Note-taking software - Investigation

Aleksey Pastuhov on November 28, 2017

Originally published on my blog: apastuhov.com As any other person, who would read that article - I wanted to structure my minds. And the bes... [Read Full]

Right now, I'm using the VSCode Journal Extension, configured read and write to a folder in my Dropbox folder. It works really well since you can always take notes right from within your editor, and have those notes within Dropbox whenever you need them. Probably not quite as feature-rich as some of the other options you mentioned though.

I use emacs org-mode, and then git.
I'm not sure if any of this works for mobile though.

Otherwise, it's got encryption, similar syntax to markdown, lists, tables (spreadsheet-capable tables I might add), calendars. If you're into programming, you can write source code directly in the notes, have it execute, and then the results are output back into your notes. Lastly, github can render it in a nice way that makes it look pretty.

I found that people use GIT for keeping their notes and it seems interesting, so I will update the article with that approach soon :)

If you are on Mac then download Bear. It's free for the most part with paid features but it's one of my favorites.

Thanks! I will add it soon to the list!

You made a really good job on your app! It seems stable and looks nice :)

I would like to add.

For Mac / iOS users. (I know these are not cross platform - but they are all over "my" platform)

iOS / Mac = Quiver. Quiver describes itself as a programmers note book. I have to say it is brilliant. In many ways it's very similar to Evernote - but where it really stands out is the ability to mix different mark up formats on a single note. Currently the iOS is read only - hopefully that will change in time.

iOS / Mac / Web = Apple Notes. The Apple Notes app has really improved in the last year or so and I think is now very capable. There is also a web interface - so maybe it can be classed as cross platform.

Nice catch, I will update a list with your recommendations for Mac users! Thanks a lot!

I had the same problems a year ago. Previously I was using Evernote. Then I found very nice note app "WizNote"(from China). Markdown, windows desktop widgets, unlimited tree structure for "folders" to organize your notes, nice mobile apps and so on.

Added your app as an update to the article. I tried it earlier, but there were some bugs with WizNote, and I do remember them.

Thanks for this great post with a nice comparative overview of the features of different apps. This is quite familiar to me having been through a similar journey recently with similar requirements - I'd recommend checking out workflowy.com and dynalist.io, because both sport offline apps (Mac, Linux, Windows) and dynalist also has great mobile apps (I have used Android app and it's awesome). The caveat is that, as far as I know, they don't support tables...

Thanks a lot! I will add them to the article soon, it seems interesting. I am glad you liked the review!

I've been using Tiddlywiki for awhile, like it quite a bit.
A local wiki that saves as a single html file. Supports markup, supports MathML, many available plugins... worth a look.

tiddlywiki.com/

A plugin that allows for using LaTeX mathematical notation:
tiddlywiki.com/plugins/tiddlywiki/...

I’m currently using Notion. It has several features that you are looking for and so on. The mainly reason why I changed evernote for notion was code support (Evernote is really bad for developer’s notes).

Seems interesting but Apple-oriented :(

My note-taking choice of late: plaintext AsciiDoc files in a private Github repo.

Pros:

  • "Cloud" backup
  • Github renders the files so there is no build step
  • AsciiDoc files are also readable as raw text
  • Extremely cross platform
  • Lightweight
  • grep-able
  • Normal version control benefits
  • Can edit via phone (with the right app)
  • Plenty of text editor options (I mostly use vim)
  • Folder structure can be arbitrarily complex
  • Code blocks are well supported

Cons:

  • Harder to include images
  • I'll admit the git workflow can be a bit tedious
  • Not much for math syntax
  • Probably others I can't think of

Thanks for writing such list of pros and cons! I will add Github as another tool to keep notes.

I have been there. The hard road of finding the adequate tool for notes.

Used Evernote for long time, but found it useless, specially because they don't update it much and rich-style editing is a pain. Today I only like the OCR features to search for attached images content.

Now I'm pretty happy with Bear, bad thing they don't support tables, and also I'm considering return Apple Notes, it's been updated with great features lately and encrypted individual notes is great.

Seems that most of Apple users like Bear and Apple Notes :)

I've been using Bear, but they openly acknowledge no support for Android in the foreseeable future and no table support yet so that stinks, too bad since it's got a beautiful UI.

edit/update:

After trying vs code journal, all the nested folders it creates was too much for my style. On the plus side, attempting this method I did end up installing some really great markdown extensions!

Then I looked at iaWriter...looks great, but wasn't sure about the price.

Now I'm giving BoostNote a shot, so thanks!

Emacs + org mode on desktop (in a Dropbox folder). Orgzly for mobile.

Most of what I do is in one huge text file, making very heavy use of org-mode's outlining features. It satisfies your requirements, I think. The worst part about it is that it doesn't merge conflicts gracefully (if I somehow gasp forgot to save on the desktop or forgot to sync on the mobile).

Great article. Enjoyed reading it. I've been using Collate these past few months. It will satisfy some of your needs but not all of them (no native support for android, but since they are just text files, they can still be read and updated).

The developer was very responsive to feedback and I thought did a great job. He seems to have taken a break at the moment but the app as it is now is pretty good.

Tried Boostnote. Some pros and cons of Collate w.r.t to Boostnote

Pros

  1. Support to add attachments
  2. Exporting markdown content as PDF
  3. The content itself is stored as plain-text and so is readable and searchable by Finder

Cons:

  1. Is not open source. (I didn't think the price itself is of concern - thought the product was more than worth what I paid)
  2. Not as powerful markdown as Boost seems to have

Appreciate it for putting so much effort in looking into alternatives!!

Check it out Notebook from Zoho. It was pretty good. I don't think it supports Markdown yet.

I have used Evernote for years, then they introduced too many features which I don't really use it and limited the sync to 2 devices with free account. I did subscribe for premium account but I started looking for simpler solution with markdown support. I had minimal set of requirements,

  1. Simple to use,
  2. Access to read anywhere (Mobile/Web/PC),
  3. Access to write from any PC/Web.
  4. Markdown support

I was bit lazy to look for alternative apps, so I took much simpler solution. VSCode + Bitbucket private repository. I use VSCode + bunch of markdown support extensions and use 'git' terminal commands to commit & push. It's bit manual process of creating files, typing commands to commit, push. But over the process of doing it for last three months, I learnt a lot more about 'git'. I control the organization structure and I can go back to any versions since I started. I can access my notes from any machine. I did lose the ability to write from mobile devices to a certain extent(I can still open my repo from browser and edit), but it was never a requirement for me.

Thank you Ryan Palo, I haven't used VSCode Journal extension. I will give it a try.

I also spent a big amount of time on it, that is why I decided to share my vision about it. Git is also a good solution! Maybe there is some mobile application which allows you to sync and edit files on mobile?

Great list and I really need to give Boostnote a look.

I've switched many times between note taking apps and in terms of desktop software OneNote is my clear favourite. As I've switched away from Windows it means it's simply not relevant to me anymore, as the web client is - as you pointed out - quite painfully slow.

To add to the list, I think Zim (zim-wiki.org/) ought to be included. Simple, fast, flexible. Doesn't have a great range of features, but for simple note-taking, journaling, and to organize thoughts it's a great choice.

I also recently found joplin.cozic.net/. Seems to be a good cross-platform Evernote alternative (as it sets out to be). Haven't taken it for a spin yet though.

I do like Evernote quite a bit. I don't think the fact that it has many features should speak against it, as it still manages to keep the simple tasks very straight-forward.

Thanks, I will update a list with your recommendations! Mostly the problem that Evernote started to concentrate on B2B solution. Also a big amount of features - make the application heavier.

I do not remember who said it, but I like that phrase:

Universal solution is universally bad

Vim is also good :) , but still if you have many devices you need to think about synchronization and offline mode for mobile.

As a Mac user I love Ulysses, with it's deep folder structure and custom icons you can set for folders. It also syncs up really well with the mobile (iOS) version, and lets you customize almost every detail of the look and feel of the editor.

Also, it has one-click Medium publishing, which is awesome for publishing a quick blog post.

Thanks for reply, seems good but it is only for Apple users

I use and prefer one note. But like you said the platform you work on is a great factor on what to use.

Typora has spoiled me since there's no need for a markdown preview window. No mobile app, though.

Also, I added that app to the update-list.

So...you have a problem with someone working hard, and then getting paid for it? That's the American way - capitalism. Maybe jealousy? How about this - follow his formula and make your own app ;-) I'm building a SaaS business myself, and in a few years I expect to hit $10K/month. I should write an article on Hacker News and you can hate me, too ;-)

Don't be jealous. Get off your backside and build something you can be proud of!

You didn't get my point. I do not have any problem and I do not hate anyone.

Personally, I pay for a lot of software and services. And I agree with your words: "If someone working hard, he then getting paid for it". But in that particular case - I made a comparison of free or freemium applications.

It's good that you want to build your own business, it is praiseworthy.

I'm using scrapbox. Scrapbox is a simple but powerful wiki.
No offline support and no markdown.

Mac and iOS only but Bear is very clean and supports Markdown.

It seems that Bear is popular enough for iOS and Mac :)

Wow man thanks for Boostnote, looks awesome. I already have most of my notes in Markdown but now with search, labels and folders.

Thumbs up!

I am glad you liked it! :) It has issues with mobile access, but it is fixable)

If finding your notes by what you remember about them is key for you, and you don't need sync, try Serene Notes: serenenotes.hominidsoftware.com/

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