Alternatives to Obsidian for basic PKM (Craft? Ulysses?)

My number one rule when switching to any new tool is:
How easy will it be to get all my data out, in a usable form, in three years time when I want to switch again?

This is especially the case when it’s something as important as my main note-taking and knowledge system, and I know it’s a good question because my data has moved from VoodooPad to Apple Notes, to Day One, to some hand-coded scripts, to Bear, to Obsidian in the past (and several more before that that I can’t immediately remember now). If I adopt a new app like Craft (which I admired when I tried it some time ago), but it offers new features like an unusual block structure, or hand-written annotations, I have to wonder what happens to those when I next switch. Markdown is a great lingua franca, and had enabled much of this flexibility, but it’s also a fairly low common denominator.

This freedom to do a quick and complete move when wanted is doubly important for any app that wants to charge me a subscription!

The second question is:
Will it sync, and be accessible, across both my Macs, my iPad and my iPhone without needing some external service? (beyond the iCloud, SynologyDrive and Dropbox I already use).

I tend to use things with real keyboards for writing, but if somebody calls me while I’m walking the dog, I need to be able to look things up easily on my phone.

At the moment, I use and like Obsidian, but can’t help feeling that the vast number of features can be a distraction from the task in hand. I switched to it because I thought automatic reverse-linking would be a really useful feature, and I’ve almost never used it.

I don’t find it nearly as nice a place actually to write notes as, say, Bear was. A friend of mine who writes a lot of long-form stuff and, like me, uses Ulysses to do so, was delighted when I pointed out that Ulysses can be pointed at external folders, and so you can include your Obsidian data in your Ulysses world, and write any given chunk of text with the tool of your choice. This is only possible, though, when your tools use the filesystem instead of a custom database, and Markdown instead of a custom format. If they can just export to Markdown, that’s a halfway point, but it’ll normally only take you in one direction, and to fulfil my first criterion, they need to be able to do that with all your data in a single operation.

So I’d be interested in alternatives to Obsidian, but I do have some pretty strict requirements! Suggestions welcome!

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This is quite similar to my history, though I began with HyperCard, and have been looking for an alternative to VoodooPad. I’ve been trying Obsidian, but I think it’s not for me.

Don’t laugh, but at this point, I’m using hand-coded HTML. I’m quite fast with HTML, and I’ve used basic tags so very much for work (among other things, I used to convert several thousand syllabi to html pages, for work, several time a year) that I’ve got muscle memory for it. I have BBEdit and templates and TextExpander, and use them. I’m writing a lot in Bear, still, and it produces quite clean html.

I don’t want an app I have to futz with. I need an app that I can see and easily read the output (visual issues) and that will work with screen readers. And I need to be able to eat-and-spit (import and export) reliably, for the long haul. Finally, I have just enough familiarity with Perl that it’s an option for mass conversion,

Obsidian has a lot going for it, but I really am not someone who enjoys tinkering. I can tinker, but I’d rather get on with writing text, not code, not searching for plug-ins, etc.

I realize that likely sounds insane to most people, but I’d rather write (which = $) than keep looking.

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I have pretty much the same philosophy as you, and have stuck to plain text and markdown files for a while now.

I’m using NotePlan more and more. It’s beautiful, it’s incredibly customizable (custom themes, custom syntax, templates, a very active plug-in community), it’s friendly, and the dev is very responsive. I’ve been able to adopt some of the more useful custom features without breaking markdown in other apps, but as in Obsidian, you have keep cross-app compatibility in mind as you go.

The two biggest headaches are that, to use CloudKit sync, the notes have to live inside a folder in NotePlan’s directory, which is deeply nested and inconveniently named. But if you’re ok putting your notes there, it works beautifully; other apps, of course, can access them as well. (NotePlan also offers iCloud sync, but it isn’t as fast and has real limitations.)

The other drawback, for me, is the lack of table-rendering support. But since I can use the same notes in Obsidian, nvUltra, Marked, etc., I’m ok with that.

I also continue to use Obsidian, mostly for its Kanban plug-in and Mermaid support, as well as nvUltra and occasionally also The Archive, for various purposes.

There’s also the (subscription) cost, which has come up on this forum a lot. I’m grandfathered at a lower price, and the dev (who says he’s experimenting with prices still) has been good about discounting on request, but I realize it could be a hurdle.

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This is what I’ve started doing, especially for summary literature notes. This is ideal because it is my summary (atomic) notes that I use in my writing and presentations. Having them all in one place makes retrieving and using that information seamless. I can also tweak my Obsidian notes on the fly from within Ulysses.

In may respects, this is the best of all worlds.

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Mr. Breen has a wonderful blog! I’m not big on linking, Craft, Obsidian, or anything of that ilk, yet it is just an excellent read… thank you for finding/sharing it!

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So I think I took this far, far too personally, but it stuck with me and haunted me. I decided over the weekend that, for now, I’m going to stick with Obsidian. I like that it’s plain text, I like that I don’t have to worry about exporting data from it “in the future,” etc.

Thanks to @ryanjamurphy and @OogieM, I have re-doubled on my efforts to install plugins for the ways the app has failed me. First, I installed Omnisearch (as @dustinknopoff recommended). That solved the text problem. I also installed a couple footnote plugins, because I like and use footnotes, and Ulysses (which I’m used to) is very good at them, while Obsidian is not.

Finally, I used this script to download the whole Bible into Obsidian. I tried splitting it up verse by verse, but Obsidian sort of croaked under the load of 35,000 small files (or maybe iCloud too, but who knows). But my primary non-work-related purpose for this is to create interconnected notes of Bible study, so this was a good first step.

I still don’t love the writing experience, but as many have mentioned, if the goal is to write, I can add this as an external file in Ulysses, or edit any of these MD files in iA Writer.

I did try dumping the entire Bible into Craft as well. That synced just fine (and remarkably quick), and was fairly easy to use, but not as quick for transclusion or block linking. I put in a few test notes, linked everything, and exported all of it so I could compare my “native” Obsidian MD docs and Craft’s.

Craft did a very good job with export. It retained all the links, including the block links, and was able to connect my documents together when I moved them into a new Obsidian block. However, Craft couldn’t create links to my daily notes for some reason, instead turning each date-based link in an x-callback URL that took you back into Craft, rather than opening the appropriate plain text file. That alone kind of makes it a no-go for me, as far as long-term trust goes.

Finally, I have tried to make the Obsidian UI as… elegant… as possible. I want to avoid spending a lot of time messing about with this, because it’s a tool, and I want to use the tool for my thinking and writing, and I don’t want to waste time futzing with it if I don’t have to.

All I’ve done is installed the Minimal theme, set up the Minimal Theme plugin, turned on the “Things” colour scheme, which got everything nice and white (or nice and dark, depending), et voila. I was using iA Writer Duo as my font, but had issues making it scale properly on mobile, so I disabled it.

I have not found a good way to create a subfolder that just points to notes that match a certain criteria. I looked into the Dataview plugin, but it’s a little too fiddly-looking for my tastes. I suspect what I want would probably have to be done natively in the app itself, rather than as part of a plugin.

And that’s it, at least for now. I still wish that the writing experience in Obsidian was more like a native app, a la iA Writer or Ulysses, or heck, even the BBEdit of old. But I’ll take what I can get.

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Aren’t you allowed to right-click an Obsidian document and open, edit, and save it in your preferred editor?

Yes, but those editors don’t always have all the functionality that I need. iA Writer doesn’t display backlinks, and doesn’t let you link to specific paragraphs in a file. It also doesn’t support transclusion. I find all three features uniquely handy and important in a lot of my workflows.

Ulysses allows you to sort each folder whichever way you would like — very handy! — but seems to have issues displaying the Markdown properly It renders [[link]] as \[\link\]\], and checkboxes as -\[x] or -\[ ], neither of which are particuarlly readable.

That means iA Writer is good for note-taking where you don’t necessarily need to use a transclusion or specific block link. Ulysses is good for long-form writing with basic Markdown (like a book, where the order of files matters, or a blog post). But for any research needs, Obsidian is where you need to be.

So yes, it’s great that these files are independent of any application and can be opened anywhere. But it’s also true that it would be nice to have one great environment for everything.

Hence our quest for the “perfect” note and writing app! :slight_smile: I’ve “settled” (I think) on Ulysses for writing with it also pointing to an external Obsidian research folder. I use Obsidian when I need the links or graphs but I’m using Ulysses for the actual writing. So far, so good. :crossed_fingers:t3:

We have settled on a similar mix, with Ulysses for long-form (for me), iA Writer for most note-taking, Obsidian for linking and referring back to other notes.

Looking forward to some of coming changes to Obsidian in the next point releases, which sound like they will make the app feel substantially more “native” to macOS, which I’m looking forward to.

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And that describes just about every plaintext/markdown workflow I’ve ever come into contact with.

I like Craft, no futzing!!

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This is accurate, but where do I end up in 5 years of Craft goes under? That’s what the big concern is with these apps.

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The same you do with every app you use. You export and move on. Craft’s export is pretty robust and they’re increasing its scope all the time.

In the past I’ve not used apps because of fear of “what if”. Chances are in five years you probably won’t be using the app you’re using now. The new app that comes along will also most likely add an import from your current app to get your business.

I would only worry about five years time if my current app had no export whatsoever, but that’s not the case here.

But the export tool isn’t flawless.

The reality is that I do use tools for >5 years. I think I’ve use Ulysses for 8. I’ve used Obsidian for about 1 year now (and hence the fatalism of my original post — I want to find a long-term solution).

I’ve used Markdown since 2009 or so (maybe 2010). I’ve used Adobe tools for a similar length of time. Sketch was 5 years before Figma became the norm in my industry (and I had no choice), and that’s been a few years. VSCode I’ve used for a long time, and my preference for code is to use Coda (now Nova), and that’s been the case since 2010 as well.

I’ve been all Apple since 2006, and all PlayStation from 2006-2021 (when my wife bought me a Series X, which was and is amazing). My point is just that I don’t try to switch tools. I’ve loved markdown for this long because I want the stability of a reliable set of files.

I know you like Craft, and I wish I could use it too. I love it. But philosophically, I just can’t do it, as wonderful as it is, much to my own chagrin.

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The only difference in our approach is that I’m using Apple Notes for my non-research related notes, e.g., meeting notes. I only need these notes for reference. They are future “proofed” in that they can be, if needed, exported as PDFs and OCRed. I’m also confident in Apple’s longevity and support for Apple Notes. I gain the advantage of deep system integration too.

I’d love to use Craft for all writing short of a book but Craft doesn’t do footnotes and has no outline view. I use both of these features constantly in Ulysses.

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You must try NotePlan. Simple, Great Developer support. Great community support, Part of Setapp

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I’m just glad that I’ve haunted one person already, and it isn’t even October yet! :grinning:

I think we’re aligned in principles, and that’s why I said what I said. Personally, I look for:

  • storage on the file system, not on the cloud;
  • as extensible as possible;
  • using common, interoperable file formats.

These principles lead to tools that afford permissionless integrations and customizability. They’re strong foundations — everything from there is on me.

I don’t like depending on developers to introduce a feature or, worse, allow me to change an existing feature. That’s led to months of frustration and heartbreak in the past, but since I’ve adopted the rules above, I’ve always been able to make what I want to happen, happen.

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Where can I download a plain text version of the Bible (preferably ESV)? I’d love to have it in Obsidian for quick cross-linking and research.

I don’t think you can, because of copyright. There are ePub versions that are legal.

Here’s an established publisher that sells the ESV Bible as electronic media.

https://www.cokesbury.com/Bibles-English-Standard-Version?nis=8&ff=Format%3A%3AElectronic+Media&pagenumber=1