I used DEVONthink for many years to store, organize, and search all of my personal information. Nothing else came close to its wide variety of pro-level data management features when I started with it. However, times change. While DEVONthink continually improves, so do its alternatives. For my needs today it’s a complicated, expensive tool that’s no longer worth the extra effort and expense over other products.

I recently realized I hadn’t launched DEVONthink in months. When I tried to, I remembered that I was out of licenses for it. DEVONthink is licensed by the number of computers you want to use it on. By a quirk of fate, I own or personally operate 4 Macs:

  • An older Mac Mini I bought several years ago and now mainly use as our home server. For example, our document scanner is tethered to it.
  • A work-issued MacBook Pro that mainly sits next to my desk.
  • The Mac Studio I’m typing this on. A previous job issued it to me as a work computer and let me keep it when I left. My current job manages it for me so that I can use a very fast plugged-in computer with several large monitors when I’m working from my home office.
  • A MacBook Air I bought for myself last year when I needed a newer computer of my own before the Studio was given to me.

I’m the only person who uses these computers. Because of DEVONthink’s weird licensing scheme, my $199 Pro license makes me pick and choose which 2 I want to be allowed to use. I could pay another $198 to use my other 2, oooorrrr I could switch to another system. That was the kick in the pants I needed to investigate the options.

I ended up following the Unix philosophy of selecting well-crafted single-purpose tools for each of DEVONthink’s features. If I decide to replace one of them, I can swap something else in while I keep using all the others.

Storage and sync

I configured DEVONthink to sync my documents with iCloud, including to DEVONthink’s separate $50 iPhone and iPad app. Therefore iCloud Drive was the easy choice for storing all my information and syncing it across my devices. This cost nothing extra since I was already paying for it.


I use the Johnny Decimal system to assign each of my documents to the right folder. The closest thing to that collection of folders in DEVONthink is that same collection of folders in iCloud Drive.

Now I use Hazel instead of DEVONthink’s “classify” feature for automatically sending files to the right place. Cost: $42, or $20 for an upgrade. (New major versions come out about every 4 years, so the upgrade price is about $5 per year.)


DEVONthink has a fantastic search tool. So does HoudahSpot. I set up a global keyboard shortcut to open its search window no matter which app I’m currently using. HoudahSpot also searches locations like network drives and USB devices without indexing them in advance. Cost: $34, or $19 for an upgrade. (New major versions come out about every 3 years, so the upgrade price is about $6 per year.)


DEVONthink has limited support for taking Markdown notes. I tried using it as my catch-all notes app but kept coming back to iA Writer. It’s much better for writing, linking between notes, publishing to various online services, and as of recently automating my workflows with Shortcuts. I don’t count Writer’s one-time $50 purchase price in my total because, like iCloud, I was paying for it anyway.

Aside: If your workflows are centered around Markdown, get Marked 2 while you’re at it. Thank me later.

Linking everything

DEVONthink has mechanisms to link related objects together. Hookmark (which I’ve written about before) can make links between just about anything. I used it instead of DEVONthink’s features. Cost: $70 for the 1st year then $35 per year.


I appreciate DEVONthink’s powerful features. However, other tools caught up with or surpassed it to the point that I had been using it as one part of a broader system:

  • DEVONthink to organize, store, and search my documents
  • …into folders laid out as recommended by Johnny Decimal
  • iCloud to sync them
  • iA Writer to take notes and edit Markdown
  • Hookmark to link between documents, web pages, tasks in OmniFocus, network files, and so on

Now I’m using:

  • Hazel to organize my documents
  • …into iCloud Drive folders laid out as recommended by Johnny Decimal
  • HoudahSpot to search for them
  • iA Writer to take notes and edit Markdown
  • Hookmark to link between documents, web pages, tasks in OmniFocus, network files, and so on

DEVONthink is better than any of those individual parts, but each of those individual parts is better at the one thing they do than DEVONthink is. Hazel is a better organizer. HoudahSpot is a better searcher. iA Writer and Hookmark are better for writing and linking. And while the end goal of this wasn’t directly to save money, as I’m not allergic to spending money on things that make my life better, DEVONthink’s sticker shock is what nudged me into action. It’s a happy result to end up with a more powerful, flexible system that’s cheaper to maintain.

DEVONthink’s been good to me. It helped me collect and organize all the information I use in my personal and professional lives. Still, its alternatives got better and learned to play well with each other. Now it’s an overly expensive tool that’s less good at addressing my needs than the cheaper, better tools that replaced it.