Scrivener or Devonthink? Scrivener!

For all of you (like me) who are occasionally frustrated by what Scrivener can’t do, but supposedly should be able to do.

I tried Devonthink 3 (DT) for a while and am disillusioned. To keep this short. The devil is in the details. And as many devils as I have found in DT in a week, I have not encountered in Scrivener even in 10 years.

I will continue to be frustrated by Scrivener, now and then :rage:, but I know that for my purposes it is the best app I could ask for. :innocent: :smiley:


Good you found what you like; but DEVONthink and Scrivener are two different apps with different purposes. For years, have used both successfully to my benefit.


I would never attempt to store a multi-million word library of technical papers in Scrivener.

I would never attempt to write any substantial piece in DevonThink.

But modern systems multitask really well! I don’t have to choose only one!


@rms @kewms You are right, of course. This is the obvious. I was referring to “little devils” that slow down my (probably everyone’s) daily work.

Just one example. DT “Workspaces” are roughly equivalent to Scrivener’s “Layouts”.

BUT, when you change the workspace with DT, the displayed document also changes. To continue working where I was, I have to find this document again first.

Scrivener changes the layout but not the document. That’s how I need it.

Neither would I, I use BibDesk to manage technical papers.

How can I count all the words in a Scrivener project?

I ask this because there seems to be a prevailing opinion here that Scrivener cannot manage larger projects. I really can’t confirm that. Meanwhile, my project is 2 GB and everything is quite normal. No slowdown, no crashes, no data loss, nothing like that. If I didn’t know how big this project is, I wouldn’t notice anything. Am I just lucky or can Scrivener do a lot more than many think?

People keep suggesting I use Devonthink but each time I go look at the web site and find myself underwhelmed by the product and overwhelmed by the price. If I needed Devonthink features I would create myself an Apache Lucene database to store and search the required material; Lucene is open source so the only “cost” of doing this is my time. Lucene can also be married with Apache’s Tika which extracts text from many file formats (including it seems Apple Pages); I use a corpus linguistics tool #LancsBox which has both Lucene and Tika within it. (I use #LancsBox occasionally to analyse Scrivener Projects too for word frequencies, word adjacency investigate, typos.)

I’m pretty sure it would cost more than DT3’s asking price for me to pay someone to do that.

The people who don’t have issues with large projects mostly aren’t posting here.

Generally speaking, most “big project” performance issues are tied to large amounts of text, not large amounts of research material. If you try to shove a 200,000 word manuscript into a single Binder document, like you would in Word, you will probably discover that Scrivener is not optimized around manipulation of 200,000 word chunks. (Neither is Word, honestly, no matter what they claim.) But if you break it into more reasonable chapter or scene-sized chunks, you should be fine.

Oh, and to answer your initial question, Project Statistics will give you all the words in text files, but not research materials in other formats.


Ok, my documents are all research material. My draft folder is empty. My longest document has about 20,000 words. Scrivener handles that with no problem. An average document for me has about 2,000 words. This probably explains why I don’t notice the size of my project (2 GB).

I did the experiment. Two documents, one in Scrivener, one in DT, 150,000 words each.

Scrivener is blocked , but does not crash.

But DT is also struggling. Typing works. But bringing up the inspector takes 8 seconds and navigating in the inspector is almost impossible.

Conclusion: Also DT is not really suitable to work with such large documents. Whether I can’t work in a document at all (Scrivener) or almost not, not properly (DT) is the same for me in the end.

DT and Scrivener both use the Mac OS text system. I would expect them to behave similarly with any given editing task. The difference is that they place the editing subsystem in two very different contexts.

I use both programs almost constantly. It’s not an “either or” choice, it’s a matter of identifying the best tool for a given task.

You certainly know more about the " technology " than I do.

Exactly, both can’t handle 150,000 words well.

Ok, but both are not up to the task.

My point is, since I don’t want to use both apps, Scrivener is the better choice for what I do every day. It may be different for you. :slightly_smiling_face:

I think the main difference between Scrivener and DT3, where it comes to the text editor, is that Scrivener has a lot of customisation put on top of it. It’s nowhere near has heavy a customisation job as Nisus Writer Pro (which is amazingly, also built on the same TextEdit engine), but it does have quite a lot more going on within it, whereas I feel DT3’s use of it is quite a bit more vanilla.

The implications are that Scrivener’s editor might if anything be a little less robust at scale, because it has more custom code running on top of everything. Inline annotations, styles, linked images, etc. Neither is going to be amazing though—and frankly very little is at novel-plus length. There is a reason most writers maintain a folder full of .docx files rather than jamming it all into one file. :slight_smile:

As for massive Scrivener projects, I’ve heard of some really crazy setups over the years. I recall one person who had a RAID set up for fast storage for their project, which was in the terabytes (!!). Scrivener can take a punching, no doubt about it, but like all things, the more you push it, the more you’ll need to invest in hardware and strategy.

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Can you also confirm if Scrivener has difficulty storing/opening media files (or non-text files)? It seems that whenever I store images in a Scrivener project, it tends to lag a lot, especially when I go to view the file or if it is in a document with both text and images. And if so, is there any way I can reduce the lag?

For context, my computer’s specs are of no issue especially with CPU/GPU/RAM intensive apps.

What are the images? How are they used?

Yes, if you try to open an art history book with dozens of embedded full resolution images in a Scrivenings session, you’re pretty likely to see some performance issues. If you use thumbnail size linked images until you’re ready to assemble the final manuscript, you’re likely to get much better results.

This is the thing. “Compared to what?” Editing ordinary text is not very resource intensive. But the more complex the file gets – length, embedded images, complex formatting, embedded notes – the more resources ANY software is going to need. Scrivener is designed to facilitate working in chunks small enough to be manageable by even very modest hardware. But it’s certainly possible to create a project that will crush it.

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Usually, just a few desktop images e.g., screenshots in a document will lag the editor (maybe like 3 images) and then more throughout various documents will lag the entire project even in documents that don’t have images. I’m wondering if there’s anything else that would work for embedding the images or helping Scrivener run more smoothly. I don’t think placing them in a folder (and not directly in the document) would make the project lag.

Usually, I would just copy and paste the image directly into the document (I don’t know if moving it into a separate folder and then dragging the images into the editor) would combat this document lag or if there is no difference.

There’s a section in the manual on working with images that has some tips.

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If Draft Folder in Scrivener is empty, where are your draft documents that you are writing?

150,000 words in any writing tools sounds like a lot, and certainly more than is practical to allow the use of the unique skills of Scrivener to allow the writer to work with smaller “chunks” of text in multiple files. You are mis-using Scrivener, it seems.

If you have issues with DEVONthink and want to publicly post those issues, perhaps better to do so on their forum. Experts and experienced users there.

@rms My initial question was: should I switch to DT because my Scrivener project is already almost 2 GB and still grows?

Answer: No, that is not necessary. I do collect all sorts of documents in Scrivener (text, PDF, images …) but my (text) documents are small (< 2’000 words). Scrivener doesn’t seem to have the slightest problem with such large projects.

Other question: Can DT handle very long text documents (150’000 words) better than Scrivener?

Short answer: According to my test, not really.

Simplified: Scrivener and DT can do the same things well and the same things badly. (Very simplified :wink:)

In addition, DT slows me down in my daily work because many small things don’t work the way I need them to. So it’s clear to me that I’m staying with Scrivener. Even if I sometimes complain that the search function is not as good as I would like it to be.:slightly_smiling_face:

I just write, fortunately others do the rest for me.