Just Wondering’s top choice for note taking software

Evernote logo

Evernote is the one program that stops me switching completely to the Linux operating system. I could live without it but I’m not prepared to. Many computer users have huge quantities of random reference data: a digital scrapbook; clippings, recipes, scanned receipts, reference data, web clippings… Stuff that you squirrel away because maybe you’ll need it one day. Or maybe not. :o)

Evernote makes filing and—most importantly—quickly retrieving those data easy. It’s replaced an expensive and maddening program, previously equally indispensible to me, called Info Select. This program is very different from the rest of the cloud services we looked at in Cloud storage. Although it provides online storage, the data are also saved to your computers’ hard drives. Its main raison d’etre is instant location of those data. You have the advantages of both online storage, instant powerful search capability and automatic synchronisation between your computers and between them and the cloud.

It’s a program which is installed on your Windows or Mac computer or your tablet or smartphone and into which you toss all the stuff you may later wish to access and search. With a free Evernote account you can create freehand note files (if you have a tablet, a tablet PC or a Wacom drawing tablet) and normal text files, you can toss in graphic files (jpg, png and gif), and pdf files. All text within those files—even the images—is searchable. The paid Premium account will allow you to store any type of file although it can’t search for text within Microsoft Office, iWork, LibreOffice, or OpenOffice files. There doesn’t seem much point in using Evernote for saving Office documents; Dropbox or Live Sync are more suited to that task. You can then use a Desktop search program like Mac’s Finder, Windows Search, Copernic Desktop Search or Google Desktop to search their content.

I use Evernote constantly and I find it worth paying US$45 for the Premium service. Evernote is cloud storage combined with note taking software on steroids. It’s a combination of online synchronization of your local files, text editing, and instance searching of those files. I use it for everything that I need to access quickly. I scan all my bills, bank statements, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, business cards, library printouts, and invoices and drop them into Evernote; clippings from web pages or complete web pages; random notes of all kinds. I can search for remembered text or I can add filtering tags to the note at the time I drop it into Evernote.


This morning I made bread: a wholemeal, carrot and onion loaf from a recipe which I purloined from my daughter Coral’s cookbook. I used my iPhone to take a photo of the recipe and dropped it into Evernote’s iPhone app. I search for “Coral bread” in Evernote on my iPad and, voilà!, there’s the recipe. Evernote ran its OCR software on the uploaded photo and recognised the text. I’s uncannily accurate, even with scruffy handwriting.

It’s amazing. Get it here.

Get it today.

Evernote is almost perfect for my requirements. It’s radically different from anything else I’ve seen, so it pays to get a grasp of how it works before jumping to conclusions. A good way to see what it does is to press F1, browse the online help and look at the keyboard shortcuts file in the Help Menu. The free version is excellent, but if you upgrade to the Pro version it’s US$45 per year (alternatively: $5/month – do the arithmetic).

What else?

  • If you wish, Evernote can be used as a web based application like Google Mail; or as a normal local application like Outlook; or as a combination of the two. I use the local program but it synchronizes with Evernote’s server at user defined intervals—I set it to 15 minute updates—and when I’ve finished with my MacBook and wish to move to my iPad Evernote syncs when I close it. When I boot up my iPad it syncs immediately.
  • Searching for text in notes is very fast.
  • If you use more than one computer your local Evernote data are automatically synchronized between them.
  • Evernote is available as a Windows or Mac local application, but you can use it online in a browser with Linux.
  • You can access your notes at Evernote on line from a browser on any web-connected computer on the planet.
  • It has add-ons for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and Firefox which enable data to be send directly from a web page to a new Note.
  • You can use it in your iPhone, Palm Pre or Blackberry.
  • Evernote provide you with a unique email address so that you can email notes directly to your account.
  • Notebooks can now be nested.

I use nested notebooks sparingly. The excellent boolean search capability and the provision for unlimited note tags (which canbe nested) makes finding your stuff a breeze. You don’t need nested Notebooks or a tree structure. Think of the Gmail philosophy: search, don’t organize. Organizing data files can get in the way of searching.

  • Does Google need to structure the web? No.
  • Does lack of structure inhibit a Google search? Not a bit.
  • An example: your friend Egbert is a member of your squash club, he also owns your favourite restaurant and he’s your child’s Scoutmaster. Where do you put him in your data tree? 3 different places?

Easy answer — don’t have a tree. You can allot his note (or notes) tags which cover all bases. Egbert can be a tag too.

  • Evernote even finds text in your images (One Note does too) and your hand written notes! How cool is that?
  • All text in data files is searchable almost instantaneously in Evernote, including remarkable precision with printed and hand written text in images and hand written notes.
  • Files and text notes can be tagged to aid in searching.
  • Instant search and retrieval of text data.
  • Reads text in images.
  • Outstanding for text, pdf, and image files.
  • No maximum storage limit.
  • Can be installed on Mac, Windows and web-enabled mobile phones: iPhone, Blackberry and Palm Pre.
    • There’s also a third party open source version called Nevernote which works well on Linux.


  • Maximum 60MB of data per month free, 1GB per month for the Premium version. If you don’t go mad with large image files or music files, that’s still a lot of data.
  • Text within OpenOffice, Word and Excel files is not searchable.
  • The local client (i.e. the Evernote application on your machine) doesn’t link with your local files and folders as, for instance, Live sync does. It has it’s own folder hidden in your User files.

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