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Syncing Notes in Mountain Lion

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A couple weeks ago, I wrote a plaintive blog post about iCloud and the problems I was having with it, but it finally occurred to me that I'm not the target audience for iCloud, and that my best bet would be to just avoid using it. So I decided not to finish or post that entry after all.

(Short version of my complaint: I don't want the canonical version of my data to live on Apple's servers, I want it to live on my computer. In particular, turning off iCloud shouldn't delete data from my computer.)

On Sunday night, I discovered that my notes (in the Notes apps) haven't been syncing between my MacBook and my iPhone and my iPad. A little investigation led me to realize that Apple has removed the option to sync notes using the iTunes-based (non-iCloud) sync system.

It turns out, as far as I can tell, that there are now only two ways to sync notes between devices:

  • Use iCloud. Which would be okay with me, except that syncing notes with iCloud requires that you create a me.com account, and leaves me uncertain whether turning off iCloud in the future will delete all my notes from my computer. Here again, I don't want the canonical copy of my notes to live on Apple's servers.
  • Use a third-party IMAP account. Which I can do, but it's kind of a pain for various reasons (rooted in my being stuck in the stone age, email-wise). And there are apparently serious bugs in this system; Apple is looking into why various people can't get it to work.

But the core issue here, as far as I'm concerned, is that I dislike Apple's idea that notes should be associated with email accounts. I can understand that it's tempting; IMAP provides a convenient and standard way to sync, and a note is kind of like an email. And I used to take notes in blank non-addressed email messages (I think I got that idea from Michael, though I was initially very resistant to it), and then the previous incarnation of Apple's Notes was built into Apple's mail application, which was kinda cool. But even then, I didn't want different sets of notes to be tied to different email accounts, and I was very confused the first time I found out that all the notes I'd been creating had been attached, invisibly, to specific accounts.

And in Mountain Lion, the Notes application is a separate thing of its own, no longer built into Mail. Which is mostly cool, though it does mean losing some capabilities. But I didn't know until now that behind the scenes, it's still treating notes as email messages, so there are these wacky nonintuitive dependencies, like the idea that you need to create a new me.com account to sync via iCloud.

(Don't get me started on the fact that you're not allowed to use an existing me.com account, because me.com accounts are Apple accounts and you can't merge two of those. I shouldn't point fingers, because the company I work for has similar issues—it's not always obvious when you're creating a new account, and you can't merge two accounts—but I don't like it there either.)

Anyway. At some point when I have some time, I'll sit down and sort the whole thing out—I'll set up an IMAP account specifically for note syncing, and work out all the ensuing issues. But in the meantime, it's really annoying that Apple removed the old option to sync directly using iTunes, which has been working perfectly well for me for the past couple years.

I realize this is not a serious or significant problem, as problems go; and it would be even less of a problem if I would just do things the way Apple designed them to work. But it bugs me.

(This is particularly ironic given that I spent some time on Sunday looking through old Wanderjahr posts, several of which contain rants about various customer-service and/or tech problems that I barely even remember at this point, which led me to think that I ought to develop some perspective and devote less time to getting mad about this kind of thing.)

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