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DEVONthink Professional Office 2.0 Beta Review


DEVONtechnologies this week released the second public betas of their new DEVONthink and DEVONnote information manager applications, and I downloaded Professional Office Version 2 to take a looksee. Already one a powerful productivity tool for OS X, this major update adds even more convenience, functionality and versatility to DEVONthink Pro Office.

To recap a bit, DEVONtechnologies insists that DEVONthink is not a “database,” and of course it’s much more than a database program, although it serves as one quite well, but the real genius of DEVONthink is that it does so many other useful things extremely well. The 1.x versions of DEVONthink Professional Office added email archiving, OCR, scanning, and Web sharing to the base DEVONthink feature set, which includes ability to open both Microsoft (s msft) Word documents and PDF documents with formatting intact as editable text.

New features in DEVONthink Pro Office 2.0 include splitting and merging PDFs and the ability to copy and paste PDF pages from one document to another. RSS feeds are sped up using multi-threading and have a new, customizable RSS preferences panel. Also, any document can be emailed directly from within DEVONthink Pro Office. We’ll take a detailed look at some of the new features below.

Supports MS Office, PDF And Now iWork Files

DEVONthink 2.0, in addition to Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and PDF, also can now import and display OpenOffice and iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) files, skim PDF packages and any other file formats that support or are supported by Mac OS X 10.5 QuickLook.

Before the Version 2 beta could access my DEVONthink databases, they had to be converted to the new DEVONthink 2 format, a process that went quickly and happily leaves the existing Version 1.x files undisturbed. The downside, I presume, being that any revisions you make with the Version 2 beta database will not be backward compatible with the older final version of the application.

New User Interface Appearance

I really like DEVONthink’s new user interface appearance, which has been refreshed and feature-enhanced without changing its familiar core functionality.


QuickLook Support

DEVONthink Pro Office taps into Spotlight importers and plugins for indexing and searching files, and also happily now supports QuickLook previews in its web interface. Support for PDF display in browsers other than Safari has been added, with the Sorter (see below) now able to create web archives from OmniWeb and Firefox and name documents more reliably. Email archiving has been sped up and converting databases and exporting files made more reliable, although I hadn’t experienced any problems in that department with Version 1.x.

The “Sorter”

Perhaps my favorite new feature is the ‘Sorter’ panel that lets you add data to your databases even when DEVONthink Pro is not open. A Global inbox replaces the erstwhile import destinations chaos and you can link any DEVONthink database group to be accessible via a pop-out tab in the OS X Finder.


If the database connected to a Sorter box is not open at the moment, the Sorter stores your data until the database becomes available (e.g. when you open it in DEVONthink) and flushes the box content automatically. You can manually dispatch data still stored in the Sorter to DEVONthink by clicking the Sorter’s action menu button (in the lower right or left corner) and choosing ‘Send to DEVONthink.’

New Speedier Database Engine Uses Less Memory

DEVONthink 2.0’s new database engine is speedier and less of a memory hog than the old one, and multiple databases can be open simultaneously. DEVONthink now stores all files in their original file formats (big improvement) so they no longer need to be converted when importing and can be edited using external applications. All documents can be accessed from outside DEVONthink using a standard URL.

A New OCR Engine Based On ABBYY FineReader

Networking will be included in the final release, and is faster, more accurate, and produces much smaller PDFs than the engines used in previous releases.


My only major criticism of DEVONthink is that it has been and continues to be not terribly intuitive to use and requires a fairly steep learning curve, but that is partly due to this application’s remarkably deep feature set. Once you get it figured out, it works really well.

The public beta releases of DEVONthink Pro and Pro Office 2.0, DEVONthink Personal 2.0, and DEVONnote 2.0 require Mac OS X 10.5 or later, and will expire on March 31, 2009. DEVONthink Professional Office sells for $149.95, DEVONthink Professional for $79.95, DEVONthink Personal for $49.95, and DEVONnote for $24.95. You can download the beta versions here.

23 Responses to “DEVONthink Professional Office 2.0 Beta Review”

  1. I recently downloaded the demo of DTPro and I’m on page 141 of 482 of the owners manual. At first I thought, “What in the world does this program do?” Read the manual folks, this is quite a piece of software that does many things. Steep learning curve? Not if you know how to read.

  2. Conrad Lavallee

    I’ve been using DevonThink for years. I use it as an exploration tool (with DevonAgent), as a fabulous learning tool and as research tool. To me, in this category of software, nothing, absolutely nothing come even remotely close to it so far. I really apprectiate the improvements coming with version 2. There’s no applications, either on the Mac or Windows, that can do what I’m doing with this application. I can see very, very expensive KM applications that apprear practicaly barebones compared to this $140. gem. I laugh at those bashing against this application. To me, they simply do not know what they’re talking about, period.

  3. Thanx for the review. DT isn’t perfect, but man you folks are so spoiled. I recently switched from a PC and DT is about the most intuitive and slick program I’ve seen in a long time. But I was using Infoselect on XP! It seems pretty unfair to fault a program that is as powerful as DT because you haven’t bothered reading the manual! The basics of the program are pretty elementary. If you wanted to extend the program with scripts then that’s a bit different and certainly more complicated. I’m new to DT and so far it looks pretty amazing and rather simple. I was able to import all my Evernote files without a hitch, which is crazy in itself. Evernote provides no real export feature except their own proprietary format. I imported all 600 notes I had in EN using an included script. So far I’m totally impressed.

  4. “New features in DEVONthink Pro Office 2.0 include splitting and merging PDFs and the ability to copy and paste PDF pages from one document to another.”

    So one needs to buy the $150 version of the program to get functionality that’s built into Preview???

  5. rickdude

    > Imagine going from using your shiny new iPhone to using a rotary phone that is missing a 6 and a 1. This rotary phone has a printer attached to it that can spit out the relationship between the positions for each of the digits in the phone number you just tried to dial, and how they correspond to the digits in the licence plate numbers of all the Ford automobiles you passed on the way to work this morning. Could be useful, but probably not.

    I’m not convinced that this is an apt description of DevonThink, but it’s funny as hell. Nice!

  6. Imagine going from using your shiny new iPhone to using a rotary phone that is missing a 6 and a 1. This rotary phone has a printer attached to it that can spit out the relationship between the positions for each of the digits in the phone number you just tried to dial, and how they correspond to the digits in the licence plate numbers of all the Ford automobiles you passed on the way to work this morning. Could be useful, but probably not.

    DevonThink has a couple of cool features that a few people love. Those people rave about DevonThink as if it were an awesome all round tool. It is NOT. It is not even a solid piece of software. It has the kind of usability and overall user experience that flows from a developer – be it a single person or an organization – that is resting on its two cool features and has become very arrogant. Add to that the fact that basic features don’t even arrive until you pay 150USD for the “Office” version.

    Each time I read about DevonThink I find a bunch of people confused and feeling a little ashamed to say, they don’t get it. Kinda like the latest exhibit at the Tate. That is because when it comes to DevonThink there is nothing to get. Don’t be ashamed, it is just a bit of bad software.. move along.

  7. I’m a long-time DevonThink user and have a license for the most expensive edition, Office Pro, and believe it is a great advance on other software.

    But I think we should take seriously the comments of Gazoobee and other critics. A look through the DT forums shows that he is not alone in finding fault, even amongst fans of the software. “Plain”, “inelegant”, and “old-fashioned” are all arguably apt adjectives for the user interface. In the past, “heavy”, “slow”, or “cumbersome” have been apt adjectives for various versions of the software. As the review states, the slowness seems to have disappeared. And the Sorter, along with the ability to keep multiple databases open, does seem to have solved the problem of how to get things into DT exactly where you want them. But I certainly don’t think the present version looks particularly nice.

    Alan’s comment re tagging is interesting. One view is that tagging is just another version of the “organize your files yourself, because the computer isn’t going to help you” paradigm, while DT’s AI features are a genuinely new paradigm. In that view, tagging is a feature whose only justification is to satisfy people who aren’t willing to try a new approach. I personally think that tagging can be useful as a secondary feature: either as something to use alongside, or to aid the AI in its task of making more useful categorizations.

  8. I’ve been an avid DevonThink (and DevonAgent) user for years now and absolutely love it. I’m not sure what folks mean when they say there’s a steep learning curve. You import files, group them into folders of like kind (if you wish), and let it’s AI do the rest. I especially like the importing Mail messages feature. And now that there’s support for iWork files, and the nifty drop box (Sorter, as they call it), well what can I say? It’s fabulous!

    • No, I’ll bet Gazobee’s smarter than you think. Whenever I have to choose which of two people I don’t know is smarter, the smarter one is generally the one who admits what he doesn’t know.

      I use Devonthink Pro 1.5, and it is confusing. I agree with Gazobee’s criticism of the interface. I think most interface experts would.

    • Gazoobee is not dumb. He is, however, whatever a person who states “Mathematica has no big, bright, colourful buttons for Integrating and Differentiating; thus, Mathematica is a bad application”.

      To be serious, Devonthink might have a less-than-perfect interface, but the problems aren’t that there are too many buttons or that the buttons are confusingly labelled (anyway this type of thing might be a problem if you use a program once in a while, unless we were talking about a palette with 80 identical gray icons–which we’re not). Its problems are more obscure (when you switch from a 3-column view to a 2-column view you lose your selection and things like that).

      And saying it’s more alpha than beta is a bit silly. The betas do exactly what the previous release version did, plus some more stuff. And they are as stable. But some of the new features do not/did not yet work. I don’t think that is what is meant by “alpha”.

      Anyway this is a different class of program than others that usually get compared to. If you just want to keep 10-20 webpage clips, it’s probably overkill; if you have 2000-3000 pdfs and rtf or text files with notes, I don’t know what else you could use (you could try just keeping them in the usual disk hierarchy, but it gets out of control very quickly and DT gives you the tools to deal with this).

  9. Charles Moore

    Another good dissertation on the practical use of DEVONthink (and several other applicaiton in this category) is by The Atlantic Monthly’s James Fallows – albeit seriously dated and DEVONthink wasn’t nearly as good or feature-rich when he wrote it as it is today.

    It is simply imposssible to more than hit the high spots of some of what this application can do in an 800 word review.

    If you’re intrigued, the trial download is free and gives you 150 days to make up your mind before having to register, by which time you will be either hooked or decided that it’s not for you.


  10. This beta is a lot better than the last, but tagging still doesn’t work and thumbnails for webarchives still don’t work. It’s more alpha than beta at this point.

  11. Macadamiamac

    Chaz is right on, again. DTPro is a powerful and STABLE database and more. Because it is so feature rich it does take a bit of study and mousing around to begin to appreciate how good this application is.
    I used Devon Note and then D Think Pro v. 1.x for a couple of years and unlike similar applications – Mori and its predecessor Hog Bay Notebook come to mind. (I loved them but Mori crashed losing a couple years of notes.) The Devon products are very stable. I’ve never had a Devon product crash. DTP v. 2.0 promises to be even better with the ability to have more than one database available with a click.
    To Gazoobee: There are two ‘Group’ icons on the tool bar because they do different things. Mouse over the icon and a little help dialogue pops up. Of course you could RTFM or watch the tutorials on the Devon Technologies site.

  12. “The inclusion of the “barber poles” on the title bar is especially funny.”

    Umm, I think those aren’t “barber poles” so much as “hazard tape” — warning that it’s a beta.

    I use DEVONthink Pro for my research. It *does* have a steep learning curve. The developers gave the application lots of power, but also multiple layers of complexity. I’ve not yet tried the beta, but I will buy the upgrade when they make it available.

    Many writers also DEVONthink. Steve Johnson has even written about how he uses it:

    As with all Mac software — and there’re a bunch of apps in this vein, Together and Yojimbo being really nice — if it’s the right tool for your needs, great. If it isn’t, something else is available.

  13. hm, for all such applications I’d actually prefer to read about their remote storage/index abilities in detail. How does that web sharing work? Can a database be on some remote server (other than on .mac) etc. Since tools such as this could be used within work groups to share documents and make administrators lives easier (backups etc), I’m always surprised to find them without any support for that :-(

  14. Gazoobee

    I went to the site after reading the headline to this article to try and figure out (for the third time) what this product really does and ended up giving up again. I like the idea of this product and have tried to check it out a few times now but it’s just impossibly confusing (and no, I am not dumb at all.)

    Now that I come back to read the article, I can see why. The screen-shot of the interface, right below the sub-title “New User Interface Appearance” made me laugh out loud. If that confusing mish-mash is an *improvement,* I shudder to think what was there before. This is not a real “interface” at all, it’s just a standard (windows) MDI. The inclusion of the “barber poles” on the title bar is especially funny.