Are there alternatives to OneNote?

There are a lot of applications that work well across browsers or in the cloud for taking notes. Here's my list of applications that are either free and/or open source and will do the trick in many settings.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

After I destroyed what credibility I had left with the Open Source community last week, gushing over Office 2010 and, in particular, OneNote, a Mac user emailed me and asked if I knew of any cross-platform tools that were similar to OneNote. I figured it was worth taking a step back from my love of OneNote and poking around to see what I could find.

As it turns out, there are a lot of applications that work well across browsers or in the cloud for taking notes. Although none, in my opinion, work as well or as intuitively as OneNote, all of the applications listed below are either free and/or open source and will do the trick in many settings. In fact, if you're looking for a note-taking App, they're all worth a look. Just because OneNote works best with my little brain, others may find software devoted to mind-mapping or that follows more of a wiki format works better for their particular brains.

Type Name OS Summary
Text/Freestyle Jarnal Windows, Mac, Linux (it works and looks best on Windows and Linux)

  • Supports mouse and touch pen input/hand drawings
  • Supports multiple pages
  • Looks and feels like a "notebook", lined paper and all

The Note Taking Tool Windows, Mac, Linux

  • Still in alpha
  • Mac application would not open

Evernote Windows, Mac, and iPad/iPod

  • Cloud sync
  • Rich, notebook-style interface
  • Easy integration with web browsers to clip links and pages
  • Check boxes, to-dos, etc.
  • Easy attachments of images (even from a webcam) and PDFs

Mind-Mapping FreeMind Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

  • Cross-platform
  • Relatively easy to learn
  • Powerful graphic organizer, but must have a file for every idea (i.e., no tabs or subdivisions)
  • No cloud sync

Compendium Windows, Mac OS X, Linux Based upon Freemind, but with significantly expanded collaboration capabilities and a steeper learning curve Freeplane Windows, Mac OS X, Linux A fork of Freemind that can run from a USB stick XMind Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

  • Allows audio nodes in its maps
  • Social brainstorming via XMind online account and mind map uploads
  • Integrated web browser
  • Workbook with multiple sheets and outline view
  • If I had to pick a free OneNote replacement, this would be the one

VUE Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

  • Powerful graphical interface
  • Developed by Tufts University to support teaching and learning
  • Tabbed interface
  • Relatively steep learning curve

Wiki-style Wikidpad (this is a link to the Windows installer as other links appear to be broken) Cross-platform, but requires extensive setup outside Windows

  • Familiar wiki-style interface
  • A lot of embedded functionality
  • Steep learning curve

ZuluPad Windows and Mac OS X

  • Cloud sync
  • Very simple, easy to navigate interface
  • Missing many features of the other products here
  • This is just notes, typed into what amounts to a well-organized, pretty Notepad

OneNote will remain my notetaking/life organization/brainstorming/thought-catcher application of choice, but I can get cheap academic licenses. Would I feel the same if I had to pay full retail? That might be a little tougher sell since the applications above, particularly Evernote and XMind, have a lot of value and achieve many of the same functions (as well as some new functions). However, I think that for most cases where I wasn't actively looking at a specific mind-mapping tool, OneNote, even at full retail, would still be the one for me. Evernote is a close second and I'll spend some more time with it for a more thorough comparison. Let me know if I've missed any important pieces of free software that should be included in the list.

Editorial standards