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(Archived) Evernote's ridiculously bad support for tables


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I gave Evernote a spin last week, liked many of the text editing and synchronization features, and made the full plunge for a Premium account.

However, I'm discovering the truly horrific support for tabular data in Evernote, and it's making me consider jumping ship.

I have many sources of data in a tabular format - some in Excel, some in Access. Trying to port this data into an Evernote note is proving to be hilariously bad. For example:

1) An Excel file cannot be imported - only embedded as a separate data object. When you view the note in Evernote, you don't see the contents of the file - you just see the icon representing the embedded file. And, of course, changes to the file are synchronized within the note, but are not synchronized back to the original file.

2) Especially on the iPhone/iPad, accessing the contents of an embedded Excel file leads to two bad experiences:

(a) Opening the embedded file within Evernote displays a badly rendered version of the contents of the file. Also, you can't edit it - you can only view it. And, of course, since the file is embedded, when you access it you lose all context of the note itself. That is, the contents of the file are not displayed in the context of the other data within the note.

(:) The file can be edited, but only upon opening the embedded file in ANOTHER application, which takes the user completely out of the Evernote app. So in order to edit the contents of an embedded file, you have to (1) open the note, (2) open the embedded file in view mode, (3) request to edit the file, and (4) transition to a completely different application to edit it. This is terrible!

3) In the Windows client, an Excel table can be copied and pasted into a note. However, the result is not a table, but tab-delineated text. Obviously, there are no graphical dividers to indicate the borders of each cell. And you can't do anything with the formatting of a column, because there IS no column. You lose 99% of the formatting and capabilities of organizing the data as a table or spreadsheet. It seems to be imposisble to get the data imported as a table. Very strange.

4) Even if you can manage to import your data into an Evernote table, it won't matter much, because Evernote tables are horribly crippled. Just a few examples:

* Column widths are totally automatic, calculated proportionally based on the longest string in each column - so you can't set or adjust the width of a column.

* You can't insert more than one row or column at a time... i.e., to insert ten rows, right-click the table and select "Insert Row Below" TEN TIMES.

* You can't select some or all of the cells in a column to adjust the formatting - it is totally impossible. If you have a 4x4 table, and you try to select cells A2 and A3, Evernote selects these cells along with cells B2, C2, and D2... i.e., it is treating the data as if it were tabularly formatted, not formatted in columns.

These crippling limitations are simply ludicrous for a software package that is on v4.

Any explanations? How do you people manage? Should I just start looking for a different software suite?

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  • Level 5

I certainly hope that Evernote does not go down the road you are suggesting and spend man-months of computer time to create advanced table and spreadsheet capabilities into Evernote. The challenges associated with offering these features in a multi-platform program are monumental, especially considering the growing number of mobile platforms. There are more important issues at hand.

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Yeah, I guess I'm being foolish for expecting Evernote to offer basic functionality. I'm off to find a totally free solution utilizing Google Docs. Thanks for the reply.

Evernote already offers basic functionality with tables. They've been improving the capabilities with the upgrades.

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1) An Excel file cannot be imported - only embedded as a separate data object. When you view the note in Evernote, you don't see the contents of the file - you just see the icon representing the embedded file. And, of course, changes to the file are synchronized within the note, but are not synchronized back to the original file.

Yep. That's the way it works with Evernote. You store a copy of a spreadsheet in Evernote, or you store your spreadsheet in the file system. If you want to keep it in Evernote, then you can edit it by double-clicking on it, or right-clicking and using "Open with...".

3) In the Windows client, an Excel table can be copied and pasted into a note. However, the result is not a table, but tab-delineated text. Obviously, there are no graphical dividers to indicate the borders of each cell. And you can't do anything with the formatting of a column, because there IS no column. You lose 99% of the formatting and capabilities of organizing the data as a table or spreadsheet. It seems to be imposisble to get the data imported as a table. Very strange.

Actually, it is a table, at least in my experience. When copied from Excel, You can add a column or a row, and more to the point, if you export it to Evernote's .enex format (a subset of XHTML), you'll see that it's stored as an HTML table.

* You can't select some or all of the cells in a column to adjust the formatting - it is totally impossible. If you have a 4x4 table, and you try to select cells A2 and A3, Evernote selects these cells along with cells B2, C2, and D2... i.e., it is treating the data as if it were tabularly formatted, not formatted in columns.

That sure seems like a bug/misfeature: table selections should be handled as subtables, not as a stream of cells.

Any explanations? How do you people manage? Should I just start looking for a different software suite?

I think that the Evernote folks would agree that table handling and rendering could/should be imroved. I also think that they'd want you to be happy with what they provide, and if not, then hopefully you find something else that works for you. Good luck.

~Jeff

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It's definitely not a deal-breaker for me ... but still, it's pretty obvious that Evernote's quasi-HTML file format is a deal-breaker for a lot of people, and a lot of possible uses.

I know that the HTML is always going to be necessary for a program that captures web pages, but I think that for Evernote's own sake it needs to be able to support more generic RTF files, as well. That can certainly be done cross-platform, and it would make life immensely easier for people who use EN to store non-web content.

As far as complex tables go, it would be way off-base, I think, to expect EN to fully support that kind of stuff ... the last thing I want it to become is an on-line version of MS office. But still, it needs to provide a bit more support than it does -- like indexing the content of .doc and .xls files, for example.

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Yeah, I guess I'm being foolish for expecting Evernote to offer basic functionality. I'm off to find a totally free solution utilizing Google Docs. Thanks for the reply.

Yeah, it looks like you are looking for a spreadsheet program. In that case, you're right, Google Docs is probably a good choice for you. Or OpenOffice.

EN is not an office suite or a spreadsheet app, and I don't think it's ever been advertised as such.

These crippling limitations are simply ludicrous for a software package that is on v4.

Do you have the same negative reaction to all programs that do not offer advanced spreadsheet support?? I can think of hundreds of software applications that are very popular, cost a lot more than EN, and do not offer advanced table editing support. Norton Antivirus is pretty popular and expensive, for example. So is Dragon Naturally Speaking. So is TurboTax. What do these programs all have in common? They are not spreadsheet programs, so they don't offer advanced spreadsheet capabilities. Same thing with EN. Does that mean they have "crippling limitations"?? No. It means they are not spreadsheet apps.

Enjoy Google Docs; sounds like it will be right for you.

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Do you have the same negative reaction to all programs that do not offer advanced spreadsheet support?? I can think of hundreds of software applications that are very popular, cost a lot more than EN, and do not offer advanced table editing support. Norton Antivirus is pretty popular and expensive, for example. So is Dragon Naturally Speaking. So is TurboTax. What do these programs all have in common? They are not spreadsheet programs, so they don't offer advanced spreadsheet capabilities. Same thing with EN. Does that mean they have "crippling limitations"?? No. It means they are not spreadsheet apps.

Very well put.

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  • Level 5*

First off, EN does not need to replicate a spreadsheet program, 100% agreement. However, IMO, some formatting cleanup could be in order, En's priority to set.

I can think of hundreds of software applications that are very popular, cost a lot more than EN, and do not offer advanced table editing support. Norton Antivirus is pretty popular and expensive, for example. So is Dragon Naturally Speaking. So is TurboTax. What do these programs all have in common? They are not spreadsheet programs, so they don't offer advanced spreadsheet capabilities.

What do these programs also have in common? No overlap in functional intent. Tables are a valid representation of data for some/most(?) people, that provides a sliver of overlap between EN and a spreadsheet app.

Maybe I want to buy a TV and the rows are the models and the columns are my criteria. A table helps represent the data (no arithmetic, just a group of boxes with nice lines around them). Sounds like a note to me. Sure it could be done in some spreadsheet program, but then you can't search it, see it by just opening the note, etc.

Anyway, some level of format control functionality does not seem to be an over the top request. I can deal with them as they are, to be clear. 8)

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It's definitely not a deal-breaker for me ... but still, it's pretty obvious that Evernote's quasi-HTML file format is a deal-breaker for a lot of people, and a lot of possible uses.

I know that the HTML is always going to be necessary for a program that captures web pages, but I think that for Evernote's own sake it needs to be able to support more generic RTF files, as well. That can certainly be done cross-platform, and it would make life immensely easier for people who use EN to store non-web content.

It's not clear how RTF would be any better than the HTML used in ENML. It's really how the formatting is implemented in the user rendering of the note, and what formatting commands are made available. The RTF or NTHL is just behind-the-scenes representation for the most part.

~Jeff

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It's not clear how RTF would be any better than the HTML used in ENML. It's really how the formatting is implemented in the user rendering of the note, and what formatting commands are made available. The RTF or NTHL is just behind-the-scenes representation for the most part.

~Jeff

A couple of things would make RTF better, I think. Maybe it's wishful thinking on my part, but I think that editing a note in EN would become a little more predictable. I'm tired of, for example, going into the middle of an already-esisting note, hitting Enter a couple of times at a spot where I want to add text, and then seeing the nearby line spacing or font size or something go berzerk. And with RTF I could maybe even have actual, honest-to-gawd TABS in my text! I'd kill for tabs. :(

The other thing that would be great about an RTF note is that it would be far easier to save it outside of Evernote. Just right-click in the note and a "save as" option could appear, just as it does with PDFs.

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Yeah, it looks like you are looking for a spreadsheet program.

I think you're conflating the concepts of "spreadsheet" and "table."

A spreadsheet is essentially a table with two additional key features: (1) heavy support for calculations and (2) references between cells. If I I were complaining that Evernote failed to support either of these features, your reply would be totally justified.

I'm not looking for those features. Instead, I'm simply looking to format data in a tabular manner. I'd like to be able to set the widths of columns, set the text formatting of certain cells, select certain cells for move or copy operations - i.e., basic formatting features for a table.

And here's the thing: Endnote HAS tables. It just has BADLY IMPLEMENTED tables. That's my complaint.

EN is not an office suite or a spreadsheet app, and I don't think it's ever been advertised as such.

If you'd like to disagree with me about the importance of Endnote implementing a table well, that's your prerogative. But you're telling me that I'm asking for features that Endnote hasn't promised and shouldn't be implementing - which is a not valid response, since Endnote already does attempt to implement them, but does a half-assed job of it.

These crippling limitations are simply ludicrous for a software package that is on v4.

Do you have the same negative reaction to all programs that do not offer advanced spreadsheet support??

All *programs* that do not offer *spreadsheet support*? No.

All *text information managers* that implement *a standard text information feature*, but do so in a crappy way? Yes.

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  • Level 5

sfsdfd,

As already stated, Evernote has been improving their tables and bullet points. But no matter how logical you think your argument is,

you're not going to get much support for your position with comments such as:

  • "ridiculously bad support"
    "truly horrific support"
    "hilariously bad"
    "horribly crippled"
    "crippling limitations"
    "simply ludicrous"
    "half-assed"
    "crappy"

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sfsdfd,

As already stated, Evernote has been improving their tables and bullet points. But no matter how logical you think your argument is,

you're not going to get much support for your position with comments such as:

  • "ridiculously bad support"
    "truly horrific support"
    "hilariously bad"
    "horribly crippled"
    "crippling limitations"
    "simply ludicrous"
    "half-assed"
    "crappy"

And referring to it as "Endnote".

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It's not clear how RTF would be any better than the HTML used in ENML. It's really how the formatting is implemented in the user rendering of the note, and what formatting commands are made available. The RTF or NTHL is just behind-the-scenes representation for the most part.

Plus, RTF is not available on iOS. This is one of the biggest complaints in the iDevice section. (I don't know what Mr. Jobs has against flash & rtf.) I guess that doesn't affect rendering, since, AFAIK, the renders work fine. But it does affect editing existing notes & creating new notes. (Unless there's something I'm not understanding...quite possible.)

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Plus, RTF is not available on iOS. This is one of the biggest complaints in the iDevice section. (I don't know what Mr. Jobs has against flash & rtf.) I guess that doesn't affect rendering, since, AFAIK, the renders work fine. But it does affect editing existing notes & creating new notes. (Unless there's something I'm not understanding...quite possible.)

But the iOS platform doesn't provide an ENML editor, either! :)

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Getting this back on tables for a minute, I'd would love to see Evernote offer a table-creation approach similar to OneNote's where you can tab or CTL-Enter to create columns and rows in tables as you work.

I got addicted to creating tables on the fly this way as a OneNote user, especially since it works so effectively for organizing notes. Having the ability to drag the lines to resize is also high on my list.

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Getting this back on tables for a minute, I'd would love to see Evernote offer a table-creation approach similar to OneNote's where you can tab or CTL-Enter to create columns and rows in tables as you work.

I'm not a OneNote user, but in Evernote, tabs are already used for indenting bulleted lists. Other than that, anything that helps improve table creation/modification/navigation/decoration would be welcome.

~Jeff

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OneNote behaves the same way when it comes to bullets and tabs. If you're in a bulleted list and press tab, it indents and changes the bullet type.

The cool feature OneNote offers(when you're not in a bulleted list) is table creation as you type. If you're typing and press tab, it creates a new column. The text you've already typed goes in the first column, the text you type after the tab goes in the second column. If you press tab again, you get a third column, etc. If you press enter, it creates a second row. Tabbing then moves you from column to column.

Being able to create tables on the fly this way is incredibly helpful when you're taking notes and want to create a little structure as you go, or when you just don't know how many rows/columns you'll need.

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Cool, thanks for the explanation. I actually got OneNote with my new desktop; I just haven't tried it out yet

~Jeff

Would be interesting to get your take on ON. I use ON & like it for brainstorming complex projects. I honestly don't see it as a viable competitor to EN, although there is some crossover. Similar but different, IMO.

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Would be interesting to get your take on ON. I use ON & like it for brainstorming complex projects. I honestly don't see it as a viable competitor to EN, although there is some crossover. Similar but different, IMO.

That's interesting. I wonder if that perception has to do with how you use the programs. I use Evernote almost the same way I used ON, so I see them as being in direct competition. (By contrast, I have a friend who is mainly interested in file syncing, and he sees Dropbox as ON's competition. I don't see that at all.)

That said, Evernote and ON each have their own strengths, with tables being one of ON's. Since I use Evernote now -- because of its platform-neutral, web-based nature -- my bias is to see some of the things I like best about ON incorporated into Evernote.

It's always fascinating to see how other people respond to some of this stuff. I imagine there are Evernote users out there thinking, "Why would anyone ever want to put a table in a note? What I need is Morse code integration." :-)

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... I actually like how the tables in Evernote function right now. Can't manage to have this kind of behaviour (The column size deriving from the amount of content inside the specific column.) in Microsoft Word or Pages. :|

What I think needs to be implemented, however, is the feature of adding rows and columns and the subtraction of it. That is a feature that I have to replicate manually each time by recreating a new table and reentering all my data into the new table. :|

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... I actually like how the tables in Evernote function right now. Can't manage to have this kind of behaviour (The column size deriving from the amount of content inside the specific column.) in Microsoft Word or Pages. :|

What I think needs to be implemented, however, is the feature of adding rows and columns and the subtraction of it. That is a feature that I have to replicate manually each time by recreating a new table and reentering all my data into the new table. :|

4.1 has this feature. Right click anywhere in your table and you get the option "Insert Column to the right" "Insert row below" etc.

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  • 8 months later...

My son turned me on to Evernote a couple of weeks ago, and I have been really enjoying working with it. It is fantastic for what it does. I have three issues with it that will necessarily limit my use of it as a tool.

First, I completely agree with the contributor who noted EN's lack of functionality for being able to work with the tabular format, for instance as used in MS Access and Excel. The EN "Table" format is like using a typewriter compared to a word processor. You can do it, but you will suffer if you have already used the technology that is many technological generations ahead.

However, EN provides technology that Access and Excel lack. the most important of which for me is the ability to add graphics to searchable notes. For certain types of databases (i.e., ones that included graphics as a necessary part of their data collection), EN's technology is indispensable.

I have long hoped that MS Access and Excel would progress to the point where graphics is a viable data type in their functionality. Not yet.

If MS hasn't been able to achieve this, with its army of programmers, it certainly would be ambitious to hope that EN could fill in its missing functionality: to be able to incorporate tabular data in a powerful way, as powerful as the other aspects of its features are.

Because neither tool offers full data storage, retrieval, and manipulation functionality, it is just a matter of deciding in each case which tool is better for a given data element. For instance, I have a large database of notes that include things like specialized terms and related explanations, context used, etc. The tabular RDB format allows me maximum flexibility for the searching, sorting, displaying, etc. of these data. These notes require no graphics (though I wish I could add graphics where desired), and it would be a waste of resources to have a different "note" in the EN format for each of thousands of these records. A similar discussion could be had for the spreadsheet format - anytime I will need to work with "note" data numerically, into Excel it will go. EN is not designed for that. It has taken me a bit of exploring to determine the limitations of EN, and I accept those. It doesn't take away from what it does, and does well.

My second issue does take away from my enjoyment of EN, and I find it somewhat of a design flaw. Perhaps it is being or will be addressed at some point. This is that with all the ten or more ways of importing data into EN, one of the most basic, that of importing multiple records at a time from another format, doesn't seem to be supported. I simply do not have the time to copy and paste one record at a time into the EN format. This is a showstopper for me for utilizing EN for my treasure trove of past notes. I will use EN going forward for certain types of data, but will only in instances of great need go back and move things over into EN. That's a shame, because I have a large number of notes really suited for the EN format.

My third issue is greatly curtailing my long-term enthusiasm for EN, even while I work with it right now. That is the proprietary nature of its platform, and this is perhaps related to the import issue. I want to be able to move my notes out of EN and into another universal format if I decide to do so, just as I want to be able to import notes into EN without using cut-and-paste one-record-at-a-time technology that I moved on from many years ago. It appears that all data I move into EN is stuck there in this regard. Maybe I could move notes back out using the cut-and-paste one-record-at-a-time technology that I had to use to move it into EN, but that just doesn't work for me and probably not for thousands of other users as well. I have grown accustomed to (and maybe spoiled by!) being able to move large quantities of data from Word to Excel to Access to Open Office and back again, each tool in the MS suite offering a unique type of functionality that complements the others.

For example, just this morning I moved a large group of names and email addresses I had received in the detail of a Gmail message into Word, where through using advanced features of find and replace I was able to format them quickly into tab-separated data elements, from there into Excel where through concatenation I was able to rejoin the data elements with others I added there into a new order, and then import them back into Gmail contacts all as part of a new group within my contact list. To have had to do this one name at a time would have taken me hours. As such, the whole operation took ten minutes.

EN in this context seems to be a wonderful data storage and retrieval tool, but not a data manipulation tool. As long as we trust that EN will be around for a long time, we may not care that the storage and retrieval must take place within EN exclusively. Once in, always in.

I do have one other issue that maybe someone could help me with. I've noticed that if I delete a note, there seems to be no way to "undo" that action. Is it possible that EN has no way of undoing a note delete, or am I missing something?

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  • 1 year later...

Yeah, it looks like you are looking for a spreadsheet program.

I think you're conflating the concepts of "spreadsheet" and "table."

A spreadsheet is essentially a table with two additional key features: (1) heavy support for calculations and (2) references between cells. If I I were complaining that Evernote failed to support either of these features, your reply would be totally justified.

I'm not looking for those features. Instead, I'm simply looking to format data in a tabular manner. I'd like to be able to set the widths of columns, set the text formatting of certain cells, select certain cells for move or copy operations - i.e., basic formatting features for a table.

And here's the thing: Endnote HAS tables. It just has BADLY IMPLEMENTED tables. That's my complaint.

>EN is not an office suite or a spreadsheet app, and I don't think it's ever been advertised as such.

If you'd like to disagree with me about the importance of Endnote implementing a table well, that's your prerogative. But you're telling me that I'm asking for features that Endnote hasn't promised and shouldn't be implementing - which is a not valid response, since Endnote already does attempt to implement them, but does a half-assed job of it.

These crippling limitations are simply ludicrous for a software package that is on v4.

Do you have the same negative reaction to all programs that do not offer advanced spreadsheet support??
All *programs* that do not offer *spreadsheet support*? No.

All *text information managers* that implement *a standard text information feature*, but do so in a crappy way? Yes.

 

 

 

You are totally and uttery right about all this by the way...

I think the other peeps on this thread just don't require the application you and I require therefore might be difficult for them to understand.

I have been looking for a lite notes app with SIMPLE tables, that syncs for ages - must have litterally scoured the entire market. This needs to be developed!

Have you found any other solition yet??!

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Honestly not too sure what the problem is here.

 

You can copy from Excel into EN, and you get a table.

You can apply formatting to cell contents.

If you want to do major surgery to the table like rearranging rows, copy it, paste it into Excel, do the work, and paste it back.

 

Applying fixed column widths is the one thing it doesn't do via the editor, but a table copied from Excel retains the column widths.

If you need to edit those directly, use the ENML editor at http://enml-editor.ping13.net/ - I just did as an experiment and it took me less than 45 seconds all up to change the column widths.

 

I have to say, the ENML editor is what allowed me to make a very nice table with soft grey cell borders - I applied this style :

style="border: solid #c0c0c0 1px; border-collapse: collapse;"

 

Fully black cell borders are pretty ugly.

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