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I Say Goodbye To Microsoft OneNote

For the past 6+ years, I have used Microsoft OneNote for most of my note-taking. However, for the past couple of years, I have tried to find an open-source note-taking tool that suits my needs. I finally found one….. well sort of.


But first things first. I am not switching away from OneNote because it is not a good program. In fact, OneNote is in my opinion the best note-taking tool ever created, with Evernote in a close second. No. I am not switching to Evernote. But why not use OneNote if I think it is the best note-taking software. Well, I have written about this before on this blog.

It is all about the control of my data

However, awesome OneNote is, I have no control over the information stored. For the time being, the Windows version of OneNote has the ability to use Notebooks locally (save notes locally) and there I have some control, though OneNote saves to a proprietary binary file format. The Windows desktop version is the only version of OneNote with the ability to use a local Notebook. This makes sense since OneNote was released before the age of “The Cloud” back in 2003 and I think the local notebook support is there for legacy reasons only.

New Microsoft OneNote Cloud Only Sync

The iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Windows Modern, and Mac versions have all been released in the past year or two, and can only use Notebooks in the cloud. Windows 8.1 saves to the build-in OneDrive folder, which it syncs to the cloud by default, and Office 2013 saves directly to the cloud by default. Not to mention that Office 2013 wants to be logged in to a Microsoft account in order to work. Microsoft is all about the cloud these days and recently stated that they were no longer a device and services company, but a “mobile-first, cloud-first company”. Looking at Microsoft’s trends I have no hope for OneNote versions without local notebook support to get it and I expect the OneNote Desktop Version will go cloud only in a future version.

I Wrote My Own

So, I have worked hard on a sustainable and future-proof solution for my note-taking. A solution where I control where and how my data are stored. A solution with the tools and workflow I want. And a solution that I am happy with. Sadly, that did not exist. So, I had to write my own note-taking/wiki program based on markdown. I like markdown as it enables me to store and edit my notes in good old plain text, while still having the notes viewed as nicely formatted pages with clickable links, images, and so on.

For a good six months, I have slowly migrated to this program keeping two note-taking programs updated while using the program to find bugs and missing features. Today marks the day when I will no longer write notes in OneNote and only keep it for an archive, as there are some notes in OneNote that is not suitable for the plain text format of my new solution.

I Say Goodbye Microsoft OneNote

So there you have it. Sometimes even the best program is not the right solution. I say goodbye to Microsoft OneNote at a time where Microsoft has never spent so much time and money on developing and promoting OneNote.

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  1. Martin, are you planning to release to the public the app you wrote to replace Onenote or is just for your private use?
    I’m looking for a Markdown solution too, but ’till now I couldn’t find one.

    1. I am planning to release the program I call Markdown Notes to the public as an open source project. At this point, I am still using OneNote for some types of notes. I am however using Markdown Notes more and more. Fixing bugs and adding features along the way. I am planning a 0.1 beta release within a month or two.

  2. I had a very similar violent mental schism. My mind finds graphs, diagrams, and other such tools of great use in understanding ideas, and as such I have a desire to use them in my notes. I’m also an advocate of self-reliance, and have been a professional Linux admin. for over three years, only now taking on an equal share of coding and ops. work. I love mark(down|up). I made a LaTeX thesis template for my terminal MS program, and solely used LaTeX for notes in a number of Physics classes in the aforementioned program.

    I’ve just reinstalled Windows (8.1 Pro) as my primary OS on my home workstation, today in fact, after 4 years of using solely Linux, ranging from Arch to Ubuntu. The problem with open source operating systems is that they don’t support the software I need to effectively pursue my goals. Don’t get me wrong I’m an advocate of open source, but it’s all about timing. Do we need open standards now, yesterday, or is it a gradual process we see burning now and raging a decade or two in the future. I vote for the latter. There is a lot to work out, economically, spiritually, mentally, legally and trying to jump the gun is doing an injustice to realistically dealing with reality. This is just my opinion, but I’ll stick behind it from my experience over the last 10+ years using, and hitting the limitations of open source tools. Don’t get me wrong in some fields open source is the only way to go – computation, data science, many raw computational problems etc. – but there are others usually intertwined with advanced uses of computational graphical tasks that only a proprietary IP based toolset will suffice, and while it pains me it’s a matter of being realistic, but keeping the idealistic values leading us to the next stage that I stand with my choices.

    All the best,


  3. Interesting, although you don’t say why local storage is so important to you?

    For a very long time I had the same desire to store all my notes as plain text and that is what I did. On my iPad I used an app and the notes are stored to Dropbox. I could therefore easily make notes on my PC. This worked great and markdown went some way to having formatted notes but the process falls short when you want to drag and drop an image to your note or make a quick todo list for example, or some of the other stuff OneNote does. That is why over the last 6 months or so I have been using OneNote and I love it. Having said that I am a little concerned about not having plain text notes in case of disaster so maybe I should be looking into backups of some sort.

    I love the easy synchronisation of OneNote between all my devices wherever I am and have no qualms about cloud storage. Is your desire for text files and local storage actually ‘future proofing’ or are you ultimately taking a step away from the future? Does/will your new app have an iOS and android version?


    1. Local Storage is important because it gives me control over my data. I decide if I want to use a closed source sync service like Dropbox and OneDrive or if I use an open source one like Syncthing. I can even use an usbdrive and Git to sync my data. The last one is how I sync my notes as described here http://ronn-bundgaard.dk/blog/how-i-use-a-usb-stick-and-git-to-sync-my-data/ and that was my choice.

      In regards to images and ToDo lists. I solved this in the program I made as the program has a read mode and an edit mode. You read the note in the html (like a web page) and edit the note in markdown. Adding images is as easy as drag and drop the image to the note in edit mode and the program will copy the image to the note and append the appropriate markdown to show the image as an image in the read mode. I have also made it easy to make ToDo lists, as I am a big user of ToDo lists. That said using plain text even with markdown will never have all the functionality of OneNote and it is not supposed to.

      I am a software developer and 90 % of the notes I take is related to making software. This means a lot of Meeting notes, code snippets and ToDo lists. Because my notes is in plain text it is easy to write scripts that manipulate the notes and make common tasks like migrating undone ToDo items to a new list or removing done ToDo items from a list as easy as running a script. I have ten of such scripts that i use regularly. While Onetastic and OneNote Gem adds some of this features to OneNote it is awful to use and they are Windows only.

      For me the future proofing lies in me being in control of my data. If for some reason in 20 years, no computers can read plain text and or markdown. Plain text is a open standard and I can just write the software to read it. While I am quite sure plain text is still around in 20 years I very much doubt that OneNote is. Or Microsoft for that matter.

      My workflow and requirements is no longer compatible with OneNote. However, OneNote (Windows) is an awesome program so if it works for you that is great.

      I do not have a lot of time these days to work on my own software projects. I am finding it difficult enough to find time to do work on the desktop program as it is. So no, I am not planning a mobile version of the program.

      Regards Martin.

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