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.
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:
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:
- Layout — Select Minimal.
- Editor fonts — I set those to IBM Plex Mono (my monospace font of choice).
- Toolbars — I removed most of the buttons from the main toolbar, since I never use them.
Here’s what the QOwnNotes window looks like after I set it up to fit my needs:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
- Pressing Ctrl+Shift+I on your keyboard and pointing QOwnNotes to that image, or
- Copying the image to your clipboard, right clicking, and selecting Paste html or media
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.
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.
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:
Find the script that you want and then click Install. To be honest, I’ve only found five scripts to be useful. They are:
- ATX Headline - Tells QOwnNotes to use hashtags (#) to format headings.
- Blank Note - Adds a button to the toolbar which, when I click it, creates a note with no heading or text.
- Export notes as one HTML file - Enables me to select multiple notes and save them as a single HTML document.
- Paste HTML as GitHub Markdown - If I’ve copied some HTML from somewhere, this script converts it to Markdown when I paste it into a note.
- Duplicate note - Makes a copy of a note. This is useful when I use a note as a template.
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?