Evernote and I Part Ways

I’ve been an enthusiast for Evernote for some time. I started using it in April 2010, and I found it very useful: it was a way to share data across all of my devices, from phone to tablet to multiple computers. It was also a good audio note taker, although I don’t do that much any more.

How Things Went Wrong

Things started to break down only a few weeks ago when there was a database change in the tool which broke my ability to use Evernote to edit notes on my tablet, a first generation Kindle Fire. I wasn’t too concerned about it because in truth this was one of several applications which the Fire could not deal with (eg by not having a modern web browser), although having to fix the numbering on my long list of scene notes for my NaNovel was, shall we say, frustrating.

Still, I was already expecting to have to install a more stock Android build on the Fire so that I could use it more generally – I figured I would probably be back to using Evernote on there by the New Year.

Then the other day there was a version bump for Evernote on my day job laptop: a jump to version 6, with a new UI and another database change.

I don’t especially care for the UI*, as it happens, but that was not the thing that now has me throwing Evernote away: the database change nearly lost me some critical data.

Here’s the sequence of events:

  1. make changes on yig (personal laptop) to novel notes.
  2. Evernote on upney (day job laptop) is updated, including database change.
  3. make changes on upney to the same notes.
  4. return to yig for more writing, updating the novel notes again. Note at this point that there is no indication anywhere of accessing data from an incompatible database format.
  5. view novel notes on upney. They are gone. GONE. There is an empty note called “Untitled” where the novel notes used to be. Blood runs cold, stomach flips, etc.

Now, as it happens I could see these notes via the Evernote client on my phone so I knew they were not completely destroyed, but when I returned home I needed to take urgent action to make sure my notes were not lost – I disconnected the Internet by turning off the router so that yig’s Evernote instance would not sync to the cloud, then copied the novel notes into a text file** and also cloned the note within Evernote.

Then I reconnected the Internet and synced Evernote, and the novel notes document was destroyed just as I had feared it would be.

Another Orphan

There is no new version of Evernote for yig – upney is running Mac OS 10.9 (Mavericks) while yig is on 10.6 (Snow Leopard), and there is no version 6 build of Evernote for OS X 10.6.

Is that reasonable? Sure – I’m not going to say that Evernote or any company should be required to support an OS version that old. And it’s not as if OS upgrades are necessarily that onerous really, these days: Apple don’t even charge for them any more.

But they are disruptive. Both yig and upney have gone through OS upgrades, and it completely destroyed my dev environment in both cases. I lost hours of time while the OS upgrade was going on, but days of productivity while I rebuilt compilation systems and language environments.

In yig’s case I am not even convinced that an OS upgrade is a good idea at this point. It’s an old computer – I’ve had it almost six years now – and it’s more than a little creaky. The App Store claims it will run Yosemite (10.10) but will it really? What are the chances my computer gets completely screwed in the process?

Regardless of the viability of upgrading yig so I can run Evernote on it, I’m not doing it now. I’m in the middle of writing a novel: I can’t afford to have my primary writing tool out of commission for any amount of time, let alone a couple of days.

Why I Won’t Use Evernote Again

The real problem for me with Evernote is now one of trust: I no longer trust the tool, and I don’t feel like I can afford to use something which is only ever one bad database upgrade away from destroying my most important notes.

They could have handled these database upgrades better, but Evernote’s value to me was always in allowing me to share and edit notes across multiple devices: that value was eroded with the loss of the Kindle Fire as a client, but it has been entirely lost with the orphaning of yig. If they’re going to change the shared database structures to be incompatible with older versions of the tool, then the tool is no longer useful.

So goodbye Evernote. It’s been a good four and a half years, but it’s time to go back to text files on a cloud drive. At least then I control the format, and I get versioned backups from Time Machine.

[*] the flatness I can deal with, up to a point, but I really dislike the lack of visual separation between areas. It’s a usability disaster, as far as I can tell.

[**] and, in fairness, the Evernote text copy does the right thing here with numbered lists and checkboxes.

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