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Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2 Review: Part 4: OneNote 2007

In this part of my Office 2007 Beta 2 review, I'd like to highlight another Office application in which I spend a lot of time, OneNote. The first time I was briefed about the initial version of OneNote, I thought someone was playing a joke on me. Here was an application specifically targeted to my daily note-taking needs, offering virtually everything I could ask for. Ever since the first major beta of OneNote 2003, I've been using OneNote to take notes during in-person, phone, and LiveMeeting-based briefings, and I've found it to be an indispensible tool. And in Office 2007, it's getting even better.

For those of you not familiar with OneNote--and from what I understand, that's quite a few of you--Microsoft targets this application at "information gathering." The idea is that a student, reporter, lawyer, knowledge worker, or whoever will use OneNote to collect data from notes, audio and video recordings, the Web, and other documents and then turn them into a finished product using a related application like Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. And sure enough, that's pretty much how I use the product. I use OneNote for all my note-taking needs, and if I'm meeting with someone in-person, I use the application's audio recording capabilities as well.

Why not just use Word or some other text processor, you ask? Word saves documents, and managing those documents, especially for someone like me, can be rather tedious. Also, I rather like the psychological separation of note-taking and final product. I'm not formulating a final article while taking notes, and I don't take notes in an application that has all the editing richness of Microsoft Word. It just makes sense to me.

With OneNote 2007, Microsoft has improved OneNote in several important ways. My favorite new features, in no particular order...

Insert color printouts

In OneNote 2003, it's possible to paste a PowerPoint presentation (or other document) into a notebook and then use it alongside your notes. This is handy at the many Microsoft conferences I attend, where you get the presentations electronically and then take notes while someone is speaking. There's just one problem: The presentations you copied into OneNote came through in black and white, as if they were printouts.

Now, presentations (and other documents) can be copied into OneNote in full color. To do so, simply drag a presentation document onto an OneNote 2007 notebook and choose "Insert the file as printout so I can add notes to it" from the dialog that appears. Brilliant.

Hyperlinks to Notes

OneNote has always supported hyperlinks to Web documents, but as OneNote users began using the product extensively over time, it became obvious that we needed some way to reference other notes from within notes. Obviously, a hyperlink to a note, or even a specific note location, was called for. You can even create hyperlinks to other documents in the file system, various Outlook 2007 items (such as contacts, e-mail messages, and appointments), and of course Web pages.

Better note management

One of the nicest things about OneNote 2003 is that you don't have to do much to manage notes: Microsoft creates a My Notebook folder, auto-populates it with files as needed, and you're pretty much done. But one of the worst things about OneNote 2003 is that it can be difficult to manage notes, especially when you start to outgrow the artificial limitations of Microsoft's folder structure.

In OneNote 2007, notebook management has gotten much more sophisticated. You can create multiple notebooks, for example, and put your notebooks anywhere you want in the file system. And within the OneNote notebook hierarchy, there's a new Mini Bar (similar to Outlook's To-Do Bar when minimized) that makes navigation simpler. You can drag-and-drop notebooks, sections, and pages as you want. (Previously, you had to move items around using right-click menus.) It's just a lot more mature when it comes to note management.

Problems with OneNote 2007

Sadly, OneNote 2007 doesn't answer some of my biggest complaints about OneNote 2003 with SP1. For example, you can't lock notes, which to me is the biggest missing feature in the whole application. Consider the way Microsoft positions OneNote: You gather information with it and then use another application to create a finished document. Well, when I take notes, I want to be able to lock them so that I don't overwrite them. I want to copy information from OneNote, but not paste information over my notes, which is far too easy to do right now. And because there's no "save" mechanism in OneNote, you may overwrite something, not realize it, and then close OneNote. And at that point, your missing notes are gone forever. That's stupid.


Obviously, there's a lot more going on with OneNote 2007, but I wanted to focus on the features I find myself really using during the beta. Many of OneNote 2007's new features involve the Tablet PC. Like most Windows users, I don't regularly use a Tablet PC. And of course, there are amazing search improvements, including character recognition in images. I'll examine these and many other new features in my eventual review of the final shipping version of OneNote.

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