Google Keep to Microsoft OneNote for the long haul: Considerations and feedback for backup or data-export (if possible?)

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Short story: After using Keep for a few years I’m seeking a free cross-platform alternative which, even if requiring cloud-usage, allows for saving a local copy (or backup) so I can feel confident that when the once-in-a-few-years data loss from the cloud occurs, due to whatever reason, I won’t have lost data. What’s the options for apps that allow for export of data?

(I’m not asking about transferring data out of Keep, I’m fine with manual copy-paste. The question’s regarding a new app starting from scratch, on a clean slate, being able to copy its data to offline local storage.)

Firstly I’m not out to bash Keep. Here’s 10 things Keep’s got going for it: Cross-platform; longevity; free; sync; notes; folders; reordering; reminders; search; speed.

1) Cross-platform: Keep is cross-platform. My minimum requirement for considering adoption of any new app is that it be cross-platform with web browser, Android, and iOS.

2) Longevity: Safe to assume (I think) it’ll be around for a long time and with no less features than it has now, unlike some random developer where you can’t usually take for granted that their relatively new app will still exist 5 or, much less, 10+ years from now.

3) Free: $0. (Realistically, Evernote calls for a subscription.)

4) Sync: Google’s sync has had excellent reliability and just works. Across the board with Google’s offerings, syncing is top of the line.

5) Notes: It wouldn’t be Keep without the note-taking. (It’s got checklists too for those who need it.)

6) Folders: Ok, more precisely, “labels.” This is basic functionality allowing for organization of notes.

7) Reordering: The ability to reorder notes, though not so user friendly (each note has to be manually dragged and dropped and this can be a pain), is more than the iOS Notes app offers, the latter of which sorts with the most recently edited note on top and doesn’t allow for manual resorting. (Keep even allows for pinning of notes.)

8) Reminders: Keep can set reminders to notes. Better yet, these can be automatically displayed in Google Calendar. Even Wunderlist in its heyday took time (I think it was 8 hours) to sync to Google Calendar, whereas Keep does so instantaneously.

9) Search: As a Google-maintained app, search works well and instantaneously. (Though it brings up all notes containing what you searched for without highlighting where your search query appears within your individual note, at least on the PC you can continue with Ctrl+F.)

10) Speed: Keep on the web and Android is fluid. Keep on iOS though is really bad with speed (that’s my personal experience, though based on the negative ratings in the app store I suspect my experience is shared by many others [I don’t know about the iPad though]). It’s a good thing my phone is Android because typing in Keep on iOS would be a nightmare if I had to do so regularly.

((For those interested in what brought me to write this post, #10 brings me to what prompted me to think about switching. In the past 2 months or so, Keep on iOS, and only on iOS (from the sever end I believe), began requesting every few days to tap REFRESH NOW (whatever that means, since this is independent of the regular syncing which works like always). When it asked me again to “refresh now” about 2 days ago (and for about the 5th time), I did so without thinking twice, though I didn’t know (and still don’t know) what this does beyond regular syncing. After doing so I discovered that all Keep reminders disappeared from my Google Calendar. First I thought it was a calendar problem (e.g., something caused the reminders to be hidden and I needed to recheck them for display), but I quickly found that even in Keep itself, all reminders had disappeared from their notes and Calendar was just a reflection of what disappeared from Keep. Thankfully, the actual notes which had the reminders set did not get deleted. Obviously though there was (and probably still is) some bug in the iOS app that caused reminders to be lost from Keep. Unfortunately, with Googles superb syncing, the removal of all dated reminders from my notes was synced, cross platform, before I knew what had happened so when I tap “Reminders” (as opposed to “Notes”) there is not one reminder left from the dozens I had set months-in-advance.–Not even in the browser when opening a new session. They’re all gone. Mistakes happen. It’s par for the course that apps get a bug here and there. So why consider jumping board? Keep doesn’t offer local backup that I know of. In any event, this experience was a good prompt to consider if there’s a more advanced app that might similarly suit my note-taking needs.))

It’s always nice to reevaluate the available options, but what I’m specifically interested in is an application that offers the ability to save a local copy (or backup) so I can feel confident that when the once-in-a-few-years data loss from the cloud happens I won’t have lost everything. Again, this must be free (or one-time-purchase of perpetual version instead of annually-expiring subscription), cross-platform, and able to backup locally. Obviously, I prefer an application that has staying power and has been around for a few years (though things can always happen, suffice it to mention Wunderlist).

My first thought was to switch to OneNote. Going back 10 years ago, I’d refrained from adopting OneNote because I didn’t feel that it had an established history of commitment from Microsoft, having only been released in 2003 and a second time in 2007. Instead, I generally subsisted on a combination of Word (for real work), once-in-a-blue-moon Notepads for local “scrap” notes (and BTW Google Drive displays .txts even on mobile), and Wunderlist/Keep (for on-the-go note-taking and reminders). I think it’s safe to guess that Keep has been my most used app when it comes to typing and jotting down.

It’s been 15 years now, so I thought OneNote earned staying-power at Microsoft and deserved serious consideration. What I found about OneNote, however, is discouraging and I want to hear what you guys think.

Save for security updates for a few more years, Microsoft abandoned the desktop version (OneNote 2016, in the Office 2016 suite) for the OneNote Windows 10 UWP App. (Of course there’s also OneNote Online and mobile apps.) However, in the non-desktop versions of OneNote, connection with OneDrive is mandated and the ability to save notebooks locally disappeared not only as a default, but from what I understand maybe even as an option for downloading a local backup (see, e.g., the numerous and well-voiced complaints at https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/apps_windows_10-winapps/onenote-windows-10-backup/54cb835b-af39-4dfc-83b3-7fd55b3c497c ). This stands in contrast to other Office document formats like Word or Excel which, even saved on OneDrive, still appear in the OneDrive folder on the PC and I can copy and backup the OneDrive to an external HD.

Barring sensitive information, I agree that saving in the cloud is best for the vast majority. It syncs everywhere and has a greater chance of maintaining user data than the average individual who regularly neglects to back up their hard disk. I myself prefer the cloud for its real cross-platform advantages. However, what I’m trying to do here is find an app to replace Keep, for on-the-go notes, that does have the option to save/backup data locally. Take Word for example: I feel confidant that even if Word disappeared 30 years from now, whatever would replace it will be able to open .docx documents, and in any event I’ve always got my perpetual license for desktop Office and there’ll always be virtualization, so no worry there. Wunderlist, for those familiar with it, offered export of data (in addition to bulk printing all notes to PDF which is a form of backup too). Even from Twitter, you can export your tweets (and BTW it’s got the best web to offline export system I’ve seen, with complete offline access and navigation of all tweets; try it, it’s really amazing!).

Maybe you guys can surprise me with a Keep or OneNote alternative to explore, free and cross platform, that offers confidence in terms of copying its data from the cloud, because I don’t at all prefer bulky and top-heavy Word for miscellaneous weekly note taking of life. Is there another alternative to Keep to explore or is my only long-term option to stick with Word for assured longevity and personal possession of data 🙁

I’m currently assuming that OneNote’s the best bet in the realm of free and cross platform, which raises the question: With modern OneNote, is there any way to save/download off from OneDrive?

If not, I’ve got perpetual Office 2013 (OneNote included, though who knows if in a few years Windows 10 will drop support for desktop OneNote) so would it help if I used that — does OneNote 2013 play nice with OneDrive in terms of syncing for cross-platform while still offering the ability to save a local backup? How would that work?

Comments (9)

9 responses to “Google Keep to Microsoft OneNote for the long haul: Considerations and feedback for backup or data-export (if possible?)”

  1. Avatar

    simont

    First problem you will have is that most of the good note taking apps do charge money. OneNote and Google Keep are the only real free contenders.


    There are writing apps that allow you to save to OneDrive by default, Paul mentioned one sometime back but I don't remember the name.


    Have a look at this video for some suggestions: https://youtu.be/ay2GvqVH4SM

  2. Avatar

    minke

    A few general thoughts on this. First, probably not what you want, but how about a paper notebook? Seriously, some of my most techy friends carry them religiously and have whole series of them going back years on their bookshelves. Probably not what you want, but just works and will continue to work long after whatever software you choose is long forgotten. Second, what is this every few years data loss in the cloud you speak of? I have never lost anything stored with Google or Microsoft and I have been using both since they went online. Instead of an offline backup, simply backup to another cloud provider. I think having your online life completely available with the switch of a log in would prove infinitely safer in the long run than any local storage. I am old enough to have carefully backed up and stored all sorts of stuff on floppy disks and other media that I can no longer access and probably wouldn't work even if I had a computer and software that could deal with them. Any offline backup should really be considered temporary compared to online storage, which your children will probably be able to access easily even after you are gone. You can backup Keep offline by using Google Takeout. Every few months I Takeout all my Google data and store it on multiple hard drives with other stuff. Not the most convenient if the cloud fails, but I have yet to experience any longterm failures of the cloud. Third idea, how about a plain text editor like Notepad? Sure to be readable long into the future by whatever systems are around, files are very small, there are numerous programs to choose from, and they aren't larded up with so-called "features" that make life harder. Plus, the more features a program has the less likely it works well cross platform and the more likely you are to find it not working in 10 years when standards have changed.

    • Avatar

      jedwards87

      In reply to Minke:

      I get using a paper notebook for a journal but not for notes that I might need to access quickly. No searching of paper notebooks and what happens if I am out and need to look something up that is in a notebook sitting on my bookshelf at home ? I guess you could scan the notebooks and store them on your phone/tablet/cloud.

    • Avatar

      Informed

      In reply to Minke:

      Paper notebook does not have backspace capabilities, cut-paste, or the ability to add notes in between already-written text. No search capabilities. Requires carrying paper around instead of always-available digital version. No ability to put touch-typing to use for those that have this skill. I could go on but this is a technology site and I think most of us are here because we want to learn how to effectively leverage technology in our life. Other than that, if you read my original post above you'll see I addressed other comments you've mentioned like Notepad and data loss.

  3. Avatar

    wright_is

    Your biggest problem with OneNote is, as you say, that the new web and app versions only work with OneNote files on OneDrive. You can only open locally stored files with OneNote 2016 (Windows or Mac) and that application is depricated and will not be developed further. That means, even if you have a backup, you might not be able to open them in the future.

    That is the current dilema we have, we use OneNote 2016, but only with files stored on the internal network (data security reasons, no business data is allowed to be stored outside the company network). That means that the files are useless if you are using a smartphone or tablet, because you can't open the files - even copying the files onto the devices doesn't help, there is simply no option to open local OneNote files.

    On OneDrive I have 2 folders with all of my OneNote notebooks in them (One in German, one in English for some reason, but OneDrive does that for Documents/Dokumente, Picutres/Bilder, Music/Musik etc.).

    I use OneNote in the cloud for my private stuff and don't have any problems with it.

  4. Avatar

    Informed

    Update: Well, I've tried OneNote Online (which to be sure isn't any more backup-able than Google Keep, but with its more mature organization capabilities I decided to give it a spin) and not even 5 days later I've already got a conflict ("This page contains changes that couldn't be merged. Click here to hide versions of the page with unmerged changes."). This doesn't reflect positively on Microsoft's syncing capabilities as compared to Google and, from my past experience with OneDrive, I can't say I'm so surprised either.

    So I'd like to consider switching from OneNote Online to OneNote 2013/2016 (perpetual version in Office suite, not 365 or Office Online) and using OneNote locally for non-online notes with Google Keep as the solution for more temporary notes I need or take on the go. Any suggestions on using perpetual OneNote for local notes? Is it the case that OneNote 2013/2016 cannot sync its locally saved notebooks for cross-platform --- like what if the Notebook location is configured to be located in OneDrive...?

    • Avatar

      Orin

      In reply to Informed:

      That's not a terrible idea. It's rare that I personally have issues with OneNote syncing, but I haven't been using it as much as I used to lately (OneNote is still my go to choice, I just haven't been taking digital notes as much as I should be out of laziness).


      Unfortunately, I don't have an answer to your question. I think theoretically you would have no problem storing the locally saved notebooks in OneDrive, and then opening them up with other PCs also connected to the same OneDrive account. All I can say is try it! If you do, let us know how it goes.

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