An unexpected phone call this morning caused me to use some technology I have taken for granted for years. This technology may be the best technology of the decade, and it’s unfortunate that not that many know it exists. Read on to see what I mean.

pen and sword

I appreciate good technology, and when I come across it I make every attempt to incorporate it into my life. I am not lazy (although some might argue with that); I simply want to leverage technology to maximum effect every chance I get. Since that usually makes my life easier, so much the better. One such technology I have used for years and have come to take for granted, and something happened today that drove home just how important it can be. It made me realize that it is sad that this particular tech hasn’t become more widely recognized, as I believe it could be one of the most important developments of the past decade.

Until adopting the blogger lifestyle full time, I was a consultant. Specifically, I was a consulting geophysicist for years, working in a highly technical field that depended very heavily on sophisticated computing technology. I regularly used computing clusters with over 10,000 Intel CPUs, so you get my drift.

This morning I received a call from a former client, who needed some specific technical information about a project I handled back in the day. I have been removed from this work for two years, so needless to say I had no idea how to answer his query. I told him I’d have to research it and get back to him. I suspect he figured it would be a good while, if ever, that he heard back from me with his needed information. He was stunned when I called him five minutes later.

When I was working as a consultant, one of my main tools was OneNote on a Microsoft Windows Tablet PC. I used this to handle all meetings I attended by jotting notes on the slate with the Tablet pen. I would immediately grab the Tablet when I made or received a phone call, as having good project notes was critical to my work. I worked this way for years, and accumulated thousands of pages of ink notes in OneNote. It was the only way I could keep on top of things back then.

After receiving the call this morning I fired up OneNote and entered a search term, “Jericho,” in the search box. This was the project codename my friend was asking me about. In less than 30 seconds, OneNote found exactly what I was looking for.

Notice how the handwritten word “Jericho” is highlighted yellow? That’s how OneNote indicated this matched my search term. Notice how bad that handwriting is? And yet it still knew what I had written. It had returned every single time I wrote the word Jericho in my notes, and this was high up the list as it was one of the first notes chronologically. That was important as my friend also needed to know if I could tell him when this initial project meeting took place. It was right there on the note page.

Think about that for a minute. As you can see, I was able to lay my hands on the actual meeting notes taken over three years ago. Can you go to the drawer or shelf where you keep all of your Moleskine journals or legal pads containing past notes and find anything from three years ago? Much less exactly what you’re looking for in just a minute?

This is empowering technology, and it’s a shame it is not more widely used. Most people I show this capability to are completely blown away that it exists, and yet they knew nothing about it. It is not hard to see how useful this capability can be, to almost everyone. The ability to search anyone’s handwriting, and figure out what they wrote is applicable in a bushel of situations.

My fellow Tablet PC enthusiast friends are smiling now, as they’ve been using this for years. But they are the only ones, and there’s not that many of them. That is simply a shame, given how good this technology is.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Web Tablet Survey: Apple’s iPad Hits the Right Notes

  1. As usual, James, you’ve hit the nail on the head…

    OneNote is the app that sets the bar…have not found another app that beats it…and no other app really like it for Mac or Linux either…some do similar things, but not all that OneNote does from what I can tell…one MS’s best efforts….

    Which relates to my recent question about whether or not most of the vendors have given up or not on TabletPC type devices that take advantage of HWR instead of the move I see to just using touchscreens to click on buttons….

    Wish that we’d see better promotion of and more interesting smaller TabletPC type devices being released at reasonable price point….but I know I’m dreaming…



    1. While OneNote is very good at this, Evernote on Tablet PCs is pretty good too.

      1. Evernote 3.5 (total rewrite) seems disappointing. Using XP tablet, there’s a couple of text entry fields in Evernote that somehow won’t show the TIP, including the password field. If that’s true (and not my error), then it indicates a straying from Win Tablet focus. I’m still using the v2.2 PC-based (non-cloud) version, which is more like a OneNote competitor.

  2. Here! Here!

    OneNote is a great and useful product, I do use MindManager more often than OneNote. Your post is a reminder and wakeup call for me. Let’s push for a OneNote App on the iPad & iPhone too.

    I also don’t underestimate the value of Index Cards, Moleskine Notebooks or other manual capture system as long as you have a process to retrieve the information when you need it.

    1. Check out Mobile Noter from Businessware Technologies. It’s not a complete OneNote on your iPhone/Touch, but it does a lot in that direction.

  3. GoodThings2Life Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    I wholeheartedly agree with you on OneNote… hands down the best app of the decade for me, as I have used it in class and at work now for the past 5 years.

    If there’s an app that justifies the pen/ink requirement of a tablet or slate device, this is it. If the iPad and all its clones can’t reproduce this functionality (directly or indirectly), it’s worthless to me.

  4. I’m a big fan of OneNote… being using it in Software R&D and in my new profession as a Presbyterian Pastor… Not only can I search handwritten notes but I can add diagrams. The fact that its pen-based means I can even use it for taking notes in Greek class without having to mess with an English character keyboard… One wish though is that they would add MindMapping functionality… then it would be perfect!

    1. Software R&D, Pastor, Greek class– Andrew you’re all over the map! :)

      1. And an unrepentant tablet geek… Owned 7 tablets over the years and JKOnTheRun and GottaBeMobile have been on my “must read” short list for years!

  5. I’m hoping with OneNote2010 included in all versions of Office2010 that just maybe some more people will discover how great it is, but I even doubt that.

    I myself hadn’t heard of it until about a year ago, assuming it was one of those things in Office that just is useless for my needs, like Access, Publisher, FrontPage, Groove, InfoPath, Communicator, and so on and so forth (and MS wonders how great apps get lost in the shuffle).

    But as soon as I started using it, it was just like, “Wow, this is pretty powerful stuff.”

  6. My only gripe regarding this tremendous product (which I use daily, integrated as it is with Outlook) is actually regarding the OS itself: to this day my language is not yet supported by MS, hence I can only search on typewritten notes. I believe many JK readers around the world relate to this.

    I have used tablets extensively since early 2006 nonetheless.

    MS would obliterate the competition, if capable of really “localizing” their OS’s.

  7. I’ve tried both OneNote and Evernote and I’ve been impressed by both’s handwriting recognition. Unfortunately though I use primarily Linux, which not only is not supported by either software but does not have good touchscreen drivers at all.

  8. I’d love to read a primer on tablet computing nad getting into handwriting recognition. HAHA, after looking at your handwriting Mr. Kendrick, there is hope for me…I had no idea handritten notes in my horrible handwriting would even be feasable. I’m hooked…

    As an engineer, I attend a lot of meetings and currently scribe stuff on yellow pads which I then three hole punch and file in project notebooks. I’m an evernote user via mobile phone (Palm Pre), but the little key pad is not enough for me to do data entry at meetings. I’m a slow typist, so even keyboarding on a full size KB is a challenge in order to record thoughts and keep involved in a meeting. Hunting and pecking on a KB during an involved meeting breaks everyones concentration, sometimes…

    Needless to say, having those notes searchable, anywhere with an internet connection would be handy, real handy.

    Would you recommend a good starter tablet machine?

    1. Yep, I’ll be you will recommend the x200. An engineer can never go wrong with big blue…

      Any budget models in mind?? :)

  9. I’m in OneNote every single day, James.

    That’s why some of your choices for travel baffle me. I know you’ve been favoring your Lenovo lately, but you were hauling around a MacBook Pro (a nice computer, certainly) when heading to a meeting. Kevin left his Samsung Q1U at home.

    OneNote is on every computer in the community college where I teach, and there aren’t three of us that use it that I’m aware of. I made Sharon sbtablet give a talk on how to use it for a workshop (I was supposed to give the talk, but she was more articulate), and five people came.

    In addition to meetings, I copy or print web pages and mark them up, and people look at me like I’m weird because I don’t just bookmark them (some are gone, some are now behind pay walls).

  10. Mark In Nebraska Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    James, I have been struggling with my next computer purchase. I really do not want to keep paying for a Blackberry plan. Can you recommend a good tablet PC so I can truly take advantage of OneNote? I too am a pastor in need of some guidance. :)

    1. There are several good Tablets to consider. My favorite is the new ThinkPad X201 just announced today. I am using the x200 and love it, and the x201 is even better. HP has a nice one too, the 2730p.

      1. Mark In Nebraska Tuesday, February 23, 2010

        Thanks for your input James. I did some price checking on your recommendations and that may keep me from a tablet right now. Just not enough green growing on the tree in the back yard.

    2. Mark… I’m using the HP Touchsmart Tx2z-1000 (… Had the previous model as well…) Good multimedia machine and Duel core (AMD) but the new HP TM2T in now based on Intel… about $800. Of course if you want Quad core i7 Tosiba M780 would be my dream machine! Of course its priced north of my old Fujitsu P1610 and 20!

      1. Mark In Nebraska Tuesday, February 23, 2010

        Thanks Andrew. Like I told James, I will need to save up for awhile if I want to get a good tablet. I am a better typer than writer so I have also looked at a netbook to keep by my side. I do like the flexibility of the tablet, but need to find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (hard to do with 4 feet of snow on the ground). :)

    3. Gotcha, thanks.


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