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Why I struggle with Evernote

How do you resize columns in Evernote?

I love Dropbox. I have used it since 2009 and have been a paying customer for 2 years, and intent do be for many years to come. One thing that it can’t do that well is easily take notes on my phone. Sure, I could edit a .txt file, but it doesn’t allow for that much flexibility and it’s not really designed for that.

As a result, I thought I’d give Evernote a go. I really like the concept. I really like the back end implementation. What I don’t like is the editor on the desktop. Below is a list of annoyances I have found with it. Before reading them, know they are small things. But to be honest, I didn’t realise how much the small things affected my workflow, but these small things have really hindered how much I’ve been able to enjoy using Evernote.

  • No real tabs. Pressing tab will enter 5 spaces if I have no text selected. If I want to remove or change a tab I need to backspace 5 times.
  • Inconsistent tabs. If I highlight the whole line or multiple lines and press tab, it will indent the line(s) selected. This isn’t a tab (and neither is 5 spaces.)
  • Hard to remove indents. As above, tabbing whilst having multiple lines selected or a whole line selected will indent. If I want to remove an indent, I need to select the whole line again and shift-tab. I should be able to select the beginning of the line and shift-tab or backspace. Neither of these work (in fact shift tab adds a fake tab as listed in the first point.) Think how Word works – Word works well.
  • No styles. If I want a heading I need to change the font size. I like the idea of separating style and data (think CSS or LaTeX.) I want to be able to specify a heading style, and work if I ever copy the text over to Word. In word, I can turn a line I just typed to a title very easily with a shortcut (I don’t even need to select the text.)
  • Tables are a nighmare. The width of cells/columns can’t be adjusted, and they adjust automatically. This sometimes puts you in a really bad situation where one column barely has any room. It’s absolutely awful to work with. (see screenshot at the top of the post.)
  • Won’t turn asterisk to bullet point. I haven’t been able to find a way to start bullet points without using my mouse (you know, a short cut.) In Word, if you start a line with an asterisk and press enter it will start a bullet point list for you. I haven’t been able to find a shortcut for this in Evernote.
  • Hard to find shortcuts or no shortcuts. Shortcuts may exist, but I haven’t been able to easily find them. I shouldn’t have to do a web search to find what shortcuts are, but as per the previous point, I did do a search and still haven’t found it. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough, but the thing is, I shouldn’t have to look hard. There’s no tooltips for button functions in the toolbar or shortcuts listed in the menus (there are some, but there are plenty of functions without shortcuts.)

Some of these may be because I’m spoilt by Word, but to be honest, Microsoft has done a very good job with Word and has set the bar for WYSIWYG formatting. I feel most things in Word is intuitive – this could be bias because I’m so used to word, but even after really trying to re-learn how to use Evernote, I could never work as efficiently. I can’t afford to be distracted having to use the mouse in a lecture. I’m also not against a learning curve – I’ve had to learn how to use LaTeX this year. That said, LaTeX isn’t WYSIWYG, so I wasn’t ever trying to use it the way I use Word (in fact, as a programmer, I feel LaTeX gives me full control and does what I want – most of the time.) Evernote I do try and use like Word. Maybe I shouldn’t be trying that, but I just can’t live without my shortcuts.

Overall, I do like Evernote. I like the concept and I like the mobile app. The things I’ve listed may only apply to me. There may actually be solutions for them, but those solutions aren’t obvious (and a good design should make them obvious for anyone with a basic understanding of computers – at least tool tips for shortcuts!) I really hope these improve as I do want to use Evernote as I like the idea of editing notes easily on my phone, but these issues I’ve come across really affect the usability (for me at least) and slow me down immensely.

IntelliJ, Eclipse and Dropbox

For Java development, I use the best* Java IDE available, IntelliJ. My friend who I did some java programming with the other week uses Eclipse. Working together on the same project^, we thought we’d try using Dropbox to sync our work, since it was only a three day project with 2 people, so setting up a fully featured source repository wasn’t needed, and may have actually been harder to use than Dropbox for the same project.

Anyway, I thought I’d report back on how it went. It went really well, considering I was expecting it to break in the first 10 minutes. If having 2 IDE’s wasn’t enough to potentially cause problems, conflicting files was sure to halt us after 20 minutes. As it turns out, we didn’t really have any conflicting files that caused problems, though as I mentioned, it was only a small 3 day project, and we were both in the same room. 2 IDE’s? Well, naturally, Eclipse doesn’t support IntelliJ, so it was up to IntelliJ to support Eclipse, which it did better than expected. It did crash once when the .classfile was changed by my friend and Dropbox automatically synced it, but considering it was doing all the inter-IDE support and Eclipse was just using it’s own stuff, and we were using Dropbox for automatic syncing, I’ll let that small issue slip.

A few things to be aware of if you are going to try something like this out:

  • It only really worked because it was a small project and we were in the same room. We were able to talk to each other to pretty much avoid any file conflicts. Becasue of this, I think it was better than using a source control system like SVN. That also said, start adding more people, or making it a bigger project, and all of a sudden source control is starting to look really good.
  • Eclipse will need some setting’s changed to automatically refresh files when it detects changes. I think Eclipse has some form of caching system, so if a file gets changed on another computer, it will have an “out of sync” message. I don’t know how to do this, I don’t use Eclipse, and IntelliJ doesn’t have a problem with it.

Happy coding.

* Subjective, I know.
^ Annoyingly IntelliJ and Eclipse use the word project to mean different things. We were working on the same task if that makes it better.

Why Google needs to buy Dropbox

With Apple making a fourth attempt to offer cloud services has generated a lot of buzz, and whilst many are predicting that it won’t work well (the same reasons that the others didn’t work: they are just too restrictive. See previous link,) they are bound to get it right one sooner or later. This means that pretty much every major computing company is offering some form of cloud computing service, and whether you like it or not, it looks as if cloud computing is the future of computing.

So, let me explain why I think Google should buy Dropbox, and why it would be the best cloud computing decision Google has made if they do. It’s going to be hard to keep cloud computing free. If it’s the future of computing, then people are going to start wanting to do everything in the cloud, and eventually a few gigabytes isn’t going to cut it. The other thing is, people don’t want to be paying for each service individually. If people are going to start paying (which, to be economically viable, is going to have to happen at one point or another,) then they want to pay one fee and get all the services. They (well, at least I) want services to be able to share their storage space.

This is where Dropbox comes in. Currently, if I was to pay for cloud storage, it would be with Dropbox, because it’s the most versatile (it is just a hard drive in the sky after all, but a very smart hard drive at that.) If I paid for storage, I would put my music collection in there for starters. Though Google has Music Beta (which is free… while in beta.) I already have a good collection of documents in my Dropbox, but wouldn’t it be nice that, if I were stuck on a computer without Word or Open/Libre Office, I could just log into Google Docs and edit a document quickly, and the changes be reflected in my Dropbox?

I’m already starting to get to the reason. The main reason, well, reasons, are:

  • People only want to pay once (so have it so that services use storage as needed from Dropbox)
  • Having multiple copies of data is annoying (for example, with Google Music, I’m not going to go and delete my music collection off my hard drive, or how about photos in Picasa web? It can apply to anything really)
  • It will help the transition. People are still using office suites (I know I am,) and some just can’t give that up for a limited feature set in Google Docs. Having Google Documents appear in Dropbox, and vice versa, will allow for a smooth transition.
  • Internet connections aren’t always reliable. Since Dropbox syncs with your PC, if an Internet connection isn’t available, then you’re out of luck.
Dropbox incorporates the best features of cloud computing and traditional computing into one product, and if Google had that, then they would have the best cloud computing service on offer. I would quite happily pay a small fee for that.

Cloud Sync and Backup

The other day I learnt, for the second time, the important lesson of backups. My second, and this time primary, hard drive failed. It’s the second Seagate one that I have had fail (funnily enough, it was 28th of April 2009 that I filled out the paper work to return the last one that failed, so exactly 2 years later I fill out the paper work for this one,) which is actually a bit of a shock since I was under the impression from reviews I had read online that Seagate were probably one of the best. Though, they do have their 5 year warranty, so you can’t fault them with that.

This time I was prepared. I actually happened to have a second hard drive inside the computer with Windows already installed, I just left it unplugged. Plug it in, and away I go straight away. When I get the replacement HDD from Seagate, I’ll image my current Windows installation (which is fairly new) onto it, and keep it as a backup.

As for data, I have learnt to keep everything that I need in Dropbox, or some other online storage place. This is the second time Dropbox has saved me. Whilst it’s inconvenient having to re-install all the programs I normally use, and setup all my preferences, and possibly lose replaceable files, all my important data was in Dropbox, and it has now synced back with my desktop (via LAN Sync from my Desktop: no need to wait or waste Internet bandwidth.)

So, I’m seriously considering purchasing a yearly Dropbox plan (even though I just increased my free limit to 5GB,) but I’m looking at some alternatives to Dropbox first, partly to get better storage, or better priced plans. Sugarsync I have heard is almost on par with Dropbox (without using it, the only reason I can think of that Dropbox may be better is that I’ve used Dropbox for 2 years, and you grow some form of attachment after that long,) and whilst it’s $99/year plan only has 10GB more than the $99/year plan from Dropbox, they have a $49/year plan for 30GB, which is $50 cheaper than Dropbox’s cheapest (the cheapest from Dropbox is $99, and I don’t think I’m likely to need 50GB, 30GB seems as though it’d be enough for me for now.)

So, the main differences that would affect me are: Dropbox has LAN Sync, but that I only really need when I do a full restore, and it isn’t essential, and Sugarsync has file revision for the last 5 revisions included, whereas Dropbox has unlimited revisions for an extra $40 a month.

Has anyone had any experience with both Sugarsync and Dropbox? Is it worth ditching Dropbox just for a cheaper plan? Unfortunately these days it isn’t just raw numbers that count, it’s the unique service that each company provides, and Dropbox is really good.

DropChat 1.1: DropBox Collaboration Tool

DropChat is a shout box style chat program designed to be used with group DropBox’s. You place this small executable in a group DropBox with at least 2 people, make a file for each person in the chat folder, and launch the program to leave a message. The program will update your chat file, sync with the DropBox, and then appear next time other collaborators open the program. Simple, but very useful!

Quick Tutorial
When you extract the archive, you will have two items. DropboxChat.exe (this will be renamed in the next release) and a “chats” folder. If you look in the “chats” folder, you will see a Template.xml file. Copy this file (do not edit it or delete it) and rename it to your name. For example, I would have “Josh.xml” in that folder. Also add anyone else who is likely to use the chat. So, I may add “Ben.xml” and “Matt.xml”.

When you launch DropboxChat.exe, you will be presented with a chat area (probably blank at the moment) and an area at the bottom where you can select your name, type a message and then send it. Every .xml file that appears (except Template.xml) will be included in the name’s list.

Each time you leave a message, DropBox will update your .xml file and sync it with everyone else.

This isn’t designed to be real time, more or less like a way where you can leave messages for other people, to assist with collaboration. I can assert that it is really helpful for group Uni assignments.

Known Limitations
I designed this for myself and some Uni friends, and didn’t plan to release it at first, but decided that I would.

  • As we are all in a similar geographical location, we are all in the same time-zone, meaning I haven’t yet implemented the ability to handle computers in different time zones.
  • Since it uses the time on the computer it is typed on, if people are trying to have a real time chat and one computer is out by a significant amount, messages may not appear in order.
  • There are a few small bugs, for example, when you press Enter to post a message, it will post it, but then will put the cursor on the second line. It doesn’t interfere with messaging, it just annoys me a little bit because it looks ugly.
  • Another small bug is the tab index, I promise I will fix that.
  • I haven’t yet done threaded updating, but do plan to add that in the next release. That means if DropBox notifies you that the file of someone else’s name has been updated, then you need to manually press an update button. If you don’t have DropBox file update notifications on, then this program won’t be as useful.
  • If you intentionally put the wrong style XML file in the chats folder, then it probably won’t work. This is only really a limitation if you go out of your way to do this, as I have been using this program for around half a year and haven’t had a problem with that. If someone else in your group folder plays a prank on everyone and does that, maybe you should think twice about giving them access to the folder.
  • I am sure there are others, but remember, I originally only made it for personal use, and it works well for what I use it for, though I figured it’d be nice to release it to everyone.
What’s Dropbox?
Only the best sync, backup and collaboration tool on the planet! If you want to sign up, use my referal link and we both get an extra 250MB free (meaning you will get a free 2.25GB). I am getting close to my free limit, and without a job right now, I can’t afford to pay for an upgrade.

Download
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/456202/DropChat1.1.7z

You will need 7-zip to unzip the program. I have every intention of making this open source in the near future, but I need to clean up some code and some other things before I do that, so until then, enjoy the binary file.