Wednesday, August 09, 2006

OneNote 2007 review

I upgraded to OneNote 2007 (Beta 2) at home about two months ago but only really used it to blog. This Monday I upgraded to OneNote 2007 on my work tablet, and used it for two and a half days, and so far I have some mixed feelings. As you are learning if you read my blog, I have not bothered to go and read the reviews of others before writing this.

Here an old list of things I noticed after first upgrading my home PC:

  • Scrolling the middle mouse button over the page tabs on the right no longer jumps from page to page; you have to press Ctrl while scrolling to do that
  • You can now create hyperlinks within OneNote (Insert->Hyperlink, just like in Outlook) -- this is basically a requirement for blogging and beats the several extra steps of my previous solution, EnterLink. I use this a lot now and am very happy it was included.
  • Speaking of blogging, you can blog from OneNote with fairly clean HTML, as you could not before. File-->Send To-->Blog, then Word launches, then you click Publish (as Draft if you like). On Blogger it appears in a giant font in the WYSIWYG edit screen and you may have to clean up double-spacing but that's better than the Blogger Add-in for Word (in which the HTML formatting was often all types of messed up to the degree that you'd have to delete tag pairs in the HTML editor view) and also better than pasting from OneNote into the Blogger editor.
  • The folder organization makes more sense. Folders on the left, sections on the top, and pages on the right. Seems clearer. Now to figure out the keyboard shortcut to switch between folders…
  • There is now a scroll bar for page tabs instead of the annoying arrows on the top or bottom. For those of us who use browser forward and back keys to switch between pages, this means you don't have to press one tab per "page" to get to them.
  • Chris Pratley blogged about Napkin Math which I think is awesome.
  • I have another blog entry in progress on Windows Desktop Search but suffice it to say, it isn't working for OneNote at home (though it is working just fine on my work laptop, on section files that I've upgraded). It only searches the current page at home.

Here are a lot of observations I made now that I've got OneNote 2007 on both my home and work PC:

  • Shared notebooks and folders:
    • Behind the scenes, the folders are kind of confusing. Is it "My Documents\My Notebook"? "My Notebook.OneNote2003" for files you upgrade in place? Or is it now "OneNote Notebooks" for everything? But what's all that stuff that still in the former two sections? I guess I'm not supposed to worry my pretty little head about this stuff and I know My Documents at home and at work are backed up, so if I have extra copies of crap, well, then some portion of my 142MB of OneNote files representing over two years of my billable client work might be unnecessary. Oh well.
    • Wait, I just noticed that I was typing into a shared section that I moved into the proper folder and nothing was happening, so apparently, you can't open a section and then always have a link to that section. By that I mean I can't have in my "Personal" section, a link to this blog section stored on a share on my home PC. I have to access it always through the "Recent Opened Sections" link. That sucks.
      • Not true: if you create a shortcut in the proper folder under OneNote Notebooks, you are good to go -- I don't think there is a way to do this without dropping to the file system but at least I can do this to set things up on my home and work PC.
    • Generally, while it's not as good as shared sessions, it is still an awesome leap forward and I will probably be demonstrating it to my coworkers at some point. With a network share or SharePoint as a back-end, many interesting things can be created in terms of client folders, shared brainstorming areas for vendor/technology teams, or even a knowledge base (assuming Windows Desktop Search can index a file stored in SharePoint or on a network share).
      • I have to say that I spent a bit of time today trying to convince my colleague on our St. Louis project to do this, and was unsuccessful. What is the argument for two people with their own different working styles to share a OneNote section? Do you need to? My arguments were flimsy but he is willing to try it out. More on this later.
    • I've been watching it sync between my laptop and desktop and it's pretty good. I somehow suspect the "Sync this notebook now" option is one of those panaceas since if you sync both at once, you still won't see the change for 30-120 seconds, but it's definitely good enough that you could work on a file with others and be reasonably satisfied with the synchronization speeds.

  • Shared (now called "Live") sessions:
    • Even though the help file says different ("If you initiate a shared note-taking session, you can select the pages that you want to share", "To select the pages that you want to share, hold down CTRL or SHIFT, and then click the page tabs of the pages that you want to add."), I can't figure out a way to share only one or just a few pages. It in fact says "All the pages in the current section will be shared" when you click "Start shared session". I typically have a big old section for notes for a project (over 425 on my current project) and I really don't want to share all the pages. That would really not perform very well and would annoy the crap out of my coworker having to deal with what will definitely be a bunch of duplicate pages afterwards. For now, I will keep a small section for the meeting notes for a given visit, and suggest that my coworker do the same so that he can easily clean or move notes from that section to his main client file. Or maybe we will use the same client file in SharePoint…
    • Along with the above, it seems now that shared sessions will now be conducted on a per-section basis. I suppose this fixes both the OneNote 2003 problem in which people who are booted off of a session and rejoin it get a new duplicate page which is active in the session, and the ON2003 problem in which shared pages show up in whichever section you happened to have open at the time. It is nice that it no longer duplicates pages and live sessions are now more "persistent", but it seems slower than ON2003 shared sessions, probably because I had 6-7 pages shared that I didn't need to share. I hope that the real version allows you to determine specific pages you want to share, as the help file says you can.
    • Because of this, you can't edit the pages that were shared until you move them from the Live Session area to another section. This represented a change for my coworker that he found annoying, as typically we both take notes, and then split up the responsibilities for editing them into minutes afterwards. He can't edit in line because he didn't start the session.
    • So I'm not entirely negative about changes to shared sessions, I noticed that now handwriting is supported in a shared session and can be mixed with the other person's typing. This is very good news! I don't think I'm going to switch back to handwriting mode for meetings (too much of a pain to convert, at least with OneNote 2003) but it's nice to know it's possible.

  • Ink stuff:
    • No more "guides". This was a recommendation back in the day to make sure your conversion to text went smoothly, and though I psychologically miss it (and maybe it will be a disaster when I try to convert handwriting), I also realized while taking notes today in ink that the guides also made me worry too much about writing size, whether the line wrapped onto the next, and whatnot, rather than just taking notes naturally. I haven't converted anything inked in Outlook 2007 yet, so it's too early to say if this is going to be a problem.
    • Somehow I don't think the pressure sensitivity is quite as good in OneNote 2007 as it was in OneNote 2003. The lines seem very uniform compared to 2003.
    • I converted ink to text from notes I took using a OneNote 2003 section that I then upgraded. Sometimes the conversion was perfect, and I was pleasantly surprised, but there were also some things that converted really poorly. It's too early to tell on this.

  • Output functionality:
    • While offline on the plane to St. Louis, I attempted to email a note. (I wasn't ready to upgrade to Outlook 2007 on my work computer at the same time as the OneNote upgrade, so I'm still on Outlook 2003.) Nothing happened. I tried again when I was on the ground. It didn't work. In fact, none of the email functionality worked -- E-mail, E-mail as attachment, or E-mail as PDF. The latter went so far as to create the PDF and then did nothing. My coworker upgraded to Outlook 2007 along with OneNote 2007 and he is able to email just fine. I think I'll be upgrading in the next day or so, I can't resist...
    • I have also lost the ability to export to Word. I can paste into Word, but the formatting of at least bulleted text is all messed up and has to be fixed manually. (The bullets seem to grow further and further from the text, and subsequent lines "dangle" closer and closer to the bullet and away from the leading text. I have no idea if this is a style problem or could be fixed by editing OneNote 2007's default bullet styles, but I couldn't figure it out and spent most of a flight from St. Louis on this.) I may give it a try at home where I have Word 2007, but I can't upgrade my work laptop from Word 2003 because of support from my IT department, iManage integration and co-existence with everyone else I work with, and a numbering product I use regularly (that so far hasn't been able to clean up the formatting either). Of course Send to Word works great when you have Word 2007. I'm not sure what I'm going to do except maybe write shorter sentences that don't overlap their bullets…

Overall, it seems like a much slicker product than OneNote 2003 was. I think I'll get used to some of the differences. Mostly, I hope that once it's out of beta it will better support those of us unable to upgrade the entire Office suite.

--sbreck

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