I’ve been looking for decent note-taking software for years now.

I used Evernote for a couple of years, but eventually got fed up with their sluggish client performance. I switched to a combination of plaintext files stored in Dropbox and lists stored in task management software (first OmniFocus, then Remember The Milk), but the cognitive load was too high: having notes stored in two places made it hard to find things, and I was never quite sure where to put new notes.

The last few weeks, I’ve been using nvALT, and it’s already become one of my favorite pieces of software. When it comes to notes, I really care about being able to do three things quickly:

  • Make a new note
  • Find something by searching the plaintext of all my notes
  • Append a new item to the end of a list.

nvALT makes it easy to do any of those with just a few keystrokes. Pressing a predefined global keyboard shortcut brings up a simple UI that has an input box and a list of notes. Typing in that box acts as both search and file creation: as you type, the note list is filtered out to only include relevant notes, prioritizing title matches but also showing full plaintext matches.

If you want to create a new note, just finish typing the title for it and press Enter. The results list is now a text editor.

If you want to look at search result, just click on it.

If you want to edit a pre-existing note, just let the title autocomplete, hit Enter, and the editor will open it up. Your cursor will be placed on a newline at the end of the file, and if there’s a Markdown list, it’ll even make a new bullet point for you.

Behind the scenes, you can wire nvALT up to automatically sync with Simplenote, a free syncing service with a very nice iOS app. I wish Simplenote offered full encryption, as nvALT does if you just store your data locally, but you can’t have everything.

The whole thing “just works” in a way that most application creators aspire to but very few accomplish. It’s not going to win any design awards for its visual design, but if every piece of software was as simple and elegant as nvALT, the world would be a far more stress-free place. If you’re looking for a way to manage textual data on your computer, I can’t recommend nvALT highly enough.