Before I begin, I want to confess that I have been using Obsidian for a while now. However, that doesn't mean I am stuck with just one! I want to compare the two in a couple of areas that matter most to me. Now, notice how I said, to me? That's really the important thing here. Pick the application that works best for you. And there are a ton of them to choose from.
- Full markdown capabilities
- Cross-platform compatibility and sync
- Note collection capabilities
Both applications are a markdown knowledge base and they have full markdown support. So comparing these two in this category is a bit difficult unless you really dive deep into the differences in their markdown support.
One difference is the way they handle linking documents. In Obsidian, it's very easy to use the [[ ]]markdown and it provides an easy selection of other notes that you can link. You can even link directly to a block reference with transclusions. In Obsidian if I wanted to reference a certain block within a note, all I have to type is
![[NameofDocument^blockreference]]. This will embed or "transclude" the block into my current note. If I don't wish to transclude, I simply drop the ! at the beginning.
In Joplin, you can link notes and headers (like anchor tags). The fastest way to do this is simply to drag the note that has the header you are wishing to link into your current note. You can then use a header reference tag at the end of it.
This works if your headers won't change. One of the limitations to linking solely headers is that if you rename your header, any links that you created will no longer work. I haven't found a way to correct this, maybe with a plugin.
Winner: Obsidian Both apps have full markdown support. However, the linking and block references in Obsidian edge out Joplin for me.
Cross Platform Compatibility
Joplin is supported on Windows, Mac, and Linux as well as Android and iOS support. I haven't had a chance to play around with each application on every platform, but since I am on my 30 day Linux challenge I am a bit limited 😏. They make installing on Linux pretty easy with a terminal command. Joplin also has a really cool terminal application that allows you to read your notes from the terminal. So if you want to look like that Linux nerd, Joplin has you covered there.
Joplin cloud (paid) allows you to sync your notes across all your devices, with prices ranging from 1.99€ ($2.19) to 49.99€ ($54.99) it's a fairly affordable option. But they also have native integrations for synchronization to Dropbox, OneDrive, and self-hosted options like NextCloud which make this pretty decent in my opinion
Obsidian supports Windows, Mac, and Linux as well as Android and iOS support. The Linux installation can be handled by Snap, Appimage, Flatpack. Installing with Snap is super straightforward. I ultimately went with the .appimage option and used the AppImageLauncher, for reasons I will get into later when we talk about plugins.
Obsidian Sync is their paid and only "native" way that helps you sync all your notes across devices. They have a set price of $10/m or $96/yr. So not anything that will break the bank. You can also sync your notes with iCloud if you're on iOS, which is great for the Mac eco-friendly people in the audience. For Desktops, you can sync with Dropbox, Google, Onedrive, Syncthing and I am sure many others. The great thing is that obsidian is just files, living in a folder (the same goes with Joplin). So anyway you can sync those files and folders is an option, albeit with varying levels of success.
Lastly, Obsidian has another paid feature called Publish. This takes your notes and publishes them to the web. This could essentially create an online knowledge base that you can edit with full CSS support. This will run you $192/year or $20/m/per site. So a little more expensive and not sure if it's worth it for my personal use case, but still nice to have for developers that want to publish their knowledge base.
Winner: Joplin: Both apps have decent sync options. Joplin however has more native built-in integrations and has a more affordable price when it comes to syncing.
Both applications are free to use for personal use. Obsidian offers ways to help the development with some perks to early access and access to the developers. So in regards to that, both are the same (outside of their sync costs). If I tied the sync costs into this, then Joplin would be the winner. Better syncing and a much more affordable price tag.
But I want to take a moment to talk about open-source. Joplin is a free open-source application. And for many of you, that's already the selling point. This ensures that the development of the application will potentially last for a long time. Obsidian, however, is not open source. Now with that, I want to point out that both have really good APIs and developers that design great plugins. So as far as future-proofing is concerned, not much of an issue. Also, we are talking about markdown here, not some encoded language. Markdown is a human-readable markup language. It's very popular and I don't see that going away anytime soon.
Obsidian doesn't have any real way of collecting notes. There is an Unofficial chrome extension called Obsidian Clipper and a few other tools out there like MarkDownload. These are all third-party solutions that come with their own set of considerations before using them.
Joplin however does have their own native Joplin Web Clipper which works pretty well. I don't use any of them if I am being fully honest. But they are there in case you wish to capture entire web pages into your notes.
This is my favorite topic and I could write for hours about this. But I am going to try and keep this as short as possible. Both applications support plugins. Joplin has a good handful of plugins here that you can take a look at. And some of those even solved some of the issues I listed above about linking. Joplin also has a pretty good API for developers to create plugins. It just feels like the number of plugins for Joplin is limited and not as many people are taking the time to create plugins. I do like the fact that the Joplin developers "vet" some plugins and place an icon next to them. Just lets you know that someone took a look at it.
Obsidian has a ton of plugins. I haven't even explored all the plugins available for Obsidian. It seems they have a vibrant community that is developing some amazing functional plugins. One of my favorites, which ties into a previous section on syncing, is the Obsidian Git plugin. This allows me to push my notes and changes to Github, along with all my settings. This is great for when I switch from Linux to Windows etc. I can issue one command and get all my notes.
In all fairness, you could
git commit ->
git push on your folder with Joplin as well. But having a plugin that I can assign a hotkey and it just does the things, is very convenient. (I'm lazy what can I say)
Joplin has better note collections and cross-platform capabilities. Their pricing is affordable and makes it very easy to sync your notes across all your devices.
That doesn't take into account the weight of what those categories mean to me. Obsidian's plugins and block referencing are hands down the best aspects.
The plugins are what makes this a standout feature for me. Some plugins solve both my professional and personal needs. I can manage my entire D&D campaign, with maps, stat blocks, random roll tables, fantasy calendar of events and keep all that in sync. Later this year, Arkenforge reported that they will have an integration with Obsidian for their tabletop software. If that happens, I will be locked in FORRREEVVER!
My daily driver will be Obisidian moving forward due to how well it aligns with my personal and professional needs. I didn't even talk about the Graph view in Obsidian, which is an amazing graphical representation of how notes are linked. So look for some more content on how I use Obsidian!
Stay #foolish my friends!
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