Microsoft OneNote – If You Haven’t, You Really Should

For years I saw a link in my Start Menu, Microsoft OneNote, it said. It was right there along with Word, Excel and Outlook but I had relegated it, along with its siblings, Microsoft Office Picture Manager and Groove, whatever that was.

So, the year is 2010, some 7 years after its d├ębut appearance I finally discover the holy grail of applications, second only to Outlook. A right mouse click gone awry, instead of ‘copy’ a misguided cursor selected ‘send to OneNote’. And so it begins.

What is OneNote?

OneNote is an information gathering tool. Before OneNote I would store things in various places. Browser bookmarks, Excel spreadsheets, Outlook Notes, text documents, on paper notepads. It was a mess. With OneNote, I create a page and paste (or type) all the information into one application.

Think of OneNote as a filing cabinet. Inside the cabinet there are Notebooks, which contain Sections, which contain Pages! Don’t lose me here, it’s easy to use with the familiar Office 2010 style interface.

What Can it Do?

OneNote pages can hold almost anything: text, images, website URL’s, tables, PDF’s. If you can copy or print it, it can go into OneNote!

Information is entered in any way you like. Unlike a Word or Excel document there is no page structure, paste or type where ever you want. When using Internet Explorer you can send webpages or highlighted content directly to OneNote. You can also print to OneNote, it will show up as a printer option.

OneNote has a really great feature where it underwrites your pasted content with the source URL. This help’s if you need to go back to the original webpage content. Before OneNote I would have a snippet of information, with no idea where it came from.

Finding information in OneNote is made simple by the use of a permanent Search box. From here you can search through all your content or just individual notebooks.

Auto-Save to the rescue. Every time you input something to OneNote, it autosaves. Never again will you be prompted to ‘Save Changes’. I can’t recall how many times I’ve ‘saved changes’ while not remembering what ‘changes’ I made.

Just when you thought this post wouldn’t contain the latest More info techno buzzword, here it is, Cloud. Yep, your OneNote notebooks can live in the Windows Live Skydrive cloud, giving you OneNote Web App access from a web browser. You can even access your Skydrive notebooks on the move with Windows Phone 7 Office.

The last couple of lesser used features are Sharing and Inking. You can share your Notebook across an office network or across the internet, allowing multi user collaboration. If you have a laptop or tablet with an active digitiser pen you will be able to handwrite directly into OneNote. Handwritten text can either be left as ink or converted to text. Inking is invaluable for those who take notes often. I’ve used it in meetings on my Dell XT2 tablet as it’s far less intrusive than typing.

Sounds Great, But When Would I Use It?

I love answering this question. OneNote allows you to save all those important bits of information in one place, regardless of how or when you receive them. I have 3 Notebooks I use everyday: Random, Projects & Mobile.

Random is used as I would a paper notebook on my desk. It’s where I jot down a name and phone number, or paste a paragraph (and its site link) from an article for later reading. I have a page titled ‘Blogposts’ where I add ideas as they come to me. Images, Tweets, Jokes, xkcd comics… just about anything. For instance I’ve just added a link to the TokyoFlash Kisai 7 a.k.a. Tron Watch for chasing up later. Better than just a browser bookmark, it’s a bookmark list with pictures!

The Projects notebook holds multiple sections named after each project I’m on. This is where OneNote becomes truly invaluable to me. As I compile project information it gets placed into a OneNote page, creating a central data repository. Email excerpts are sent to OneNote, making information highly accessible without having to search through multiple messages. PDF’s, web page snippets, document scan’s; these all go into a Project page. I can paste information from different sources side by side, making it easy for me to compare. On the left an online quote for a Dell Server, on the right an email quote for a HP server, underneath an Intel server. 3 different sources now in one place.

From my Windows Phone I access the Mobile notebook where I can quickly add notes while onsite. Often I need to record an IP address, password login or maybe a firmware version number. Instead of keeping these in a phone only app, placing them into OneNote SkyDrive gives me desktop access to the information once I’m back in the office.

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