Anyone else here aggravated by DevonThink? ... KM +++ instead?

I am out of patience with DevonThink.

At first I thought DevonThink had great potential.
But now, after 6 months of experience, I’ve had enough.

Instead, I’m wondering about using KM + other apps to do 70% of DevonThink with far less aggravation.

Anyone else tried anything like that?

To see one perspective on the problem, compare this forum to the DevonThink forum.
Here not all is perfection, but the tone is highly positive about the app.
But over there, post after post full of confusion and aggravation.
Matches my experience.

So, I’m thinking – very, very, simple.
Build one step at a time, as needed.
Easy to learn, easy to maintain, easy to repair:

+ KM
+ Finder Smart Folders
+ for screen captures
+ EasyFind for searching

  • What else?

Thoughts, please.

I’ve already looked at Evernote. Prefer to build custom with KM + other apps.

My thinking on this topic has been motivated and encouraged in part by an article by @bakari45:

Hey Mark, glad you found Mac automation guide useful. I wrote it probably five years ago, but it’s probably still useful. I would like to update it, but I just can’t find the time to do it.

As DevonThink I haven’t used it in a long while. I still like SOHO Notes, but their software breaks after some macOS upgrades. I’m not even sure whose buying Soho products, but I’ve always like the Notes application.

Now in terms of of your question, are you asking how to use KM to do what DevonThink does or should be doing?

When was the last time you gave Evernote a serious test/review?

  • EN Mac is now on Ver 6.10 (just released about a week ago).
    • I'm still running 6.9.2 for another week or so
  • EN Clipper 6.10 for Chrome (and Safari in a week or so) was just released a few days ago.
    • I use it many times a day
    • I have a KM macro with JavaScript that selects just the current post or code block, and then calls the EN Clipper.

I make great use of Evernote many times a day.

  • The Evernote Search, and Spotlight Search are excellent.
  • But I have substantial augmentation of Evernote using AppleScript and KM.
  • I have posted many Evernote Macros here.
  • I have other KM Macros and AppleScript not posted -- I need to update.
  • There is an AppleScript available for copying DT notes to Evernote.

My suggestion is before you reinvent the wheel, reconsider Evernote.
I'd be glad to answer any questions you may have.

Just for reference, here are my most used Evernote Macros and Scripts

###KM Macros

###AppleScripts in FastScripts

Thanks for asking.

No, I don’t expect KM to do what DT does.

Instead, I’m wondering about other apps, which, in combination with KM, might accomplish some of what DT offers, but in much simpler, and much more dependable ways.
(One example is for screen captures.)

Has anyone actually done anything like that: using KM as one of the main components in a strategy to replace DT?

One factor in my design goal for this problem is to avoid learning another complex app.

If anything I’ve written is not clear, please tell me, and I will revise until it is clear.

Thank you for gentle nudge to look again at Evernote.

Your Evernote palette looks tempting.
Those are the sort of actions I had in mind for a KM solution.

Can Evernote be used without any account, without any Internet connection?
If so, then, yes, I must reconsider Evernote.

(I don’t sync to other devices.)

(Cost of subscription is not the reason. The problem is Internet reliability and censorship in this far away corner of the world. I’ve learned to avoid anything that requires dependable on-line access, like subscription accounts.)

No, but after initial setup, you don’t need an internet connection.

You have to create an Evernote account to initially download, install, and log in to the EN Mac app, but no Notes yet. After you initially log in the EN Mac, if you stay logged in, then you don’t need Internet access, unless

  • you want to download (sync) any EN Web Clipper Notes.
  • You want to update the EN Mac to a new version.
    • Technically, you could close the EN Mac app, make an Internet connection, download the update, and then disconnect. Then do the install to perform the update.

For me, one of the most compelling features of Evernote is its ability to sync all of my notes across all of my Macs, iPhone, and IPad.

But if you don’t need or want that, you can setup EN Mac on one Mac to use ONLY Local Notebooks (Local NB). Local NB are NEVER sync’d or uploaded to the EN Cloud (or anywhere).

Although I use the EN Web Clipper a lot, I am working on a KM Macro/script to clip a web page (all or part), and then send directly to my EN Mac app without using the Internet. I actually already have the clipping function finished, and just need to develop the send to EN Mac part.

My personal recommendation would be for EagleFiler, which lends itself well to fitting in with other workflows, but I haven’t used DevonThink beyond some initial exploration of a very old version some years ago.

Earlier in the year, TidBITS ran an article where they sought recommendations from readers for ‘personal information managers’ (everybody had a different interpretation of what this meant, of course). The write-up of the results, and the extensive comments on each application attached to the original article, are worth reading through if you’re interested in hearing about some of the candidates and how people use them.


Thank you, @DavidShepherdson.
That is the sort of opinion I'm wanting.

I downloaded EagleFiler trial and printed out some documentation to read.

But I'll read skeptically ...

At first, DevonThink looked like a dream come true ... at first.
But after the honeymoon was over, it appeared to be a huge and convoluted program, built on software design concepts 10-15 years old.
The best we had then.

Instead of that, I'm seeking a "modular" approach that would be simpler, easier to learn, very easy to modify, and more stable.

Instead of spending brain cycles to learn one, monolithic program, I'd rather use a few, small, modules, each dedicated to a specific purpose, with workflows between modules handled by KM and (maybe) KM Control.

Example 1: Modular approach can select any text editor: nvAlt or Ulysses or Scrivener ... many choices.
For me, the simple program, Bean, is just enough.
KM easily moves text into and out of any editor.

Example 2: If a module dies -- doesn't keep up with new releases of OSX -- just find a new, fresh program and plug it in.
Tweak the KM macros.
No need to completely replace, and completely re-learn, a new, monolithic application like DevonThink.
That is what keeps me away from EverNote and makes me skeptical about EagleFiler.

So I am not here looking for other monolithic programs to replace DevonThink.
Instead, seeking other software that plays nicely with KM, that can be plugged together to make an "information manager".

Anyone else using, or thinking about using, KM, along these lines?

(Ideas that started my thinking about this came from reading, "The Innovator's Dilemma," by Clayton Christensen. Published 20 years ago and still useful today.
Steam shovel vs. by Ditch Witch.
Applies to software design today.)

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I support @DavidShepherdson’s recommendation of EagleFiler.

I was using DevonThink for many years before I ditched it. (For similar reasons as you did, and more.) After that I went with the Finder as my only document managing system. Thanks to the introduction of Finder tags this is doable.

A year or so ago I gave EagleFiler a serious try (again) and found out that it’s the ideal thing for me:

  • It’s open, that is, it works with the Finder’s filing system – not against it, like Devon.
  • EagleFiler maintains a database, too, but the files are not locked-in, they are 100% accessible from the Finder or other apps. Very important for me.
  • Indexing is better than Spotlight, but maybe not as good as Devon’s semantic thingies.
  • Tagging is easier and better than in the Finder.
  • You can isolate the tags of each library or make them global (shared with other libraries and the Finder).
  • This is a very important thing if you have some “specialized” libraries and don’t want to pollute your global tags.
  • Duplicate detection via checksum.
  • Good quick-import functionality for files, web pages, web page clips, etc.
  • Very good mail import and archiving. It can store mails in mbox format (as opposed to eml); very important if you’re archiving 10 or 100 thousands of mails.
  • Encrypted libraries, based on encrypted DMGs.
  • Good AppleScript API
  • The interface is “lighter” and more Mac-like than Devon’s.
  • Very competent and responsive developer.

When you check out EagleFiler, make absolutely sure to read about the so-called Esoteric Preferences ( x-eaglefiler://default?k=…). Many very important things are hidden there, for example the format of web imports, Javascript yes/no for web imports, clipboard import format, and many more.

Even if you decide to not use EagleFiler as generic document/information manager, the mail archiving functionality alone is worth the $40.

FWIW, I have posted two EagleFiler-related macros on this forum:


@Tom -

Thank you for taking the time to think and to post as you did above.

[quote=“Tom, post:9, topic:5406”]
I was using DevonThink for many years before I ditched it. [/quote]

Okay, I’m listening carefully to whatever you have to say about this.

And I’ve noticed on EagleFiler forum plenty of people asking about moving out of DevonThink, over to EagleFiler.
On DevonThink forums I’ve not found anyone asking about moving out of EagleFiler.

Very important, I agree.

[quote=“Tom, post:9, topic:5406”]
Encrypted libraries, based on encrypted DMGs.[/quote]
Lack of encryption is a big negative factor for DevonThink.
If I do start using EagleFiler, encryption feature will be the main reason.

Yes, indeed.
The developer is on that forum often, with clear, specific, helpful answers.
Similar to this forum.

Thank you for those macros.

I am looking at EagleFiler now (window behind this one).

Today, all day, I have been using only Finder+KM, avoiding DevonThink entirely.
The temperature gauge on my KM Editor here is approaching the “red line”.

But, already, life is better.

While alternatives like EagleFiler and Evernote look very useful, it is not my goal to switch from depending on one big app to depending on another.
Instead, I want a small number of small programs, with workflow links using KM.

I’m grateful for the thoughtful and helpful posts on this topic, but, so far, no one is actually attempting a small-small approach to “information management” on the Mac.
Is anyone trying it?
Maybe not.

I’m not sure yet, but looks possible to avoid all Finder tags, and avoid 99% of Finder folders.
My plan is to have just one huge folder for (almost) everything.
That’s it – just one folder.
Whatever I create or download, I’ll just throw it in there.

That folder will be like a “lights out factory” – I’ll never enter.
Only KM and EasyFind (and maybe EagleFiler) will ever go in to that folder.

I don’t want to spend time thinking about assigning tags to documents and figuring out which files should go into what folders.
Let software deal with it.

I welcome more critique on any of this.
(Either on the forum or in private messages.)

Well, the very important difference between EagleFiler and apps like Devon or (worse) Evernote is that EF does not nail you into any dependency.

If one day you decide that you do better without EF, you basically have to do nothing, because the contents of your libraries are just normal Finder files and folders.

To clean-up you just would delete the database (.eflibrary) and the EF-specific subfolders (“Temporary Items”, “Smart Folders”, “To Import”). Even the Notes you have made in EF are stored as normal rtf files. (They can also be synced to Finder comments.)

I’m not sure yet, but looks possible to avoid all Finder tags, and avoid 99% of Finder folders.
My plan is to have just one huge folder for (almost) everything.

It seems we have completely different notions about tags.

IMO one advantage of using tags is that it helps you to greatly reduce the number of folders. But “one huge folder” without subfolders and without tags would be a huge, disastrous regression in organization and structuring :wink:

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David and Tom:

Most of my Evernote Notes are just that, “notes”, as opposed to files.
Most of these notes come from web clippings, which Evernote does an excellent job of. But then, I often need to add to these notes, highlight some of the content, or annotate the note in some way.

How would EagleFiler handle rich-text notes and web clippings?

I think I can answer my own question.
Looks like EF can handle both of these very well:

  • You can create/open rich-text files in the EF editor, or any other app
  • EF has a number of “bookmarklets” that will clip a web page in various ways.

@Mark, after having quickly reviewed the EagleFiler web site, it looks like a great candidate solution for you.

For me, the showstopper is lack of an iOS app for EagleFiler.
Yes you can sync/store your EF data on a service like DropBox, which you can then access on your iOS device. But it looks like that is just on a file basis – no help with searching on iOS. Correct?


It’s better to directly sync to iOS apps like Readdle’s Documents or GoodReader. At least the Readdle app does content search.

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@Tom, thanks for that info.

So, EagleFiler could work for me, but right now I am very happy with Evernote and I don’t have a compelling reason to change. But if Evernote should make some drastic, negative, changes in the future, or go out of business, then it is nice to know that I have a good alternate.

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I have now pulled everything out of DevonThink.
(Database item count: 0. Verification below.)

Instead, starting to use small, utility programs + KM macros to link together.
Already life is better.

To minimize time wasted in the Finder, I've put most files into one huge folder.
Mac desktop now 98% empty.
Desktop changed from a cluttered storage shed into a clean work bench.

  • Only a few folders
  • No tags
  • No categories
  • No flags
  • No labels
  • No Spotlight

And no worries about possible, future, problems from a monolithic program like DevonThink.

One area where macros have helped already is creating markdown in my text editor, Bean.
DevonThink has markdown; Bean does not.
Problem solved with a few macros.

The note-taking in DevonThink's "sorter" is truly ugly.
There's no way to improve it.
Replacing it with a simple text editor + macros solved that problem, too.

To find duplicates in my one, huge, folder, I've started using Gemini, but not much experience there yet.
Already appreciate the interface of a program dedicated to that function.
Much easier to use than what's offered in DevonThink.

For screen captures, Tiny is easier to navigate than DevonThink's "clip" function.
And from Tiny into KM "found image" action is quicker than Finder print screen alone.
With a macro or two (not yet written), that workflow could be even smoother.

So far, this is working much better than I expected.

I welcome suggestions and critique on any of this.

I'm especially looking for other, small, utility programs that fit into my design concept illustrated in photos above.

To verify my divorce from DevonThink aggravation:

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Sorry to come so late to this thread, @Mark!

I’d like to wholeheartedly recommend an app called HoudahSpot, which I find indispensable. Like EasyFind, it’s a one-trick pony — and all it does is help you find files. It is able to search on many more criteria than EasyFind, however — it’s more like Spotlight the way Spotlight really ought to be.

Do download it and give it a try — and then play with it a little more, too, because there’s a lot more to it than is immediately evident. Take a look at the documentation, too, which is remarkably good.

Once you are a little familiar with it, I would recommend creating a default search template which searches on only your massive folder of files and shows columns for only those bits of information about your files that you want to see. You can set up several different search templates if you find yourself searching for the same kinds of things over and over.

The developer is dedicated and helpful, and there’s been slow but steady improvement to the app for several (many?) years now.

It sounds like you want to stay away from metadata fields such as tags, so I won’t describe my setup here, but I use Keyboard Maestro (and some AppleScript) to set all kinds of information about my files, and then use HoudahSpot to help me find them (and sort them) easily again.

But even if you’re keeping things much simpler than that, I think you may find HoudahSpot will help you find things that EasyFind cannot (think, “show me files that contain this or that or this other word, but which don’t contain this other phrase — oh, and don’t show me anything older than six months”).

And good luck with your simpler system!

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To be clear:

HoudahSpot (pronounced “Howdaspot”) is a front-end for Spotlight.

EasyFind does a physical disk-search and will sometimes find things HoudahSpot can’t (if/when Spotlight doesn’t’ index it).

I avoided HoudahSpot for some time. Who wants to spend $29.00 for something the system already has in place…

However – macOS’s Spotlight UI is ridiculous for complex searches. Eventually I got frustrated and gave HoudahSpot a thorough workout – and then bought a copy right quick.

It’s saved me so much time and aggravation over many years now that I think $29.00 is cheap.

Like Keyboard Maestro HoudahSpot is a utility whose depths you cannot really appreciate until you’ve used it for a while.

But - as in all things - YMMV.


Thank you, @ErikMH and @ccstone for posting about this.

You've provided very useful information.
Plus, both of your posts motivated me to re-examine my ideas on this topic.

After some thought, I can offer an opposing perspective.

The goal of this thread is how to simplify file retrieval.

The context here is using KM, as one tool of several, to accomplish that.

(For readers not familiar with HoudaSpot and EasyFind, I will post screen images below.)


"Many more criteria" is exactly opposite to the goal of this experiment.
I will explain below.


The goal here is to avoid "depths".

DevonThink is very deep.
That is why I posted this topic.
When using a computer, I strive to be in the "shallow end," not the deep end.

(For background, this is not from being a computer novice. I am a retired programmer, starting in 1965 with Assembler on IBM-1401 and COBOL on IBM-1410. Even so, there's much more about computers that I don't know, compared to what I think I know.)

An essential requirement in my simplified system is avoid searching by content or meta-data.
The only meta-data I use now is file dates.
That's all.
No tags.
No Spotlight notes.

KM's role is to provide consistent file naming conventions.
For that, a palette active in the Finder is easy to maintain.

A remote objection will be, "What if you lost an important file, and the only way to find it is by some complex search for key-word-in-context?"
Well, that hasn't happened yet.
If it does, I'll deal with it then -- perhaps by buying HoudaSpot.
But I'm not basing this design on that remote "what if".

On this project, I selected EasyFind because its radio buttons and check boxes are compatible with KM actions.
HoudaSpot uses context menus: difficult for KM.
With that difference in mind, EasyFind was my top choice.

More on any of this if you wish.
I am very interested in ways to use KM to simplify common operations on my Mac.

(Side note: If any spelling errors in my writing, please tell me. I won't feel offended. Private message, please; not clutter on the forum.)


EasyFind (note the radio buttons)

HoudahSpot (with context menus)

I struggled with DevonThink Pro for a while before I also abandoned it. Something related to all of this and file management which has been my last major miss that hasn’t been solved by any third party software is the ability to be able to drag folders and files into folders and if they have the same name it will ask to replace with the newer file and will continue to propagate on down through folders until the very end. Mac has changed with this a little over the various versions with Lion being the biggest change but still it doesn’t propagate through folders. Windows has had this since at least Windows 98 and allows you to keep the newer file.