Take note! A virtual sticky notes roundup

Desktop sticky notes can be fun, customizable, and effective ways to organize your thoughts and tasks. Here's a round-up of six popular sticky note downloads.

Digital sticky notes (Credit: CNET Networks)

Like their real-world counterpart, a quickly jotted digital sticky note placed prominently on the desktop can be just the reminder or inspirational message you need. And it won't bulk up the landfill when you trash it.

Software sticky notes are simply movable widgets that contain text, and even the simplest possess some font, color, and formatting customization. Most of the apps I looked at let you add alarms, sounds, and hot key shortcuts. The more advanced programs are surprisingly powerful, adding sophisticated synchronizing features and management platforms to track notes and reduce desktop clutter.

Not all the sticky notes products are free (NoteZilla) , and not all the paid products are good (StickyNote). Here are six popular studs and duds you should take note of.

Unmagical MagicNotes (Credit: CNET Networks)

MagicNotes
Despite a recent update, MagicNotes is an archaic, unmagical disappointment. Sure you can send notes, set an alarm, and change the font, but the default yellow note, modeled after the Post-it brand, doesn't do much other than add text and insert the date and time. It's possible to change the note's color to one of six bright hues, and you'll have to click down a layer to access the full-spectrum palate. It would be hard to recommend the program over a free sticky note alternative; with a $15 price tag, you should cross it off your list.

NoteZilla virtual sticky notes (Credit: CNET Networks)

NoteZilla
By far the most stylish and advanced, NoteZilla is also the most expensive of the stack at $30. That shouldn't put off frequent note-takers who require precise organization, or those who will pay to dress up a useful, reliable app.

NoteZilla makes a good case for itself with attractive notes that are customizable by color, font and font size, and an array of skins. The feature list is impressive--you can tag notes and attach pictures, set the note's transparency and assign a priority to remind yourself of urgent tasks. Notes can "roll up" so only their titles show, fitting multiple note stubs in the space of a single note. Like other note programs, you can send notes across e-mail and a computer network, but an added bonus is being able to synchronize notes with Outlook and your Palm device. NoteZilla won't, however, add contacts from Outlook.

A well-organized notes manager keeps tabs on your note content and location, and additionally offers "memoboards," folders for storing categories of notes you don't want to attach to the desktop.

Post-it Software Notes Lite (Credit: CNET Networks)

Post-it Software Notes Lite
The free version of the classic yellow sticky note is fairly basic, but functional. Unlike most desktop notes programs, Post-it strongly adheres to its sunny yellow note with black text. There's no color tweaking here. If you'd like, you can resize the notes, and they'll never grow too large on their own. A scroll bar and scrolling arrows keep longer notes under control.

The note's alarm and image attachment extras are useful, and so is the cutout window that flashes a new desktop note through whichever Web site or app you're in when you create it. It's convenient to create a note without toggling over to the desktop, but the flip side is having to live with the always-on Post-it creation widget that hovers over every screen and can get in the way.

However, making up for the small irritant that's hardly larger than my thumbnail is the whimsical animation that dismisses trashed notes in a poof or sends them spinning off into oblivion, with or without the accompanying sounds.

StickyNote (Credit: CNET Networks)

StickyNote
Poor StickyNote hasn't been updated since 2004, and the neglect shows. The offering from Tenebril, better known for its security software, sports a somewhat clunky interface that's moderately stylish, but it's still past its prime. Notes come in two forms: regular and "3D," the latter sounding more promising than it actually is. Users have no control over the orientation of 3D notes (straight or tilted left or right) or their size. They must furthermore double-click a note to add or edit text, which doesn't activate the note itself, but calls up a text editor.

Standard notes are customizable by font, background color, and texture, but many of the customizations are impractical. Plain backgrounds and font colors wind up the most legible. You can also set an alarm, set a note's expiration date, add attachments and links, and affiliate notes with a category.

The nicest feature is being able to browse your Outlook contacts when you send a note to a friend. Unfortunately, that's hardly enough to recommend StickyNote. Skip the $20 fee and download a free notes program, or shovel out another $10 and invest in NoteZilla.

StickIt (Credit: CNET Networks)

StickIt
StickIt is another free option for creating desktop notes that's even more rustic than Post-it Software Notes Lite. The program's emphasis on sending and receiving notes to and from other StickIt users resembles a primitive chat relay more than a personal notes creator. Notes are conceived in a text editor, but can also be edited once the note is born. It's imperfect, however. My cursor froze more than once at the end of the line and I had to double-click the note face again to continue editing.

NotesHolder (Credit: CNET Networks)

NotesHolder
This $15 notepad takes a unique approach. Instead of mimicking real-world sticky notes, NotesHolder keeps a vertical list and docks it on the side of the screen using a thin line as an anchor that shows up on your display (the feature can be disabled). Hovering the cursor anywhere over the line pops out the notes. If the default placement to the right of the screen distracts you (as it did me every time I moused over to the scroll bar), you can drag and drop the line onto the left side of the screen.

NotesHolder manages its surface area well, showing the first few lines of each note on the master list. Users can also create multiple tabbed pages of notes, and label each page by category. For example, I marked tabs "today," "vacation stuff," and "to do." Notes are stored in an accessible database file whose location path can be moved. Notes export as text or XML files.

My biggest complaint is with NoteHolder's alarm format, which allows you to add sound without offering a library of clips, and which ludicrously compels you to set your alarm by the hour, minute, and second.

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