Friday, 18 February 2011

Evernote ...

Ever since I upgraded last year to a Windows 7 laptop as my primary home machine I've become quietly appreciative of many parts of the Windows/Office/Live ecology.

Despite the best efforts of OpenOffice/LibreOffice the products remain clunky and the addons to push documents out to Google Docs or Zoho doubly so. Word 2010's Save to Skydrive option is just so much more slick, and with the OfficeLive docs you can then see (and edit) documents with the web based version of word.

However, that's not the killer application - the killer for me is OneNote - the ability to build up a proper electronic notebook of documents and reference material, and make it shareable.

The ability in the windows environment to 'print' to One Note provides a simple, straightforward way of getting documents into your notebook - basically if you can view it, you can print it, you can capture it.

As well as a ragbag of work related stuff I've used OneNote extensively to assemble and organise the background material for my Sighelm project.

But there's one big problem with One Note - there's no native Office 2011 Mac client. You're stuck with the web client, and its limitations. And for me that's a problem. I use Macs a lot.

Now the web client is usable, and having a web client is a plus. It means you can access your notes from anything which can support a recent browser.

Great when I take my Linux based netbook to the library to type notes on journal articles directly in to the web client, less so when working with online sources on a MacBook or iMac with several windows and tabs open.

Having to open a new browser tab, login to Windows Live, select the text in the document that you want to capture, create a new page in One Note, paste it, caption it, is clunky compared to working with the native client.

So I've been on the look out for a multi platform OneNote equivalent.

Thanks to Greplin, I've happened across Evernote - a notebook application with native clients for windows and mac, dropbox style syncing between clients and the remote note store, clients for iPhone/iPad, and android, though no native Linux client. However there is a third party client for Linux NeverNote.

I've tested both the Mac and Windows clients and they seem to work reliably, although I've yet to put them to serious use.

As for the third party client for Linux I've installed NeverNote twice, once on on an Ubuntu 10.10 vm sitting on top of OS X via VirtualBox, and again on a Dell E4300 with Ubuntu 10.10.

Installing the current 0.96 just worked on my ubuntu vm, but while all the functionality was there it seemed a tad sluggish, which could be due to the Mac also doing quite a few things in the background - I'm one of those load process up and leave it running until it needs a reboot guys.

So I tested it on a real linux machine, a Dell E4300 with Ubuntu 10.10, and patched to the same level as the test Linux VM. This wasn't quite so smooth an experience.

The current 0.96 version downloaded smoothly but was sluggish installing, and failed to start, hanging at the splash screen. Re-installing, and downloading anew from a different sourceforge mirror didn't fix the problem, the system complaining about process Qt.jambi hanging when a reboot was forced.

Dropping back to 0.95 fixed the problem, with the application starting smoothly and running responsively.

However, note taking via the web interface on my netbook would be an alternative if we have a repeat of this and the installation didn't play nicely with my now slightly dated Eeepc 701.

Wikipedia has good article on Evernote, including details of third party clients.
Like a lot of software there's free and a rather more functional paid for service. Being a cheapskate I'm playing with the restricted free service and my comments should be taken in the light of this.

The interface isn't quite so slick as OneNote, more akin to an earlier generation of products such as Tranglos Keynote, but perfectly usable. With a browser addin to capture highlighted text capture is as easy as the 'print to notebook' trick in One Note, although obviously it only works in a browser, but then that's 90% of everything. On the mac client Evernote hooks into the printer subsystem allowing you to send a pdf to your notebook - which is pretty good.

I'm impressed enough with Evernote to say that I'll keep on playing with it and exploring its possibilities. In my experience notebook applications either work for you or they don't, its a very experiential thing.

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