Moving from Evernote to OneNote – Part 1. Why?

I’ve been using Evernote for 10 years. At first, the retina-burn white background didn’t bother me. But, as the quantity, quality and brightness of my monitors increased, and my eyes aged, it began to become a real problem. When I began writing books, and using EN to organize my notes, it became unbearable.

“Dark mode” is the #1 requested feature for Evernote – the request goes back nearly as far as EN itself. Over the years, there have been various workarounds. Early on, you could just edit some XML to get it once, then use that note as a template. I started using this trick in 2014. Then, EN changed the way its notes were built, and this stopped working. Then, some clever user figured out how to change a string in the executable to color the background. I was back in business, and wrote a perl script to do this automatically.

Then EN changed their code again, and it stopped working. I stayed on the old version of the executable until it stopped working. Uh-oh. My eyes are bleeding!

Then some really clever user figured out how to hack hex values in the executable to do this, but you had to counterbalance the change to make the checksum work. I hacked a version or two, then stopped updating my EN Windows client.

In Nov, 2018, EN announced dark mode on all clients except Windows. Huh? Isn’t Windows the primary environment? Apparently not. After many months of waiting and wondering when dark mode was coming to EN on Windows, I started digging around.

What I found worried me. Despite repeated questions from users, EN has declined to even publicly state that dark mode for the Windows client is even in the plan. It seems EN is in financial trouble, and the Windows client seems to be unwanted ballast on a sinking ship.

So, I started looking at alternatives. I’ve been burned a few times recently by companies that pivoted to an Enterprise strategy (Crashplan, Syncplicity), or got acquired and jacked up their prices (Lastpass), so I’m being more careful about where I get important software tools. My son works for a large semiconductor company, and they use OneNote. He’s the one who originally introduced me to EN, and he still uses EN for personal items. His view was that the two tools were pretty comparable.

So, I began to look at ON in detail. I made a table of features I use and value, and OneNote came out looking good:

FeatureOneNoteTested (notes)
HierarchyYes (unlimited)Works well via “section groups”.  I built a books group and went down about 4-5 levels.  Probably more flexible and intuitive than EN’s NB stacks.
Screen ShotsPuts shot on clipboard.  Used to be able to go directly to ON, but appears this was removed in 2016.Simple paste in 2016 version
Web Clipperyes (inc chrome)Works.  Actual webpage only shows up when clicked on (but is saved independently, so it won’t disappear/change with the real web page)
Internal Linksyes.  Even down to paragraph levelWorks
External (web) LinksyesWorks.  Even opens in Chrome.
(Dark Mode)coming (avail on notes themselves via color mode)Only on ONw10.  None of the ON2016 colors is nearly dark enough.
(Color Mode)yesYes.  Looks like only 16 colors, though.
Multiple Machinesyes.  Appears to use OneDrive.  Might be able to sync individual notebooks.Yes
Windows, Androidyes.  Gets good reviews in playstore.Works
Open note in new windowyesWorks.  Appears to open a whole new, full-featured, copy (ON2016)
TagsMaybe.  Old tags were 6 fixed values (“important”, etc).  In ON2016, they introduced custom tags.  But ON2016 has been “sunseted”.  However, they have color tabs in each notebook, which would allow intra-notebook tags.  But, MS intends to simply implement the ON2016 features in “OneNote for Windows” anyway…Works.  Haven’t tried custom tags yet (these are ON2016 only)
Check boxesyesWorks.
EvernoteAuto directoryCan add files, not clear if it’s that easy to drag and dropWays to add files:Print > (device) OneNote (starts ONw10 on W10)Insert > FileDrag and Drop from File Exp
N/ADrawing with surface penWorks great.
N/AEmbedding spreadsheetsWorks.  Fires up Excel for editing, of course…

After doing some research, I concluded that EN as a company is in serious trouble. OneNote is already pretty much at parity, and it’s hard to compete with free. Also, Microsoft has every incentive to keep improving ON. It is becoming a crucial hub for Enterprise companies, connecting the rest of the Office Suite. And, since Microsoft makes money on Office from both the Enterprise and Consumer markets, there’s little fear that individual users will be totally ignored to focus on Enterprise requirements (like with Syncplicity). And, Microsoft has deep pockets. I don’t see how EN can compete.

And now I think I understand why the Windows client is so neglected – Evernote understands that it cannot compete with Onenote for Windows users. So, it pursues non-Windows users, like Apple and Linux. With a very limited development budget, it makes complete sense for them to abandon the Windows client.

So, it’s time to jump ship. I’ll write another blog post about my experiences with the conversion.

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