Microsoft’s OneNote was a super application when it first launched with Office 2003 three years ago, and the version to be released with Office 12 looks to have grown up very nicely. OneNote is a note-taking application that’s most useful in meetings, lectures or for doing research. It enables you to type – or, if you have a tablet PC, handwrite – notes, scribble diagrams and gather information from many different sources. It’s focused on this core competency of rapid and eclectic note taking, but with an increasing emphasis on collaboration in these activities. I use OneNote extensively on my tablet for taking notes in meetings and at conferences, and when back at my desk on my main PC OneNote will convert my handwritten scribbles into text. I can also draw in other textual or pictorial information from Internet Explorer, PowerPoint, Excel and other applications as I research my topic, whether I’m designing an application or writing an article.
OneNote ’12’ is really only version 2 of the product, although there was an upgrade released in 2004 as OneNote 2003 SP 1, which fixed a few bugs and added some functions that should have been in the initial release but didn’t quite make it. The first thing I noticed on looking at the Beta 1 of OneNote 12 is that it hasn’t been given the new Ribbon and Chunks user interface of Word and Excel 12, but then it doesn’t really need them as there are far fewer commands in OneNote than in either Word or Excel. In particular, there are no complex formatting commands of the sort that would lend themselves to inclusion of the new Galleries of pre-built effects. No, OneNote is all about typing or handwriting, cutting and pasting or dragging and dropping information from other sources, so its formatting options are deliberately kept to a minimum.
Where the OneNote user interface has been changed is by the welcome addition of drag-and-drop to arrange pages, sections and notebooks. Rearranging sections and notebooks was a real pain in previous versions, as you were forced to go through extra dialogs to move a section, and then it wasn’t obvious whether the section would be moved to a position before or after the section you indicated. OneNote 12 will allow you to drag and drop pages, sections or notebooks in a much more intuitive manner – the resting place, where what you’re dragging will be dropped, is now indicated clearly by a little arrow so you know what should happen before you let go of the mouse button.
Integral to this functionality is a new Navigation Bar down the left-hand side of the OneNote window, which when collapsed shows all the notebooks you have open and lets you switch quickly and easily between them. You can colour code the notebooks in order to tell them apart instantly and drag them around to put them into your preferred order. Expand the Navigation Bar and it shows you all the notebooks and all the sections within those notebooks. You can click on any section to open that section directly, or you can drag and drop sections within or between notebooks to rearrange them.
You can get data into OneNote in many different ways: you can type text on the keyboard; handwrite text or draw diagrams using a pen on a tablet PC; record audio and/or video data directly; and you can copy and paste or drag and drop data from other applications. If you drag and drop a web page from Internet Explorer, OneNote will helpfully append the URL of the page so you can go back to the original source of the information whenever you need to. You can also grab screen clips by pressing <Windows-S>; print data to the OneNote Import printer driver; and insert scanned or faxed documents or photographs.