Why Microsoft OneNote kicks so much note taking ass!

I recently tried out Microsoft OneNote, I’ve heard great things about the tool previously but being a Mac user for so long I didn’t have the opportunity to use it. Lately, I’ve been using VMware Workstation on my Mac so I can run Outlook and properly schedule a meeting. The latest Office update I got came with OneNote so I gave it a shot, turns out it is a fantastic tool!

I imagine the developers of OneNote went to Steve Ballmer and asked him his thoughts; in a rant that only Ballmer can do, he danced around screaming Tabs. Tabs. Tabs. Tabs. Tabs. OneNote has just a wonderful amount of tabs, well only three to be precise, but it is exactly the extra level of slicing that I need.

I’ve tried numerous tools from Evernote to YoJimbo, through just about every list of suggested apps. Every single one I’ve seen allows two basic methods of categorization. You have a folder with items in it. This allows you to create two categorizations, a bunch of folders filled with a bunch of stuff.

For example, if I create a folder for each project I manage. All the items inside of that folder are at the same level. I can’t file meeting notes together, or specs, or anything else. Everything in the folder is more or less the same.

True, most apps allow tagging and additional methods of sorting and searching, but all require an extra level of effort and difficulty around managing the content. For example, I first have to see everything and then filter on what I want. This is very different than only seeing what I want from the start.

What OneNote adds is that one additional level of slicing which is great. You have Notebooks which hold Sections and the Sections can hold pages. So you can create a broad level Notebook, say Engineering, inside of which you can create Sections for specific meetings and inside of that you can create multiple pages, one for each meeting notes.

To do this in other tools you would need to create a new folder for every meeting type, and then a new note for each instance of that meeting. This is hard for multiple projects and numerous meetings which can’t be grouped together, the number of folders to wade through grows quite daunting.

Here is an examples of how I slice my notes for a particular meeting, each note of the meeting gets its own page (highlighted in red)


Another nicety of OneNote is that you can place text anywhere on a page by just clicking in that spot. This allows for a good way to add notes to a particular section, for example capturing commentary during a meeting. Plus it is an Office app, so you get all the cross object support you would expect, such as being able to paste in charts and graphs, etc.

So in conclusion, I really like OneNote and all those lovely tabs. I hope Microsoft starts including the tool in Mac Office, or someone steals the extra tab idea and incorporates into their product.