Notes (the taking of…)

Back in 2001, I acquired the beta version of a handy little piece of software called Jot+ Notes and I’ve been using it ever since for, well, notes. All kinds of notes – to-do lists, text copied off web pages, a personal journal, lists, random jottings etc etc. It’s really useful; it has nested subpages so that you can keep notes neatly categorised into trees and taxonomies, extensive text formatting, and password encryption for anything you want to keep private. I depend on it to keep my work-life in order.
On the other hand, it’s getting seriously out of date; it hasn’t been updated for five years and appears to be no longer supported. It runs in my 64-bit Win7 environment and it’s reportedly stable in Win8.1 (it’s windows-only software). But I plan to switch to the new Win10 later this year and I have no idea if Jot will run in that – there’s nothing on the website about it. Also, its proprietary software – you can’t access it with any other program.*

So I’m looking around for a replacement. Here’s four that I’ve looked at.
First up is One Note, from Microsoft. This looked promising. The glossy web page doesn’t actually tell you much, no list of features or anything. But hey, I thought, it’s free, let’s try it. So I downloaded the installer. As soon as I hit ‘install’, up popped an orange square reading ‘Office’ with a rapidly spinning download counter. The bloody thing was apparently downloading some version of bloody Office without even asking! So I quickly killed the process. I never use Office, there are plenty of free/cheap alternatives and I do not want it on my computer. I was not pleased – not only was One Note advertised as a standalone program but it’s the height of IT rudeness to download stuff onto your machine without permission. What’s worse, on googling, I discovered that it apparently requires a Live account to function. if the attempted Office downloading hadn’t already put me off, that certainly would have.
So, next up was Scribbleton. This is a ‘desktop wiki’ (ie, it sits on your machine, can be used offline and has no cloud storage); it’s currently in Beta, so it’s very basic and lacks lots of features. However, it runs on all platforms, has page-linking, can be used from a thumb drive and exports both individual pages and whole wiki files to either HTML or text. It’s perfectly adequate for simple note-taking and list-making, but was a bit too short on things like like nested pages for my liking.
Evernote. I already use the free version of this, but only when I’m on my tablet and want to clip web pages or save text/notes for later use on my desktop PC. Looking at it for desktop note-keeping, I fairly rapidly decided against it. The interface is crowded and confusing, and even the free version is overloaded with features I’ll never use.
I then looked briefly at Silvernote. That looked nice – note-taking, lists, the ability to draw straight onto the page, a simple word-processor type interface, the ability to import doc, pdf and other text files into notes, the ability to save notes in a wide variety of text formats…
However, I’ve yet to try it out because I had already downloaded and installed Zim. This is another desktop wiki, but with pretty much all the features that I want, particularly the unlimited page-nesting. It’s multi-platform and everything is saved as wiki-formatted text; thus you can open and edit the files with any text editor. Usefully, you can import plain-text files into it. And did I mention that its free and open-source? I’ve been playing with it for an afternoon and very pleased with it. So this is what I’ll be using for notes from now on.

*Don’t let me put you off Jot+ Notes, btw. It’s good software and very cheap (buy it from kingstairs.com). If you’re not bothered about updating to the very latest Windows, you’ll find it very useful.