"Digital asset creep" -- it's either a crafty insult or it's what lots of people deal with as the years spent on a computer pile up. I'm looking at both Evernote and OneNote to see how each handles the basic tasks of creating, collecting, organizing and sharing information and files.
In the interest of full disclosure: I have an Evernote Premium account ($50/year) and a Microsoft Office 365 Business subscription ($99/year). I used both of my personal accounts to run the tests. And -- this is key -- I'm using both programs on a MacBook Pro running OS 10.11.
In the first installment of the ten-task faceoff, I covered how to create notes, organize them and cross-reference them in both Evernote and OneNote. In part two, I covered how to upload new files, clip articles from the World Wide Web, and sift items you've mailed into your info-hoard.
Let's move on to searching for information, chucking new notes into your systems automatically, or sharing your collections with others.
TASK #7: HOW TO SEARCH FOR INFORMATION
There is no point in setting up a workflow for getting things into your information-management tool of choice, or in devising an organizational scheme for all your notes, if you can't return to the collection at a later date and find exactly what you're looking for.
How to find information within Evernote
Because I do have an Evernote Premium account, I enjoy a storage limit of 10 GB of uploads monthly, meaning I can create and store 10 GB of information monthly, with a limit of 200 MB on an individual note. I've looked, but there's no apparent limit to the total size of my Evernote account. I basically pay $50 a year for an infinite hard drive. All I have to do is stick to 120 GB of new information every year. In music-nerd talk, that's basically 30,000 new MP3 tracks every year. Or in book-nerd talk, that's 42,000 Kindle books every year. I'm an assiduous digital archivist, but I'm not 42,000-new-books-a-year level.
I am, however, a saver of PDFs and ebooks. And one of the great strengths of Evernote's search capability is how it searches the text of any PDFs, Word documents, epub files or other digital assets you've uploaded to your account. And, thanks to its OCR and image search, you can also get results if you're trying to search for a specific image.
The search abilities broadens the utility of the information-management service. And running searches couldn't be easier; you can easily filter by notebook and/or by tag as well as by specific phrase.
Here we have an example of running a simple notebook + tag search in Evernote.
How to find information within OneNote
The approach to search is slightly different: You can set the level of specificity in the search bar, then run your query from there. This makes a lot of sense if you've got a collection of highly organized notebooks, as you can narrow your search to the one where you know something is supposed to be. It is a little less overwhelming than the Evernote tag search, which presents you with a menu of tags for narrowing your search.
See how you can easily select a page, a section, a section group, and so on. I like how you can move up and down the information-organizing hierarchy here.
TASK #8: HOW TO HOOK ADD-ONS AND AUTOMATION INTO THESE SYSTEMS
No one piece of software should work in a vacuum -- especially a piece of software that holds so much useful information as a productivity tool.
How well does Evernote play with others?
It's a good thing Evernote does play well with others, because that's the only way I can get any serious work done. As a standalone app, Evernote is great at what it does (storing and sorting information), but if one wants to act on that information -- attach specific notes to to-do lists, tie to-dos and specific notes to specific dates on the calendar -- you need to rely on a third-party tie-in or service to mash your data against your calendar or to-do app.
The website If This Than That (IFTTT) offers recipes for tying in cloud-based services, and I use this to chuck data automatically into Evernote, and to sync up information from my Google calendar into Evernote (and vice-versa).
How well does OneNote play with others?
Honestly, there's less demand here because a) OneNote enjoys the advantage of being part of the overall Office suite of apps and b) the Office team is very dedicated to making sure all of its apps play nicely with one another. But there are a lot of ways for OneNote to hook into other apps and services, including IFTTT, and some of those IFTTT recipes even address my complaint about not being able to email things easily into OneNote. Now that I know that's an option, I can rethink whether or not my subscription's built-in limitations are really a deal-killer.
TASK #9: HOW TO ACCESS, SEARCH AND EDIT NOTES ON MOBILE AND WEB-BASED CLIENTS
One of the biggest values for these information-management tools is being able to create, access, edit and share your info-hoard outside of a desktop app. Both of these apps do very well.
How to use Evernote outside of a desktop app
Very easy. The website's look-and-feel is actually cleaner than the desktop app, and the mobile apps are very easy to move through. I routinely use Evernote on my iPad when I'm cooking, and the experience of swiping along to find things is super-fun for me.
The web appearance of my notebooks is much cleaner and more streamlined than the app.
How to use OneNote outside of a desktop app
The mobile app is a delight, and I really appreciated how I could take photos on my phone, then embed them in specific notes.
One of the nice things about using OneNote via the web -- as I do when I'm using Office 365 online -- is how well it plays with OneDrive. I like being able to access my notebooks via OneDrive and control how I open them (via the web or via the desktop app).
What I would like to see, however, is the ability to open and work on documents and spreadsheets in my other Office 365 apps, then easily drag those into notebooks to save or share, but one can't have everything.
TASK #10: HOW TO SHARE INFORMATION WITH OTHER USERS
Sometimes, you're going to want to pass along something you found useful -- an article, a collection of instructions, an entire notebook -- to your coworkers or friends. Both of these programs allow you to pass along notes or allow access to notebooks.
How to share a note or notebook with someone in Evernote
In a note, it's fairly easy and obvious -- there's a Share button in the upper-right corner of each note. Click on the "Share" part and you get a wee window popping up for you to mail the note to someone. Click the little arrow on the right and a multitude of options pop up for sharing either the note or the notebook. You mail from within the application here.
You can also change the permissions on a notebook by clicking on the conversation-bubble icon at the top, then sending a message that gives someone permission to view or edit a notebook.
How to share a note or notebook with someone in OneNote
There's an icon in the top right corner that lets you invite people into the notebook (to view or to edit) or to email a specific page. I really like the "send as PDF option," especially if you're sending along instructions or some other document that has to look attractive. I also like how the send-to-someone options are linked to my computer's default email client. (In this case, Outlook.) It permits me to keep track of who I've sent shared notes to in a way that I don't get with the self-contained message system in Evernote.
After running both apps through a list of ten basic tasks, if you were to ask me if one was superior to the others, I'd have to give you an honest "I don't know." It all comes down to what kind of information you're intent on storing and how you'll use those information collections.
What I like and appreciate about Evernote is the low level of control the software exerts over my workflow. This is not a tool to tell you how to store and manage information, nor does it tell you exactly how you're going to tie all this in to a calendar or a to-do list. As a born tinkerer, I like that I have been able to organize my stuff in Evernote exactly as I want to. I also like how I can automate some data storage and integrate my chosen calendar and to-do utilities into Evernote. I find Evernote to be a great tool for finding, organizing and revisiting articles and other assets I've saved for future reference.
OneNote wins a lot of points because it is so clearly a tool meant for people who work with others. The tags you can use to pair your information with action, the collaborative capabilities with sharing notebooks, and even the hierarchical notebook structure all speak to creating an information pool that is meant to be shared and turned into something useful. OneNote is basically the herald for Microsoft's very visible movement toward collaboration as the default mode for information-managing work, and it sends a great message.
I don't think you can really lose with either tool. Both can help you turn your info-hoard into a neatly organized, frequently updated and always useful resource.