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DEVONthink Goes Pro

DEVONthink is a snippet keeper, where a snippet can be anything from a few words of text to a Web page, a Word document, a PDF, or any of several other formats. Within DEVONthink’s database, documents can be organized hierarchically and mutually referenced via hyperlinks. DEVONthink can link to any file on disk, but its real power emerges when the file is something it can parse and index, giving play to its mighty powers of searching, cataloging, and cross-referencing.

When I reviewed DEVONthink in TidBITS-720, I praised its interface and its searching capabilities, but I pointed to one shortcoming in its architecture: there could be only one database. This, I suspected, would ultimately prevent me from using the program at all; and I was right. Now, however, that restriction is lifted, thanks to the long-awaited release of DEVONthink Professional 1.0.


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In DEVONthink Professional, a database functions as a kind of document. Only one database can be open at a time, but I don’t regard this as an impediment. With separate databases for different collections of data, I’m at last able to use DEVONthink seriously.

The other major innovation in DEVONthink Professional is its AppleScript support. Earlier versions were a little bit scriptable, but DEVONthink Professional takes scriptability much further – and wears its scriptability on its sleeve. The program has a Scripts menu and comes with many example scripts that users can take advantage of immediately to make DEVONthink cooperate with other applications – fetching all links from the current Safari Web page, for example, or importing selected email messages. What’s more, a script can be attached to a file or a folder within the database, so the script is triggered when the item is opened; in the case of a folder, for instance, this capability enables the creation of a "smart folder" that populates itself automatically when opened. DEVONthink also comes with some Automator actions, along with example Automator workflows.


Another new feature is the capability to download Web pages linked from a given page. That’s a terrific idea, and I was eager to try it, but I found it nearly impossible to tweak the settings so as to obtain the desired results. (DEVONthink’s developers could usefully study the SiteSucker utility.)


Also new is that you can make a page that’s like a simple database table, where each column is a field and each row is a record; such pages (unaccountably termed "sheets") can’t have styled text, though, which limits their usefulness.

Finally, it’s worth noting one feature conspicuous for its absence: complex boolean searches are still not implemented, even after years of complaints from users and promises from the developers.

DEVONthink Professional is a big step closer to what DEVONthink should have been all along. Whether that warrants the "Professional" label or the price tag ($75), market forces will show. Meanwhile, you should definitely try this program for yourself; the demo download expires after 150 hours of use and is not limited in any other way. Mac OS X 10.3.9 Panther is the minimum operating system version required, but given the number of new technologies it uses, to run DEVONthink on anything less than Tiger would be a pity.

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