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While not every app has a great free and open source alternative (thanks, Google Maps), to-do lists don't fall into such a category. If you've been using Google Keep and want to find a service less beholden to our data-hoarding overlords, you're in luck. Even cloud sync is possible without buying into Google or another major corporation's note-taking platform, believe it or not. And really, do you need millions of data points and industry-leading artificial intelligence to make a glorified text editor bulleted lists? (The answer is "no.")
Why does open-source matter?
Free and open-source software (FOSS) has a number of advantages, but to most people, the main benefit is privacy. All the code is out in the open, so anyone with programming knowledge can go through it and see exactly what an app is doing. Proprietary apps can sometimes feel like black boxes, where you don't really know what's going on behind the scenes. That's rarely the case with FOSS.
I say 'almost,' because there's technically nothing stopping open-source apps from spying on you, but that behavior is extremely rare. If a developer is doing something they're not supposed to be, like spying on users or bundling malware, they probably wouldn't announce it to the world.
Many people simply prefer open-source apps out of principle, in the same way that some people prefer shopping at locally-owned stores instead of Walmart or Target. These apps are often created by individuals or small groups in their spare time, as opposed to large companies with income generated from advertising or venture capital.
We discussed NextCloud in a previous open-source app roundup. It's a server application that lets you set up your own cloud storage, and with the help of some plugins, you can essentially have your own suite of Google service alternatives. Case in point: if you set up a NextCloud instance and install the free Notes extension, you get a self-hosted clone of Google Keep that you can access from the web.
There's also an app for Android that can sync with NextCloud Notes — the aptly-named NextCloud Notes. It's developed by Stefan Niedermann, a German web developer, and covers just about everything you could want in a note application. You can sync with multiple NextCloud accounts, create/edit/delete/share notes, use Markdown formatting, and search the contents of notes. There's also a dark mode.
While the source code is open, the compiled app on the Play Store costs $2.49. Developers have to eat, too.
Standard Notes is probably the best open-source alternative to Google Keep if you're looking for something simple with cross-device support. There are applications for all major desktop and mobile platforms (plus a web client), notes are end-to-end encrypted, and there is no limit on the number of devices you can sync. There's not much to complain about, honestly.
All of the app's clients are open-source, and code is even available for the server-side component, so hosting your own server is possible. While Standard Notes is free, there is a paid tier that adds unlimited file attachments, sync with external cloud services, full note history, more formatting options, and other nice features.
If you just want a dead-simple notepad with no fancy extras, Simple Notes might be for you. It's part of a wider Simple Mobile Tools suite of open-source mobile apps, all developed by Slovakian-based Tibor Kaputa. We already highlighted Simple Calendar in our roundup of Google Calendar alternatives, and Simple Notes deserves mention too.
Simple Notes is organized a bit differently than most other note apps; you swipe left and right to switch between notes, though a list view is still available by tapping the folder icon. It's extremely basic, with no sync capabilities or formatting options. There is one neat feature that Keep doesn't have, though — you can add any note to the home screen as a widget.
Simple Notes is available for free on the Play Store, but as of November 2019, only the Pro version is being updated (which costs $1.19). The only major feature difference right now is that you can create list notes in the Pro version.
After this roundup was initially published, we received a lot of responses asking why we didn't include PotatoNotes. I wasn't aware of the app before, but it seems to be a well-made product, so we're throwing it in. Peer pressure works, folks.
PotatoNotes is developed by the Potato Open Sauce Project, an alternative ROM for Android devices (akin to LineageOS). Its design closely follows Google Keep, as notes are organized into a grid (a list view is also available) and can have colored backgrounds.
You can also lock notes with a pin or password, search the contents of your notes, and customize the theme. PotatoNotes is available for free on the Play Store.