Open Source Musings


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.


Nowadays, I manage my todo list in a paper notebook. But when I did use a digital tool for that job, my todo list app of choice was Todo.txt. It's a command line tool that save tasks lists as plain text. And although using Todo.txt means jumping to the terminal, it's not too difficult to use and master.

Over the years, I've tried a few graphical applications that work with Todo.txt. Most were, to be blunt, clunky. I always returned to Todo.txt at the command line.

Recently, though, I came across TxDx. It's a desktop application that implements full compatibility with the Todo.txt syntax. The user interface is clean and modern, but definitely not clunky.

Let's take a look at it.


Note taking applications like Obsidian, Logseq, Craft and others have become the darlings of the personal knowledge management (PKM for short) crowd. Tools like that have many features and offer opportunities for their users to endlessly twiddle and twern to make those applications more than they are. Or, sometimes, more than they should be.

But not everyone is an adherent of PKM or of pushing tools to their limits. There are folks out there who only need something simple with which to jot down ideas or thoughts, to store that pithy quote or link or recipe. Something that's basic, fast, and which packs few frills.

A note taking tool which fits that bill is V-Notes, a very stripped down app for the GNOME desktop. Let's take a look at it.


Have you heard of TiddlyWiki? It's a portable wiki that you can use on your desktop or put on to a flash drive or mobile device and carry around with you.

TiddlyWiki is essentially a giant HTML file, with a lot of JavaScript and CSS mixed in to enable that file to function as a wiki. But TiddlyWiki is kind of big, too. The starter file weighs in at 2+ MB, and only gets larger as you add to it.

That bulk inspired a web developer named Robbie Antenesse to create a lighter analogue to TiddlyWiki called Feather Wiki. Coming in at just over 63 KB (that's not a typo!), Feather Wiki boasts the basic features of TiddlyWiki while staying fast and lean.

Let's take a look at it.


There are more than a few free and open source task management applications out there. They run at the command line, on your desktop, and even on the web. They are, as you might expect, of varying quality, and with a varying number of functions. But there's pretty much a task management tool for just about everyone's needs.

Since early 2020, I've been trying to use Nextcloud as my personal hub. One app I've been experimenting with (again) is Tasks. Which, as the name implies, is Nextcloud's todo list manager.

Let's take a quick look at how to use it.


There are a myriad of note taking tools out there. And those tools cater to a variety of needs and to a variety of user bases. It isn't a stretch to say that there's a note taking application for just about everyone.

If you use Nextcloud, you have a more-than-serviceable option in the form of (wait for it!) Notes. It's worth a look if your note taking needs are simple and you want to work in plain text.

Let's take that look, shall we?


(Note: This post was first published, in a slightly different form, at and appears here via a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.)

Even though I'm not their most enthusiastic user, I do realize that spreadsheets can be very useful. And they're not just tools for people working in finance or in data science. Anyone can use spreadsheet to keep track of their personal finances, to catalogue a personal library, and more.

Desktop spreadsheet editors have their limitations. The biggest is that you need to be at your computer to use one. On top of that, if you need to share a spreadsheet, it can quickly become a messy affair.

Enter EtherCalc, an open source, web-based spreadsheet. While not as fully featured as a desktop spreadsheet, EtherCalc packs enough features for most people.

Let's take a look at how to get started using it.


As someone who writes for a living, I tend to take a lot of notes. Once upon a time, I used a desktop application called Tomboy to do that. Tomboy was a nifty little app, but it ran a bit slowly for my tastes. And I found that it could be more than just a little unstable at times.

On top of that, Tomboy needed something called Mono in order to run. To say that Mono has something of a controversial rep in the Linux world is like saying a monsoon is a little bit of rain. I'm not a zealot, but having Mono on my laptop to run a single application seemed like overkill to me. So, it was bye-bye Tomboy and Mono.

While I now use Standard Notes to take notes, my road to it took me through several other applications, both on the web and on the Linux desktop. With the latter, one that I tried and liked was Gnote — a rewrite of Tomboy in the C++ programming language.

Recently, I decided to give Gnote another look. Here's what I found (and recalled).


Ah, the mouse ... It made computing so much easier for so many people. Why memorize a bunch of arcane commands when you can point and click?

There are times, though, when a mouse just gets in your way.

Some people, believe it or not, work better with just their keyboards. Using combinations of keystrokes and navigation keys makes them more efficient and more productive, even in a graphical environment.

One task that lends itself quite well to being keyboard driven is note taking. Let's take a quick look at two note taking applications for the Linux desktop that work better with just a keyboard.


(Note: This post, in a different form, was first published at The Plain Text Project and appears here via a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.)

Ever have a moment in which an idea or thought or quote or whatever suddenly popped into your head. A moment when you needed to get that idea or quote or whatever down before you forgot? Yeah, me too.

Once upon a time, people did that with pen and paper using something called a scratchpad. Actually, they still do. Using a paper scratchpad works, but why scramble for analog tools when you can go digital? And why use something complex when you can use plain text?

Why a Scratchpad?

You could, as I just mentioned, have a thought or idea. Something that you need to do or someone whom you want to contact. A scratchpad can be an extension of your short-term memory. Use one to put down whatever’s popped into your head before it fades away.