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A Note-Slinging Dynamic Duo

By Jack M. Germain
Jul 7, 2010 5:00 AM PT

The drawback with using most note-taking applications on any platform is that they are limited in the type of data you can put into them. For instance, simple text editors ignore Internet and content links. Plus, you cannot import graphics. Even word-processing programs, which overcome the links and graphics deficiencies, lack the tree structure that makes storing and viewing notes quick and useful.

A Note-Slinging Dynamic Duo

For typical daily office and personal note-taking tasks, using a database application is like using a fumigating spray to kill a fly when a fly-swatter would do a better and safer job. Basket Note Pads and QToDo Manager offer convenience and reliability as note trackers.

Both of these apps were developed for the KDE Linux desktop. But they are much different in look and feel. They run fine on Linux distros that use the GNOME desktop.

If your note-taking needs are more extensive, give Basket Note Pads a try first. Do not let the name misdirect you into rejecting the app as a sticky-note clone. It is not. Basket Note Pads is a multi-purpose note-taking application with a wide-ranging toolset for collecting any type of data, organizing it, and finding what you need when you need it.

If you prefer a multiple to-do list manager that lets you set deadlines and alarms and apply status updates, take a look at QToDo Manager. It has a simpler design with powerful features that let you stay focused on getting things done.

Ideal Replacements

I've never been a fan of Microsoft's OneNote application when I used earlier versions of the Redmond OS. But that program is often mentioned as a must-have that deters people from migrating to Linux. Basket Note Pads is a handy note-taking app that mimics much of what OneNote offers.

Basket Note Pads can easily replace my current choice for note-taking, a proprietary program called "Evernote." I run the non-Web-based version under Wine.

QToDo Manager also is a strong contender to replace a note-taking app I have used since migrating to Linux three years ago, NoteCase Manager. See my review here.

These two apps are very similar, but QToDo Manager has more features.

Interface Highlights

Basket Note Pads
Basket Note Pads
(click image to enlarge)

Basket Note Pads' main window shows the hierarchy of baskets and a complete basket. Notes are positioned freely. This lets you put formatted texts, images, links, files, colors and application launchers into the same or different notes.

You can assign multiple tags to notes. The drop-down menu offers an impressive list beyond To Do, Important, Idea and Highlight. For instance, tags include such things as Progress, Priority, Information, Title, Code, Work and Personal.

QToDo is a Qt4 to-do list manager written in Ruby. Its pretty interface combines rich-text capability and hierarchical tasks.

The to-do lists -- or note topics -- display down the left column of the program window. The content shows in the right side of the window.

Basket View

The tree in the left window of Basket Note Pads shows all of the baskets or documents containing your notes. Click on a basket name to make it actively display the full content in the window on the right.

Extensive use of tags is one of the real strengths of this app. Tags can change the appearance of notes. It is easy to turn a note into a task manager with multi-state tags that create checkboxes for to-do lists.

I love the access routes to this app. It is always running in the background, minimized to a system-tray icon. Adding a new idea is a one-click or one-keyboard-shortcut process.

Even better, just drop things onto the tray icon to quickly append data to your baskets. You can also do this with numerous keyboard shortcuts.

QToDo Functionality

The approach is more basic with QToDo Manager. It allows an unlimited number of lists or notes. Plus, it is foolproof in keeping your notes safe and lets you preset the number of undo steps to allow.

(click image to enlarge)

It automatically saves data on exit. Plus, the settings panel lets you configure a number of related options that can be indispensable. For instance, you can opt to have a tray icon, show the main window at system startup, autosave lists at preset time intervals and create backups.

Look and feel options include color choices, mouse-over display and menu button options. I especially like being able to set text and border sizes.

Deadline Pressure

One of the most useful features that QToDo offers is the task-tracking ability. This makes a real distinction between typical note-taking programs and dedicated to-do list apps. QToDo Manager serves both needs.

The app does not stop at merely letting me set due dates. It adds refinements for alarms as well. For example, the settings panel lets me get warnings before deadlines. I can also set the time intervals between warnings.

A powerful feature is the ability to execute a command with a note or to-do list. As part of the warning actions, the app can change the appearance of the tray icon.

Help Moving In

Programmers should spend more time helping users actually migrate to new programs. An example of this is readily seen in Basket Note Pads.

You do not have to give up your existing notes and start over again. Instead, you can import notes from many other note-taking programs.

It also does not matter how you organize your notes. Basket Note Pads does not impose a rigid file structure. Do it your way or let the app automatically layout your notes in columns.

You can gather any type of data into one basket, such as images, documents or links to email addresses and websites. Another option is to organize notes in a hierarchy of baskets by topic or project. You can also group notes together or collapse non-important groups.

Safety Rules

Basket Note Pads automatically saves notes as you modify them. In addition, you can backup and restore your entire basket collection.

Another security plus is the ability to password-protect some or all of your data. Being able to lock out prying eyes for some baskets while allowing general access to the rest of the basket collection is a powerful and very useful feature.

To make security even tighter, you can encrypt your data collection with public/private keys.

More Nifty Features

Collaboration is crucial in some work environments, so Basket Note Pads is tuned into that need to share your data.

You can save a set of baskets to a file for others in your work group or organization to modify and back to you. The recipients do not need a copy of Basket Note Pads or even be running the Linux OS. Just export the baskets as an HTML Web page.

I tend to use a multi-purpose note-taking organizer and a to-do list manager. Perhaps merging both sets of functions into one app would create the ideal note-taking environment.

Until I find an open source solution that does that for me, I will continue to run both. Basket Note Pads and QToDo Manager can be that near-perfect app duo.

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