1. Overview

In this tutorial, we’ll look at some note-taking tools that are Linux alternatives to Microsoft OneNote. The primary goal of these programs is to provide a flexible platform for capturing thoughts and information. Whether it’s jotting down quick ideas, assembling multimedia content, embedding snippets of code, or even drafting complex mathematical equations, these tools are designed to meet a variety of needs.

As an extra benefit, some of these applications support external cloud syncing, which can be useful for backups, device synchronization, as well as sharing and collaborating on notes with others.

While all of the programs we’ll see are open source and free to use, some have optional paid plans with additional features or enhanced services.

2. Privacy Alert

While most of the tools we’ll look at are primarily designed for single-user use, syncing with external cloud services raises privacy concerns. The level of privacy guaranteed varies from tool to tool, so it’s important to read each tool’s privacy policy.

For example, Simplenote advises users to be cautious when storing highly sensitive information, suggesting that it may not be completely secure. Standard Notes, on the other hand, places a strong emphasis on privacy, assuring users of complete confidentiality and robust protection against any outside access, including by governments or company employees.

In addition, we also need to be aware of the data processing performed by external services that we plan to use in conjunction with note-taking apps, such as Google Drive, Nextcloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, and others.

3. Note-Taking Tools

We’ll look at each tool by installing it on Linux Mint 21. For installation instructions on other Linux distributions that aren’t Ubuntu-based, we can refer to each tool’s official website.

3.1. Joplin

Joplin is a feature-rich note-taking application that prioritizes both functionality and privacy. It provides an easy-to-use interface for capturing text, images, and even multimedia content.

Let’s install it using the recommended method:

$ wget -O - https://raw.githubusercontent.com/laurent22/joplin/dev/Joplin_install_and_update.sh | bash
[...]
Joplin version 2.13.9 installed.
[...]

Here is a summary of Joplin’s outstanding strengths:

  • Cross-platform sync → Access our notes on any device with built-in syncing to multiple cloud services
  • End-to-end encryption (optional) → Keeps our notes private and secure
  • Markdown support → Create beautifully formatted notes and easily import or export to/from various formats
  • Web Clipper extension → Easily save web pages and screenshots from our browser
  • Tagging and Search → Efficiently organize our notes with tags and a powerful search function

Joplin offers other features, such as collaborative editing, templates, and plugins. It’s also the only one of the tools we analyzed that is available for the Linux terminal, with both a command-line mode and a normal mode that is partly based on the Vim text editor.

Let’s give it a try:

In conclusion, Joplin emerges as a comprehensive, privacy-oriented note-taking tool that we can use for both personal and professional purposes.

3.2. Simplenote

Simplenote is a streamlined way to take notes. Its minimalist interface prioritizes quick capture and efficient organization.

Each release is available for various package managers and also as an AppImage. Let’s install the latest release using a DEB package and let apt automatically install the necessary dependencies:

$ wget https://github.com/Automattic/simplenote-electron/releases/download/v2.21.0/Simplenote-linux-2.21.0-amd64.deb
[...]
$ sudo apt install ./Simplenote-linux-2.21.0-amd64.deb
[...]
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  gconf-service gconf-service-backend gconf2 gconf2-common libgconf-2-4 simplenote
[...]

Unfortunately, there is a long-standing bug in the application that prevents it from starting. In any case, the workaround suggested for Fedora also solves the problem nicely on our Linux Mint test distribution. Basically, it involves adding the –no-sandbox flag.

The beauty of Simplenote lies in its simplicity:

  • Easy to use → Simplenote’s minimalist design focuses on functionality
  • Cross-platform synchronization → Notes are seamlessly synced across devices, including mobile apps and the web version
  • Version control → Maintains a history of note revisions, allowing us to revert to previous versions if needed
  • Collaboration → Simplenote supports sharing of notes and collaboration with others
  • Tagging system → Efficient organization of notes is facilitated by a simple tagging system
  • Markdown support → For those who prefer Markdown formatting, Simplenote offers full support

Let’s give it a try:

In conclusion, Simplenote is a good choice for jotting down quick ideas, managing to-do lists, and keeping track of everyday reminders.

3.3. Zim Wiki

Zim Wiki takes an alternative approach to note-taking, adopting a wiki-style interface reminiscent of Wikipedia. Basically, it’s a personal wiki.

Zim Wiki is already available in the standard repositories of our test distribution, as apt-cache shows:

$ apt-cache policy zim | grep Candidate
  Candidate: 0.74.3-1

Anyway, we prefer to install it from the official PPA to get the latest version:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:jaap.karssenberg/zim
$ sudo apt update
$ apt-cache policy zim | grep Candidate
  Candidate: 0.75.2-t202307071235~ubuntu22.04.1
$ sudo apt install zim

Let’s look at some of its key features:

  • Wiki-style formatting → Create and link pages in a wiki format, making it perfect for building a personal knowledge base
  • Rich Text Editing → Supports rich text elements like bold, italic, lists, and more
  • Attachments and Images → Embed images and attach documents directly in our notes
  • Plugins → There are plugins for spell checking, editing equations, using a calendar, tag autocompleting, and more

It’s worth mentioning that we can use Zim Wiki for other purposes besides knowledge interconnection. For example, it’s also good for journaling, keeping a task list, or even building a responsive website. We can integrate it into Firefox or GNOME Shell, as well as move from Microsoft OneNote to Zim Desktop using an import script. We’d better take a look at the official wiki and manual to find out about these and other features.

Now let’s take a closer look at Zim Wiki in action:

In conclusion, Zim Wiki’s wiki-style format and rich text capabilities make it a good choice for a structured yet flexible approach to note-taking.

3.4. Cherrytree

Cherrytree is a note-taking application that organizes notes using a hierarchical approach. It’s a great choice for those who need a structured approach to keeping track of their notes and projects.

Let’s install it with the official PPA:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:giuspen/ppa
$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install cherrytree

The list of available features is long. Let’s highlight a few of them:

  • Rich text formatting → We can enhance our notes with different styles and various header sizes and colors
  • Programmer-friendly → CherryTree’s syntax highlighting supports multiple programming languages, and we can even execute our code snippets
  • Image and file management → We can resize and rotate images, and we can embed files in our notes
  • Math equation rendering → We can render LaTeX math equations
  • Lists and tables handling → Supports multi-level lists (bulleted, numbered, to-do) and simple tables
  • Hyperlink integration → Allows us to create hyperlinks to local files and folders, web pages, or other nodes in our notes, enhancing the interconnectedness of our information

It’s time to take a look:

Its rich text and syntax highlighting capabilities make it especially appealing to people who work with a lot of text and code.

3.5. Standard Notes

Standard Notes has a strong focus on note-taker privacy and long-term data availability, ensuring that our data remains private and secure at all times.

Installation is straightforward:

$ sudo snap install standard-notes

Standard Notes offers a free plan with basic features, while paid plans add functionality. For example, the Productivity Plan adds advanced note types and a Web Clipper, while the Professional Plan adds 100GB of encrypted storage and subscription sharing.

Let’s take a look at the key features included in all plans, including the free one:

  • End-to-end encryption → All notes are fully encrypted before they leave our device, ensuring that only we can access them
  • Simplicity and focus → The user interface is clean and distraction-free, helping us focus on writing and organizing
  • Extensibility → We can customize our experience with plugins and themes
  • Long-term access → Built for longevity, Standard Notes makes a 100-year promise to its users, ensuring access to our notes well into the future
  • Cross-platform synchronization → Seamlessly synchronize our notes across all our devices, including Linux, Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS

The interface and features of the free version are very basic, and there is not much to show:

In conclusion, Standard Notes is a compelling choice for those who value privacy and simplicity in their digital note-taking.

4. Conclusion

In this article, we’ve seen five Linux note-taking alternatives to Microsoft OneNote:

  • Joplin → Robust features, focus on privacy, and cross-platform synchronization
  • Simplenote → Lightweight and easy to use, ideal for quick capture and basic organization
  • Zim Wiki → Flexible wiki-style interface, perfect for interconnected knowledge bases
  • Cherrytree → Hierarchical structure for structured and categorized note-taking
  • Standard Notes → Emphasis on end-to-end encryption and offline accessibility for maximum privacy

We should remember to choose a tool with a privacy policy that matches our comfort level and be mindful of data handled by external cloud services.

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