It's time for another weekly review, and in this one we are going to look at another way to make the move to the paperless office: get rid of all those annoying post-it notes that you have around your computer's display. There are many programs that can aid in that transition, but we are going to concentrate on one of the free solutions, both as in speech and as in beer: Gnote. If you are expecting a show-down between Tomboy and Gnote, you are going to be disappointed, because we don't want to get on the Mono vs. Free Software battlefield yet. You can compare them yourself if you please, just take a look at the Tomboy 0.14.0 review
A little introduction is in order: Gnote is, as you were expecting, a note-taking application. It is largely looked at as a clone of Tomboy, a previous development based on the Mono .Net libraries. Gnote stays away from that controversy by basing itself on C++ and the GTK+ libraries. Even so, it manages to replicate Tomboy's performance without many hitches.
On the first start-up, you will be greeted with a small introduction that demonstrates some basic functionality, like wiki-words and linking between notes. After you close it, you are able to see what I think is one of Gnote's most important features: you don't even feel it's installed, as it occupies a minimal screen space by displaying just a notification panel icon. I feel that it is a great feature, because other applications, like KDE's note-taking plasmoid, insist on creating little, yellow squares on your desktop, but, if you actually want to reach them, you have to either minimize your current running applications, resize their windows, close them or switch to another desktop.
The menu that can be accessed from the icon gives you instant access to your recent notes, options to create new ones, plus search and organization functions. By right-clicking it, you can modify the preferences, bring up the documentation or the About window, or, if you're done taking notes for today, exit the application. The search window doubles as a graphical management utility for your notes, allowing you to create, put them into notebooks, or delete them.
When actually typing a note, you will notice that the interface looks pretty barren, but that is just because you don't actually need graphical access to all the tools, you will learn to use them employing hotkeys very quickly. If you need to take complex notes, you don't need to keep them in one monolithic document. Just highlight a keyword in your current note, hit Ctrl+L and a new window will pop up, automatically linked to the initial keyword. If you used the link function too much and lost track of the relation between your documents, a quick trip to "Tools -> What links here?" will certainly be of help.
Another thing that will feel to be awkward at first, because of the way we are used to handling documents, is the fact that the application lacks save buttons. That's because you don't need them, your notes are updated as you modify them. Even so, if you want to scrap a whole editing session, your only hope is to use the Undo option to its fullest extent.
If you're a power user, the Notebook function is a welcomed one. It allows you to group your notes into notebooks, similar to the way you group posts in categories on a blog. Then, you will be able to access your different notebooks, grouped in a sub-menu, by left-clicking Gnote's icon.
Needless to say, Gnote has all of the basic formatting functions covered, like text styles and sizes, even bulleted lists. Still, it's not intended to be a full-blown word processor, so you won't be able to insert neat tables or images. Even so, you can go a bit past its original design and use it as an above-average text editor for writing all those formal letters, or even as a very simple HTML editor, if you don't feel like coding a web page by hand today. In fact, this whole review was written using Gnote.
Most of those advanced functions are provided by plugins, you can find or configure them in the preferences window. Also, they give you the possibility to import your notes from other applications, like Tomboy or StickyNotes, export to other formats, or add formatting capabilities. In that same preferences window, you can enable or disable spell checking, set your hotkeys (which act globally and, once you get used to them, allow you to be more efficient), or even set a template for all your future notes, if you want them to have a specific look.
Let's see how you can get Gnote 0.6.2. Well, if you're on Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope), you have a little bit of work to do adding a personal package archive, since you won't find the application in the official Ubuntu repositories. On Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala), you can get it directly with Synaptic, but, at the time of writing this review, they only had version 0.5.2, quite a far cry from the current 0.6.2 release, so the Gnote PPA
is probably the better solution for this operating system too. The Good
It only needs about 5MB of hard-drive space, dependencies included. The Mono bindings aren't necessary at all, so the installation remains simple and fast. The Bad
It doesn't have synchronization support, a great feature when using multiple computers, but the developers are working on that. The interface could be further optimized. The Truth
For the regular Linux user, the difference between Gnote and Tomboy is pretty fuzzy, and they probably won't use the advanced functions. The patent-aware, anti-Microsoft crowd will probably lean towards Gnote.