Take Note

I am on my end of summer vacation and working through some psychic backlog items. Don’t get me started on Wireguard VPN. Grumble, grumble. But I am kind of relieved to have spent the morning screwing around with note applications again.

I spent most of 2022 looking for a replacement for OneNote. I was starting to make use of Synology’s DS Note, as it keeps the data local (biggest gripe about OneNote), is feature-rich, and is cross-platform…including Linux. What I don’t like is the interface. Come on, Synology! Surely, you can do better than this:

And, no, there is no dark mode or theming. You get what is on offer and that is it. There is no way that I can sell this to my wife, no matter how functional it is. It just isn’t pretty enough.

Another issue I have with it is that it is Synology lock-in. This was very definitely something that I was looking to escape. In fact, I am starting to investigate TrueNAS. I’ve read that it is technically possible to export a note as xml, but I am not sure what that actually buys me. As I said, I spent most of 2022 looking at and researching note-taking applications. You name it, I’ve installed it and tried it out, pretty much. Know what I came back to? Synology DS Note! Honestly. I made a list of things that I wanted. The only thing it isn’t is FOSS! It can do basic notes, lists, to-dos, draw on it from the iPad, drag in image files, etc, etc. The latest update, which is about a month old as of this posting, includes the ability to include other forms of media, as well. I am guessing that is video or sound files. Maybe I will look at that after lunch. I am currently keeping all of my network documentation in DS Note, including my Change Log.

But there was still something else nagging at me. While I have DS Note installed on my iPhone, it isn’t my go-to note app. What is? Apple Notes.

They’ve really been working on this app. I have my setup now showing each of my eight email accounts (well, seven plus iCloud). And it is this that brought me to this morning’s research.

While I was working on that damned Wireguard VPN solution, I needed to find an easy way to get the public keys copied from the router to the iPhone and the iPhone to the router. I thought “Hey! You have notes enabled on your matthannan.net email account. Let’s use that!” But you know what? It is read-only from anywhere but the iPhone. I could pass the iPhone’s public key to the PC to get to the router, but I could not then paste the router’s public key into this same note and have it available on the iPhone. That was kind of eye-opening. But, matthannan.net is not really all that feature rich, as it is just my web host that is providing it.

I then started looking at Gmail, which also has the notes feature enabled on the iPhone. Guess what? Read-only in the browser. Read-only in the Gmail app on the iPhone itself! Hmmm. Searching (I use Qwant these days) for how to get this done showed that this goes back to the long-standing Apple vs Google war. Get over it, guys. In order to end the misery, I simply emailed the keys to myself, which was what I was trying to avoid by using notes.

I then turned to my old, old Hotmail account. Yup, I kept it as hotmail.com when they wanted everyone to convert to outlook.com. Anyway, this too, has the notes feature turned on. I quickly added a test note to the Hotmail account on the iPhone. I was not holding out any hope, but I fired up Edge (where I do all my Microsofting) on my PC and went to outlook.com. I added in the Notes applet and instantly saw the note. Not expecting much, I opened the note and was shocked and amazed that I could edit it. I was even more amazed when the edit was passed to the iPhone! If Microsoft can get this figured out, surely Google can as well, so it really, really is down to that damned old war. Seriously, guys. End it already.

Impressed, I then took things to crazy extremes, and installed the actual Outlook application on my PC and configured it for my matthannan.net email account. This resulted in the same read-only notes. So then I created another email profile and configured that for my Hotmail account. Holy crud, it worked!

Looking around a little bit more, I stumbled on a web page showing how to add iCloud Notes as a progressive web app. I’ll tell you, I really do not want to keep my data at Apple anymore than I want to keep it at any of these other Big Tech companies. If I could keep it all on the Synology in a platform agnostic way, I would be entirely happy. But here we are.

I’ll tell you, though. It is kind of slick.

It is so slick, in fact, that I mentioned it to Jenny. She has like a billion Apple Notes on her iPhone. She’ll think about it.

Apple Notes is not as feature-rich as Synology DS Notes, but it has come a long way from being a rudimentary text editor. I am going to keep this web app on my PC and laptop, and I think that I am going to turn off the notes feature on all of my email accounts, save for the Hotmail, as it is the only one that has two-way sync working. And, while I do not want to keep my Apple Notes at iCloud, it is hella convenient.

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