dinsdag 12 juni 2007

OneNote rocks

Ok I'm prepared for this post to be construed as definitive proof that
I am part of The Borg, but in the spirit of sharing useful tips a la LifeHacker
and a desire to GTD, I thought I'd pimp two Microsoft products that I've only
recently started using: OneNote and Groove.
I'll start with OneNote, since
that's the one I'm liking most and which has swayed me away from scribbling my
thoughts on wiki pages and text files, and more importantly convinced me to do
away with a paper notebook altogether.
Essentially, you get an on-screen
representation of a paper notebook, with coloured tabs for organising by subject
on top, and tabs for individual pages down the right hand side. You can click to
type anywhere on the "page". If you have a tablet PC, you can handwrite on the
page. Microsoft gives me a tablet, but I much prefer just to type. Of course,
you can freely drag and drop your blocks of text anywhere on the page. I'm
liking the freeform nature of it, and you get access to all the usual fancy
formatting like bold, italics, colours, fonts. You can insert links to files and
pictures by dragging and dropping. You can insert hyperlinks to web pages, other
pages within your notebook, even other paragraphs within pages of your notebook.
If you are taking notes about a meeting, you can insert the meeting details from
your Outlook calendar.
But the fancy content is not the killer feature
(although they are sufficiently rich and easy to use that I don't secretly pine
for wiki markup like I used to). What's killer are the sharing capabilities;
specifically in three areas:
Between computers: I take my laptop to meetings,
but it's obviously much more comfortable typing on my desktop (where I have a
lot more screen real estate not to mention an ultra-comfy keyboard). So I keep
copies of OneNote open on my desktop and laptop, set my notebook to be shared
between computers, and it automatically keeps in sync between the two in
Between colleagues: instead of a wiki page, we can share a
notebook that's stored on a SharePoint site. We can work on the notebook
offline, and when we're online it periodically syncs to the server, marking who
made what changes as we go.
Live sharing: in a meeting, if we want to
collaborate on note-taking, one of us just has to mark their notebook for live
sharing, then sends each of us (e.g. via IM or e-mail) their IP and some
password they make up. We connect to their machine and voila! real-time
collaborative editing of the full-featured notebook!
I'm sure there are other
tools out there that do similar things like note-taking (Google Notebook), or
realtime collaborative editing (SubEthaEdit), but I was impressed that one
cohesive package Just Worked. To me, it's a prime example of where Microsoft
should be focusing its energies: rich desktop applications that are no longer
tied to one machine -- it is now a relatively painless experience to share
information between people in different places, or among people at the same
time, or with machines in different locations. It's this kind of freedom that,
once you get used to it, you cannot imagine ever having lived without.
brings me to Groove, with which I have much less experience and take advantage
of far fewer of its features. In fact, I use just one: folder synchronisation.
This is an area in which I'm sure there are plenty of competitors also, but in
this case I use it simply to keep my Projects folder in sync between my laptop
and desktop, so the fact that I stored a set of slides, or some screenshots, or
some design spec on one machine means I will always be able to access it from
the other. Why is it better than other similar products? Don't know. I just know
it works and I haven't had to invest much brainpower to get it to work.
of infomercial. But seriously, give OneNote a try. I dismissed it once as
overkill, but now I believe this is a product that deserves its
Update: discovered another nifty feature -- Insert Printout; e.g. I
can drag and drop a mail item from Outlook, and I have the option of inserting a
link to the item, a copy or a printout. The latter sends the item to a printer
driver so you get a virtual printout embedded in your doc onto which you can add
notes etc. No details on how OneNote does this in its help file, but it's
probably XPS format.

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