OneNote and alternatives

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Taming notes and scraps of info with OneNote, Word and beyond.

Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times has a good summary of the various note-taking programs available.

These are programs which help you keep all those scraps of information, links, chunks of text etc that accumulate.

There is Microsoft OneNote, of course. For those of us accustomed to feature overload and frustrations of Office apps like Word and especially Outlook, OneNote is a revelation. OneNote is speedy, efficient and has truly useful features.

If you have OneNote, for example as part of Office 2007 Home and Student edition, we’d encourage you to start it up and . Tablet PC users should give OneNote a try – it can be used with the ‘pen’ as well as typing.

OneNote has a mobile sideline but naturally for Windows Mobile devices only. OneNote 2010 will have a web/browser version as well, though it’s still unclear how the software and web versions will integrate. Ideally your OneNote notebooks will sync automatically and appear in the matching browser OneNote account, so you can switch seamlessly between the two.

Audio and video recordings can be stored with OneNote. If you type notes while recording (eg in a lecture) each typed entry is linked to that point in the recording.

Evernote sounds very interesting with its cross-platform support and browser access as well, two things missing from OneNote.

The Word alternative for notetaking

Microsoft Office users without OneNote can also fall back on one or more open Word documents that you can type notes as required.

A simple organization can be managed with the Heading styles and shortcuts (Ctrl + Alt + 1 etc). Sadly the same shortcuts aren’t in OneNote 2003 or OneNote 2007 – we have to wait for OneNote 2010.

The notes document can be navigated with the document map in a similar way to our suggestion for recording passwords in Word.


One benefit of computer notetaking is easy searching. Text in any Office document (including Outlook messages and items) can be found using either Windows Desktop Search, Google Desktop Search or one of the other tools available.

Desktop searching means that you don’t have to be so worried about where you save documents and what filename you use. Word searching features will find the document no matter what you call it.


We were amused by the Mr Manjoo’s talk about saving documents.

OneNote has never had a ‘Save’ command, as all notes are saved (and backed up) automatically and it works very well. In over six years we’ve yet to lose a note from a software or system failure.

But as a long time Microsoft Office user, old habits and caution are hard to shake. Many versions of Word and Excel were notorious for losing documents due to faulty auto-save, corrupt files and many other excuses. Auto-save seemed pretty useless.

You can pick long time Office users by their habitual pressing of Ctrl + S (to Save) every few minutes like a Microsoft spawned nervous tick or protective talisman against keystroke loss.

OneNote has always bugged me by not have an explicit Save command, button or keystroke.  It’s hard to trust Microsoft to save data without human help.

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