Devonthink Pro Office 2 review
An incredibly clever search and sorting algorithm is overpowered by an increasingly complicated interface.
Review Date: 25 Mar 2010
Price when reviewed: (about
Reviewed By: Giles Turnbull
Devonthink is an extremely capable, flexible and adaptable personal document database for Mac OS X. Version 2, which has been in public beta for almost a year, is now available and brings with it lots of new features and improvements.
First among them is support for multiple databases, and this feature alone is a powerful argument for upgrading from older versions of the application. In the past, it was only possible to open one database at a time; if you had several, you had to flit between them, closing one then opening the next. Now you can have many databases open and in use at once. This has direct consequences for Devonthink's usage and behaviour, so long-term users will have to re-learn one or two aspects of the software.
For one thing, there's the new Global Inbox. This virtual folder inside Devonthink acts as a repository for everything new that's added from anywhere else. It stores new, unfiled documents until you have the time to sort through them and file them in the appropriate places.
Even better, Devonthink can optionally install the Global Inbox as a destination in your Mac's Finder sidebar. Now you can save documents from any other application directly into Devonthink or simply drag files into it from a Finder window. This greatly enhances the way you can use Devonthink alongside your existing tools.
Devonthink databases are slightly different now, storing the files you import in their original form. In theory, you can open any of these files in another application to edit them and save them straight back to their database location with no ill effects.
The addition of the Global Inbox does add a little complexity to Devonthink's visual presentation. If anything, this is where it starts to feel a little overwhelming, especially to newcomers. The default view shows your Global Inbox contents with a sidebar of locations on the left, a view that will be familiar to most Mac users. Create a new database from here, though, and it appears embedded inside the document view; there's now an additional sidebar alongside the first one. Things start to look cluttered and newcomers may find it too much.
A quick glance at the toolbar reinforces this. The View control has no fewer than six buttons grouped together. On one hand, it's nice to have so many options; on the other, too much choice can be a bad thing.
Search behaviour is also changed by having many databases open at once. The toolbar search box only searches your current database, be it one of your own or the Global Inbox. To search all databases, you have to open the search dialog box from the Tools menu. Any search can be saved to the primary sidebar by clicking the '+' sign next to the search text box; not very intuitive but useful once you know it's there.
Another new addition is the Sorter. It sits at your screen edge and slides out a neat dark-background drawer, filled with the Devonthink groups of your choice. You can drag stuff into it from anywhere as you're working in other applications. A Group is a folder inside Devonthink. Inboxes and tag collections are Groups, but Saved Searches are not. Elsewhere, tags appear as folders.
Gone are the See Also and Classify buttons that used to be at the bottom of every Devonthink window. This useful feature for automatically comparing many thousands of documents and revealing relationships is still there, but is now harder to find, which is a pity, as it's one of Devonthink's greatest assets.
There's no doubt that Devonthink is an extremely powerful tool for managing information and revealing associations between disparate documents inside vast collections. For research, writing and archiving, it's an excellent application. Version 2 is a big improvement and worth the upgrade, but in future we'd rather see more emphasis on refining and simplifying the experience rather than adding more features.
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