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DEVONthink or the Finder?

September 27, 2022 — Jim Neumann
Cuddling icons of DEVONthink and Finder.

As people trial DEVONthink, they occasionally ask, “Why don’t I just use the Finder?” or “Isn’t DEVONthink just a Finder replacement?” While both are legitimate questions, the Finder is still central to your Mac. Here’s a brief comparison of some of their features.

Where they are similar

In the Finder you can create a series folders as deep or shallow as you like, tag documents, and create aliases of documents to access them from multiple places in the folder hierarchy. Similarly, DEVONthink supports hierarchies of groups (our term for folders), lets you add tags to items, and replicate documents to keep them in more than one place at the same time. In addition to the Finder, tags can be nested and inherited in DEVONthink, and it converts hashtags in documents to document tags. Contrary to aliases, replicants don’t have an ‘original’ and aliases ‘pointing’ to it but all replicants are treated the same.

With Spotlight you can find documents in the Finder (and even in DEVONthink). But the scope of Spotlight is wide, often returning many results from many places. DEVONthink brings its own powerful search engine that offers much more precise search operators. Saved searches in the Finder and smart groups in DEVONthink store searches and present the results like a folder/group.

Where they differ

DEVONthink has its own built-in AI that can help you file things more quickly by suggesting possible locations for a selected item. Bear in mind, like any assistant, it has to be trained by working with the application, but it progressively learns and makes better and better suggestions. If you’d like, check out our recent blog article on filing and moving. DEVONthink’s AI also has a See Also feature that makes contextual connections between documents and suggests ones it thinks are related to the document you’re currently viewing.

In the Pro and Server editions of DEVONthink you can scan directly into a specific group. And you can not only scan but also do OCR (optical character recognition) to convert images or PDFs without a text layer to searchable PDFs. This slowly comes to the Finder with Apple’s Vision technology.

And while also the Finder can be automated with AppleScript, it does not offer an automation library as deep as DEVONthink which provides, e.g., several automation mechanisms from scripting and URL commands to smart rules and batch processing. Check out the Automation chapter in the built-in Help and manual.

The Finder is a great application and central to the Mac. DEVONthink is not a replacement, but works in concert with it. It has a more focused role and is the specialist for document management where the Finder is the generalist. We hope this gives a little clarity in the differences and perhaps exposed you to some things you didn’t know about DEVONthink.