MyShelf may not be as pretty as Evernote, but it's a note-taking app that doesn't need the cloud. See all Utilities reviews.

Keeping good notes can make you more productive, and help you get lots of little details off your mind. But while many people can agree that keeping notes is a good idea, the endless variety of note-keeping systems shows that there are quite a few opinions on what's the best way to go about this. MyShelf Desktop is a free utility that emphasizes one principle: Keep your notes off the cloud, but sync them with your various computers and mobile devices. Vendor encomit UG offers Linux and Mac versions, as well as PC and mobile. I just wish it were easier to use.

Each note on MyShelf Desktop is composed of several parts. An element can be one or more paragraphs of text, or an image. MyShelf shows each element as a 200x200-pixel square, no matter how large an image is or how much text the element contains. This means larger images become cropped, and elements with lots of text get scrollbars. Elements are shown next to each other, like sticky notes, so that each element looks independent rather than like a part of one note. The end result can be quite confusing.

The interface proves even more problematic when trying to search within notes: You can easily run a full-text search on all notes, but MyShelf will return the entire matching note, not just the matching element. So if you have a note with hundreds of words across multiple elements which contains the word "cat" somewhere, the entire note will pop up when you search for "cat," with no indication of where that word might be within, or even if the hit is actually for "category" or "Catalonia".

Worse still, the limited space each element gets means that the word "cat" might be buried within one of the longer elements of your note, requiring scrolling to find. There is no way to find out which element contains the word: You'll just have to scroll through them all, manually scanning each element, until you stumble upon the word you were looking for.

Frustrating interface aside, MyShelf does offer one interesting twist on local note storage: Synchronization with mobile apps. Vendor Encomit created MyShelf apps for Android, and for the iPad and iPhone. Unlike MyShelf desktop, these are not free: The Android and iPad versions cost $4, while the iOS version costs $3. After installing the Android version and specifying my computer's IP address, I was able to quickly synchronize MyShelf on both the computer and phone, as long as they were connected to the same LAN.

MyShelf's clunky interface makes it difficult for me to recommend it, but its local sync feature is truly unique. If you're looking for simple local note-keeping, you can't go wrong with stalwart free utility Stickies; if you need to synchronize your notes with mobile devices while still being able to edit them on the desktop, Evernote offers a far more polished interface. But if you must have sync and can't or won't use the cloud, MyShelf does something neither of these tools can do, albeit with its own trade-offs.

MyShelf: Specs

  • Microsoft Windows 7/ 8 Desktop/ Vista/ XP
  • Microsoft Windows 7/ 8 Desktop/ Vista/ XP

OUR VERDICT

MyShelf may not be as pretty as Evernote, but it's a note-taking app that doesn't need the cloud.

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