Taking Notes on the Linux Desktop with Paper

12 June, 2023

If there’s one category of software that’s seem to have had a bit of a boom in recent years, it’s software for taking notes. On the desktop, on the web, on mobile devices, there seems to be a new note taking app popping up every couple of weeks.

Whenever I mention tools to take notes, some wag always comes along and says Why not just use ... followed by a name like Logseq, Notion, Obsidian, Emacs and org-mode, or some such application. There’s nothing wrong with those applications, but they’re not for everyone.

Some people just need a note taking tool just lets them take notes. And nothing more. One smaller, lighter note taking tool that might appeal to the Linux user is Paper.

Let’s take a look at it.

Getting Paper

The easiest way to do that is to use your Linux distribution’s software centre (or whatever your Linux distribution calls it). Paper is also available from Flathub and as a snap.

Or, if you want to embrace your inner geek you can grab Paper’s source code and compile it yourself.

Once you have Paper installed, fire it up. This screen displays:

Paper when you first start it

Getting Started Taking Notes

Paper is built around the idea of notebooks which, obviously, you use to organize individual notes. To get started, you need at least one notebook.

To create the notebook, click New Notebook. This screen displays:

Creating a notebook in Paper

Then, do the following:

When you’re done, click Create Notebook. To add more notebooks, click the stacker menu in the top-left of the window and select New Notebook. Then, repeat the steps above. Paper adds a tab for each notebook to the bar on the left.

Click on a tab, then click the + icon in Paper’s header to create a note. You’re presented with a blank canvas, on which you can start typing:

Editing a note in Paper

You’re not limited to plain text. You can format your notes using Markdown, either by adding it by hand or using the formatting toolbar at the bottom of the screen:

The formatting toolbar in Paper

One thing to note: the default name for a note is ... well, it’s Note. You need to change that by clicking on the pencil icon beside the note’s name and typing a new one.

And if you find the sidebar distracting, or if you just need some more screen real estate while editing a note, you can click the Toggle Sidebar button at the top of the editing pane to hide it, like this:

Editing in Paper with the sidebar hidden

Saving Your Notes

Paper does that automatically. Each note is saved as a plain text file with the extension .md. However, slightly more problematic, is where Paper saves your notes.

Out of the box, that’s .var/app/io.posidon.Paper/data in your /home directory. I don’t know about you, but I prefer my files to be in a location that’s easier to access (and sync, if needed). You can change where Paper saves your notes in its preferences.

Configuring Paper

To do that, click the stacker menu in the top-left of the window and select Preferences. This screen displays:

Setting Paper’s preferences

You can:

A Few Drawback

And they’re small ones. The first I mentioned a few paragraphs ago: the default name for new notes. Instead of Note, I prefer that it automatically take the first line of the note as its name, as some other note taking tools do.

When you change the folder in which Paper saves your notes, it doesn’t copy any existing notebooks or notes over to the new location. You need to cut and paste them into their new home from within your desktop’s file manager.

While notebooks are how Paper enables you to group your notes, it doesn’t recognize subfolders within those notebooks. I prefer to further categorize my notes like that — for example, having subfolders for each of my blogs in the Blogging notebook.

At the moment, Paper doesn’t support tagging. It’s a feature that I hope its developers are thinking about adding. That said, Paper’s search function is actually not too bad.

The way in which some Markdown formatting renders, specifically for blockquotes (as you can see in some of the images earlier in this post), is a bit wonky. It’s not a deal breaker, but it can be a small distraction at times.

Finally, the font in the editor is small. You can zoom in, and Paper sort of remembers that setting the next time you start it. A way to set the size of a font when you select the font itself would be a nice addition.

Final Thoughts

When I first started working with Paper, I wasn’t completely sure about it. Quickly, though, Paper grew on me — even with the drawbacks I mentioned above. Paper might not pack all of the features that the personal knowledge managementcrowd demands, but that’s OK. It’s not for them. Paper is, however, quick and it does its job well and with a minimum of fuss or overhead.

If your note taking needs are fairly simple, then give Paper a try. It might surprise you as much as it surprised me.

Scott Nesbitt