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DEVONthink’s New Sync – Roll Your Own Evernote

DEVONthink’s developers released its next generation sync technology this week. The sync technology is baked into the latest DEVONthink 2.9 update, and will be included in the upcoming new version of DEVONthink to Go, the iOS app. After being a weakness for years, DEVONthink’s sync is now a strength.

If you’ve been one of the many Evernote users looking for another option, and if you use a Mac, DEVONthink is now a real contender. You’ll probably want to wait for the iOS app, to make sure that it is up to snuff, but the Mac app now makes sync between multiple Macs easy, fast, seamless, and secure. For the first time, you can work on DEVONthink on different Macs without really thinking about it.

As a disclaimer, I should say that I’ve only been using the new sync technology for a couple of days. It’s been rock solid so far, though. There are several sync options, including the use of Dropbox, Box, iCloud, direct connection, or through a WebDAV capable server.

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I’ve set up all but one of my permanent databases to sync via my Synology NAS, using WebDAV. This works by use of a sync store1 that DEVONthink set up on the NAS, after I input some settings (URL, username, etc.) in the app. My Macs sync with that sync store.

I sync one database, my personal records, by direct connection between my MacBook Pro and iMac over my local network. I also have a few databases that I use for short periods that I don’t bother to sync.

This isn’t meant as a full review, but a few observations:

Speed

The speed of the sync process is jaw dropping. I don’t think I’m prone to fits of hyperbole, but I was stunned by how quick the whole process was. Once your database is in place on each machine, changes happen very quickly.

Automatic Sync

Sync is automatic, happening in the background if you want it to. You can also choose to sync manually, or for sync to occur at set intervals.

Simultaneous Sync

Multiple Macs can sync simultaneously. I’m already thinking of ways I can put this to use, by keeping DEVONthink running on a home Mac, and feeding documents into it via Dropbox and a Hazel rule. UPDATE: Simultaneous Sync is for non-Bonjour (Direct) Connections at this point (see comments, below).

Encryption

Unlike your Evernote data, your DEVONthink data is encrypted at rest, wherever you store it. [Clarification: your data is encrypted in the sync store, wherever you store it. Your local data on your Mac isn’t encrypted, although you could use FileVault.] UPDATE: With a non-Bonjour Sync (Dropbox, etc.), encryption is only applied when an encryption key is specified at the time you set up the Sync Location. It does not encrypt by default (see comments, below).

Indexed Folders

The new sync technology also supports the synchronization of indexed files and folders. I haven’t tried this yet, as none of my permanent databases use indexed files or folders. According to a DEVONtechnologies blog post, with the syncing of indexed files and folders, “you can use DEVONthink 2.9 to synchronize any number of folders in the file system with another computer.”

From a business perspective, this release couldn’t have come at a better time for DEVONtechnologies, assuming they can get the iOS app out soon. Many people seem unhappy with Evernote right now, and DEVONthink is now a strong choice for Mac users who want their data on all their Apple devices. Personally, I’m thrilled.


  1. Think of a sync store as a folder on a server somewhere, that holds a form of your DEVONthink data. As explained in the DEVONtechnology forums by Jim Neumann, a customer relations specialist for DEVONtechnologies, a “syncStore holds DEVONthink-specific, raw file data to reproduce a file or database on a machine running DEVONthink.” 

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