Why I prefer plaintext

2 minute read

I’ve used many different apps to organize my notes and documents. I’ve used SimplenoteEvernoteGoogle Docs, and many others. And every time I end up coming back to the simplest solution of all: plain text files inside a document folder.

It doesn’t matter how advanced technology is, sometimes the best solution is the simplest one. You may disagree now, but keep reading while I explain what problem I’m trying to solve and why plain text is the best solution.

The problem

All the apps I mentioned above have one or both of these problems: proprietary formats, and files are not saved on your computer.

The problem with proprietary formats is that it can only be read by one (or a few) specific apps. If the app (or server) stops existing for whatever reason, all the information stored there is gone. Or I may end up having to pay a heavy price to convert it.

I’ve seen posts about people that found old files from years ago and couldn’t read it because it was saved in a dead file format, be it WordStar, an ancient version of Excel or Apple Pages.

One the format is left behind, goodbye. And if that app doesn’t have a mobile version, you won’t be able to get your notes while away from a computer.

And the problem with files that are saved on the cloud instead of your computer is that it’s not under your control. If the service changes to a recurring payment, you’re screwed. If the server shuts down (temporarily or permanently), you’re screwed. If the company goes bankrupt or acquired, you’re screwed.

If you like automating stuff (like I do), not having access to the files is also a big problem.

The solution: plain text + Dropbox

Plain text files are a decades old technology. And they will still be available for decades to come. There’s no weird code behind them, it’s just unicode text inside a file. And, well… text is going away anytime soon.

Any information that I save in a plain text file I will be able to read as long as I still have the file, even if it’s 40 years from now and I’m in a nursery home using my old man’s holographic iPhone.

I save all my notes inside a Documents directory. To be able to read those notes on any computer, I sync it with Dropbox.

It doesn’t matter where I am, or what device I’m using, I can always check any information that I’ve saved, or edit any note. Worst case scenario, I go to the Dropbox web site and check the files there.

And even if Dropbox disappears from the world right now, all my files are saved on all my computers, and my phone and I won’t lose a thing.

On my next post I will explain better how I organize all my notes and tasks in plain text, because this post is already too big.