Vase image from The Odyssey

Can Evernote Still Compete with OneNote?

The Seductive Myth

The Sirens, as you may remember, were beautiful, feminine, mythological creatures who lived on a rocky island somewhere near Greece. They sang. They sang so beautifully and so seductively that their song drew mariners to their shore, only to wreck their vessels on the rocks of the island. Homer wrote of the Sirens in The Odyssey: Odysseus had to force the sailors of his ship to plug their ears with beeswax and lash him to the mast to avoid being drawn by the song of the Sirens and wreck their ship.

Kathleen Battle

Kathleen Battle

In my head, the siren’s song must be like Kathleen Battle singing the final soprano solo, “Dulcissime” in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, where she says she’ll give all to her lover, and he is eventually lured into the final song, O Fortuna (the original Wheel of Fortune) to be captured by the whims of fate.

Renee Fleming

Renee Fleming

Or maybe it’s more like Renée Fleming singing Dvořák’s “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka.

Microsoft’s Sirens

Microsoft is (still) one of the most successful technology companies in the world, like ’em or not. It’s also the Very Model of a Modern Major General predatory company, that has a habit of buying or destroying its competitors. (Some argue that that is a good thing. Eh.)

But occasionally Microsoft builds something wonderful. In 2003 they built OneNote – probably the first notebook application that let you collect data from nearly anywhere, organize it, search for it and use it for writing or whatever else you do. In my opinion, OneNote is the best thing Microsoft ever created. I think of the rest of the Microsoft Office suite as an expensive add-on to OneNote. Yeah, weird. I know.

My Odyssey from Mac to PC

But less weird if you know that my computing life began as a Mac user. I used the original beige, box-like, floppy-drive-driven Mac: the sworn enemy of Microsoft at the time. In the age of iPods and iPhones, we forget that the original Mac and the Laserwriter were just as enormous innovations. And I still miss MacWrite. But I digress.

I began learning OneNote, slowly, when I changed careers from (Mac) musician to (PC) nonprofit development work. OneNote sat on my computer, next to the rest of the Office suite, unused for a long time before I began to figure it out. In short, I was an OneNote user before I was an Evernote user. But not an avid one.

But during one of those significant Microsoft upgrade decision periods, I decided instead to try Evernote, and I’ve used Evernote since. Evernote added more tools and more partnerships with 3rd party apps. They created Evernote for Business, too. And It Was Good. Also, Microsoft got a bit lazy with OneNote for a while.

But when Microsoft came out with a free version of OneNote in 2014, I had to look at it again. I wrote an article comparing the two notebook apps, Microsoft Announces Free OneNote for Macs & Windows. OneNote had some nice features and a prettier design, but I decided to stay with Evernote. But the faint sound of the Siren was always in the distance.


Fast Forward. Early 2016 is a trying time for Evernote and its users. The company is reorganizing. There have been layoffs. They’re also getting rid of some attractive tools that didn’t raise any income, such as Evernote Food, and my truly favorite web-reading tool, Clearly. They also took away the ability of free users to add info via email. (That one hurt a lot.) I am not feeling (or hearing) the love from Evernote.

So, about a month ago I used a coupon to use Evernote Premium for 3 months. (Part of a Moleskine for Evernote purchase I made some time ago.) It made me fall in love with Evernote again. But I don’t know whether it’s enough love to keep paying after the 3 months. I also worry whether the company can still survive for the “Ever” in Evernote.

Computer Universes

The tech world has camps. No, more than camps, universes. There’s the Microsoft Universe, the Google Universe, the Apple Universe, and the Open Source Universe (the last always teetering dangerously near that black hole). You commit to one and it’s hard to move to the other if you don’t hear that Siren call. Evernote is not directly in any of those universes but helps users share data between them. That’s a very good thing.

But as one who’s moved between universes, it’s always been difficult to resist Microsoft – even if it’s obvious that Microsoft has had Evernote in its crosshairs since they separated OneNote from the rest of the Office suite and developed the Mac version and made it free. They’re playing the long game. They’ve been waiting for Evernote to stumble. And it has.

Now the Sirens are singing, “It’s so easy to move to OneNote now. And we’re not going away – after all, we’re both sexy and omnipotent.”

Now would be a very, very, very good time for Evernote’s managers to show some love towards their users. Even if it was just to reinstate Clearly, or reduce the price of Evernote Premium. Tie me to the mast, like Odysseus.


Because if I, and a few million others, succumb to the Microsoft Song, it’ll be not long before we’re playing “Siegfried’s Funeral March” from Götterdämmerung or the opening of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in memory of Evernote. And instead of setting a true and steady software course, I might find myself stranded on the rocky shores of the non-independent, purely commercial island of Microsoft.

So, Evernote. The ball – or, rather, the song – is in your court. Sing to me before it’s too late.


The scene from Odysseus is from a Greek vase made in the 5th century BC. From the British Museum.

The photos of sopranos Kathleen Battle and Renée Fleming are both publicity photos found in Google Images.

The orchestral image is of horn and Wagner tuba players from the London Symphony, from a YouTube video of Siegfried’s Funeral March. (See the link above.)

Frugal Guidance 2 -