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Joplin Note, and other Open Source/Free Tools and Services that I Use Now

The apps and programs that I've used over the years have varied a bit. I used to be a big Linux+Google user. I'd use Google Drive (Cloud storage with Insync on Linux), Google Keep for notes, Google Docs.

Then I decided to switch to Windows and other Microsoft programs such as OneNote, Office, etc. My living arrangement changed, and I had to use just one computer predominantly. So it had to be Windows. I kinda enjoyed it, it gave me some nice things that I didn't have with Linux/Google.

Lately, I have been making some changes to the programs and services that I use. I've been trying to use more OSS (Open Source Software).

It all started with my idea to use MusicBee and a dedicated music player, a very old school way to manage and listen to my music on the go (Think how old iPods and iTunes worked).

I have moved slightly away from Twitter and am using Mastodon for posting my thoughts and stuff (The server - a nice bunch!). I was getting a rather disappointing experience from Twitter. It felt like talking to myself (despite having over 200 followers).

I then started using Journey.Cloud - a sort of diary for my thoughts and stuff. Another move away from Twitter where I was rambling about what was on my mind. The app is very good for my mental health.

In the spirit of Mastodon, I had a look at Odysee - sort of an alternative to YouTube. Decentralised, and based on blockchain. A very cool idea, and I think a lot of people are getting sick of some of the controversial things that YouTube does to moderate videos..

I'm writing this blog post with Joplin Note - a very interesting little note taking app. I have been a massive fan of OneNote over the years. It has helped me to keep notes on little things, projects, my business, community orgs, etc etc. Very handy. I find it's much easier than having lots of separate Word documents. It's all organised in sections and only has the features you need for taking notes.

On to Joplin. A few things initially attracted me to it

  • Ability to import/export data (OneNote doesn't really have this, not on the Windows 10 app)
  • Open source and cross platform - I like to use OSS as much as possible, as long as it doesn't really suck
  • I also discovered a plugin that lets me do calculations with tables. Especially useful for my weekly work hour table
  • Markdown has some advantages - eg. I can use it on my blog. I can import Makrdown. And it's easy to export to PDF or HTML.

So I made the switch. It's been a slow process, moving old notes over. But so far I'm quite enjoying it. It's not perfect, but I'm liking the things that it offers that OneNote doesn't.

Since using it, just recently, I exported my notes to PDF, to send to a friend. It's less intuitive to do that with OneNote. You either have to copy and paste, or "print" the note out, and select print to PDF. Not very intuitive. But now it's something I can and likely will do more often.

I have also noticed that web clipping happens extremely fast. I notice that in OneNote, the web clipper can take a rather long amount of time before it appears in the app itself. This is really bad user experience! It should appear within 10 seconds or so. Otherwise, what happened to it? Do I have to clip it again?? Really bad, Microsoft!

Also, it has tags. For example, I have a "todo" tag. Where I have all the stuff I need to do, which are stored in different sections. Very handy!

It supports animated GIFs! OneNote on the web does, but then you open it on the mobile or desktop app, and - static image 😞

It's also really pleased me that I now have one more native app for if (or when) I switch back to Linux on my main laptop. Before, I was using OneNote a lot, and it doesn't have a native Linux app..

So it's been quite good. I will keep using it!

A few little issues though:

  • No auto sync like OneNote. It does sort of auto sync on an interval, but not quite realtime like OneNote/others.
  • The UI on desktop could be a bit nicer. Coming from OneNote, it's very spaced out and relaxed. Peaceful. But Joplin is more compressed. Oh well, I think there are themes?
  • The mobile editor is markdown editing only! Not really convenient on the go, having to fiddle with Markdown on your phone. I hope a WYSIWYG editor is in the works?
  • I had a bug where the desktop app crashed, and left a .lock folder in the filesystem. I then couldn't sync notes on any other device! I had to delete the empty .lock folder and it fixed it without any issues.
  • The big one. Goodbye stylus support. I used to occasionally use my stylus on my Surface Go. A great little machine, and it's a natural fit for OneNote. But now, I will just use some other note taking app, and export to image, then import into OneNote. I know, a little clunky, but I don't take hand-written notes/sketches that often.

There's something that feels good about using open source, cross-platform software. It is sort of a relief, knowing that it will be around for a while and work on multiple OS's. And gives you that good feeling, knowing that you're not supporting a "big tech" company that are after lots of money at the end of the day.

The next big step I may take, but not sure how or when, is switching from OneDrive/Office 365 to something else. I have a few options, some I'm trying already

  • pCloud - offers individual directory sync, so it doesn't use all the space at once
  • NextCloud - same as above but more clunky
  • Collabora Office - very cool, kinda like a FOSS version of Google Docs.

I'm still using OneDrive/Office 365 on Windows. I quite like it, and I'm not moving away from it any time soon. But one day, it may make some sense to.

Overall, I think it is a very healthy thing to be supporting OSS, especially the software that is actually quite good (and underrated). Yes, there are some not so great apps, for some people (Thunderbird is getting a bit long in the tooth for example). But it's a good idea to try out OSS alternatives, and if you actually like them, you have the liberty of ditching your proprietary alternatives and dropping your dependency on big tech! (and all the problems that come with it)

Other OSS I have been using

  • Firefox
  • VSCode
  • Arduino
  • GIMP
  • Inkscape
  • Godot Engine
  • Audacity
  • Smplayer, VLC, etc
  • LibreOffice (in addition to MS Office, for now..)
  • GNUCash
  • Peazip
  • And others I'm probably forgetting..

I do still use a few proprietary apps, such as Mailbird, Todoist, TIDAL Hifi, Journey as above and Lightworks. But they're necessary evils, there's not really any OSS alternatives to them that offer similar features. Fortunately, there's not too many of them!

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