Best Free and Open Source Alternatives to Microsoft

Best Free and Open Source Alternatives to Microsoft OneNote

Microsoft’s stance for decades was that community creation and sharing of communal code (later to be known as free and open source software) represented a direct attack on their business. Their battle with Linux stretches back many years. Back in 2001, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously tarnished Linux “a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches”. Microsoft also initiated its “Get the Facts” marketing campaign from mid-2003, which specifically criticized Linux server usage, total cost of ownership, security, indemnification and reliability. The campaign was widely criticized for spreading misinformation.

However, in recent years, there has been a partial shift by Microsoft to embrace the open source software paradigm. For example, some of their code is open sourced. Examples include Visual Studio Code, .NET Framework, Atom, and PowerShell. They have also made investments in Linux development, server technology and organizations including the Linux Foundation and Open Source Initiative. They have made acquisitions such as Xamarin to help mobile app development, and GitHub a hugely popular code repository for open source developers. And they have partnered with Canonical, the developers of the popular Ubuntu distro. But many developers remain hugely sceptical about Microsoft and their apparent shift to embrace open source.

This series looks at the best free and open source alternatives to products and services offered by Microsoft.

Microsoft OneNoteMicrosoft OneNote is a note-taking program for free-form information gathering and multi-user collaboration. It gathers users’ notes, drawings, screen clippings, and audio commentaries. Notes can be shared with other OneNote users over the Internet or a network.

OneNote is available as part of the Microsoft Office suite. Here’s our recommended free and open source alternatives.


1. Joplin

Joplin is a free, open source note taking and to-do application which can handle a large number of notes organized into notebooks.

The notes are searchable, can be copied, tagged and modified either from the applications directly or from your own text editor. The notes are in Markdown format.

Joplin was designed as a replacement for Evernote and so can import complete Evernote notebooks, as well as notes, tags, resources (attached files) and note metadata (such as author, geo-location, etc.) via ENEX files.

Joplin


2. Tusk

Tusk is billed as a feature-laden, open source, community-driven, free Evernote app used by people in more than 140 countries.

Tusk
Click image for full size

3. Zim

Zim Desktop Wiki (Zim) is an open source graphical text editor used to maintain a collection of wiki pages.

Each page can contain links to other pages, simple formatting and images. Pages are stored in a folder structure, like in an outliner, and can have attachments. Creating a new page is as easy as linking to a nonexistent page.

All data is stored in plain text files with wiki formatting. Various plugins provide additional functionality, including a task list manager, an equation editor, a tray icon, and support for version control.

Zim


4. CherryTree

CherryTree is a hierarchical note taking application, featuring rich text and syntax highlighting, storing data in a single xml or sqlite file. It offers a good range of features.

CherryTree


5. Simplenote

Simplenote offers a simple way to keep notes.

Simplenote
Click image for full size

All articles in this series:

Alternatives to Microsoft's Products and Services
Microsoft GitHubGitHub is a distributed version control and source code management functionality service.
Microsoft OneNoteOneNote is a note-taking program for free-form information gathering and collaboration.
Microsoft ProjectProject lets you develop schedules, assign resource, track progress, manage budget, and more.
Microsoft YammerYammer is a social-networking platform for organizations.
Microsoft BingBing offers search services, including web, video, image and map search products.
Microsoft OneDriveOneDrive is a file hosting service and synchronization service.
Microsoft OutlookOutlook is a personal information manager that's primarily an email client.
Microsoft OfficeOffice is a family of client software, server software, and services.
Microsoft DynamicsDynamics 365 is an enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management program.
Microsoft VisioVisio is a diagramming and vector graphics application.
Microsoft PublisherPublisher is a desktop publishing application with focus on page layout and design.
Microsoft To DoTo Do is a cloud-based task management application

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7 comments

  1. I have been a user of CherryTree for a number of years. It is a reliable software and it keeps improving. It is good that development is still ongoing. Theonly weak point is tables: they are ugly and impractical.

  2. What is great on OneNote and that is missing in all these software is the matrix-like display of notebooks x pages. Where notebook tabs are vertical and pages tabs are horizontal. This makes navigation more intuitive, faster and more pleasant. I pray for developpers to do it 🙂

  3. I have been using CherryTree since it first came out. (First on Windows, now on Linux.) It is, by far, the best one in this list. I have tried all the others but have always come back to CherryTree. I do all my writing and word processing on it. (Don’t use an office suite at all.) CherryTree has replaced quite a few apps/programs on my laptop. It is that versatile.

  4. To be honest, none of the mentioned applications are real alternatives to OneNote. They are alternatives to Evernote. Extremely limited in comparison to OneNote. I miss: fast hierarchy, fast editing in vertical and horizontal sense, intelligent tables, audio notes, inter-note linking, included spreadsheets, hand written notes…

    1. Sounds like you are confusing the word alternative with replacement.

      For many users, Joplin and others have sufficient functionality to let many people do what they need. Too many of the features in OneNote you refer to fall into the ‘nice to have’ category but hardly essential. Joplin gives everything I need. It’s a common mistake to ascribe features you want with other people’s needs.

      The real issue is that many proprietary commercial applications are horribly bloated. It was always about adding unnecessary features that only 1% of the user base actually wanted.

      Companies like Microsoft found that an old version of their software was often sufficient for most users, hence why they moved over to the subscription service. They found that too few people upgraded regularly.

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