Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Note taking software, head to head

I've been trying to find satisfactory software for note taking, and more importantly, note finding. The contenders so far have been various wikis (TWiki, MoinMoin, Wikidpad, JamWiki, TiddlyWiki) and several apps specifically for notes, Google Notebook, Microsoft OneNote, and Evernote.

My requirements:

  • The data needs to be internet accessible from all of my computers, which include Windows, Linux, and a smartphone.
  • Notes must be taggable.
  • Ability to format text.
  • Ability to archive
  • Free (to me)

Nice to have:

  • Tag cloud
  • Ability to paste in arbitrary content, like images
  • Scriptable
  • Ability to email a note for inclusion in the system

Starting with the various wikis, they have pretty much everything I want in the way of features. But I found two issues. One is hosting. There are several free wiki hosting services, but none of them made me feel comfortable enough to host my notes there. I could host it myself, but I'm not prepared to pay for either a hosted wiki, or a business level internet connection to my house, just for my personal notes.

OneNote is nice. I was able to organize and format my content any way I liked. I was literally able to paste in any content I wanted. Any application running locally and keeping data locally is easily archivable. However, my very first requirement rules out OneNote. (OneNote is effectively free to me, as we have a site license at work.) And I have a particular bone to pick with OneNote. A number of my coworkers have adopted it. When they want to share some of their notes in an email, if they don't carefully select just text, and instead select a whole text box, the resulting email is unreadable to recipients, even in Outlook. It's easy enough to work around this, but a point of friction any time there is a new adopter I am working with.

I have been also using Wikidpad on and off. I like the hierarchical tree view of notes. It is eminently scriptable. But it is a local solution. I can make it more ubiquitous for myself by carrying my wiki on a stick (a USB thumb drive), but that depends on either using all windows computers, or configuring all my linux hosts for this. Doable, but more trouble than it is worth to me. Also, it is minor annoyance, but I find I either want to do WYSIWYG editing, or hit an edit button, rather than switching views between edit and view mode.

That leaves me with Google Notebook and Evernote. Evernote is nice in having a offline and synchronization capability. But no formatting. Google Notebook has the formatting, but is not yet integrated with Google Gears. Both have tagging capability. In the end, I think I don't need the extra capabilities Evernote provides, and I am left with Google Notebook. I'm also already using a number of Google apps heavily, and the degree of integration between them is increasing, which also works in my favor.

(This has been edited since Jake's comment. No content removed, just added some point that I didn't think warranted an additional post.)