One of the growing cottage industries in the software world is note taking applications. Over the last few years, they’ve bloomed like a hundred flowers — on the desktop, on the web, and for mobile devices.
Many of those tools are over engineered, with a large number of moving parts and features that the personal knowledge management crowd has embraced and believe are essential. Many of us, though, don’t need anything remotely that complex. We only need something basic, with which we can quickly jot down short (or not so short) thoughts, ideas, and the like.
Enter Iotas, which lies on the minimalist end of the note taking tool spectrum. It’s a small, simple, and streamlined application for the GNOME desktop. While the developers state that:
It’s fairly early days in development here, so please expect a few rough edges.
Iotas actually isn’t too bad a tool at the moment, and it has a couple or three interesting features. Let’s take a look at it.
Check your distro’s software centre (or equivalent) for the application — it should be there if your distribution’s desktop uses or is derived from GNOME. You can also install Iotas using Flatpak by cracking open a terminal window and typing:
flatpak install flathub org.gnome.gitlab.cheywood.Iotas
Fire it up. The layout of Iotas is reminiscent of the scratchpad apps that I looked at in a post from 2021, as you can see below:
Create a note by clicking the + icon on the header. You get a blank canvas on which to work:
You can add Markdown formatting to a note, but there’s no syntax highlighting. When it comes to writing your notes, working with Iotas is a lot like working in a barebones text editor.
The first line of a note becomes its title. To change the title, press F2 on your keyboard. Type a new title and then click Apply, as shown below:
To save your note, click the left-pointing arrow in the header. You’re returned to the main screen, which becomes a list of notes. You can click a note to edit it. If you need to get rid of a note, right click on it in the notes list and select Delete.
Iotas saves your notes in a SQLite database database in this folder in your /home directory:
At least, that’s where it goes on my laptops. At the moment, there’s no way to export your notes. If you want to get one or more of them out of Iotas, you need to edit a note, select all, copy, and paste the text elsewhere.
Organizing Your Notes
Iotas doesn’t offer much (if anything) in the way of organizing your notes. Like popular web application Simplenote, Iotas lists your notes in the order in which they were created — newest notes, or the ones that you most recently updated, appear at the top of the list:
Unlike Simplenote, for example, you can’t tag your notes and there’s no way to reorder them. You can, however, right click on a note and choose Add Favourite. This groups important notes at the top of the application window, as shown below:
If you have a lot of notes and need to find a particular one, click the magnifying glass icon in the header and type a word or three to do a search.
Syncing Iotas with Nextcloud Notes
The one feature in Iotas that piqued my interest is its ability to sync with Nextcloud Notes, my preferred note taking tool. And it’s easy to get the two to play nicely together.
Assuming you have an instance of Nextcloud running somewhere, click the gear icon on the right side of the header in Iotas and select Sync with Nextcloud Notes.
Next, click Continue on the dialog box that displays. Type the URL pointing to your instance of Nextcloud in the field on the dialog box, and then click Continue. Your default web browser opens and you can log into Nextcloud to give Iotas access to your notes.
Once that’s done, you can start viewing, editing, and adding to your notes. They’re saved to the Notes folder in the Nextcloud sync directory on your computer and not in the application’s default SQLite database.
Other Features and Functions
Iotas doesn’t have too many of those. You can set it to use light or dark mode, or set Iotas to follow your computer’s settings for that. As you can see from the screen captures in this post (which I took at various times during the day), I chose the latter option.
You can also click the gear icon and select Preferences to:
- Enable or disable the spelling checker, and
- Disconnect Iotas from Nextcloud.
As with most GNOME applications, you can right click on a word that the spelling checker thinks is incorrect to change it or add it to your personal dictionary.
You can change the size of the font that Iotas uses, but not the font itself. Iotas uses your computer’s default monospace font — on mine, for example, that’s IBM Plex Mono. You can also insert emojis into your notes (if that’s your thing).
Iotas is simple. It’s basic. It lacks features the some folk (and not just personal knowledge management adherents) demand or find essential. That’s OK. Iotas isn’t for them.
It is for someone who needs to quickly tap out notes in plain text. That Iotas can sync with Nextcloud Notes is a bonus — it offers a clean interface for writing and reviewing your notes in Nextcloud.
While Iotas is still in its early days, it’s still more than usable. It should be interesting to see how Iotas develops and evolves.