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I closely use two computing devices; one is mainly stationary and is my laptop and the second is mainly mobile and is my smartphone.

  • My laptop has Microsoft Windows 10 Home, in which my notes application is "Sticky notes" by Microsoft Corportation.

  • My smartphone has Google Android with OnePlus 6 Oxygen skin, in which my notes application is OnePlus "Notes".

My problem

I have become fed up with using two different notes applications and seek a minimalist approach of unifying my notes into one application shared (directly synchronized) between the two aforementioned devices.

My question

What will be a simple notes application shared between my laptop and my smartphone which is FOSS, gratis, has its own cloud and widely venerated as secure?

1
+100

Evernote is another cross-platform solution which I've used for almost 10 years.

It has versions for Android, iOS and Windows;
In Windows, it can be installed both traditionally via a wizard and as an UWP app via Windows store (just go to https://evernote.com/download on your device).

Evernote for Windows

You can find more information regarding privacy and security here. It also supports encrypting contents that only can decrypt

It's not FOSS (I glossed over that, sorry) and has some limitations, but still is a great tool with lots of powerful features that don't exist in other similar software

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  • no I'm not working in that company. Otherwise I'll show a disclaimer first – phuclv Mar 8 at 9:08
  • Unfortunately, this is not FOSS, and the last time I checked I don't think they encrypted people's data on their servers, so I wouldn't say it's widely venerated as secure (possible this has changed since I last checked). There is an option to encrypt individual notes, however. – RockPaperLizard Mar 9 at 13:27
  • Note that Evernote only includes syncing 60MB of data per month (yes, MB, not GB!) for free. I also don't think they allow offline notebooks for free. – RockPaperLizard Mar 9 at 13:34
  • @RockPaperLizard I doubt I have ever passed the 30MB with notes but thank you for letting me know ! – JohnDoea Mar 9 at 14:47
  • @JohnDoea They also limit the number of connected devices in the free version. Now it's just two (IIRC, they allowed more in the past). E. g., if you have a home desktop, a smartphone, a tablet, a notebook and a work desktop - pay or choose two of those to sync. – Headcrab Mar 10 at 1:12
3

I invite you to have a look at my application SilentNotes;
It is a FOSS application which I have developed with a strong focus on privacy.

The notes can be synchronized end-to-end encrypted between multiple Android and Windows devices and can be self-hosted. Currently supported are the FTP protocol, the WebDav protocol, Dropbox, Google-Drive and One-Drive.
It also offers a comfortable WYSIWYG editor and a fast search function.

Because the project is only in its start, I have yet to gather any testimonials to conclude that SilentNotes is "Widely venerated as secured".

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  • Your app may be a good candidate for inclusion on F-Droid (f-droid.org). One of my fellow moderators, Izzy, may be able to answer questions and help you with that process if you're interested. – RockPaperLizard Mar 6 at 10:49
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    @RockPaperLizard - Thanks for the suggestion, Izzy already included the app in his IzzyOnDroid F-Droid repository. Unfortunately f-droid can currently not host projects written in C#, I used this language so SilentNotes can be compiled cross-platform with a single code base. Hope one day I can include the app on f-droid. – martinstoeckli Mar 6 at 12:01
  • Hello, I suggest to give some details here about if SilentNotes uses a cloud or not (I should now download it to try it). I have also updated the question per this answer - you are welcome to have a look. – JohnDoea Mar 7 at 17:00
  • @JohnDoea - SilentNotes can access the cloud services Dropbox, Google-Drive and One-Drive, but it can also be used if you have an FTP account (if you have your own website) or with WebDav (a protocol sometimes offered by e-mail providers). Whatever you choose, the notes are always encrypted before they leave the device. – martinstoeckli Mar 7 at 17:10
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    I will have a look about the certificate, just tried to install it on another computer and got the same message. It is possible that Windows doesn't accept self signed certificates anymore, this would mean that I have to buy a developer ev certificate which is way too expensive (>1000$ anually). Hope I find a way around this. – martinstoeckli Mar 7 at 17:49
3

Joplin seems to me to satisfy all of these (besides the direct synchronization issue, because it requires a medium such as Dropbox to synchronize data with).

I am just a happy user of this.

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  • Hello, I have just installed Joplin; I cannot find a way to synchronize it with Windows 10 Home; I can only synchronize it with some above-OS applications such as dropbox. I am indeed able to synchronize it with a "file system" but if I am not wrong this is the smartphone's own "file system". – JohnDoea Mar 5 at 8:54
  • @JohnDoea is it not possible to sync Joplin via dropbox to your other devices (Win 10, Android, etc...)? I have a set-up where I have 2 devices (Mac, Android) and use Joplin on both, syncing via Nextcloud (a type of dropbox). – Saaru Lindestøkke Mar 6 at 11:49
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I have been using Simplenote and Standard Notes for years.

Both are FOSS and have their own mobile apps. For desktop I use their web editor, but they also have Windows app if you want to use it in desktop while offline.

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  • Hello to you ; with no intention to be fussy or nudgy, I ask ; why do you use two note applications ? I mean to ask --- why not use just one with full synchronization, which you like, and that's it? – JohnDoea Mar 6 at 11:43
  • I use simplenote for my personal notes, I store anything related for my plan, game, work, etc. I group them with "tags". And then, I found a need to store one type of notes that need to be separated by alphabets (group A for notes that begin with A and so on), I don't want them to be mixed up with my personal notes, so I look for other notes that have at least same feature with Simplenote, that is Standard Notes. I can use my 2nd email to create another accountt with Simplenote but then I would need to login/logout so often and that is impractical (especially in mobile phone). – Christhofer Natalius Mar 6 at 14:39
  • The only drawback that I found annoying in Simplenote is that after last year update, the Remember Me feature only stays 1 month and then logs me out. Standard Notes however, never asks me to login again since I first registered. – Christhofer Natalius Mar 6 at 14:45
  • Hello Christopher; I think, based on what you wrote, that it is worth to add these data to the answer body and to emphasize there, what you recommend me of using from the two, per my needs. – JohnDoea Mar 7 at 1:56
  • I also use multiple note apps, some I use less frequently and store mainly archives. Each one has their pros and cons – phuclv Mar 7 at 5:31
0

Google Keep is available on web, Android, iOS and all platforms that can run Chrome. There are 2 official extensions you can find on the store: Google Keep Chrome Extension and Google Keep - Notes and Lists. I have no idea what the differences between them are but both can run offline and can be pinned to the taskbar to run as PWA desktop app

Edit:

Unfortunately this is not FOSS software. I didn't noticed that requirement. But apart from that it should be OK if you use an Android phone and are not against Google

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  • Is this FOSS as required by the OP? – RockPaperLizard Mar 9 at 13:29
  • Probably not. Didn't notice the FOSS bullet at first – phuclv Mar 9 at 13:46
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I'd suggest ColorNote

Requirements met:

  1. simple notes application: Very Straight forward
  2. shared between my laptop: available in the Windows app store, Easily syncs between devices
  3. gratis: yep
  4. has its own cloud: can backup to it's own servers
  5. venerated as secure? Option available to encrypt data

Requirements partially met:
1. my smartphone: Android app is available, ios is not supported

Requirements not met:

  1. FOSS (Open Source): ColorNotes is not Open Source

Other:

  1. Option to save data as straight text or in check box formats
  2. Ability to color code notes
  3. Includes a Calendar app
  4. Reminder capability

For me, ColorNote checks all of my boxes (literally)

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QOwnNotes is a flexible solution that can sync with various clouds of your choice like ownCloud, Nextcloud, Dropbox, Syncthing, Seafile or BitTorrent Sync... Looks like any file syncing software is supported, but it'll work better if you have a server of your own and use platforms with a special note taking API like ownCloud or Nextcloud

It can also import notes from Evernote and supports AES-256 or custom encryption methods like Keybase.io (encryption-keybase.qml) or PGP (encryption-pgp.qml)

QOwnNotes is the open source (GPL) plain-text file markdown note taking application for GNU/Linux, Mac OS X and Windows by Patrizio Bekerle (pbek on GitHub and IRC), that (optionally) works together with the notes application of ownCloud or Nextcloud.

  • You own your own notes! All notes are stored as plain-text files on your desktop computer.
  • Sync them over devices (desktop & mobile) with your ownCloud or Nextcloud sync client.
  • Use ownCloud Notes to edit your notes in the web.

You are able to write down your thoughts with QOwnNotes and edit or search for them later from your mobile device (like with CloudNotes) or the ownCloud / Nextcloud web-services.

The notes are stored as plain text files and you can sync them with your ownCloud or Nextcloud sync client. Of course other software, like Dropbox, Syncthing, Seafile or BitTorrent Sync can be used too.

https://www.qownnotes.org/

Screenshot

Depending on the cloud you use you'll need different apps on your phone to sync

  • For Android and OwnCloud: MyOwnNotes
  • For Android and Nextcloud: Notes
  • For iOS: CloudNotes

On Android you could also use any sync-tool like Synchronize Ultimate or FolderSync to sync your note files and use software like neutriNotes or Markor to edit your notes.

You can download the installer for your platform here

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0

Microsoft's OneNote

  • It is not open source, but it is free -> Free version.
  • It is cloud based (OneDrive)
  • Privacy? It is not a zero-knowledge solution, so you have to trust. See privacy section below.
  • Platforms: PC (Win7+, Pre-installed on Windows 10), Mac, iOS, Android, and the web
  • Can be used standalone, but of course it integrates well with other 365 apps: Word, PPT, Sharepoint, Teams, Excel, etc.
  • Hierarchical Structure - Notebook (file) has 1..* sections has 1..* pages has 0..* Subpages
  • Can embed pictures, objects and attach files
  • Real-time collaboration in shared notebooks. Can make publicly accessible via a link or limit access to specific users. You can even embed your notebook in a web page.
  • Decent search features

I have been using it for about 5 years. I use it on Android and on Windows 10 as an app and in the browser (Firefox and Chrome). It automatically syncs nicely between all of my devices. It usually happens so quickly, that I often use it as a mechanism for transferring a picture to my laptop [just saying, it's that easy]. I mostly use OneNote in the browser because on my current work laptop the OneNote app is more restricted, I assume because it is Office 365 and my organization has a policy that restricts using personal accounts (OneDrive actually told me that when I tried to add my personal account).

I haven't used the collaboration feature much, but I just tested it out briefly in firefox browser and in the OneNote Win10 app. App worked beautifully. Another tester (my wife) and I were able to work remotely without a single flaw. It gladly allowed us to interweave words on the same page. The same test failed miserably when we were both using firefox, but maybe it was just a temporary glitch.

Privacy

I recommend separate notebooks based on the level of privacy you want. Anything that is super private, like your life depends on it, shouldn't be stored in OneNote (Maybe LastPass).

For privacy of a normal OneNote notebook's content you need to look at Microsoft's Privacy Policy regarding Office products and OneDrive. There is no specific reference to OneNote in this policy, but this document is referenced by both the web and Win10 app version of OneNote. It is long, but this caught my eye:

we collect data about your usage of the service, as well as the content you store, to provide, improve, and protect the services.

My overall interpretation is that they don't intend to use the content, but even if that interpretation is correct, you still have to worry about internal bad actors or defects misusing your data since it is not a zero-knowledge solution. So, it boils down to trust.

For more security that is still shareable, you can Password protect sections which implies zero knowledge. However, since this is not OSS we have to trust that the password is not sent to MS? Locked sections cannot be searched (makes sense) and if you forget your password your data is lost, so I recommend using LastPass.

For more security that is NOT shareable with limited accessibility from other devices, store your OneNote notebook in a Personal Vault in OneDrive. Here is a good article. Although Vault may be good for other types of files, it currently has limitations for OneNote. First, it does not show up in the OneNote applications. You have to unlock your vault and click on the file. I was only successful in opening the notebook using Chrome on Win10:

  • Win10:
    • Chrome on windows successful.
    • Firefox failed.
  • Android: It did not show up in my OneNote Android app. I could see the file from my OneDrive app, but it tried to open in OneNote unsuccessfully. I couldn't access it from Chrome browser either (mobile nor desktop version) from my phone.

For even more security that is not accessible by you on all of your devices, I think you can use OneNote 2016 application and store the file locally encrypted. I think this defeats the point though.

For the most security don't use OneNote, instead use a zero-knowledge, probably less-featured, solution like LastPass.

Other Resources

OneNote Web version docs

Comparison of web and app version by Microsoft

OneNote FAQ It appears that OneNote will continue to be free, but Office365 subscriber will start receiving premium features as of 2020.

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