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The Case Against Evernote

Tech Talk One-Oh-One
This blog post is hard for me to write because I’m not typically a negative person. I’d much rather write about things I’m passionately excited for rather than write about things I’m against. In this case, I’d rather write ten blog posts extolling the virtues of OneNote rather than write a single post presenting the case against using Evernote. But my job as an IT professional is to recommend the best tool for the job to my clients, and Evernote has enough issues that I feel it’s worth my time to dissuade my readership from relying on it as a part of their workflow.
This month the Evernote team sent out an email to its users about a critical bug in its software. Fortunately, this bug is limited to the MacOS version of the popular notes app, and it doesn’t affect any text notes. Unfortunately, the bug completely deletes attachments from saved notes, which can be catastrophic for many Evernote devotees. In this blog post, I’d like to tell you why this is so important, and why you shouldn't trust your data to Evernote and should choose a better notes app.
Evernote is very popular. It’s probably one of the more well-known note taking apps, and it has a couple of very attractive features: It’s free to use for most people; it’s easy to dump large amounts of information into from a variety of sources; it’s cross-platform—you can get an Evernote app for just about any smartphone or computer. The other thing Evernote has going for it is that people who use Evernote do a great job of evangelizing the platform to non-users.
In my opinion, though, I believe that Evernote is severely lacking because of some user-hostile design decisions, and because of the way it’s structured as a notes app. I also believe there are some superior alternatives that may not have as much exposure, but have a better, more user-friendly platform.

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

First and foremost, Evernote is a disorganized app. From my experience, it’s less of a place to organize your ideas than it is a place to dump thoughts. This structure isn’t necessarily a horrible thing; sometimes you need to get something out of your head and down on paper. But this is where Mind Mapping apps shine. They’re designed to let you put down lots of small nuggets of information or ideas, and then you can completely rearrange them and structure them into a cohesive, hierarchal structure. A notes app is okay for dumping thoughts as long as it also offers the tools to make it easy to organize those thoughts and make sense of them. Extensive search doesn’t cut it. Search is important, but it is not an organizational tool.

Come Together

Evernote also suffers from a lack of collaboration options. Typically, most of your notes are for personal use; meetings, plans, to-do lists, projects, etc. But often Notes apps are also used as a central hub for a whole team to work on a shared project. Unfortunately, Evernote doesn’t seem to be designed to have a team of people working together. Compare this to OneNote, which has been built from the ground up with multiple users in mind. OneNote keeps track of who makes changes to a note, and when the changes were made, with very simple roll-back options. My coworkers and I use OneNote to write down ideas for our weekly podcast, Full Frontal Nerdity, and I can see at a glance any edits that have been made, and by whom. I can even ask OneNote to notify me of any changes made by other team members. And by using OneDrive or SharePoint as the storage location for the app (rather than a proprietary sync engine), granting and revoking permissions to OneNote notebooks is super simple.

In fact, if you try to share an Evernote note with a coworker, it will require them to also jump on the Evernote bandwagon. Contrast this, again, to OneNote that uses industry standard HTML on the backend, and has a slew of import and export options, as well as a robust web app interface. Evernote is notoriously difficult to get data out of, especially in any kind of organized fashion. This issue is a dangerous lock-in policy, designed to make sure you’re held in place by your attachment to your data. By locking them up in proprietary formats, you can’t just move your notes around, and you can’t export those notes to other apps.

Show Me the Money

Lastly, you should also be aware that Evernote works on a freemium model. You can download and use Evernote for free, but if you want to get any serious usage out of it, be prepared to pay the $70/yr premium. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but again, OneNote is a free app with ALL of its features unlocked. Microsoft offers OneNote for free because they WANT you using their products on all your devices. They want you to love OneNote so much you’ll subscribe to Office 365. They want you to have OneNote on the home screen of your iPhone because you use if for everything. This is a different business model than Evernote’s because you don’t run the risk of losing your data if you no longer decide to keep paying the subscription fees.

So, What to Do?

First, let me stress this: Use a notes app that doesn’t lock you in. I’ve used SimpleNote for many years, and it’s chief selling point to me was the one-time purchase price and the fact that it uses open standards that are easy to import and export, and in fact, even the source code has been open sourced. Even using Notepad on your PC and saving text files to Dropbox or OneDrive is a good option, because YOU still own and control your data. Of course, my favorite app that Microsoft makes is OneNote, and you really should consider switching from Evernote to OneNote. Microsoft even makes a tool to help you import data since Evernote makes it so hard to export. Use a notes app that lets you email your note without needing the recipient to download an app!
Fortunately, the Evernote bug that eats your data has been patched. If you are still using Evernote, make sure you’re fully up to date. But now would be a good time to consider switching to OneNote, and lose the headache for good!


Samuel O. Blowes, Director of Solution Consulting
Samuel O. Blowes

Director of Solution Consulting