Saturday, August 18, 2012

Microsoft OneNote: Core Programs 2

If you have been a Microsoft Office user over the last decade, you might have noticed a small purple colored program creeping in over time. It might have started, with just a menu item, then an icon in the taskbar. As of now it is still gaining ground on the cloud nearing par with the better-known applications  Word and Excel. This program is OneNote.

OneNote is a notetaking application. You can think of it as a digital notebook. Remember the ones you used at school back in the day? Word already lets you input text and organize your notes, so what's the need for another such program? The beauty of OneNote is that it lets you input text anywhere on the 'paper'. You are not limited to guidelines, paragraphs or even paper size. This is a boon, because it lets you convey your creative ideas just as you want them, and just as you would using pen and paper. And that is just half of it. The other half is that when you have those notes you care about in the program, you can easily search through them with just a keystroke, or mouseclick. Oh, and it is not just text. You can also insert pictures, videos, sounds, math formulas and doodle around. If you are blessed with a handwriting that the computer likes, it can even digitize it into searchable text.

Once I began to dig deeper into it, I began to pass all my notes to it. Even if I use pen and paper initially, if I really want to keep what I have written, I promptly transcribe it to OneNote. And there is another benefit: your notes are always neat. Rearranging and deleting do not result in smudges and unsightly pages as would in physical paper.

And still more: Access. With the current shift to cloud computing, you're not condemned to have your notes locked up in your desktop's hard drive. Via Microsoft's free SkyDrive service you can save your notes to the cloud and make them available to your other various devices, such as tablets and smartphones. Doing so also lets you have multiple people work on the same notes simultaneously. A great way to collaborate. Synchronization is automatic.

So far I have only tried the iPad app on the mobile front. This one still has a long way to go, but you can edit and read your notes, even if they are displayed not quite right. Doodles and ink notes are not supported as of now and tables can only be viewed but not edited. Also, it can sometimes be slow regardless of your Internet connection speed. Too much processing going on I guess. If your device has a full-fledged browser, you can log on to your SkyDrive account and have more functionality there.
The only other downsides to OneNote as a whole that I have come across, is that there is no search-and-replace feature and that synchronization can sometimes have conflicts. For me, these are minor complaints.


There are a fair amount of alternatives to OneNote. One of the best-known is Evernote. Its main virtue is its ubiquitousness: you can get it for about any platform out there, which lets you easily consolidate what you jot down on the go with everything else. You can also include audio, photos, which are text searchable, and videos. Having said that, it only has limited functionality and doesn't compare with a full-fledged features in OneNote. There are free and paid versions of this one. Gave it a few tries, didn't like it.

Zoho Notebook

I have not tried this one, but it looks very interesting. Almost as a clone of OneNote!  If you hate mainstream programs, check out this one. Free for personal use.


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