Jot This Down! An Overview of Popular Note-Taking Applications


The brain can only hold so much throw-away data at one time. In this age of digital overload, there’s little room left over for temporary phone numbers, phone messages, notes from a conference call meeting, reminders that aren’t big enough to be full-blown tasks, etc. When someone says, “take down this confirmation number…” do you reach for a pad of paper or your keyboard? There are folks that love their pen and paper. I’m not one of them. I hate my handwriting, and I have enough paper clutter in my life thankyouverymuch. I much prefer to keep track of my life digitally. Even when I’m away from home, I use the keyboard on my cell phone (Cingular 8125) or the stylus to jot down quick notes that will sync with my laptop when I get back to it.

For folks looking to move to the digital way, here’s some suggestions you can try once you’ve determined that you need more than Mac OS X Stickies or a desktop littered with .txt files. I’m not talking about outlining or mindmapping applications that let you organize your thoughts and notes and relate them to each other. That’s the next step. This is just for those little snippets of dates, times, facts, links, ideas, and throw-away-but-maybe-you-need-to-save notes that can get out of control or lost easily.

Check out the comments below and on Digg for some more fantastic suggestions…thanks, everyone! Flying Meat’s VoodooPad and Barebones’ Yojimbo seem to be worth a look under OS X. Tomboy under Linux.

Mac OS X:

Sidenote: It’s like an online drawer for your Sticky notes. Slide it out, type stuff in, close again. Lightweight and free, it “sticks” to the side of your screen. Unfortunately, the notes aren’t searchable, so name your notes carefully to find them again in a pop-up list. Correction: the notes are searchable through Spotlight. 

mynotes: Takes Sidenote and Stickies one step further for a $17.95 price tag. What are you buying? Note searching, for starters. But you also get an interface that feels like the Mac OS X Address Book (and it communicates with the Address Book too to grab information about contacts to add to your notes). Collect your notes in groups (to keep receipts separate from conference call notes and blog ideas). Like Stickies and Sidenote, your notes are auto-saved which is the biggest advantage over taking your notes in something like TextEdit. The most intriguing feature of mynotes is its ability to sync notes directly to an iPod. There’s no encryption of the notes, so I wouldn’t store your bank passwords this way.

Windows XP:

EvernoteEverNote: Available in both a free and paid version, this popular application is a must-have for quick note-taking. Of all the applications I’ve tried, it’s my first choice. Instead of the “each note is an island” approach, EverNote is like using an endless roll of paper for your notes. New ones get tacked on to the end. The main difference between the free and paid version is in syncronization features and handwriting recognition. If you have an external tablet or Tablet PC and you like taking handwritten notes on your computer, you’re going to want the paid version. Currently at version 1.5, a 2.0 version is in beta. Evernote lets you tag your notes (they call it “categories” but it functions like tagging), browse notes in a timeline, and so much more. Web browser and Office plug-ins allow you to capture material for your notes easily from other applications. If there was a version of Evernote for Mac OS X, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. For now, I run it in Parallels. It’s that good.

Microsoft OneNote: Take EverNote, throw in tight integration with Microsoft Office applications and collaboration features (along with a $100 stand-alone price tag) and you have Microsoft OneNote. I used the 2003 version for a little while a few years ago, but I found it slower to use than EverNote. OneNote syncs one-way with your notes in Microsoft Outlook, so if you’re an Office fan then OneNote may be a good choice.

Your Turn:

There are a lot of choices for taking down messages, notes and snippets of information that you collect from meetings, online and other sources that you should only be hunting for that pen if you want to. I’ve only presented a few on each platform to get started. What do you use? What about when you’re on the go…do you take notes on your cell phone or PDA…what are the choices there that you like?



I found StickyPad from for Windows a really neat tool. In addition to creating all those (can color) post-it notes, it also contains an alarm feature which is great for those one shot things to do.

You can shrink the notes to desktop icons if the screen gets too cluttered.

Karl Steel

I find Onenote bloated and unhelpful. Being unable to export its files easily is one of the main reasons I decided to kill it. I know it’s obsolete, but I’ve just switched everything to keynote. Maybe a mistake, but it’s free, and so far, it’s held 4 years’ worth of dissertation notes without complaint.

Matt F

These apps seems good for note-jotting and category organization, but for really robust info organization I really recommend MyBase. It’s well-supported and mature. I’ve used it for a few years now and I have deep multi-level hierarchies of information. I use it to organize every aspect of my web design biz and client files, plus keep extensive files of all kinds of things I’m just interested in–articles on solar power, car maintenance logs, gift ideas, writing ideas. It has RTF-style note editing, file attachments, a very good Web content plugin to save web pages/snippets, and some important professional features like encryption, the ability to export your entire content tree to a self-contained EXE file, or to a dynamic collapsable HTML tree. It manages multiple databases & handles images well, and can import whole folders of RTF or TXT files into an actual tree, or export to it. I seriously love the crap out of this program and recommend it big time. Windows-only program for now, though.


I use for note taking. It’s really fast, just enter any url that starts with and write down a note. Then just enter the same url later to view or edit.


How about Voodoo Pad? This is a really great wiki app for the Mac that is worth taking a look at…

Mac Jones is the only logical choice, web and phone access to all your random data. An application that is locked to one device is not the way to go !

Go the web !

Mohammad Yusuf

I use google notebook, its available as firefox extension and sits at bottom left corner. Since my firefox is open pretty much the whole day, making notes is a breeze.

William T. Foxtrot

On Linux, I use Tomboy for stickies and a simple wiki — it’s great for quickly jotting things down, since I have its icon always displayed on my top panel. But when I need to do some more serious notetaking (for school and such) I use Zim Desktop Wiki. It’s a more robust wiki app that I find perfect for use when I’m taking notes in preparation for writing essays.


I second the vote on Tomboy for Linux. The beauty of it is that it can act like stickies, or a wiki-like mindmap, meaning you don’t need seperate apps for both.

Brad Dickason

I’m surprised that noone has brought up Freemind, which is a ‘mind mapping’ software. It uses a basic tree structure for rapid note taking, is open source, built on java (i believe), and is overall very useful and quick.


MyInfo is the one for me. There is a small licence fee now, but it allows you to structure your notes in a parent/child format, You can also paste images, links and infact browse web pages within a not. Check it out at


GoBinder is the best note taking tool in my opinion especially for students. I gave the two-week trial a shot three semsters ago and ended up purchasing it after just four days.Haven’t looked back since.

Dan Leinir Turthra Jensen

While i have only just started using BasKet myself (in fact, only installed it tonight), it is used by a great many people and generally considered amazing… A KDE application, so it’ll only run on Unix platforms (sorry Windows people) :)


I am a huge fan of Tinderbox by Eastgate. It’s currently only in Mac but a Windows version is on the horizon. It’s perfect for keeping notes, larger writing tasks, mind-mapping and tracking your digital life in. It’s quite pricey to begin with but Eastgate provide superb support and the application is truly superb. It’s probably more important to Office to the kind of work I do.

Jeff Singfiel

OneNote 2007 adds quite a bit of functionality over 2003. I started using it as part of the original technical Beta and will never go back. Integration with Office is now much more intuitive and its also two-way. The search functionality is much improved and now OneNote OCRs anything you print or scan into it. They’ve also built in some rudimentary audio-search capability.

It’s a significant upgrade that’s worth your while checking out.

Rich Schmidt

I’ve been using Notational Velocity for this on my Mac. It’s free, database-driven, and has a dead-simple Spotlight-like search that covers both title and content, so don’t worry about what you name those notes. It doesn’t get any easier…

Neal Watzman

Awhile back, I also got to the point where Stickies just wasn’t going to work for me on the Mac. I started using Yojimbo by Barebones Software at

It’s a bit more than just a text editor, more like a database where you can keep random information. I store URLs there that I want to look at later, a list of various blogs, PDFs to read or keep, passwords, and other account information.

You can set up folders of information, called collections, which is useful for organizing. It grabs all your external data and puts it into its own database which means you can handily backup all this stuff from one file location.

It is for Mac OSX only.

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