June 2009 Archives

Sente 6: Bundled Attachments

[This post is one in a series of posts on Sente 6, the next major update to this software.  Sente 6 is scheduled to be released in early Fall 2009.  Everyone who purchases Sente 5 after January 1, 2009 will receive Sente 6 as a free upgrade.]

Over the past few months, we have released a couple of private previews of Sente 6 and received valuable and encouraging feedback from our testers.  There will be a few more private previews before our first public preview, but we are getting close enough that I wanted to begin saying a bit more about the design of Sente 6.

In this post, I would like to discuss an important change to the way in which Sente 6 can deal with attachments.  (Attachments are any files that you link to a reference in Sente.  These are most commonly PDF files, but they can be any file whatsoever.)

First, let me say what is not changing.  As in previous versions, in Sente 6:

  • Any number of attachments can be linked to each reference.
  • Any types of files (not just PDFs) can be attached to references.
  • Attachments can be automatically renamed and filed according to user-defined rules, or simply linked to.
  • When attaching a web page to a reference, Sente can automatically create a web archive of the page and file the archive appropriately.

A new option in Sente 6 is to have Sente copy (or move) new attachments into the library itself, rather than leaving them in the outside filesystem.  (Libraries in Sente 6 are actually OS X "bundles", which are really folder hierarchies that appear in Finder to be a single file. When attachments are placed inside a Sente 6 library, they are actually stored as files within the library bundle.)

There are several reasons why people might want to use this new option.

One, this makes it dramatically easier to move or copy a Sente library from one computer to another.  With Sente 5 (and earlier), moving a library from one machine to another meant copying the main library file (from ~/Library/Sente) and all of the folders containing attachments (typically in ~/Documents).  And if anything about the file paths changed along the way (e.g., the user's home folder changed names) attachments could break.  Users have had to spend far too much time moving their data from one machine to another over the years; storing attachments in the library bundle makes this easy.

Two, this makes operations like backing-up a library, or copying a library to an external device (e.g., USB drive) very simple.  Do you want to give a copy of your library to a colleague?  Just drag the library file onto a thumb drive and everything, including PDFs, is there.

But the most important reason for bundling attachments is that it supports the library replication mechanism in Sente 6.  I will be writing more about replication soon, but for now I will just say that I think all of you who have struggled with maintaining one library across multiple machines will really like the way replication works in Sente 6.  It will change the way you use Sente.

Now there are also some reasons why people will be hesitant about storing attachments in Sente library bundles.  For example:

Many people will worry about being able to get their PDFs out of Sente should they decide to switch to another reference manager in the future.  To address this we are adding the ability to easily export some or all attachments at any time.  We will place them wherever you want them, and name them according to your wishes.

Some users want to have multiple programs access their attachments.  For example, many Sente users also use DEVONthink on their PDFs.  We are still working on exactly how this interaction will be facilitated, but we suspect that some sort of direct access to attachments within a bundle will be needed.  

There will also be many users who simply like being able to browse their PDFs in a nice folder hierarchy of their own design and they would feel lost if this were to disappear from their Documents folder.  For these users, it might be sufficient to store a copy of each PDF in Sente; disk space is cheap and one can store more than 1,000 typical PDFs per gigabyte of disk space, so this is not that much of an issue.  The problem is worse if you routinely mark-up your PDFs (e.g., in Acrobat, Preview or Skim); then you may not want two copies.  But even in this case, we think there are approaches that will work.

In the end, of course, the choice of whether attachments are stored in Sente 6 bundles or not will be up to the user.  If you like the way thing work now, you can continue using the older approaches.  You will still even be able to take advantage of Sente's new replication system. But if you want your PDFs (and not just your references) to magically appear on each of your computers, you will need to store them in the Sente library bundle.

Let us know what you think about storing attachments in bundles.  Do you have other issues that you think we need to consider?  Suggestions for how Sente should work with other software in managing attachments?

Stay tuned: I will follow up soon with additional postings about Sente 6.