just yet, but hopefully soon I will get into that seemingly handy piece of software.

In addition to the drag and drop method for adding existing files, you can create several types of documents within DEVONthink, including:

  • Clipboard: pastes clipboard contents into your database
  • Plain Text: adds a new plain text document
  • Rich Text: adds a new rich text document
  • Script: inserts a new script file
  • HTML: add a new HTML file to the database
  • XML File: create an xml file
  • Property List:
  • Bookmark: store a web bookmark
  • Feed: import an RSS feed
  • Group: create a group within the DEVONthink database
  • SmartGroup: create a smart group in the database
  • Sheet: add a spreadsheet file

DEVONthink includes a number of templates for popular files/folders as well; these are accessed via the New from Template option on the file menu or the context menu within the application.

What else can I manage in DEVONthink?

Any information, from bookmarks to PDFs to emails, can be managed or kept within the database. You can pull in mail and keep it within the database to help free up space within your primary mailbox. If you have enough storage and good backups of your database, this might be a decent way to go. Without these measures in place, I would not necessarily pull all my email into the database. If you're a Gmail user like me, Google does a reliable job of storing email, making it available, and piling on the free storage space for my mailbox. However, if you want to keep all your files, including emails, grouped together for a specific topic or project, it could be a convenient way to compile everything in one place.

To bring your email into DEVONthink, select the file menu and choose import.  You will need to select the source, which by default is Apple Mail. You can then choose the folders and/or messages to include in the import.

Figure C

Import email

Are you an RSS fan?  Devon think can also download and store feeds directly from the web (if you are using DEVONthink Pro or Pro Office).

If you ever wanted to know the word count of your documents, DEVONthink Pro Office might be for you. Not only will it count the words in a document, it will tell you how many times each word appears across all the documents in the database. To see this information, select the Tools menu and choose Concordance. Then select your database. Figure D shows an example of concordance.

Figure D

How many times have I used that word?

Versions and pricing of DEVONthink

DEVONthink Pro Office DEVONthink Pro DEVONthink Personal DevonNote

$149.95

$79.95

$49.95

$29.95

The amount of information that you can pull into DEVONthink is almost endless and it is flexible enough to meet the needs of many different types of users from all different industries and styles. The product has a free trial and I encourage you to check it out, as DEVONthink might be a great addition to your productivity and information management system.

About

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

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