Cross-platform, Offline Note Taking? Use Dropbox (and some other apps).

There are two problems with my favorite note-taking apps, Google Keep and Simplenote:

  1. They don’t have desktop apps. Web apps are of course available, but it doesn’t feel as natural as a desktop app. Simplenote do have a desktop app, but it’s not available for 32-bit Linux, and being an Electron app, I think it would be a little heavy on system resources. (I’ve used NvPy, an unofficial Simplenote client for Linux which works fine, but hI don’t like its interface.)
  2. Their contents are not available offline, at least on the desktop.

Lately, I tried to find out how to sync my notes on my phone, the web (I often use a public computer), and my Linux desktop. It’s not surprising that many note-taking apps don’t support Linux. I knew that you can use Owncloud to store and sync notes, but I don’t have the knowledge and time to deal with setting up a server right now.

The answer is right under my nose all this time: Dropbox and .txt files. Plain text is an unusual, but good way to save your notes, since they’re tiny and platform-agnostic. I’ve been increasingly using Dropbox to sync files shared by many Android apps (.org files from Orgzly, my drafts from iA Writer, todo.txt from Simpletask, etc.) and to store app configuration backups. Dropbox’s free storage space is tiny compared to many cloud services, so I think it made more sense to use it for such purposes than to actually use it to store my important files (for that, I have Google Drive). I found some Android .txt-based note-taking apps that syncs to Dropbox: Plain.txt and Notes for Android. Since I also want an app with a web interface, I’ll continue with Notes for Android.

Notes for Android is a pretty decent note-taking app. You can create and delete folders (‘notebooks’), sort notes by criteria, protect it with a password, and even use a Markdown-like formatting and add image files. It’s a good app on its own, but to sync with Dropbox go to Settings -> Synchronization.

You can also see your notes online by going to notesforweb.com and logging in with your Dropbox account.

On Dropbox, your notes are stored on ./Apps/Notes for Android. Note that the folders you created on Notes for Android appear as actual folders on Dropbox.

What about Linux?

You’ll have to install a Dropbox client and find out where your Dropbox folder is (default is ./Dropbox), then you can install P.S. Notes. It’s a note-taking app that reads and saves .txt files – thus making it a good match for Notes for Android. Install it from the PPA:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:thejambi/thejambi

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install psnotes

After you’re done, open your note folder from the button on the top left corner.

At first it doesn’t seem that P.S. Notes can open folders created by Notes for Android, but actually it can do that; just open the folder you like with the same button and you can switch between them.

Another nifty feature P.S. Notes has is its support for Markdown files, which means I can open and edit my drafts. To enable it, click on ‘Work with .md’ on the Settings menu next to the window buttons.

P.S. Notes highlights Markdown formatting on a file, but I it lacks features found on most Markdown editors, e.g. spellchecking, automatic completion, and exporting options. I don’t think this app needs those features, though.

Conclusion

This configuration works fine, but I won’t use it as a replacement to Google Keep/Simplenote. I think it’s best suited for those who want to make the most of Dropbox or often work without internet connection.

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