Working with QOwnNotes

14 November, 2023

You might recall a previous post in which I outlined the requirements for my ideal note taking application. In case you’re wondering, I haven’t found that particular tool yet. And, to be honest, I haven’t been on an active hunt for it.

But in my drive to simplify and consolidate various things digital in my life, I now work with notes mostly on my desktop. That, in turn, recently drew me back to an application that I’d investigated in past.

Meet QOwnNotes. If you’re familiar with it, QOwnNotes might seem like a strange choice for me — it packs more features than I need or use. But you can also make it as barebones or as complex as you need or want.

After I took QOwnNotes for a lengthy test drive, I came away with new appreciation for it. Let’s jump in and see what I discovered.

Getting QOwnNotes

The fastest, easiest way to install QOwnNotes is to use the software centre (or whatever it’s called) in the Linux distribution that you use. I installed it on my laptop using the Zorin OS Software app.

You can also download an AppImage, or install it via Flathub or as a snap. The choice is yours.

If you’re of more technical bent, you can compile the source code.

Getting Started with QOwnNotes

When you start it up, you’ll notice that QOwnNotes has something of a cluttered user interface:

QOwnNotes the first time you start it

Out of the box, QOwnNotes reminds me of the Geany text editor in that the interface contains a lot of what I don’t need or use. But like Geany, you’re not stuck with all of that.

You can change the look and feel of the interface by clicking Note > Settings. Ignore most of what you see, and jump to the Interface section of the Settings window. These are the key items I changed:

Here’s what the QOwnNotes window looks like after I set it up to fit my needs:

A more minimal look to QOwnNotes

QOwnNotes has quite a few more settings. Feel free to poke around in them.

Selecting a Folder For Your Notes

Some people keep all of their notes in a single folder and use either tags or search to quickly find the notes they needs. And QOwnNotes has a pretty decent search function.

I’m not one of those people. I prefer a bit of organization, which comes in the form of folders. In QOwnNotes’ settings under Note folders, you add one or more sets of folders. You could, for example, have a folder for personal notes and separate ones for your projects.

Those folders don’t need to be in the same directory on your computer — you can, for example, point QOwnNotes to a folder in your /home directory and to the notes folder in Nextcloud.

Taking Notes

Either click the New note icon on the toolbar or press Ctrl+N on your keyboard. Your new note contains a default title, which consists of the word Note followed by the current date and time. Here’s an example:

A new note in QOwnNotes

Change the title and then start typing. QOwnNotes supports Markdown, which you can add by hand or using a toolbar icon.

Here’s an example of a note:

Example of a note in QOwnNotes

And here’s an example of a preview of a note, which you can call up by clicking the Show Note preview panel button on the toolbar:

Previewing a note in QOwnNotes

QOwnNotes automatically saves your notes as plain text files, with the extension .md, to the folder that I mentioned a few paragraphs ago.

Adding Images to a Note

You can also add images to a note by either:

In both cases, QOwnNotes adds the Markdown code for the image. When you preview the note, the image displays along with the text of the notes.

Importing Notes

You don’t have to start from scratch. If you use Evernote, Joplin, or Tomboy, you can import the notes that you have in those applications — learn more about how to do that at the QOwnNotes website.

You can also import text files on your computer. From the Note menu, select Import > Import notes from text files, and then point QOwnNotes to the folder containing the text files that you want to import.

Installing Scripts

While QOwnNotes has a number of settings and features, you can add more to the application using scripts. They are, as you’ve probably guessed, like little programs that extend the capabilities of QOwnNotes.

To install a script, click Notes > Settings. In the Settings window, click Scripting. From there, click Add script and then select Search script repository. This window displays:

The selection of scripts that you can install in QOwnNotes

Find the script that you want and then click Install. To be honest, I’ve only found five scripts to be useful. They are:

Final Thoughts

QOwnNotes comes very close to being my ideal note taking application. While it does pack far more features that I use, it’s fairly easy to streamline the user interface to make it seem like many of those features aren’t there.

While I’m still not entirely sure I’ll continue to use QOwnNotes into the future, for now it’s working for me. With QOwnNotes, I can quickly jot down, organize, and use my notes. And isn’t that the point of a tool like this?

Scott Nesbitt