J. R. Swab

Three Free Apps to Kill Evernote

Categories: [Technology]
Tags: [privacy], [security], [open-source]

Evernote is the dominant powerhouse in the digital note-taking ecosystem and is the standard against all others are measured. The system of notebooks, notes, and tags make organization a breeze. However, the closed source code troubles many of our privacy-focused peers.

To be a viable competitor to Evernote, the alternatives must be able to sync across devices and have access via a web browser. This flexibility of use is a necessity in today's world since we are consistently on the move and use more than one computer (yes, your cell phone counts). Having a desktop-only application or even one on a mobile device without synchronization may as well be considered a glorified text editor.

In that case, just use Vim

Simple Note

Simple Note is open source and free to use, created by the same team that makes WordPress and many other web tools. Currently, Simple Note is my main driver mostly because it does just as it says, it's simple. This simplicity is freedom to write what I need to write.

Get in, get out.

This app also renders markdown but does need to be turned on for every post individually. Manually setting each document to execute markdown is fine unless you, like me, use markdown for everything. Then having to set toggle on markdown gets a bit lame but it's not the end of the world. For all I know, I missed a setting somewhere.

What else is sweet about Simple Note is the information it provides about your note. Word count and character count are located in the same place where we toggle markdown rendering. It's in this spot where you can pin a note to the top of your list or link out to the markdown syntax guide.

You'll also find a version history for each note. I used to write my posts in Vim and sync them with Git, but that would only capture the end of the writing and any edits I made. This shows us snapshots of our writing progress or that thing we accidentally deleted from our to-do list.

The one feature I wish Simple Note had is similar to Evernote's notebook feature. It saves us a lot of headaches looking at notes all related to one another. By default, all notes show when you log in and to see notes related you can filter by tags. So the feature is kind of there if you use tags as broad categories but if you want to use tags in a fine grain way, it's not as intuitive.

I'm talking something like "show me all the blog posts about open source." Where blog post is the category, and open source is the tag.

Maybe I'm just picky...


Turtl is close to Google Keep than Evernote, but it's a good alternative if you are looking for something encrypted and easy to use. Every note syncs across desktop and mobile devices, and that goes for, what they call, "spaces." Spaces are similar to Evernote's notebooks, and it helps a lot with organizing your thoughts.

You can also share notes with other users and set parameters for each user or even groups of uses you create. I don't collaborate with my notes often (though it may help sync my wife and me if we did) but find this to be a great feature for teams.

Another great feature with Turtl is the ability to host your own server for synchronization. If you don't want to trust any third party, they have the server files on their GitHub page so anyone can self-host their encrypted data.

Nextcloud Notes

Nextcloud is a self-hosting service for basically everything. This service can do everything that the major cloud companies like Google and Microsoft are able to do. After installation of the main software, the admin can then install apps to add extra functionality. Notes is one such app, and it is a super stripped down note taker.

This tiny app supports markdown, auto displays notes based on last edits, and is severed up over TLS to your private host. If all you need is a place to store some a quick reminder or that grocery list and love run systems on your own servers, check out Nextcloud. I use it in place of Dropbox, Google Drive, and even used it to sync contacts to my mobile device when I spent a year "Google Free." (We can talk about that another time.)

If you are an email kind of nerd you can sign up for mine here. Rather chat directly with me? You can find me all around the web as jrswab.