Hands-on with Microsoft’s OneNote for OS X

Microsoft OneNote Mac OS X

About a year ago, I wrote about OneNote for iOS when it was released. In my review, I mentioned there was still no OS X client. Finally, that is no longer the case.

Microsoft has finally released OneNote for OS X. I’ve really been looking forward to this, so read on for my thoughts after the first day of use.

How I took notes before OneNote

I loved OneNote for iOS, but because I use my Mac at work for taking notes and the OneNote website was blocked at work, using OneNote’s web app wasn’t a feasible solution for me. Evernote has fallen out of favor for me on the Mac since the method I used to take outline notes wasn’t working in Evernote. So, I ended up just using Pages.

This still wasn’t an ideal solution since Pages’ handling of outlined notes is only marginally better than Evernote. Having my notes in the Cloud was very important to me, and Pages let me get my notes on my Mac and iPad. I just kept a separate document for each project I’m on. I was getting disillusioned though, and actually was recently thinking of trying OmniOutliner. This was because using Pages just felt a kludge, and I found previous versions of Pages to be a little better at dealing with indented notes.

How I actually take the notes is pretty simple. I have one file per project, and then just a header for the date the meeting occurs and the purpose of the meeting. Very few of my notes do not originate in a meeting. For action items, I had a piece of shorthand that any sentence beginning with “***” meant it was an action item. It was very clumsy, but got the job done.

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OneNote to the rescue

Last week, when the rumors of OneNotes’ imminent arrival started to break, I was skeptical. It seems we are often treated with rumors of Microsoft releasing this or that and I’ve given up on getting excited. On Monday, the day finally arrived and I eagerly tore off the wrapping, err, downloaded the app.

My first impressions weren’t exactly favorable. It took a long time to load — long enough I thought it had crashed. It eventually loaded, but it still takes a bit to load on my 2011 15″ MacBook Pro running 10.9.2. Once it loaded, I signed in with my Microsoft account and got access to my notes from a year ago. The good news is, I found some notes I had forgotten about, but were relevant to a project I’m working on now. There is no bad news.

What I was very happy with was how quickly OneNote felt comfortable for me to use. I finally had a central repository for notes, and instead of needing to create separate documents for each project’s notes, I could just add a page to the Work notebook. That way, I could quickly hop between different projects.

Monday was a day that was full of meetings for me and OneNote did a great job of helping me take my notes. What I loved was the integration between the Mac and iOS versions. If I had the same note open on two devices, it updated them both without any sync errors or drama. This was great news since I often take photos of whiteboards with my iPhone. Now, I can just open up the note on my iPhone, snap the picture, and it will show up on my Mac screen in a few seconds.

Another thing I like is how easy it is to create to-do items within the note. That will eliminate the need for my shorthand action items flag.

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How I will use OneNote going forward

I have no problems using OneNote for my long-form notes. While Microsoft has released a clipper for browsers, I probably won’t use it. I don’t generally gather information from the web into my notes. When I was in school taking notes for papers, I would have used the clipper so I’m glad it’s there.

If you need to take a lot of notes on your Mac, OneNote is a great tool. Best of all, it’s free.

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