Oleksandr Hlushchenko’s release update for FSNotes 6 begins:

Hello everyone, it’s been a long time since the last big issue. The covid ended, the war began, I moved to Lviv, this post I am writing with no light at all. A huge series of events, among which it would seem there is no place for development. But luckily life hasn’t stopped and today I am happy to present you a new major update for macOS, on which I’ve been working since May.

So let’s start with the new features.

Woof. I admire and respect Hlushchenko’s resilience and dedication. I also know how engrossing work can sometimes be a means of escape.

FSNotes is an open source project, so I can see that version 6.0.0 released on October 30, 2022—I can also see that the most recent update, 6.7.1, is just about a month old. While it’s available as a free download, I didn’t hesitate to spend fourteen dollars on it in the iOS and Mac App Stores.

When opening FSNotes for the first time, there’s already some notes pre-loaded in its library. Numbered one through nine, these notes provide an introduction to the software and its functionality. The first note starts off:

Hi, my name is Oleksandr and I am the author of this program. A few years ago, I discovered that my favorite note-taking application, nvALT, no longer starts.

None of the existing alternatives for macOS and iOS suited me, and since I have been developing for many years, I tried to write my own solution. In the summer of 2017, I published the source code of FSNotes on GitHub. It was a terrible application 🤬. Terrible and with poor functionality. But I did not give up and contributors did not either.

At this time, FSNotes is translated into 12 languages and used across the globe. The number of features has exceeded one hundred, of which dozens are unique.

I had totally forgotten about nvALT. It’s a program I haven’t opened in years, but used to rely on daily. The name nvALT is derived from Zachary Schneirov’s Notational Velocity (or NV), which preceded it. Like FSNotes, NV is open source. However, its latest release remains March 31. nvALT was Brett Terpstra’s maintained fork but it, too, has reached an end-of-life.

The first thing that made NV great (and nvALT great, too) was how it kept up with you as you typed. It never derailed a train of thought. This stemmed from its modeless design: searching flows naturally into either appending to an existing note or writing a new one. As a user, you’re not interrupted by a decision. After memorizing NV’s keyboard shortcut, you could switch into it mid-sentence. Which is to say, it was like you thinking your way into the software.

The second thing that made NV great was that it was file over app, a phrase coined by Steph Ango. Ango is the developer of Obisidian, another great writing app (calling it a writing app only scratches the surface of its capabilities, but writing is the primary interaction). By Ango’s definition, “File over app is a philosophy: if you want to create digital artifacts that last, they must be files you can control, in formats that are easy to retrieve and read.” NV could be configured to store notes on disk as plain text files (for example, to a folder synced with Dropbox) instead of into a single database. FSNotes saves all its content as files, synced across devices with iCloud Drive. Since all its content is files, FSNotes also supports Git versioning and backups.

While immaterial, applications aren’t immortal. Over time, without care and attention, they can rot. Like a forest cabin or a shingled costal home, software needs continual repair if it has any chance of standing up to the accumulation of changes across OS updates and hardware platforms. This is why, as Ango writes, “in the fullness of time, the files you create are more important than the tools you use to create them. Apps are ephemeral, but your files have a chance to last.” In theory, an NV folder begun over a decade ago could be used by FSNotes today.

Even as computing moves into a world of clouds, apps, and black-boxed neural networks, it’s a relief to know there’s developers like Oleksandr. In the middle of a war, he continues to white software designed to endure. FSNotes is shared openly, with a simple ask for support. It’s based on the filesystem, uses native frameworks, and runs fast (even when loading hundreds of thousands of files). The world would be better off with more developers like him, and more software like FSNotes.