Gradually Complementing/Replacing Evernote with Obsidian

The first “personal information manager” I’ve used was Lotus Organizer in the mid 90s. Then there was Microsoft Schedule+, later replaced by Microsoft Outlook, which I stopped using as my personal tool in 2010 or so.

I had a Palm OS around 2000 which I used mostly for note taking. Then a Microsoft Pocket PC in 2003, I think, which I hoped it’d integrate with Microsoft OneNote, which I used for some time.

Then I got into Onfolio (which allowed downloading webpages, organizing them into collections, and building my own knowledge store). A nice little tool that vanished without further notice shortly after getting acquired.

Other than OneNote, all of those things disappeared in a matter of just a few years.

ALL
of them. In just a FEW years.

How can we trust technology when it goes out like that? But I digress…

In 2009, I heard of Evernote, when they were still in Beta. I gave it a try and have been using it since then. Being able to use the same tool seamlessly on a PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad: that’s what got me hooked immediately. I’ve put out many blog posts on how I’ve been using it.

I always keep an eye out for different ways to improve my process and systems. Up until 2020, I haven’t found any reason to replace Evernote with anything else. Compared to the options above, this tool has had a very long and stable run for me. Kudos to them.

Their first version was implemented in WPF, which they’ve learned wasn’t the best choice for their product, and so they rewrote the entire software from scratch after a while. As a consumer of their tool, I remember switching between the two versions going painlessly. As far as I remember, they reached feature parity quickly (at least for the features I used extensively at the time).

But then in 2020 comes another full rewrite: as I understand, they had a different codebase for each operating system they supported (PC, OS, iOS, Android…), which was very hard to keep up with (adding features, fixing bugs…). So this time they went with ElectronJS.

I got into the beta program to try out the new version. I use the tool all day long, on a PC, on a Mac, and on my iPhone. Within a month I had to go back to the previous version, not because of the expected stability issues of a beta version, but because of the large number of missing features I’ve been relying on for several years.

To mention a few of those features:

  • Lack of support for tabs. Here’s one of my use cases for it.
  • Lack of multi-window support (I can open notes in separate windows, but I can’t have multiple Evernote windows)

As someone who works with 3 computer screens most of the day, being able to use those screens effectively is a must, and a tool that doesn’t let me run multiple windows severely impacts that need.

Evernote “Legacy”: multiple windows and tabs

I’ve reported to them all of the use cases and reasons why I was falling back to their “legacy” version, at least on my Mac, which is where I use the tool the most. I’ve kept using the latest version on my PC so I could stay updated on their progress. As I saw their comments about which features we could be expecting soon, and the lack of information on most of the features I was interested in, I figured I should start looking for alternatives.

With so many people swearing by Notion, I looked into it. Didn’t like it.

At a Virtual Brown Bag earlier this year, I heard of Obsidian. It looked interesting, so I noted I should look into it. A few months later, I start hearing good things about it from people whose opinion I trust. So I decided to spend more time on it. I’m liking it.

I’m gradually learning more about the tool. It doesn’t seem to fit all of my use cases yet. But it does work really well for some of them.

For some things, I’ve either completely moved over or started to move parts of it. For example, keeping track of my book reading or how to decide what book to read next, and building and maintaining my book library. Also, keeping track of quotes that inspire me.

I’m not in a hurry. I’m not desparate to use the flashy new toy. And I do see me using the different tools for different parts of my system.

Obsidian has one of the same issues that the Electron-based version of Evernote does: lack of multi-screen support. The latest version added an option to open/move a note into a separate window, but it currently doesn’t work well on the PC and Mac. It seems fine when the windows are showing on the same screen, but it gets really funky when I move the new windows to another screen.

Obsidian: Multiple windows and panes on a single screen

Looking at where Evernote has been putting their effort for the last 2 years and the direction they’re going, and where Obsidian is going with their community plugins and all, I’ll keep working at my gradual transition between the two tools.

I’ll put out separate posts talking about specific use cases.

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