Microsoft OneNote 2010 review

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The phrase “note-taking software” makes OneNote sound like a peripheral, lightweight application, but Microsoft is making a concerted attempt to bring it to the fore. Indeed, it now stands shoulder to shoulder with Word and Excel: OneNote is bundled with all of the Office 2010 suites apart from Office Starter, while benefiting from an online version in the form of the OneNote Web App.

The main sign of the application’s promotion to the front line of Office apps isn’t in OneNote itself, but in PowerPoint and Word, where the Linked Notes button sits with pride on the Review tab. Press this and a miniaturised version of OneNote docks to the right-hand side of the screen. You might well ask: so what?

Well, let’s say you receive a presentation and want to make notes as you view it. With Linked Notes activated, each note you make is tied to the slide you’re looking at, so you can jump straight to the right point when you review your notes. Or, if you’re researching a project, drag and drop text and pictures from Internet Explorer and those pages will be automatically linked.

Office OneNote Linked Notes in action

This “Dock to Desktop” view isn’t just for Linked Notes. You can press the Dock button found in OneNote’s Quick Access Toolbar (above the ribbon) at any time to create a stripped-down version of the application, and then scribble down notes as you work in other programs. The clever bit is that Windows treats the left-hand side of the docked OneNote window as if it was the edge of the screen – you can’t drag other windows over it.

OneNote 2010 also sees far greater emphasis on sharing and co-working on notebooks. You can do this via SharePoint or even over the office network, but the greatest power comes via the web. Saving a notebook to Microsoft’s SkyDrive service allows many people to work on it concurrently – Microsoft has introduced page versioning to make this fool-proof. Thanks to the OneNote web app, your fellow authors don’t even need to have OneNote installed on their desktop.

Office OneNote 2010 summary

Despite all these innovations, OneNote’s main use is surely note-taking in meetings, and there haven’t been many changes here compared to OneNote 2007. You can still record audio at the same time as you make notes (and then jump to the place in the recording when you’re checking those notes later), you can still tag sentences with “Important”, “To-Do”, “Question”, or whatever you define yourself. And, most cleverly, then use these tags to generate a list of tasks at the end of the meeting. It’s a brilliant way to be more organised.

OneNote didn’t benefit from the Ribbon in Office 2007, and while its introduction in 2010 is welcome there are rough edges. Microsoft’s premade Ribbon tabs don’t feel well thought out in places, and it’s particularly disappointing that the Backstage view is so basic, with the Print tab not even showing a preview of pages.

But we’re being picky. While there’s room for improvement, this is a great app that deserves its place in the Office limelight, and it could rapidly become the program that sits open all day, just like your web browser does now.


Software subcategoryOffice software

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported?yes
Operating system Windows XP supported?yes
Operating system Linux supported?no
Operating system Mac OS X supported?no

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