[NOTE: Original date of this post was September 7, 2004. I am posting this again today, because a problem prevented some people from posting their comments. If you would like to post a comment and are having difficulty, please e-mail it to me using the link at the top of this page. I will post it for you.]
A digital 3-ring binder
At first glance, the current release of OneNote appears to be primarily focused on individual note taking and research support, and I like what I see so far. For starters, I've copied some of the action contexts that I use into OneNote so that I can try it as an action management tool. I'm sure how OneNote will work out for me in this capacity. It appears that OneNote is more appropriately suited as an action support tool. Time will tell. I suspect that after I enter a quantity of items, I will think of a better way to organize this information, which will probably provide me with the opportunity to reenter everything again.
As a rich information capture, storage, and organization tool, OneNote offers many powerful features, including apparently unlimited folders, sections, and pages, along with web integration. Each page can contain rich objects, such as ink, images, MS Office files, and even audio/video. I've been doing this [storing rich objects in documents] for over a decade with Lotus Notes, so it was easy for me to apply existing work styles to the test. (It's too bad doclinks don't work between the products.)
Things I look forward to...
As a capture tool, OneNote certainly makes the process of getting information into digital form easy. I'm sure that at some point, Tablet PC's will become available with a built-in scanner (like the HP CapShare) or a hi-res camera. When they do, there will be little need for a traditional notebook. Even in its 1.x iteration as a digital notebook, I see a lot of potential.
I wish I had a program like OneNote when I was a kid in school!
I think every student ought to have a program like this and know how to use it.
Collaboration in OneNote
I'm particularly interested to see how OneNote can be used in a collaborative environment. I still need to review the help documentation -- yes, I do read the documentation -- so that I can learn more about how this product can be used in this way.
OneNote contains some hints at future groupware capabilities. The menus currently show support for shared whiteboard (peer to peer) and, with a suitably configured SharePoint server, the ability to share files as a group. I'll probably invite Michael Sampson to join me for a shared OneNote meeting so that we can both see how it works as a collaborative tool.
But can it replicate?
A feature that I would really like to see, is some form of transparent replication between computers. My expectations in this area are quite high, however, as I have been spoiled by everything that Lotus Notes can do. I wonder if I can get OneNote to deposit its .ONE files into Lotus Notes so that I can have my information accessible everywhere? Hmmm, I'll have to work on that one...
OneNote isn't just for text or ink. It can record sound and video, too.
A neat feature of OneNote, that I know I will find useful, is the ability to record audio on my laptop while taking notes. The notes are synchronized along with the audio track. OneNote will allow me to click on the notes to hear the corresponding audio and vice-versa. I expect that this will be helpful useful for some of my extended meetings where I will both record and type my notes. After the meeting, as I clean up my typed notes, I can refer back to the specific audio segments as needed to insert any missing information. Years ago, I used to do this with VideoNotes.
You can search all of your notes
Like Lotus Notes, OneNote provides a full-text search capability, allowing you to search any of the notes that you have entrered, no matter where you entered them or in what form. (This includes the text behind digital ink.) The search results are returned in a nice hypertext view.
It's really too early for me to comment in detail; however, I can say that I like the familiar (and proven) notebook tab metaphor. It appears to copy Lotus Notes's tabbed sections to provide a logical way to group related information together. Unlike Notes, however, OneNote provides additional levels: Folders, Sections, Pages, and even subpages. This make it easy to visually organize information hierarchically.
This may seem trivial, and there may even be a setting to adjust this; OneNote's folder tabs do not appear to automatically resize. I've become so used to this feature in Lotus Notes that to not have it seems like a gross oversight.
Notes and OneNote
As I write this blog entry, I have to work hard to keep my references to [Lotus] Notes and [Microsoft] OneNote straight. I cannot help but wonder what confusion this will cause as customers refer to both products as "Notes." This reminds me of the VisiCalc days. When SuperCalc and then Lotus 1-2-3 appeared; folks still called these and other spreadsheets, "VisiCalc." Perhaps this is a fitting albeit unintended tribute to Lotus, for their pioneering work creating Notes in the first place?
The ultimate test - a group of students...
I've come up with a way to really test OneNote to see what works and what does not in a small group: I plan to include OneNote in the suite of software that I will be teaching to our U.S. FIRST Jr. Robotics team. The kids won't hesitate to tell me what they think and I won't hesitate to blog about it.
All in all, for a first generation product, I believe OneNote shows significant promise for digital note capture, organization, and retrieval.
I look forward to watching this product and others like it develop further!
Thank you's and more information:
A word of public thanks is due to Marc Orchant, for his willingness to answer my many geek questions late at night, by phone, and by email. When it comes to all things Tablet, Marc's got a strong grasp on the technology.
If you who want to learn more about Tablet PCs and OneNote, be sure to visit Marc's blog, Michael Hyatt's blog and the TabletPC Buzz forum.
Right now, I'm trying to figure out how to retrofit my LiveBoard to turn it into a monster Tablet PC on which to run OneNote and MindManager. If get that working, I'll blog about it.
Meanwhile, of you have any thoughts, feel free to post a comment.