I’ve been using OneNote since it came out in 2003. It was one of the first applications that treated ink as a first consideration in design. It was unconstrained by the traditional concepts of horizontal lines and vertical borders. It could search your ink; Ink that you created using a pen and active digitizer. It was one of the best applications for what we used to call Tablet PCs.
OneNote was clearly different in terms of workflow. You didn’t have to save your work and you didn’t have to consciously synchronize your notes across multiple devices. It was a great tool for doing research. Copying anything from the web automatically created a link back to the source. You could record audio and if you wrote notes during the recording, your notes were linked to point at in the recording when you took them. Later, you could tap start the audio playback at the precise point in time when made the note.
I shared notebooks across all my devices it was easy to have access to my information everywhere, even on my phone.
Don’t get the wrong impression as I write in the past tense. OneNote is still around, still does all those things, and it’s better than ever, especially on Surface 3 and Surface Pro devices. Surface 3 and all Surface Pro devices support ink.
For me, there’s nothing more efficient than a pen for marking up a document as you edit it. If you’ve used Microsoft Word with track-changes and comments, you know that you can get distracted by the technology and the work-flow. Do it with ink and it’s simple, direct, and the technology is transparent.
I still keep all the pen and paper type notes in OneNote. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I still have old Tablet PCs scattered around my workspaces so that I can jot things down and have those notes everywhere including my phone. I’m still amazed at how well OneNote can find a word or a phrase that I wrote in ink months or even years ago.
It turns out that OneNote is absolutely brilliant as a tool for collaborative writing. If you share your notebooks with others, then OneNote keeps track of each author’s changes, and everyone is always looking at the same version.
Yes, it’s a digital and somewhat binary world, but there are still plenty of times that the analog approach – writing in ink is just better.
If you have wanted an easy way to store lyrics and add guitar chords, it is just plain annoying to get things lined up with ordinary text based tools. It’s easy to do it with OneNote, and you can even draw chord diagrams if you need them. Of course you can buy apps for this but it’s so much easier with the pen, especially if things are in the early stages of creation.
I think that’s why I really like OneNote. It allows me to capture thoughts and ideas relatively unfettered by constraints of planning, typing, and saving and syncing and notifying others of changes. It’s great at the early stages of things when there’s no time to be perfect, and no need for the distraction of trying to be. And yet as chaotic as that sounds it is brilliant at finding things, no matter how you created them.
If you don’t know OneNote, then check it out. If you haven’t looked at it lately, it’s worth a second look.
It’s not just for Windows anymore, and it’s free.
And here are some more things to explore