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Why Geeks Love Plain Text (And Why You Should Too)

Why Geeks Love Plain Text (And Why You Should Too)

    Plain text files are all the rage these days. Whether you are an iOS user that has one of the largest selection of plain text writing apps around, or a cross-platform guru that needs portability with her data and files; plain, good-ol’-fashion text files are the way to go.

    There is something about writing or logging your day in text files that is quite different from writing in a Microsoft Word Document, Apple Pages Document, Google Document, or even an OpenOffice ODT format. Below we will show you why geeks love plain text files and why you should too.

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    Portability

    One of the best things about plain text is that it is a portable format between almost any operating system that I have seen. You can use plain text files on Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Linux, etc. All of these operating systems have ways of natively showing you the contents of a text file as well and also allowing you to edit its contents.

    It’s safe to say that 20 years from now most operating systems (at their core) will be able to open a plain text file making your data safe and

    Easy To use

    Plain text files are at the zenith of ease of use. There isn’t really anything to learn; you just start typing text into a blank file. That’s it. No keyboard shortcuts to learn, or complicated menu structures, or ways to format etc. It’s all about putting data in a file and that is it.

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    You can create a new plain text file simply in any operating system with built in apps (ie. TextEdit.app or Notepad.exe), or if you are a real *nix geek just be typing something as simple as:

    touch my_new_text_file.txt

    Then open that sucker up in vim and type away (Don’t forgot to shift-z-z every once in a while to save, you nerd!). It couldn’t be simpler to get your thoughts down with a plain text file as the tool.

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    The best part about ease of use is that text files allow you to write, not fiddle with your tools. There are of course apps out there that allow you too mess around with your setup, but if you want to get some writing done a plain, no-frills text editor allows you to start writing right away.

    No lock-in

    Another great reason that geeks love plain text is that there is no vendor lock-in. This goes hand-in-hand with the portability reason mentioned above. There is no “special app” that only supports text files. There is no “compatibility issues” that you need to deal with (I’m looking at you, Microsoft Word). For all purposes, text files are just text files and can be opened by pretty much any document or text creation software.

    This is a great thing when you want your data sticking around for the long term. When the .doc format dies in the next 80 years, it would be hard for me to believe that some system that exists in the world won’t be able to open the simplest of data forms (even if you have to load it up in your heads-up-display that is embedded in your eyes).

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    Good for almost anything

    I use the word almost with care. I haven’t found too many things in my writing and developer journeys that plain text files aren’t good for, except one thing. Non-linear thinking (ie. mindmapping).

    Text files aren’t very good at connecting non-linear ideas together in an easy way. I’m sure that it is possible, but I haven’t found a good way to do it when I need to brainstorm. This is one of the only things when it comes to writing that I don’t use plain text for.

    The good thing about mindmapping, at least with any mindmapping applications that are worth a damn, is that you can export your data to an OPML format which is pretty portable as it is XML markup. You can open XML in any text editor as plain text.

    Awesome apps for text creation and editing

    Here are some of the best apps that I have found for creating, manipulating, and using your plain text files:

    Plain text files are easy, portable, searchable, and aren’t locked to a specific technology. Not to mention you will be nerdy and cool when you use plain text (just ask Mike). So, if you are looking to keep your words and data around for a long time, look to us geeks for some advice. Use plain text.

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    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on May 14, 2019

    8 Replacements for Google Notebook

    8 Replacements for Google Notebook

    Exploring alternatives to Google Notebook? There are more than a few ‘notebooks’ available online these days, although choosing the right one will likely depend on just what you use Google Notebook for.

    1. Zoho Notebook
      If you want to stick with something as close to Google Notebook as possible, Zoho Notebook may just be your best bet. The user interface has some significant changes, but in general, Zoho Notebook has pretty similar features. There is even a Firefox plugin that allows you to highlight content and drop it into your Notebook. You can go a bit further, though, dropping in any spreadsheets or documents you have in Zoho, as well as some applications and all websites — to the point that you can control a desktop remotely if you pare it with something like Zoho Meeting.
    2. Evernote
      The features that Evernote brings to the table are pretty great. In addition to allowing you to capture parts of a website, Evernote has a desktop search tool mobil versions (iPhone and Windows Mobile). It even has an API, if you’ve got any features in mind not currently available. Evernote offers 40 MB for free accounts — if you’ll need more, the premium version is priced at $5 per month or $45 per year. Encryption, size and whether you’ll see ads seem to be the main differences between the free and premium versions.
    3. Net Notes
      If the major allure for Google Notebooks lays in the Firefox extension, Net Notes might be a good alternative. It’s a Firefox extension that allows you to save notes on websites in your bookmarks. You can toggle the Net Notes sidebar and access your notes as you browse. You can also tag websites. Net Notes works with Mozilla Weave if you need to access your notes from multiple computers.
    4. i-Lighter
      You can highlight and save information from any website while you’re browsing with i-Lighter. You can also add notes to your i-Lighted information, as well as email it or send the information to be posted to your blog or Twitter account. Your notes are saved in a notebook on your computer — but they’re also synchronized to the iLighter website. You can log in to the site from any computer.
    5. Clipmarks
      For those browsers interested in sharing what they find with others, Clipmarks provides a tool to select clips of text, images and video and share them with friends. You can easily syndicate your finds to a whole list of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Digg. You can also easily review your past clips and use them as references through Clipmarks’ website.
    6. UberNote
      If you can think of a way to send notes to UberNote, it can handle it. You can clip material while browsing, email, IM, text message or even visit the UberNote sites to add notes to the information you have saved. You can organize your notes, tag them and even add checkboxes if you want to turn a note into some sort of task list. You can drag and drop information between notes in order to manage them.
    7. iLeonardo
      iLeonardo treats research as a social concern. You can create a notebook on iLeonardo on a particular topic, collecting information online. You can also access other people’s notebooks. It may not necessarily take the place of Google Notebook — I’m pretty sure my notes on some subjects are cryptic — but it’s a pretty cool tool. You can keep notebooks private if you like the interface but don’t want to share a particular project. iLeonardo does allow you to follow fellow notetakers and receive the information they find on a particular topic.
    8. Zotero
      Another Firefox extension, Zotero started life as a citation management tool targeted towards academic researchers. However, it offers notetaking tools, as well as a way to save files to your notebook. If you do a lot of writing in Microsoft Word or Open Office, Zotero might be the tool for you — it’s integrated with both word processing software to allow you to easily move your notes over, as well as several blogging options. Zotero’s interface is also available in more than 30 languages.

    I’ve been relying on Google Notebook as a catch-all for blog post ideas — being able to just highlight information and save it is a great tool for a blogger.

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    In replacing it, though, I’m starting to lean towards Evernote. I’ve found it handles pretty much everything I want, especially with the voice recording feature. I’m planning to keep trying things out for a while yet — I’m sticking with Google Notebook until the Firefox extension quits working — and if you have any recommendations that I missed when I put together this list, I’d love to hear them — just leave a comment!

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