Sunday, August 27, 2006

issues with OneNote 2007's new collaboration features

Now that I've been using OneNote 2007 Beta 2 for a few weeks, I have used the LiveSession feature in 35 meetings (I counted so I'm not exaggerating on this. welcome to my world...). Some were contiguous so I kept the session open, but still, that's a lot of sets of notes to have taken. I can thus consider myself some sort of LiveSession SuperNerd and am adequately credentialed to complain and give suggestions on this product. I have already discussed LiveSessions in some detail in my overall review of OneNote 2007, so I will try not to repeat myself, but now that I've used them a lot I have grown less happy with them. Here goes:

o Losing sync: My coworker and I have a serious problem which has been showing up frequently. It is that the session will sometimes "hiccup" such that he can see me typing and appears to be able to type as well, but I can't see what he's typing. The fix is usually for him to exit the session, delete the section that was shared, and open the invite again to launch the session. This can take focus away in meetings since we first have to determine that there is a problem via IM, and then it takes some time to fix it. In a half-hour meeting, if you spend 5 minutes trying to fix a technical problem, you've missed a lot of the meeting. I for a second threatened to switch back to OneNote 2003 if this isn't made more reliable in the next few weeks, but of course I won't, I am just going to rage impotently :(

o No sharing pages, only sections: I'm still annoyed with the per-section sharing thing, and miss the old per-page thing. I think that

o Worse performance: I don't think performance is as good in a LiveSession as it was in the old shared sessions. Maybe that's because I have 6-12 pages in my sections now that I have to share versus one or two, or maybe it's because Beta 2 hasn't been through much performance tweaking (which I HOPE is the case because OneNote is relatively unusable when you have "Sync automatically" turned on), but seeing someone else's typing is not nearly as instantaneous as it was in OneNote 2003.

I also talked about Shared Notebooks in my prior OneNote 2007 review, and if I had written this review at the end of the work day on Friday, I would have had only great things to say because I think I have finally figured them out. Here are some good and bad things about shared sections:

o Share the notebook, not the file, and you'll be fine: The number one revelation that has worked for me is that you must share sections at the notebook (folder) level rather than the section level. Yes, it works to place shortcuts as I suggested before (see the part after the struck-through section), but you can't then force them to sync if you want to stay offline because, well, letting it attempt to sync while you're not connected to the file share that your notebook lives on makes performance suck. What you have to do is create notebooks, then do a File\Open Notebook\name of share on which your sections live, and then you will be able to deal with the shared sections with far fewer hassles. So here's what I did at work:

· \\work-server\my-public-share\my-client-name which stores notebooks for my St. Louis project, one huge one that is all my personal notes, one that will become the real shared notes which will be our archive when the project is done, and one that is a small section for that week's notes. The latter only exists because you can't share pages, only a section (yeah, this isn't the first and it's not the last time I'll be complaining about this)

· \\work-server\my-private-share\OneNote which stores all my private notebooks. This was my second big revelation, which is that rather than take "personal" or otherwise non-shared notebooks offline like you did in OneNote 2003, you should store them in a share and let them sync, even though you don't need to share them with others. It's possible that this still works but OneNote was horribly confused in my case because our My Documents is a DFS share that we take offline. Don't do this. So every single notebook had a sync icon, but was also stored locally, which might be why the "Sync automatically" setting was causing such crappy performance and why my notebooks would disappear sometimes.

§ Speaking of the "notebook disappearing" point, I will suggest to Oliver Sturm that he do what I did, which is to make sure that sections on a server that he wants to take offline are accessed only from a Shared Notebook (e.g. File\Open Notebook\type the share name). Before, I was getting misplaced sections all the time, and now, it hasn't happened since.

· \\home-machine\share-for-home-sections which is where I keep things like the section that stores my blog in case I want to write on the road and my section for miscellaneous stuff like appliance purchase info and whatnot. This was one I'd tried to make work first and finally found out the File\Open Notebook trick, and it's been working like a charm. Make sure you delete all remaining shortcuts to sections that live in the shared notebook, or you will see wackiness.

o Don't try to outsmart OneNote or it will corrupt your files: I have several sections with which I'm having a problem:

· My miscellaneous home stuff section is throwing an 0xE0000898 error and advises me to report the bug. Somehow, between copying it around and creating shortcuts to it and using OneNote to move it and whatnot, finally something snapped. I have a single page in the bottom that I cannot delete, and I get "An unknown error occurred while trying to open this page". It must have been a bad sync between laptop and desktop that caused it. I had to move all the pages to a new file, delete the old file, and then rename the new file to be what the old file was.

· My client section had somehow become corrupt, and I suspect I need to blow away the cache on my laptop, but I did all this work to consolidate my notes and my colleague's notes that I really don't want to lose. I think there is something seriously wrong with the syncing, because my VPN connection showed over 400MB read in syncing these files, when they are both about 25MB apiece. Every time I try to sync, it seems that OneNote reads 100MB or so and writes a tenth of that, but never finishes. I seriously hope I haven't lost my changes (which were moving a bunch of notes from my personal into the new shared section). I can watch the files sync for hours but I worry that they'll never finish. :(

§ The weird thing is that it shouldn't be that slow over the VPN -- I VPN'd in on my home machine and opened up the shared notebook for this client and it only took a few minutes to synchronize completely (except for a few pages that OneNote knew I was trying to sync on my laptop). It read 657MB to open these 64MB of shared files. Maybe I'm just not letting the laptop stay connected long enough? Does OneNote really need to read 10 times as much as the size of the OneNote file to synchronize it? Or is the count of bytes that your network connection keeps not accurate?

That's all I got for now. I'll follow up if my new system works, and if you googlers have any suggestions on how to minimize the LiveSession problems, I'd love to hear 'em. I'd like to thank Dan Escapa for his link to my review and of course for his work on the product which, despite all my complaints, is a pretty revolutionary update to an already great product.


P.S. excuse the funny-looking bullets, Word 2007 refused to post this to Blogger so I had to paste it in.


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sbreck - hang in there. You'll find most/all of these issues cleared up in the B2 refresh coming out shortly. No, sharing is still by the section and not the page - sorry. Many of us miss that too but it was a technical reason with our new architecture.
Chris, I appreciate the comment. I look forward to the refresh and will go back to check it against my various complaints.

As to the LiveSession thing, I've kind of gotten used to having a small section to use for "the day's meetings" so I guess if it's a permanent architecture change then that's what I'll continue to do.
Yes the 898 issues have been resolved! I know because I had them all of the time but now things are much better. -descapa
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