The information management abilities of DEVONthink often make me wish I owned a Mac. The website promises that “DEVONthink saves all your documents, keeps them organized, and recalls them whenever you need them.” DEVONthink sounds like perfect software for creating an incredible personal research database. But for those of us who have a Windows or Linux machine (or who need to use one at the office, lab, or school), DEVONthink unfortunately isn’t an option.
Some exciting updates and new software have become available since this earlier roundup of DEVONthink alternatives for Windows and this article on building a personal database. The programs on this list of top DEVONthink alternatives for Windows and Linux (as of 2017) will help you stay organized by building your own personal database.
What is a personal research database? Why create one?
A personal research database brings together all your disparate pieces of information. Instead of being tucked away in various corners of your hard drive, inbox, and desk, your data is collected in one central, searchable, organized location.
Whether you’re doing research in the library, lab, or archive, taking notes at a conference or in the classroom, or simply doing some online research, you have one central repository for everything related to your project. Having a personal research database stops you from having to comb through various files looking for that elusive piece of data, citation, or quote.
What does DEVONthink do?
DEVONthink is a Mac-only piece of information management software which acts as a “paperless office.” It saves all your documents in one place, keeps them organized, and lets you easily browse and search through them whenever you need.
How to create a personal research database without DEVONthink
There are a number of Windows and Linux programs which you can use to set up a personal research database. Depending on your needs, you might want to consider a program which allows web access or access via an app (for iPhone/iPad or Android). (Unfortunately, at present, there isn’t a Windows or Linux alternative which can quite match DEVONthink’s artificial intelligence filing system.)
Who can use a personal research database?
You might find these note-taking programs useful for building a personal research database if you’re:
- A university student (undergrad or grad student)
- A professional who needs to manage large amounts of information (you might be a professor, academic, postdoc, researcher, lawyer, engineer, doctor, entrepreneur, infopreneur, writer, or journalist)
- Working on a large research project (such as a non-fiction book, a novel, or a family history or genealogy)
List of Windows and Linux Alternatives to DEVONthink
I’ve categorized the software into three main groups:
These programs allow you to create rich text documents and attach files like PDFs and images. Some also have web page clipping ability. Their organization style tends to be quite “free form,” and often relies on tagging to organize notes.
2. Personal wikis
These programs let you create your own personal Wikipedia. They tend to be fairly structured in their approach, and rely heavily on manual internal linking. You may also need to learn some wiki markup language. Powerful, but with a bit of a learning curve.
A useful style for people who prefer to think in lists, folders, and subfolders. These programs are generally focused on rich text notes, though some do offer limited support for other file types like images or PDFs.
4. Markdown and plaintext
Advantages: always readable across all platforms; fast to load; no fear of file types becoming obsolete or difficult to access (like the much-lamented WordPerfect format). Disadvantages: no “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) text formatting; limited or no ability to attach images, PDFS, and other files.
Table of Windows and Linux DEVONthink alternatives at-a-glance
Note: you can sort this table by your preferred column by clicking the arrows on the top row.
|App||Category||Windows?||Linux?||Web access?||iOS app?||Android app?||Pricing|
|NixNote (formerly Nevernote)||Evernote-style||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||Open source|
|Notebooks||Evernote-style||Yes||No||No||Yes||No||Paid (free trial available)|
|Zim Wiki||Personal wiki||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||Donation-ware|
|Scribbleton||Personal wiki||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||Paid (free trial available)|
|Tiddlywiki||Personal wiki||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Open source|
|NoteCase||Hierarchical||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Paid (free trial available)|
|Laverna||Markdown and plaintext||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Donation-ware|
|Inkdrop||Markdown and plaintext||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Paid (free trial available)|
|Simplenote||Markdown and plaintext||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Free|
The most fully-featured alternative to DEVONthink on Windows. You can create rich text notes with formatting and images, and search and save PDFs, Office documents, and other files. It has good cross-platform access (including apps for Windows and Mac, as well as Android and iPhone/iPad apps and web access through your browser).
On the downside, some people find Evernote slow and report issues with the reliability of syncing. Additionally, if you’re a power-user building a huge personal research database, you’ll likely need to upgrade to one of their premium paid plans.
NixNote (formerly Nevernote)
If you’re a Linux user who likes the features of Evernote, you’ll appreciate being able to access your Evernote database via this Linux client.
Description from their website: “Use Leanote as a notebook. Manage your knowledge on Leanote. Do you like Markdown? Don’t worry, Leanote supports it.”
Description from their website: “Do you scribble great ideas on napkins and sticky notes? Is precise filing more your style? OneNote’s got you covered whatever way you shape your thoughts. Type, write or draw with the free form feel of pen to paper. Search and clip from the web to picture ideas.”
Description from their website: “Organize your photos, ebooks, music, recipes or invoices in the same way on almost every platform. You can create and edit notes in plain text, MARKDOWN and HTML file formats. You use TagSpaces to organize your e-book library, containing for example PDF or EPUB books. You can create a personal wiki for tracking of your projects, ideas or memories.”
Description from their website: “With Nimbus Note you never forget or lose valuable information ever again! Create and edit notes, save web pages, customize screenshots and instantly share them with your friends and coworkers. Information important to you follows you everywhere you go for instant access anytime, anywhere.”
Description from their website: “A good place for your notes. Standard Notes is the future of what a notes app might look like. End-to-end encryption. Custom editors and extensions. Cross-platform applications and sync. Data ownership by default. Architecture and design that maximize longevity and sustainability.”
Description from their website: “Create beautiful documents or quickly write down notes. Manage complex projects or set up simple task lists. Collect and organize all your files and records. Sync between your iPad, iPhone, Mac and PC.”
2. Personal wiki
Description from their website: “Zim is a graphical text editor used to maintain a collection of wiki pages. Each page can contain links to other pages, simple formatting and images. Pages are stored in a folder structure, like in an outliner, and can have attachments. Creating a new page is as easy as linking to a nonexistent page. All data is stored in plain text files with wiki formatting.”
Description from their website: “Scribbleton is your own personal wiki, where you can store everything from quick notes, to detailed checklists for work, to the outline for that next bestseller novel. With Scribbleton, you can easily create clickable links between words, phrases, and pages, allowing you to quickly locate cross-reference information. You can read and write the same Scribbleton wiki document on Windows, Mac, or Linux, so you can work on the platform of your choice, without compromise.”
Description from their website: “Have you ever had the feeling that your head is not quite big enough to hold everything you need to remember? Welcome to TiddlyWiki, a unique non-linear notebook for capturing, organising and sharing complex information. Use it to keep your to-do list, to plan an essay or novel, or to organise your wedding. Record every thought that crosses your brain, or build a flexible and responsive website.”
Description from their website: “A hierarchical note taking application, featuring rich text and syntax highlighting, storing data in a single xml or sqlite file.”
Description from their website: “Do you care about your information? NoteCase Pro is designed to quickly capture, organize, protect, access, and recycle your information. NoteCase Pro strikes the right balance between ease of use and raw power.”
Description from their website: “Organize your brain. WorkFlowy is a notebook for lists. Use it to be more creative and productive. ”
Description from their website: “Need to jot down a quick note or idea? Can’t find a PDF file in your big “Documents” folder? Don’t feel in control of your project data? Instead of dealing with unmanageable heaps of information, work with freeform, searchable personal databases.”
Description from their website: “With KeepNote, you can store your class notes, to do lists, research notes, journal entries, paper outlines, etc in a simple notebook hierarchy with rich-text formatting, images, and more. Using full-text search, you can retrieve any note for later reference.”
4. Markdown and plaintext
Description from their website: “Markdown note taking app focused on privacy. Laverna has a simple and robust markdown editor, which can help you write faster than ever before with our live markdown preview.”
Description from their website: “The notebook app for markdown lovers. Robust, clean features that let you focus on taking notes that sync across computers.”
Description from their website: “The simplest way to keep notes. Light, clean, and free. Your notes stay updated across all your devices. No buttons to press. It just works. Type what you’re looking for, and your list updates instantly. You’ll never misplace an important thought again.”
Questions for Reflection
Since Meaning and Flow’s mandate is “purposeful productivity for deep thinkers,” I like to end each blog post with some questions for my readers to consider.
- How could using a personal research database save you time or stress?
- What data would you store and organize in your personal research database?
- Which of these programs would best suit your work habits and needs?