📕A quick look at note taking on Mac and Windows

This is an interesting turn of events, two developers I work with bought Macs during Black Friday sales, and wanted to know some of the software I use, including note taking. Another developer, no Mac yet, wanted to know what I used for note taking on Windows because Notepad++ is unruly with too many tabs. Through sharing my screen, they saw some interesting apps, and figured I was the person to ask.

I have an answer for both, so let’s have a look.

For me, there are two kinds of notes, short and long term.

Short term: Notes that are meaningful for a day, week, or maybe the length of a sprint. They are related to the ticket I’m working on, such as test data, user details, or something that won’t matter a few weeks from now. These notes will be committed to the ticket, so I don’t need to keep them.

Long term: Notes I want to archive and come back to in 6 months or so, such as links to websites, system configuration info, or notes on how a certain tool works. These are also review items like a tally of the training I’ve taken, projects I’ve worked on, and goals I’ve achieved. When managers say, “List all the things you’ve done for us this year,” this is where I go.

For the Mac, there are dozens of note taking choices like the power of TaskPaper, but there are two freeform note taking apps I’m quite fond of.

For short term notes it’s NoteList 4 and iNotepad. They are almost identical in features and price.

They both offer a simple UI and easy organization of notes. Make a topic, add your notes, links, tags, and all done. A note can contain a single line, URLs, formatted text, test data, ticket details, json results, or screen shots.

The data is all saved in a single file, and once you’re done, just delete the note and move on. I prefer a single document versus text files all over the drive. It’s easier to maintain and backup. The slight advantage is iNotepad can password protect its file.

For long term notes, Devonthink Office, is my choice. Far more than note taking, it’s a document management tool. It support multiple databases, stores PDFs, acts as an RSS reader, and dozens of other features. It’s comprehensive and will store whatever you throw at it. It’s expensive, it’s efficiency and productivity pay for itself.

Want to make sure you track everything you do throughout the year? Devonthink Office.

All apps support global search so you can find your information as quickly as possible.

On the Windows side, the choices feel more Spartan, but there are two tools I rely on.

For short term, it’s AllMyNotes Organizer, which I’ve been using for years. It supports a structured hierarchy with multiple folders, and multiple notes per folder in a single file. This keeps thing tidy and well organized.

Notes can be formatted or plain text, images can be pasted, links can be added.

It has a simple and clean UI that lets you get a lot of work done, no messing around with features you don’t need or won’t use. Notes are entered into a DB style format, so there’s very little chance of data loss. Search across all your notes to find the information you’re looking for.

For long term notes, my choice for several years is RightNote. A lot of people go with OneNote, and I totally agree for the 2003 and 2007 versions. The current version feels like a total mess. It’s subscription based, cloud centric, and the simple UI has been lost.

RightNote is far better with multiple tabs across the top representing major topics. Notes can be nested within folders, and with multiple note types. This means you can create any structure you like, and keep information collected in whatever schemes makes sense to you.

My database has the tabs Automation, Training, and Sprints, across the top. Within those tabs are my top level subjects. The Sprints are broken down into a note for the tickets I worked on for that sprint, and another Task List note for the important information ticket.

For example, I have a note that lists all the requirements from the ticket. I check those off as I complete my work. When I’m done, those notes are pasted into Jira. Sample data like API responses are tracked in AllMyNotes.

I bought the RightNote Lifetime license several years ago, and now that I’m back to using Windows at work, RightNote is back in play and working just fine. There is a company subscription for OneNote, but I haven’t bothered to look into it.

Another important detail, I want my notes on my machine, in a file, locally, not Cloud based notes. I don’t want my notes at the mercy of someone else. Plus, if/when I leave a company, I’m taking those notes with me.

RightNote supports multiple note types such a plain text, rich text, source code, task list, outline, and even working spreadsheets. Like DevonThink Office Pro, it’s a document management tool worthy of keeping important notes and tracking your progress through the year.

These aren’t the only note taking choices, but they are extremely solid. NoteList and iNotepad are recent additions, but I’ve been using the others for years, so they’ve been field tested. I’ve tried lots of alternatives, but I’m sticking with these.

Maybe I should've written that in a different font.
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