r/linux Notetaking App with infinite canvas, pdf & handwritten note/stylus support

posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 20 Nov 2021

I have searched for days and weeks to find a note taking app, which is I guess similar to OneNote or Goodnote but I haven't found anything similar/as capable as these apps. As I invested many hours, I want to share my overview, it might help sb else.

I know there are many old posts, guides and webpages recommending all sorts of apps, but they don't offer a modern handwriting/stylus solution which can get close to apps for other platforms and I am not the only one looking ambitiously for an alternative which has the following features:

I would be more than happy if someone can recommend more apps or even share one which fits my needs. But I guess something like this doesn`t exist yet, as there a not many Linux users using touch and stylus. But I was still surprised how many apps for touchscreens or stylus-like-devices I was able to find. I even considered buying a MS Surface, but then again, I am trapped within the OneDrive ecosystem, even if I would somehow run OneNote on Linux...

But let`s get to the overview, hopefully I can help someone looking for a similar solution and who might be less complicated than me ;-) :






I have already looked at apps like LibreOffice Draw, Inkscape, Gimp, Photopea, Milton etc but I really think these a great if you use them for ...well... for what they are built for but not as a notetaking (OneNote/Goodnote) app.


rNote (thx to u/NorphTM & u/bevsxyz)

Obsidian (thx to u/eugoreez & u/OneTwothpick)

Stylus Labs (thx to u/Atemu12)

posted by u/2cats2hats on 20 Nov 2021 9▲

Consider a cross-post in r/opensource or r/selfhosted

posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 20 Nov 2021 2▲

thx for this advice, i will do that

posted by u/-In2itioN on 21 Nov 2021 5▲

I might be mistaken or missing something, but doesn't one note work one the browser? That might answer your "using one note on Linux" part, but doesn't tick the self hosted option

posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 21 Nov 2021 4▲

Yeah it does and it is actually a really good idea, maybe it works even better than some emulators. P3X OneNote for Linux could actually work like this. So if someone doesn't bother OneDrive...

I kind of hope to leave Windows 100% behind me but I will probably try to install OneNote 2016 via Wine and just save files locally, this is also a option to consider... But on the other hand, it is probably easier and more future proof to change my note taking habits.

posted by u/sweetcollector on 21 Nov 2021 1▲

It's not practical as wine but what do you think of using OneNote on a Windows virtual machine?

posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 21 Nov 2021 1▲

I have to be honest, that I haven't tried emulating OneNote / running it inside a VM yet, as I don't have the MS Office 2016/2013 Version yet. I could install the "OneNote Windows 10" Version (Its a "free" App only available via Win Store). But again I am tied to OneDrive. When I want to quit paying the monthly amount and I exceed 5GB I have to delete all notes until I am back to 5gb of space... Getting a lot of PDFs to take notes on, this happens fast.

A tip for anybody who fell for OneNote and want to backup their Notes to quit the monthly pay for OneDrive: Just buy the OneNote-Office Edition (The last one ever released is 2016), you can still view and edit your notes and even "extract" them from OneDrive

Considering the VM, I will probably buy the 2016s OneNote, but not sure how a VM will work with a stylus and on a touch device with less resources but I will give it a try!

posted by u/Inasaba on 21 Nov 2021 4▲

You can't ink on the web app version, sadly.

posted by u/one_of_them_snowlake on 20 Nov 2021 5▲

It's Joplin. *p.

You mentioned BoostNote is good for devs. Could you elaborate how?

Quite frankly, I have gone through similar journey. I loved OneNotes. But on linux there is no real alternative.

Xournal came close, but it was a little clunky, I'm talking few years ago, haven't tested since. CherryTree is very powerful, but interface is weird. There's too much going on and code boxes and shortcuts seem to me as an after thought.

SimpleNotes is good. But setting up personal server was giving me headache.

I settled on Joplin and it is awesome. Except for stylus, hand written notes. There are plugins which allow you to customise features. Like just yesterday I installed plantuml plugin, and boom got UML and mindmap support. Also just yesterday, updated CSS to make images and text 960 px wide and space wrapped, it looks so good.

But yeah, missing hand written notes, pdf import and just awesome pen support and UI.

posted by u/[deleted] on 21 Nov 2021 4▲


posted by u/one_of_them_snowlake on 21 Nov 2021 1▲

Does it have notebooks and sub notebooks?

posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 21 Nov 2021 3▲

Oh sry, i will correct it

BoostNote is probably the best for dev teams. Personally I think its the best out-of-the-box tool if you want to include code within your notes, but with other apps you can do the same and customize the style... So to be as objective as possible, the biggest advantage of BoostNote compared to other note apps is, if you are using it as a dev team and they do offer some nice automation features, e.g. you can embed drawio, github, ...and stuff like miro and slack. So the focus is probably not for personal use.

Yeah i really love SimpleNotes and Joplin... I probably have to give up the stylus and just use markdown... But it is hard if you get a lot of pdf files with pages being filled from edge to edge. Additionally some things are just much harder/take much longer in markdown, like writing formulars.

But thanks for your input :-)

posted by u/one_of_them_snowlake on 21 Nov 2021 3▲

There are tools that you can use to edit/annotate pdf itself. I'm sure there are tools for maths in Linux too. But yeah, it's not what we want.

Also, checkout Joplin plugins, I think there's one for maths. (I am not affiliated to Joplin in any way).

Anyway thanks for taking time to test so many apps and for writing about it.

posted by u/Negirno on 21 Nov 2021 3▲

I'm don't really like Joplin. Its syncing seemed sluggish for me. Linking is awkward (you have to right click on a note you want to link and paste its UUID into the target note, etc.

I've settled on Obsidian with Syncthing. It's not perfect (no handwriting there too), but it's less agravating than Joplin.

posted by u/one_of_them_snowlake on 21 Nov 2021 2▲

There are a few plugins that make linking fast. Not kidding. You need @@title and it links automatically.

There's a graph plugin too. When you want to see connections and move graphically.

posted by u/Negirno on 21 Nov 2021 2▲

Honestly, it should be a default feature. One of the things Joplin does right compared to Obsidian and Zim for that matter is that it gives notes a UUID, so you can rename notes without having to modify links in other notes pointing to it. Having to do it manually is a chore.

Hopefully Joplin devs come around it. Also, I didn't even knew that it has a plugin system until you told it...

posted by u/AfGandalfistan on 13 Jan 2022 1▲

Yeah ist an electron app. I dont likenthese

posted by u/eugoreez on 21 Nov 2021 3▲

I find Obsidian + Excalidraw plugin is the best alternative. I don't use stylus, so not sure of its support on excalidraw... But drawing with the built in shape function is already fun with the mouse for me

posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 21 Nov 2021 3▲

Thank for the tip, I knew Obsidian but not the plugin!

I have tried it today, I think I might use it for some days. It works OK, so if somebody needs to do a diagram once in a while or solve some equations its perfect.

Nevertheless its more like a picture you draw and after saving it you can insert it into your markdown file... So not the kind of open infinite canvas app to drag an drop text, drawings and pdf around or even draw onto pdfs... But for some people Obsidian might be a very good solution.

posted by u/Condol1 on 21 Nov 2021 3▲

Even though not a note taking app in the first place, Inkscape offers from your list:

  • handwriting support (with stylus support, but no conservation to text)

  • infinite canvas

  • import/export of pdf and pixel graphics. (Although only a single page at one time. But this page can be placed, scaled and modified arbitrarily.


For single page sketches, notes and mind maps, it is my goto. However multiple pages is a limitation.

Kindly Yours


posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 21 Nov 2021 1▲

Yes, I have seen some posts, also recommending LibreOffice Draw. I tried to use it as well and organize my notes in a folder structure... But it was really time consuming and laborious. And as you already said, importing PDFs with many pages to annotate them is not really possible. But I guess you are write that Inkscape like apps are actually the closest to sth like OneNote considering the canvas.

posted by u/bevsxyz on 22 Nov 2021 3▲

Might not be ticking all the boxes but just found a rust implementation rnote. https://github.com/flxzt/rnote

posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 24 Nov 2021 3▲

Yess, this was completely new to me and I really like it. Its usability is very close to OneNote and you can expand the canvas infinitely. My main problem is that you can't type text. But text fields and pdf imports are already on the ToDo list. So some features are still missing, but these might be added (or this will be my motivation to learn Rust)

Using the App (and having the OneNote Background tbh), I guess this will actually become my favorite app!

posted by u/Sheepdog107 on 20 Nov 2021 2▲

Um, cherry tree?

posted by u/SwallowYourDreams on 20 Nov 2021 2▲

OP mentioned that under "Simplenote".

posted by u/Ok-Management-6682 on 21 Nov 2021 2▲

I'd love this.

posted by u/AfGandalfistan on 13 Jan 2022 2▲

Also commented on the other subreddits but again, this summary is truly astonishing. It seems like there are other people searching for this too.

posted by u/specimener on 05 Apr 2022 2▲

thanks for making this post, after months of searching for a program that would fit my needs. landed on "Stylus labs: Write". thanks u/Atemu12 for the recommendation and u/LieGroundbreaking833 for making the post!!

posted by u/buovjaga on 21 Nov 2021 1▲

What does "handwriting support" mean? Automatic OCRing of handwritten notes to text?

posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 21 Nov 2021 1▲

No I personally don't need my handwriting to change automatically to text. To type text I prefer my keyboard. I just didn't know how to put it, if you want to draw/mark with a stylus or touch screen directly next to or on top of inserted pdf pages, images or typed text. Also formulas are the best example where I prefer a touch or stylus input over the keyboard....

So in conclusion, I just want to be able to draw or mark around an infinite canvas which can also contain pdfs and typed text.

posted by u/Atemu12 on 21 Nov 2021 1▲

Take a look at http://www.styluslabs.com/.

It's, proprietary freeware, pretty scrappy in many ways and the UI is a beast of its own but it's the best I've found so far.

posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 21 Nov 2021 1▲

Oh thank you, I guess I have seen it a few months ago but never tried it. It is actually possible to expand the canvas to a massive size... yes it fells somehow scrappy, but the stroke eraser and drawing in generally works actually very well, so if you don't depend on pdfs, its a good option.

posted by u/Atemu12 on 21 Nov 2021 2▲

There is a way to import PDFs but it's not great and there's no UI or anything: https://github.com/styluslabs/templates/blob/master/pdf2write.sh

posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 24 Nov 2021 2▲

Thank you very much for this tip. It converts a pdf more or less in a styluslab/"write"-document. Its actually a good thing, if you want want to annotate pdfs and don't need much canvas space around it. Also you could expand the space manually. But for people reading this an probably looking sth very similar to Good-/OneNote, you can't drag and drop "printouts" within the document to different places using this script.

As many people only use pdfs and annotation tools to directly write on top of the pages, it is defiantly something they can look into.

posted by u/Inasaba on 23 Nov 2021 1▲

Oh, this updated! It ticks most of my boxes now!

posted by u/Voxandr on 08 Dec 2021 1▲

QownNotes (no drawing)

posted by u/OneTwothpick on 21 Nov 2021 0▲

OneNote is exactly that and there are a few ways to get it on linux through a web page run as an app but for other options check this post


I don't use handwritten notes anymore as I've switched to Obsidian. I recommend it to everyone for notes if handwriting isn't mandatory.

posted by u/LieGroundbreaking833 on 21 Nov 2021 1▲

Yeah, as I just answered other comments, I think that apps like LibreOffice Draw or Inkscape are probably the closest to OneNote considering the canvas but working with it as a note taking app, also with pdf docs which have many pages is complicated... But people who are looking for a single canvas like board which nice import options, these apps can be very great.