OneNote - First Impressions

Writing a blog post about OneNote, in OneNote…that's what I'm doing right now. Kinda circular isn't it? I decided to go out and purchase Microsoft's OneNote now, instead of waiting until I got my Tablet (the delivery of which Lenovo keeps pushing back) because I wanted to get used to the metaphor that OneNote uses before I really jumped into replacing my spiral notebook. The interface: OneNote First Impressions

You had me at "Welcome to OneNote 2003!" You can tell right off the bat that Microsoft really put some thought into the layout of this thing. Everything just makes sense, and simply by clicking around a little, you will find what you were looking for, then it immediately becomes second-nature.

For instance - To setup my blogging section on TabletPCs, I clicked an icon in the toolbar that looked like the images that represented sections, a new tab was created, and it was automatically selected for naming. This is analogous to putting those silly little pieces of paper in notebook dividers, but this time it didn't end up mutilating the slip as I wedged it into the plastic sleeve; and I have a feeling these aren't going to fall out.

I got into work early and started typing my latest notes on a sequence into OneNote. This was very easy, but got the feeling that OneNote was just a glorified word document organizer. I tried to import some transcripts, but was unable to do so, because my laptop has MS Office 2000, and not 2003. Apparently 2003 is required to easily import files into OneNote, but there seems to be a Power Toy out there that allows 'printing' into OneNote. I'm going to take a look at that tonight.

Early on in the morning, one of the producers came in and asked me to output my most recent cuts to tape for the new writer they're bringing on. I'm normally not very excited about outputting sequences before I get to a rough cut stage because there's still a lot of missing pieces, and it's tough to convey what you're planning on putting in the gaps. But today, I was not apprehensive at all, do you know why? Because I had just put all my thoughts into OneNote, that's why. I was able to 'Publish' the pages containing the pertinent notes to an .mht file very easily and it opened fine, but the problem is that IE is the only browser that supports this format. So I had to open the files in IE, then save again to plain HTML files. This way, I know that even if the writer has Lotus notes or something weird, they will be able to read my notes, bullets and all.

If I had Office 2003 on this system, I probably could have exported directly to a word document, which would have been fine - but I kind of like the HTML idea, it seems very portable to me and it prevents me from having to resend emails in different formats all day. I wish OneNote would let me export directly to HTML, and not just .one and .mht files.

One point of issue I have right now, is that I cannot link my word documents in a way that they remain searchable. When using MS Office 2003, you can import documents to pages in OneNote, but they become images used as the background, which allows you to annotate on top of them, which is great, but you can't search the text inside. You can drag and drop files into pages, and a hyperlink is created to that file or folder. So that's kinda cool, but you still have to right click -> search, set terms, THEN find the files, THEN search again inside the files. It would be great if someone would write a power toy that would allow you to search linked files using the built-in search function in OneNote.

I emailed Chris Pratley, one of the designers for the OneNote software who maintains a blog dedicated to OneNote on the msdn network, and he quickly replied to my question:

"I totally understand the interest in that, but we had to walk before we run. And for now the philosophy is 'we search your stuff'. Obviously we are missing the ability to search documents you print into OneNote - that's a natural add. Later we may expand that to 'we search things you link to as well', but no promises."

So it seems that I'm not alone in thinking this is a good and natural extension of the metaphors already in place. I'd also like to add that it really is great that I was able to get such a quick response from Chris. Seriously, how many companies have software designers who are so accessible to the general public? That is a great thing, and really makes me realize how serious MS is about these products. Kudos to them, I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

A related point, I also mentioned to Chris that I'm taking up C#, and am considering undertaking a Power Toy project to partially implement this functionality. His response came 14 minutes later:

"Great! Good luck with the Power Toy."

I like this guy - a lot. MS is lucky to have him.

So anyways, so far-so good! I've setup my laptop next to my keyboard at the moment, so I can reference my notes as I go. I even resisted the urge to use sticky pads once today to jot a quick note down. The OneNote quick launch icon that the installation put in my taskbar is nice for this. It can be configured to launch OneNote, a quick Note (basically a sticky note), a screen capture (called a Screen Clip), or even start recording audio and video just by clicking the icon once. A nice touch for sure.

So those are the first 24 hours. I no longer feel like OneNote is a glorified document organizer and I can't wait to learn more.