When I first wrote an article like this - some 10 or 12 years ago - I had just bought an Apple MacBook Pro, and was busy deciding what to install. I had a Google Sheet with applications I had found to be interesting for the various tasks I imagined using the computer for and methodically went through the list, carefully evaluating each item, trying to take the price (from free to expensive) into the equation. And I did end up with a nice toolset.
Of course, I had to try alternatives along the way, for do we not all suffer from the Shiny Toy Syndrome? So instead of actually learning one tool and finding out how to best use it, you install a new one and start playing with that instead.
In truth, no one tool will probably ever check all the real and imaginary boxes in your list. Perhaps you can cut a corner here and there, and shoehorn your workflows into what you actually have?
But then I got another computer … To be precise: a Linux laptop from TUXEDO Computers. So: new tools.
Right now, I have all I need in a number of browser tabs. Or, mostly. There are actually many tools that run nicely in a browser. Among the advantages for me are: across machines and platforms, no local install (hence can use at work, for example, or somewhere else in the world)
- After syncing Gmail to some local client, I gave up and just use it in the browser. More than adequate for my purposes - and the search functionality is quite good, strangely enough.
- Google Calendar
- Ditto for the calendar.
- I used to have to-do lists in Markdown files in Dropbox. Todoist is a bit more developed (it supports a full GTD workflow), not free (but affordable), and works in the browser as well as in local clients (including Linux, no less). It also integrates with the Google Calendar, so all is well. After a few months, though, I begin to feel I do not really use it enough, mainly because my ‘tasks’ are not well-suited to this method.
- Standard Notes
- A nice cross-platform note-taking tool. As a full note-taking tool perhaps a little lacking (depending on what you want to do), but it does have end-to-end encryption so there is that. I use it for information where the encryption is important.
- Markdown as far as I can. Markdown is a revelation. It runs everywhere because it does not run as such. Your editor of choice can give a lot of help, or none at all: the files remain the same. With something like Pandoc you can convert to any given thing – Word documents, presentations, beautifully typeset PDFs via Latex. VS Code remains a sturdy favorite – but there are so many to choose from (or so it seems: a lot of them are some shell around Electron, and the performance goes from acceptable to not. And, yes, I do know that VS Code is in that boat, too).
- Dynalist, thought. I love outlining, and am indeed writing the draft for this article in Dynalist. Native apps on all platforms, and a web app. Smooth syncing, et cetera, et cetera. After years of looking for a decent outliner, I finally found one.
- Saving articles for later. Beauty is I can discover and save on one platform and later read on another.
- Just my own-hosted bookmark manager. Bare-bones, but functional.
- Use it more and more. They do mumble about being in the browser. The beauty is that Obsidian adapts to many workflows, from being close to Zettelkasten to something more relaxed (as I use it, presently). Brilliant video that explains a lot more.
- Google Docs, Sheets
- Are more than adequate for when that someone sends you a Wordfile, or you need to do some light spreadsheeting.
It all – more or less – syncs to mobile apps, and makes ubiquitous capture possible.
But, yes, it is a Linux computer and there is a steeper learning curve. I already had strong UNIX/Linux roots and wanted this setup. It is probably not for everyone.