Stupid ideas, or how Evernote sold me on OneNote

I am, or was, a pretty dedicated Evernote user. Not hardcore, but I keep grocery lists as I think of things, track PLUs at the grocery store, jot down dreams in the middle of the night to add them to a dream journal the next day, track code snippets, book recommendations, things to explore, all those little things where I needed to note something down, and all across devices, no matter where I am.

This worked just fine until last weekend. I was sitting on a plane, with no particular need to pay for WiFi since I was mostly reading, when I had an idea. So grabbed my iPad to record it and was greeted with a message telling me I had to upgrade my account to access my notes while offline. I could neither edit old ones nor add new ones.

I was … annoyed.

If for no other reason than because they were holding my content hostage to extort monies from me. (Hint: This was the stupid idea that merits it being added to my list of stupid ideas.) Now, if Evernote had the option for me to just buy the app, no problem, I could do that, but they are subscription only. Nor does it help much that every time I open Evernote on a device now I have to click through an upgrade advert to get at my content.

So I did the sensible thing, and switched over to Notes. After all, it comes free on my Mac and my iDevices, and it really does everything I was using Evernote for anyway.

But when I got to my destination I also did some exploring for other note-taking apps. Most of the ones that were cross-device seemed to oriented toward taking notes with a stylus, which is to say sketch pads. In fact, the only robust normal notepad I encountered was Microsoft OneNote.

Now, I am not really a fan of Microsoft. Their products tend to be designed for businesses making use of a business workflow, making them hard to personalize and use the way you want. A view that now struggles against Apple going through a process of simplification to the point of actively dumbing down and removing functionality that sold me on some of their products in the first place. Really, if I have to choose between absurd complexity to do what I want to do and not being able to do it at all, well …

Anyway, I almost skipped over OneNote just because it was a Microsoft product, but since it was the only one available, I decided to give it a try.

The end result? I really like it. Maybe the best part about it is that I can create notebooks with sections with pages. That means I can organize my notes. For instance: Reference > Computer Stuff > Mac Server Stuff for all those commands I need to remember to do things like turn on and off FTP at the command line, etc. It even comes with WordPress integration. Only drawback so far is you need to remember to sync things before turning on airplane mode on your devices if you planning on needing them. But new notes? Jot away!

The way the notes works might feel a little odd to some people. It functions sort of like iWorks does (at least it does on my Mac), with each page being a collection of objects on a canvas. Click too far from the text you are working on and all you do is create a new object on the canvas awaiting your content. Nifty, but a tad confusing if you are expecting a flat page. In good news, it automatically cleans up any empty objects, so it is not like most visual layout tools where you have to hunt them down and delete them again.

Now, Microsoft does want you to pay subscription fees too, and hefty ones, but only if you need plenty of storage space, and their subscription comes with the full MS Office suite as part of the deal. Even better, if you are happy living with a 15Gb storage cap and working with online tools, the entire online version of the Office suite is free.

I need MS Office because so many other people expect me to be using it (just try sending someone a résumé in Pages, I dare you), so it is sort of a necessary expense. This makes it easier to justify either a subscription or a linked single-purchase version when the time comes. (I still use Office 2008, which has made it very clear to me that it ain’t talkin’ to no new-fangled cloud, except when the OS bluffs it out and convinces it that iCloud is off under /Library somewhere.)

So anyway, if you need a note taking tool, give OneNote a shot. You may like it better than Evernote.

Tip: With iOS 9, it looks like Apple is expanding Notes functionality to be a more direct competitor with Evernote. So who knows, it may very well be the winner in the end.

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