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The Best Apps and Cloud Services for Taking, Storing, and Sharing Notes

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Is your desk and computer covered with sticky notes? Do you have miscellaneous pieces of paper with bits of information buried in drawers, your laptop case, backpack, purse, etc.? Get rid of all the chaos and get organized with note-taking software and services.

We’ve collected a list of the best desktop applications and cloud-based services for taking, storing, and sharing information.

Applications

The following programs are desktop applications you can run directly on your computer, some of which are portable, allowing you to take your notes with you.

OneNote

Microsoft OneNote 2010 is a digital notebook integrated into Microsoft Office that allows you to gather all your notes and information into one place. You can quickly and easily find information in your notebooks using the powerful search capability of OneNote and share your notebooks to you can collaborate on projects and work together with others more efficiently. You can gather and organize text, pictures, digital handwriting, audio and video recordings, and more in your OneNote notebooks.

How-To Geek has published articles that help you learn how to use OneNote:

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KeyNote

KeyNote is a free, portable, tabbed notebook for Windows that allows you to create and store multi-level notes, use a rich text editor, and apply strong encryption to your notes. It has a tabbed interface, each tab containing a note with multiple levels called nodes. KeyNote supports virtual nodes which are nodes that do not contain text themselves. Instead, a virtual node is linked to a file on your hard drive. The contents of that file is displayed in KeyNote and you can edit the contents in KeyNote. When you save the your note, the changes you made in KeyNote are saved back to the original file on your hard drive, not in the KeyNote (.knt) file.

You can only link text (*.txt) files or Rich Text Format (*.rtf) files to a virtual node. If the file on your hard disk is a plain text file, any formatting styles that you apply to this file’s virtual node in KeyNote will be lost, because the file will be saved in its original, plain text format.

NOTE: If you move a file containing the information for a virtual node or move the KeyNote program folder to a different location, the virtual node may become “orphaned” because the original file is still in its original location and KeyNote will not be able to find the files.

You can also use KeyNote to store checklists, applying check boxes to nodes and hiding checked nodes.

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TreePad Lite

TreePad Lite is a free personal information manager for Windows and Linux that allows you to store, edit, and search textual data, such as notes, emails, links, phone numbers, addresses, text copied from websites, etc. You enter text into articles that are organized in a hierarchical, tree format in the left-hand tree pane and displayed in the right-hand article pane. It is easy to use and fully portable. TreePad Lite has a powerful internal search engine so you can easily find your data. You can insert plain text hyperlinks to other TreePad nodes and articles, files on your hard drive, web pages, email addresses, newsgroups, and FTP sites.

There are paid versions of TreePad that have more features, such as rich text formatting options, spell checking, and the ability to open multiple databases at a time.

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WikidPad

WikidPad is a wiki-like notebook for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS that allows you to store your thoughts, ideas, to-do lists, contacts, or just about any type of information you don’t want to forget. WikidPad is different from other note-taking programs in that it’s quick and easy to cross-link your information. Links to other notes in your notebook are created using WikiWords, which is a mixed case (or camel case) word you type into the editor, such as ShoppingList or JohnDoe. WikidPad is a standalone application and does not require a web server, application server, or groupware solution to run.

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TiddlyWiki

TiddlyWiki is another wiki-like, notebook, but this one is not an application you install, but rather a single, self-contained HTML file in which all your information is stored. It is reusable, allowing you to create different wiki notebooks just by copying the original HTML file. To view it and to edit it, you simply open the HTML file in a web browser. You don’t even need internet access if you’ve stored the HTML file on a local drive. Because of its portability, your information can be published to a web server, stored in a DropBox, sent by email to someone, or kept on a USB flash drive, and the HTML format allows it to be used on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.

How-To Geek previously published an article about how to use TiddlyWiki to build your own personal wiki.

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CintaNotes

CintaNotes is a free, lightweight note-taking application for Windows that allows you to quickly save and tag useful information you don’t want to forget. You can clip text from anywhere simply by selecting it and pressing a hotkey. This clipping feature works in any program in which you can copy text to the clipboard. Searching for your information in CintaNotes is easy. Simply start typing your search terms. Only notes containing the typed phrase display in the list. You can also organize your notes using tags.

CintaNotes is a self-contained, portable application that can be put on a USB flash drive and run directly from there. Your notes can also be synchronized across multiple PCs using free online services, such as DropBox.

Additional features can be unlocked if you buy a license for $9.99. A purchased license allows you to have multiple notebook files, paste notes into other applications, export to HTML, and display tag usage counts on the Tag Sidebar.

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KeepNote

KeepNote is a note-taking application for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X that allows you to store information such as class notes, to do lists, research notes, journal entries, and much more in a simple notebook hierarchy. You can apply rich text formatting to your content, and insert images, web links, note-to-note links, file attachments and more. KeepNote provides a full-text search so you can easily find specific information at any time.

Notes in KeepNote are stored in common, easy-to-manipulate file formats (HTML and XML). You can archive or transfer your notes from KeepNote simply by zipping or copying a single folder. KeepNote has built-in backup and restore functionality using .zip files. You can also extend the functionality in KeepNote by installing plugins, or extensions.

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AM-Notebook Lite

AM-Notebook Lite is a personal information manager for Windows that allows you to easily save notes, spreadsheets with formulas and functions, diagrams and flowcharts, to do lists, tasks, and contacts, all accessible from a light weight system tray tool. Multiple notes and spreadsheets can be opened in the tabbed interface. You can apply rich text formatting to your text, embed tables in your notes, and format cells in your spreadsheets. AM-Notebook also provides a built-in backup and restore feature.

AM-Notebook Lite is the limited, freeware version of AM-Notebook. The paid version that has many more features. Both the free and the paid versions are portable.

How-To Geek previously showed you more about how to get organized using AM-Notebook Lite.

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Jarnal

Jarnal is an free, open-source application that allows you to take notes, create sketches, keep a journal, and make presentations. One of the main advantages of Jarnal is its ability to annotate PDF files, allowing you to enter text in a PDF document and combine PDF documents and rearrange pages. You can also annotate faxes and other non-PDF documents. Jarnal also provides collaboration functionality and networking connectivity, allowing you to efficiently work with others on documents.

Jarnal requires Java 2 1.4.2 or later.

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Tomboy

Tomboy is a note-taking application that works in Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. It’s a simple and easy to use program with useful features such as text highlighting, inline spell checking, auto-linking web and email addresses, font styling and sizing, bulleted lists, and undo/redo. If you often link your notes and ideas together, Tomboy is a good option. It employs a wiki-like linking system similar to that of WikidPad and TiddlyWiki mentioned earlier. Simply type a mixed case word, click the Link button on the toolbar and a new note is created. You can access recently viewed notes by right-clicking on the system tray icon and also search for older notes. Text formatting features are available from a context menu, staying out of the way until needed. You can also extend Tomboy with add-ins.

If you’re installing Tomboy in Windows, Gtk# for .NET, version 2.12.8 or higher, is required before installing Tomboy. Download this from http://ftp.novell.com/pub/mono/gtk-sharp/.

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AllMyNotes

AllMyNotes is an organizer for Windows that can be used for many different purposes, such as a diary, a planner, a project management tool, a contact management tool, a secure password manager, among many more. AllMyNotes’ 1800-bit encryption protects your notes and ideas by encrypting your data on the disk at all times. You can export your data to Rich Text Format (.rtf), HTML, or plain text (not recommended for sensitive information). Some other useful features include an unlimited number of notes and folders, basic font formatting and styles, and search and replace within notes, instant search in all your notes. Notes are organized hierarchically by topic.

You can also import notes from various formats such as .rtf, .html, .csv, and .txt, and also from Evernote and Keynote (.knt) files.

AllMyNotes also comes in a portable version, allowing you to securely take your data with you. A paid deluxe version is available that adds many more features such as, automatic URL/email/phone number hyperlinking, internal hyperlinks to notes and folders, spell-checker, table editing, restricting file and folder access with a password, strong password generator, and more.

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BasKet Note Pads

BasKet Note Pads is a note-taking program for Linux that works based on a basket, or drawer, analogy. The program provides as many baskets, or drawers, as you want, into which you can drag-and-drop different types of objects, such as text, URLs, images, etc. You can edit the objects and copy them, and organize your notes by topic or project. Paste images, links, email addresses, files, application launchers, and even colors picked from the screen into your notes. You can mark notes using tags, such as “Important,” “Information,” “Work,” or “Personal.” Quickly find your notes by word or by tag, as you type the search term.

Your data is safe in BasKet Note Pads because notes are automatically saved as soon as you modify them. You don’t need to manually save them. BasKet Note Pads also allows you to easily backup and restore your entire collection of notes, or baskets. If you enter sensitive information into BasKet Note Pads, you can protect that information, or all your notes, with a password.

BasKet Note Pads makes it easy to share your notes, or baskets, with others, who can modify them and send them back to you. If the person to whom you are sending your baskets does not have BasKet Note Pads installed, you can export your baskets to HTML web pages for other to view in a browser.

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Cloud Services

The following are cloud services that allow you to take, store, and share your information online and across computers, and mobile devices in some cases. The services listed here are free, but some also have paid options with more features available.

Evernote

Evernote is a program and a cloud service that allows you to record your important information using your computer, phone, tablet, or in a web browser. You can use Evernote to save notes, web clips, files, and images. Save entire web pages (text, images, and links) to your Evernote account using web clipper browser extensions. All your information is made available on every device and computer you use. Evernote makes sharing your notes and collaborating on projects with friends, colleagues, and classmates easy and efficient.

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SimpleNote

SimpleNote is another online notes service that allows you to record your important information and automatically and securely share it across your Windows, Linux, or Mac computer, and most mobile devices. Your notes are encrypted when they synchronize and you get lots of free storage for your information.

Search through your information on SimpleNote just by typing what you want to find. Your list of notes updates instantly to display only what matches your search term. Apply tags to your notes so you can browse them as folders. You can also pin important notes to the top of your list.

Access multiple backups of your notes by simply dragging the version slider to go back in time.

There is a premium version of SimpleNote ($19.99 per year) that provides extra features, such as more backup versions of each note, the ability to hide the ads that support the free version, Dropbox sync, and the ability to create notes by email.

Because SimpleNote is an open platform, many cool tools are being developed to extend SimpleNote’s functionality.

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Springpad

Springpad allows you to save ideas from anywhere and access them whenever you want. One of the more useful features of Springpad is that when you add something to Springpad, they instantly enhance it with more information. For example, if you save a movie you’re interested in seeing, Springpad will add the show times near you. If you save a product, they’ll tell you when the price of that product drops. Clip articles, take photos, scan product barcodes, record voice memos, or save places near you. Invite friends, family, co-workers, etc. to contribute to the notebooks you create in Springpad and expand your collection of information.

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Zoho Notebook

Zoho Notebook allows you to create virtual notebooks containing text notes, images, audio, video, etc. from multiple applications. Organize your information into books and pages. Share whole books, one or more pages, or maybe just an object on a page by granting read/write permissions. You can also keep track of changes to your books, pages, and objects.

For more information about Zoho Notebook, see the following How-To Geek articles:

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Springnote

Springnote allows you to create personal and group notebooks containing pages of information you can easily share, making it a great tool for collaborating on projects with others. It provides an advanced search utility, several templates, and 2GB of free file storage. Use your iPhone or iPod Touch to create and read Springnote pages and add photos taken with your mobile device to Springnote.

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Penzu

Penzu allows you to create notes, or entries, online that are private by default. You can individually password protect each entry in addition to your account being password protected. Insert your own photos, or photos from Flickr, into your entries. Share your individual entries using email or create a public link to your entries and post the link on your favorite social networking platform. If you have a thought you are about to lose, you can immediately begin entering it into Penzu and log in later to save the entry. When you are logged in, your work is saved as you type, so you never have to worry about losing your data.

Instantly find entries using the filtered search. Simply start typing and the results instantly display. Search, sort, filter, rename, and delete entries using the intuitive Entries page.

There is a paid ($19.00 per year) Pro version of the Penzu service that provides additional features, such as mobile access, multiple journals, military-grade encryption lock (as opposed to the basic lock provided in the free version), rich text formatting, spell-check, tagging, and the ability to sort entries by tags. Unlimited storage is provides for both Free and Pro users.

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WebAsyst

WebAsyst is a free service that allows you to write, store, organize, and share your short text notes and memos online. Catalog your notes into folders and quickly find the information you need. Access your notes from any computer with an internet connection. Provide specific access rights to share your notes with friends, family, and colleagues.

Store an unlimited number of notes and up to 100 MB of attachments on WebAsyst’s fast, secure, high availability server cluster. Your information can be accessed anytime and anywhere from any supported web browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, or Safari).

WebAsyst offers a suite of 10 applications, of which Notes is one, for online collaboration and ecommerce. Some of the other functionality (besides the Notes application) in the suite include the sharing of data and files, organizing contacts, opening an online store, and creating and managing a help desk for your customers.

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Listhings

Listhings is basically an online sticky notes service. It allows you to take notes from your browser and share and collaborate with others in real time. View your notes from anywhere on any computer that has internet access and a web browser. Listhings is really fast, free, and easy to use.

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OneShar.es

OneShar.es is a free service that allows you to share confidential information with others that you don’t want to send through email or post on instant messaging services. The information shared is encrypted from you to OneShar.es and stored encrypted. OneShar.es cannot read your information. It is assigned a unique URL that you can share. The provided URL can only be accessed once. Once someone visits the URL you send them, the information is unlocked so they can view it, and then the message is deleted. You can specify minutes, hours, or days by which the message will be self-destructed if not viewed. The maximum amount of time is 3 days.

OneShar.es does not require a password or registration and can also be used on Android and iOS devices.

How-To Geek previously showed you how to use OneShar.es to send self-destructing sensitive information to someone.

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Privnote

Privnote is another free service that allows you to send private message that self-destruct after being read once. It is very similar to OneShar.es. You do not need to register or create a password. You simply write your note, click the red button to create a link, and then send that link to the desired recipient. When the person accesses that link, they will see the note in their browser, and the note automatically self-destructs. No one, not even the same person who viewed the note, can access the note again.

There is no time limit by which the link must be viewed or it will be self-destructed. The one feature Privnote has that OneShar.es does not is a check box that allows you to receive notification when the message has been read.

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ShortText

ShortText is a service similar to OneShar.es and Privnote, but it is not secure by default. It is meant for posting notes for others to read online. For example, you can use it to post more than 140 characters on Twitter. If you have information about a party you are giving or directions to your house or a restaurant, you can create a message on shortText and send the URL to the parties involved. You can also decide to make your message private, which would be smart when posting party invitations or directions to your house. Free URLs created on shortText remain active as long is they are visited at least once in 6 months by anyone.

There is an extension for Chrome that allows you to enter up to 30000 characters in a note and then shortens it to 140 characters for use on Twitter. There is also a shortText extension for Firefox, but, unfortunately, it is incompatible with the latest version 12.0.

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Now maybe you won’t forget your next haircut appointment or to pick up the cleaning on the way home or the URL of that article that will help with your research. Happy organizing!

Lori Kaufman is a freelance technical writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.

  • Published 05/26/12

Comments (14)

  1. Dark Reality

    Great article, but I would have liked to see, at a glance, which would work with the platforms I use (Windows and Android). Maybe for future articles, H2G could get a set of 16×16 PNGs of the logos of Windows (flag), Mac OS X (X), Linux (Tux), Android (Android guy), iOS, WP7, and paid (green $) and free (paid but with a red line through it. Just a suggestion. And then some quick code to add them quickly.

    Anyway, you guys forgot a few. Obviously more than that, but I have a few to add, I mean.

    StickWiki or Wiki on a Stick functions much the same as TiddlyWiki (and uses some of its code, with permission). I think it’s a better solution. Not quite as elegant, but I like how it works better.

    My Writing Spot, ironically located at mywritingnook.com, seems to be a free web-based note solution that stores its notes in your Google account. So you log in with your Google account and give them permission to do this. I’ve never seen anything like it. They have Android, iPhone, and iPad apps. The Android app cost me $4 (maybe just $3?); I imagine the iOS apps are about the same. It had some serious sync issues when it first launched, but those have since been sorted. MWS comes highly recommended by the NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month — community and is authored by one of their own. As such, its key features are categories and word count. You have a dozen or so categories (hard coded, you can’t alter them) to choose from, named only by color. Word counts are tallied based on all the text in each category. So you can work on several stories at once, each one having several chapters, and if all the chapters have the same color/category, it will give the total word count for that story.

    Catch is… sort of a catch-all. I first used it as a cloud notebook on Android (and the web) but it’s expanded to a bunch more stuff. I haven’t used it in a while, but the Android office suite QuickOffice can add your Catch account to import/export documents, which I imagine are editable on Catch.com as well, not sure about that, though. And they support iPhone as well as iPad. I’ve always been wary of Catch, though. Just look at how many apps they have on Google Play. The main app does it all — notes, pictures, voice, etc. They bought out/took over a simple notepad app called AK Notepad (which I used before they took it over) and they added Catch sync. They have a journal app, a widget pack… and a compass. Yes, a simple compass that uses your phone’s sensors. I have no idea why they have this app, it doesn’t go with anything else.

    Then there’s Google Docs. There are smartphone apps plus the web. You can take notes in the Writer app. And you can share with anybody with an email address.

  2. Amir

    i use Evernote on Chrome (web and extensions) and iPad. i absolutely love it.

  3. Ed

    I use Essential PIM Free after trying many others. BUT, I’m finding that I use my Android phone more & more for notes, which doesn’t sync easily with EPIM, but can be done.

    Personally, I’m looking for software with an android app component that I can install on my own website. I’d rather not rely on anyone else’s cloud storage such as Google (now evil) or Microsoft or anyone else’s servers since I’ve got my own website that I’m paying for & which is more private & secure. My hosting site does have a calendar component but it’s clumsy & doesn’t sync with any app. Anyone know of personal “cloud” software & android app for note taking & PIM functions that I can install & sync with on my own web site? I keep looking but haven’t found anything other than via moving the copied files back & forth.

  4. Rajesh Prajapati

    Is there anything better than evernote with desktop application and free?? I think, No.

  5. J Glenn

    I left Evernote for Google Docs, ie. Google Drive, along with Nuance’s Paper Port software. Everything syncs with my PC, laptop, and Android tablet.

  6. Dan

    It is worth mentioning that if you use windows Live Mesh (Microsoft cloud storage) then you can have your one note automatically replicated to all your windows computers (eg.work/home/tablet), and backed up to Microsoft’s cloud.

  7. Belinda Pan

    I love OneNote, but will all Microsoft products it seems quaky. I have trouble keeping it synced with SkyDrive. One day it is synced correctly, but the next it will not be – and nothing has changed in the interim. And yet, since I only use it at home I keep using it because I think it is the perfect user interface.

  8. Tony

    Evernote and we are done. Available no all platforms. Notes, audio, photos. Ultimately searchable and free, but I use the premium version, it’s worth the $45 per year.

  9. Jason

    IQTELL is a pretty nice app for notes too, because it integrates with Evernote, email, calendars and more, so you always have everything you need in one place. I started using it recently (it’s only in beta), but I’m loving it so far.

    The web site is http://www.iqtell.com

  10. lolcat

    @Tony, What happens to my contents if Evernote subscription is not renewed?

  11. Neal
  12. grep

    @Ed

    Personal “cloud” apps that I know of
    – Owncloud.org
    – Teamdrive.com

    I, same as you, want to do “cloud storage” on my own webspace.
    Unfortunately I still haven’t gotten around to look at these or actually try them.
    I’m mostly concerned about security with these products.

  13. Bink Farmer

    Evernote and MadAppLauncher have changed the way I use computers; personal and work…

  14. gyffes

    BIG fan of Zoho’s suite of products but something people need to know — and this may be true of other web-based services — is that not all features are available in every browser.

    Between Chrome, Opera, Safari, Firefox, I’ve seen several instances where something I KNOW should be “right there” isn’t ’til I open in another browser. Opera, in particular, is not well-supported by Zoho.

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