Evernote is one of the few apps that I regularly pay real money for – as productivity apps go, you really can’t beat it! For those who don’t know it, Evernote is a note taking application that syncs to the web. It has clients for Windows, Mac, various mobile platforms and a pretty full-featured web interface. Each note can contain rich text, “clippings” from web pages, and file attachments. Notes live in notebooks, which can be grouped into stacks (e.g. I have one notebook per project, and all of my work notebooks in a stack). In addition, notes can be tagged, are full-text searchable (including inside images and PDFs!) and there is a comprehensive power-user-friendly search syntax.
The typical usage case that Evernote gives is snapping a picture of a wine bottle, having the label automagically searchable from any client etc. For me, Evernote is more of an electronic lab notebook – in fact I discovered it in 2008 whilst trying to fulfil that need. Before this I was using a blogger weblog to store my notes – mainly so that I didn’t have to lug paper between my office and lab during my PhD, and so that it was always backed up and in sync. Since then I’ve moved from mainly being a Windows user, to exclusively using ubuntu, and now also Android. The mobile clients are really coming along in leaps and bounds – offering full offline sync for Premium users, and a nice tablet-friendly interface (great for my Nexus 7). But the linux space is not so lucky. Unlike some other companies (Dropbox, Google, Spotify etc.) Evernote chose not to develop a linux client; this was no doubt a wise strategy given the low number of users. They do, however, provide an well-documented API, in theory allowing a client to be built for any platform.
My first experience of using Evernote on ubuntu was using the Windows client via wine; with the current version of the client this works surprisingly well! However, a few things don’t work (import folders etc.), and it can be a bit “finicky”. In addition in the latest ubuntu (12.04 and above) there is a problem connecting with SSL – however, installing an older version of wine (1.4) using PlayOnLinux works OK.
Fortunately, a project sprang up to fill the gap and provide an open source native (well, java/QT!) client: Nixnote (formerly Nevernote). This is a fully-fledge desktop client which syncs with the Evernote service, and it probably ties with my web browser for the app I spend most time in! Pretty much all of the Windows/Mac client functionality is reproduced; in fact there are some great novel features like embedding LaTeX equations, and offering a “quick link” function which creates inter-note links based on the highlighted text. On the downside it takes quite a lot of memory. However, Nixnote 2 is under development, which should offer some improvements in this area.
A newcomer to the scene is Everpad, which doesn’t aim to be a complete desktop client as NixNote does, but offers excellent integration with ubuntu and unity. Everpad runs in the background and synchronises all notes, and then provides a few ways to access them. A unity lens allows one to search and filter notes, an indicator applet shows the most recent notes (and “pinned” favourites), and a unity launcher provides a shortcut to create a new note. The note display and editor is atypical in that it separates out attachments, rather than displaying them inline, but it is early days and the app shows a lot of promise.
As well as these client apps, there are various web services which integrate with Evernote via the API. For example the online markdown editor markable imports and exports notes from your Evernote account.
To sum up – I’m “happy-ish” with the various solutions for using Evernote on linux – none is quite as robust or slick as the Windows or Mac desktop clients, but Nixnote and Everpad both have unique features. So give them a try – and let me know if you have another solution!