June 26, 2009

Free Software, Take Note! An overview of Gnote 0.5.1

There's quite a lot of discussion about patents and Mono in the GNU/Linux community as of late. Throughout the numerous arguments, discussions, and mailing lists, there seems to be a growing effort to replace the need for Mono-based applications with "unemcumbered" alternatives.

   Initially, I was a little skeptical of what currently is offered as alternative-to-mono applications. In my own experience, the Ubuntu Linux distribution is focusing on bringing in a third mono app with the release of Ubuntu Karmic, as well as possibly replacing Gimp on the Live CD with F-Spot. While many of these posts are still speculative, it leaves one to wonder what alternatives there are to offer, in case Microsoft's patents do actually pose a threat to GNU/Linux. Today, let's take a look at Gnote, a C++ alternative to the note-taking application Tomboy.

    Gnote was started on April 2009 by Gnome developer Hubert Figuiere, known also for his work on Abiword. The goal of Gnote is to provide a C++ port of Tomboy, which currently relies on C#. Gnote is an experiment to see what would happen if Tomboy were written using C++. Many Free Software enthusiasts that are against Mono have paraded around it as a Mono-Free alternative to Tomboy, but does it hold up? For our testing purposes, I installed Gnote 0.5.1 on Ubuntu Jaunty through a personal PPA. I would love to see it packaged in Ubuntu officially in the near future.

    What really struck me at first was the visual similarities. Gnote is, in nearly every way identical to Tomboy. The tray applets look slightly different, but the functional implementation is exactly the same.

Tomboy and Gnote Tray Applets




 Can you tell which is which? Not really.

 Tomboy on left, Gnote on right.

The similarities go down to the context menus.

 Wow, the context menu is the same!

Search remains largely the same, along with Tomboy's awesome "Notebook" functionality, which allows users to organize notes into collections for later use. Gnote also supports the linking of seperate notes by highlighting text and creating a new entry.

 I think this routine is getting old now. Yep, they're basically the same app.

Also, another useful function is that Gnote has the ability to import and read all of your old Tomboy notes after switching. Hubert claims that this feature is still "experimental", but I think it's a great move for users interested in switching.

   The only downside for the time being is a lack of plugins. Although Gnote has a nice list of already included "add-ins", Tomboy retains a larger library of extensions, such as "Note of the Day", Font formatting support, BlogPoster, etc. That said, it retains much of the functionality of the Tomboy project.

    To me, this is a huge victory for Anti-Mono supporters. Users get just as much functionality out of their old apps, and retain a freedom from code patents at the very same time! It's a win-win situation!

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