nvALT replacement?

Some of you may know that there is a replacement for nvALT in the works. I have just seen it, and it doesn’t fit my needs (at the moment – I suppose that might change) because it doesn’t support RTF. So I’m wondering if anyone knows of a program that would be a better replacement for nvALT for the future. I’m likely to continue using nvALT till it breaks because it is pretty much exactly what I want (fast search, vertical layout instead of horizontal, rtf support, very fast activation, and a few other things). I suspect that nvALT might stop working pretty soon, with system upgrades and so forth. I’m just curious to know if anyone has found anything similar.

Cheers, Martin.

FSNotes — I fully switched last year from NVAlt after I had stability issues with NVAlt. FSNotes is open-source for macOS though also has App store versions for mac and iOS (I bought both and sync between them is flawless across iPhones, iPads and Macbooks). Original and additional developers are super active, and very receptive to feature suggestions. Has an Alfred Workflow.


You can auto-install it with brew cask if you know what that is, or just do it manually.

Aaaahh yes – thank you, I’d forgotten that one. I’ll give it a try. Good to see it has a vertical layout (something that seems to be missing from nvUltra). And good to have a recommendation from someone who has used it as well as nvALT.

I always get a chill when I hear that a useful piece of software is being “improved”. It usually seems to mean that things I found useful will be removed and things I have no use for will be added. This seems to be pretty much the case with nvUltra, sadly. I have a lot of admiration for Brett Terpstra, but I had some doubts when I heard he was collaborating with Fletcher Penney on this. No disrespect to either of them, but I feared that the result would be more like MultiMarkdown Composer than nvALT, and it looks very much that way. And I’m sorry to say that I don’t like MM Composer. Just my personal taste, of course. Others will probably be delighted with nvUltra, but it is not for me at the moment.

PS: thanks very much for the link to brew cask – I didn’t know what it was, but I do now! Remarkably straightforward (so far!)

I used to use MM Composer, and certainly don’t mind it, but I actually switched to Visual Studio Code for almost all my text/markdown/latex/ruby/etc editing. It is amazing how good the extensions are for these… I just would never have imagined I would be pleasurably using and recommending a Microsoft product on macOS even a few years ago. How things can change!

I have no idea yet about nvUltra, I subscribed here: nvultra.com/ — but am not in the closed beta. I will probably buy it to support Brett and Fletcher, but I really can’t envisage actually moving away from FSNotes now, it really does everything I want. Small, fast, scriptable, syncable, flexible.

And yes, brew cask is wonderful 8)

I’m not a geek, so I’ve got a bit sick of the whole “plain text is wonderful” thing. I could as soon fly to the moon in a rowing boat as I could write a script, and dabbling with TaskPaper taught me I was wasting my time trying to use plain text. For me it is a huge obstacle to productivity, not a help. Nice idea, but not for me. I think I will keep FSNotes in my back pocket for now, and carry on with nvALT till it breaks. I find it nicer to look at than FSN, and for some reason FSN will not respect my choice of colour for text background. I like to use solarised when I can, and nvALT allows me to do that. I like being able to see the tags for my files, too. The Alfred workflow for FSN is nice, though. For iOS I use DEVONthink To Go, so I don’t feel the lack of nvALT for iOS.

Thanks again!

It requires rtf import/export conversion but I’ve been happily using Ulysses as a NVAlt replacement for the past three years. I’m not fond of its organizational structure for actual writing - Scrivener is much better imho - but it works great for a notes repository. I have 1.1 million words and search and sync are still crazy fast on all devices.

I’ve been interested to see how differently people view nvALT, and consequently how differently they use it. I would never have considered Ulysses as a replacement for nvALT because I don’t use it as a notes repository – I use it as a quick capture program. When I get more than a certain number of notes in nvALT I want to move them elsewhere, for example into Tinderbox or DEVONthink. What attracts me about nvALT is that it has a very small window that stays out of the way, but can be summoned in an instant, and lets me start writing something straight away. So Ulysses would be nothing like a replacement for my usage. Aside from that, I regret to say that I have an intense dislike of Ulysses for reasons I can’t explain, even to myself. It just irritates me! And it is Markdown, which is the opposite of what I want, I’m afraid.

This is such a great idea. I used Ulysses even before Scriv, and while I like a lot of things in it, it never really worked well for me for bigger projects. Meanwhile I have been looking for a good notes app for what feels a very long time, and never occurred to me that Ulysses could do the trick. I guess I thought about it as a long form kind of app. Thanks for the tip, I think I’ll give it a try as a notes app

nvAlt is still great if it is working for you! 8)

Just as a FYI, to change background colour you need to also set Preferences ▶︎ Advanced ▶︎ Appearance ▶︎ Custom (Mojave dark/light mode enforces colours or something like that) — regarding tags they are visible for me:

nvAlt stores tags using openmeta metadata, whereas FSNotes uses the standard macOS metadata, and so you will need to convert your old openmeta tags to become visible in FSNotes. This is worth to do as openmeta has been unsupported for years…

I used this script to do it: gist.github.com/iandol/99fefdde … 8d5634b529

I deleted FSNotes from my computer and phone, so I might have to revisit this at a later date, but thanks for the information.

I only use nvALT in vertical window format. One of the things I dislike most about the recent slew of notes programs is the three pane horizontal format. It is fine if you are trying to use the program as a repository, but as I said above, that is not what I use it for, and I like it to co-exist with other apps while using the minimum of screen space. You can actually do this with Scrivener if you want, but there are disadvantages to using Scrivener for this sort of thing. I seem to have a mix of OpenMeta and Finder tags, which I’m not too worried about at the moment. I use Leap quite a bit when I’m dealing with tags. I’m not sure if it still supports both, but it used to. I’ll have to check.

Having reflected on this a little, I realise that I use nvALT as a sort of super scratch pad more than anything else. So maybe I should be looking for scratch pad apps, not note apps. On the other hand, I doubt that scratch pad apps will fit the bill. It is the combination of the two functions in nvALT that makes it attractive to me.

Don’t you use Devonthink as well – what about using Any-Old-Editor-You-Please (™) to write notes in a folder which you index in DT? That way you can write them in whatever editor and/or format you want and still have the convenience of the search when you need it.

This is basically what I do and it works well enough. I have a Dropbox folder (DT Indexed) with a few folders underneath it (Journal, Notes, Todo etc), which I write to with Emacs / MM Composer, DT3 itself, iaWriter (iOS), Drafts (iOS) etc depending on which device I’m on and which bit of software I’m currently playing with. I only need to index the DT Indexed folder itself – after that any folder or file I create (either externally or in DT) is automatically indexed.

DT3 doesn’t care whether the notes are in RTF, plain text, org, md or any text format; it just does its search thing in the normal way so all the notes are accessible etc (and it reads OS tags) — so you don’t have to worry about back-converting any of the file formats if you do change you mind about RTF/mmd/org etc (I do. A lot.)

I’ve found this to be the best solution for my New Editor Every Day affliction…

Yes, there is a lot of sense in this, but I’m slowly realising that this is not the “problem”. Over the years, I have grown accustomed to having nvALT popping up at the side of my screen when I need it. It occupies very little space, and is available almost instantly. I use it as a place to “park” or record bits of (styled) text as I feel the need, or to keep things that I might want to refer to quickly (shortcuts I can’t remember, or stuff like that). At the moment I have twenty-four “notes” in nvALT, and I don’t need it for a lot more. I’m a psychologist (of sorts) and wearing that hat I have come to realise over many years that when people recommend programs they often (implicitly) tell you as much, if not more, about the kind of work they do as they do about the program itself. The new nvUltra is clearly a sort of competitor to programs like Bear, but I have been using nvALT to do something rather different. Hence my difficulty in finding something that would take the place of nvALT – it is not the “note repository” functionality of nvALT that makes me use it – it is its convenience as pop-up, lightweight, small “scratchpad”-cum-handy reference. Of the solutions I have seen so far, FSNotes comes very close, and I may move to that eventually.

That makes sense.

I use Emacs in a similar one-key-press-make-the-note-and-forget way (but it’s complicated and fiddly to set up and needs Keyboard Maestro and Emacs is a Time Thief and it doesn’t use RTF and all sorts of other reasons why it probably wouldn’t fit your needs…)

Here are a couple of tools I’ve created to solve the main annoyance, easily linking between sheets. These let you use semantically meaningful titles for the links unlike some apps that want you to use 20190717100545324 and the like.



I tried nvUltra and I’m afraid I didn’t like it. I’m sure other people will, but it was not for me.

Curiota, I slowly learned, is the true replacement for nvALT; if you can live with RTF, rather than Markdown. It is a little sister of the well known Curio, mind-mapping and note taking application. I am not that much a fan of Curio. But, I find its little sister very useful. Curiota has all the things nvALT has and more. It also has a means of grouping files; unlike nvALT’s flat filing system. Like nvALT, it transparently puts the files in Dropbox folder, something I highly appreciate. It also has a global shortcut which is used for a snappy note taking. The “stay on top” feature is another little touch, still extremely useful for somebody like who takes notes all day.

I had been using Curiota as a note taking app for a while and I quite liked it. Like many others here I wanted an instant-write app, and Curiota allows that. (Well, almost: For whatever reason after hitting the shortcut key the cursor is in the “optional (!) name” field instead of the note.) At some point later DEVONthink grabs the notes from Curiota’s indexed folder(s) and handles them, depending on their group and their hashtags.

Then Markdown came into my focus once again. Firstly because for note taking on my iPad I use the fine Markdown editor 1Writer, the only instant-write with customizable extra keyboard row app for iOS I know besides Drafts which locks in its notes. Secondly because macOS does not support footnotes in RTF. And oh yes, thirdly it is easy to manipulate Markdown with Apple Script in DEVONthink. So I gave Markdown another try even though I am not fond of it.

I tried a number of Markdown notes apps for Mac, and the one I like most is The Archive, https://zettelkasten.de/the-archive/. A downside of it is that it is no menu bar app. So the app icon is always visible in the doc, but it can be set to autostart with a hidden (main) window in the OS settings.

I’d love to test nvUltra, though, but it is still not there.