OneNote is part of the Microsoft Office suite. It has many of the features of the other note taking programs but is not as useful as some of them because more work has gone into making it look pretty than has gone into getting the functionality correct. Using OneNote one gets the impression that many of the features which have been added were added for the specific purpose of ticking a box in the advertising.
This note taking program stores its notes in separate files, each notebook is a folder on the hard disk within which the notes are stored. I was unable to conduct the test of a notebook with over one thousand notes because Microsoft OneNote does not have a bulk import facility. To get all my notes into OneNote I would have to open each note (I have them stored as .RTF files) individually and copy and paste it into a note. There is also no bulk export so that once you have a substantial number of notes in OneNote you are effectively ‘locked in’, because the more notes you have the more effort it would be to change programs. You can have multiple notebooks open at once.
The version I was testing is Microsoft Office OneNote 2007 (because that’s the one I have). This is not the latest version.
There are some advanced facilities within this program, like OCR on pictures and images and recording of audio clips for spoken notes but in my opinion this is only a good program if you have a small number of notes, if you have a substantial number of notes I would imagine it is not so good. I cannot say this definitely because I have only used this program for a few weeks some years ago (apart from the work I did to prepare this review). I regard this as a toy note taking program, so this will be a biased review but it portrays my honest opinion. I have tried to be fair.
I don’t know what the price of OneNote is. I checked on the Microsoft website and the only option which seemed to be available was ‘Buy with Office’ and of course only the latest version is available. I don’t know if it is available separately.
Overall score = 39 out of 60
Verdict I don’t like it but I know a lot of people love it, good if you don’t mind being locked into the Microsoft hegemony.
1. Connectivity = 8
This program supports universal links, however it calls them Hyperlinks. Within OneNote you can hyperlink to specific pages within any OneNote notebook, it supports hyperlinks to files on the local file system and of course hyperlinks to URL’s on the internet.
If you generate a ‘hyperlink’ to a page in OneNote and then paste it into another program then what is pasted looks exactly like a universal link to a OneNote page, and works exactly like a universal link (so why the non standard nomenclature).
You can also use OLE to embed files within a page, but this only seems to work well with other Microsoft products. OLE should have been great for displaying the output from one program within another but unfortunately it has not been so good in practice. This is because it has to be correctly implemented at both ends for it to work properly. The program displaying the result needs to implement the OLE client correctly but also the program sending the data has to implement the OLE server correctly. There are many many programs out there which either don’t implement the OLE server correctly or don’t implement it at all.
Microsoft products unsurprisingly implement both the OLE server and client correctly. So you will be able to embed Excel spreadsheets, Power Point presentations and Word documents within OneNote pages and it all works as expected. But don’t expect to be able to embed the output from <insert random small company name here> programs in your OneNote pages.
OneNote also works with Microsoft Outlook to send and receive E-mail. So you can send a page or put a received E-mail into a page but only if you are using Microsoft Outlook. It seems like all Microsoft products are deliberately designed to work with each other in such a way as to try to lock you in to only using Microsoft products. I don’t have Microsoft Outlook as my default mail client and when I tried to ‘send to email client’ it opened my default mail client and then brought up an error message in a dialog box.
2. Classification = 3
There is a tagging scheme of sorts. It is just a flat list and it is in a drop down box so don’t expect to be able to have thousands of tags, it gets cumbersome with any more than forty or fifty tags, so this is for broad classifications and as such it is not particularly useful. Blocks of text can be tagged individually and the tags appear as small icons to the left of the text. There are no keywords.
3. Text layout and formatting = 9
The text layout and formatting are exemplary. The only thing I didn’t like is the fact that all the text is in boxes on the page. The box only appears when you mouse over it. Doing it this way makes moving text around on a page very easy but I would prefer a simple page similar to that of a word processor, however having said that it is possible to make the box as big as a page and then in effect what you get is a simple page similar to that of a word processor.
Table handling is excellent, just what you would expect from a word processor. Pictures can be pasted onto a page and everything works as expected.
Although OneNote does not support spreadsheets in notes you can use OLE to embed an Excel spreadsheet if you have Excel installed on your system.
4. A sense of time = 0
OneNote does not have a sense of time. There is no calendar.
5. Ease of use = 9
Microsoft have a lot of experience at designing user interfaces and this program is an example of a simple and intuitive user interface. Everything works as expected.
6. Visual Appeal = 10
This is one of the better looking of all the note taking programs reviewed here. They manage to cram in a lot of functionality with little wasted space.