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?

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