OneNote + OneDrive = Awesome

Without good tools to keep me organized, I’d be totally scatterbrained and lost. Well, good tools and an understanding partner who helps me keep on top of things! I have tried a bunch of different tools over the years, but two in particular have become absolutely critical: OneNote and OneDrive. This isn’t a sponsored post, I just want to share two tools that have really made a difference for me. Maybe they’ll have a positive impact on your life too!


OneNote has developed into an amazing tool since it was launched over ten years ago. I originally used it locally on my computer to keep track of typed notes. I also had a Tablet PC, so I would use it for handwriting too. OneNote supports more advanced features also, like audio or video notes, photo notes, smart tags, document scanning, screen clippings, and much more.

Here’s an overview of the new OneNote:

I use OneNote many times a day, across most of my devices. I track my computer activity with RescueTime, so I know with certainty that OneNote is consistently in the top five applications by usage. It works on my desktop, my laptop, my Surface, and my phone. I run Windows everywhere, but even if your devices are a bit more varied, OneNote can work for you. There are apps for Android, iPad, and iPhone too. There’s even a web app.

At the moment I have two high level notebooks – one for personal stuff and one for work stuff. When I’m doing research for a blog post, I store everything in OneNote. I’ll even write some of my drafts there. I keep recipes, lists, and ideas in my personal notebook. My work notebook is filled mainly with meeting notes, often captured in ink using my Surface Pro, but I also use it for UI reviews, to keep track of technologies I’m exploring, and a variety of other things.

One of the greatest things about OneNote is the search. The ability to organize notes into sections is handy, and if you use tags you can quickly find any note that has a specific tag. But most of the time I just search. The best part is that OneNote will even search my handwritten notes, without any conversion to text. It’s surprisingly accurate, and it’s this feature that I typically demo to people when I’m showing them OneNote on my Surface. Support for this was added years ago and it still never fails to amaze.


OneDrive is the new name for SkyDrive, which first launched in 2007. It’s kind of like DropBox in that it is a place in the cloud to store your files. You get 7 GB of storage space for free, and it’s pretty easy and expensive to boost that amount.

Here’s an overview of the new OneDrive:

Again, OneDrive works across all of my devices, and again, there are apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iPad, and iPhone. There’s even an Xbox app, which comes in handy when you want to show some photos (which are stored automatically on OneDrive as I take them with my phone).

I put all kinds of stuff in my OneDrive (I’ve got over 47 GB of storage total, 20 GB of which comes from my Office 365 subscription). Everything I scan using my Doxie goes into OneDrive. Documents, presentations, audio recordings, graphics, mind maps, blog post drafts in MarkDown, – you name it, I store it in OneDrive.

Using OneDrive I don’t worry as much about backups (though I still use Backblaze and a few other approaches to do regular backups). Using OneDrive means I rarely have use for USB sticks, because my files are always in sync, across all my devices. OneDrive has completely changed the way I think about file storage, for the better.

The one and only feature I desperately want for OneDrive is co-owned folders, to bring DropBox-like folder sharing to the platform (you can share and collaborate on documents now, but I want to have an entire folder that is kept in sync across multiple OneDrive accounts). The good news is that the co-owner feature is apparently coming very soon.

OneNote & OneDrive are better together

The magic happens when you store your OneNote notebooks on OneDrive. All of the new Microsoft Office apps support logging in with a Microsoft Account, so it makes it super easy to do. I think this approach is probably the default for the phone and tablet apps too.

With OneNote on OneDrive, it doesn’t matter what device I’m using, because my notebooks are kept up-to-date with changes. The sync is completely automatic and fast. So fast actually, that it fits into a 6 second Vine:

I rely on this each and every day, so I’m glad I have never run into a sync problem. I can take some notes at home, walk over to the office, and pick up right where I left off on a completely different computer. I regularly take notes on my phone when I’m at an event, and when I get back to a computer to start blogging about it, I don’t need to worry about where my notes are. They’re always there, ready for me.

These two tools have made a big difference in my life. If you want to give OneDrive a spin, use this referral link and we’ll both get an extra 0.5 GB of storage space for free. If you want to try OneNote, you can download it for free here.

Experimenting with Evernote

evernote For the last week or so I’ve been using a new application called Evernote. Actually, the term application may be misleading – Evernote is more of a service with the lofty goal of helping you remember everything. From the about page:

Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere.

So far there’s a web interface, and clients for Windows, Mac OS X, Windows Mobile, and iPhone/iPod touch. I’ve been using the Windows, web, and iPod touch clients.

My initial reaction was to compare Evernote to Microsoft OneNote, and while there are some similarities, I think the comparison is unfair. OneNote is far better than Evernote at taking notes – the interface is more fully featured, ink is properly supported, and it feels more like traditional pen and paper. Evernote on the other hand is better at organizing information and making it accessible no matter where I am. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

So far I’ve been using Evernote as a collection of digital post-it notes. Instead of jotting something down on paper, I create a new note inside Evernote. The advantage, of course, is that I can access it on any computer or on my iPod touch when I’m on the go.

There are other ways to use Evernote too. The desktop client contains a “clipper” feature which makes it easy to take a screenshot or copy text from an application. There’s a “web clipper” for your browser, which makes it easy to save items you find on the web. And there’s integration with Outlook, which makes it easy to save email messages.

Evernote is fairly impressive already, but I think there’s lots of room for improvement. I’d like to see richer note editing, better support for importing from Word and other applications, and improved Tablet PC support. Coming at it from another angle, I think it could be interesting to add some social networking aspects to the site, to make it easy for me to share things with other Evernote users.

If you’d like to give it a shot, head on over to the Evernote website. You can also check out their blog, their FriendFeed page, and their Twitter account.

OneNote 12

Post ImageI really love OneNote. I think it’s probably one of the single most useful applications ever created. Of course, it works best on a Tablet PC because you have a pen and are thus able to handwrite notes, but there are ways to handwrite using your PC too. So what’s coming in the next version of OneNote? Chris Pratley, one of the application’s designers shares some of the new features:

One of the long term visions for OneNote is to bring together “your information” and make it findable and reusable, regardless of format. When we look at the types of info we try to help people organize, it is obvious that a lot of it lives outside the digital realm: Business cards, handouts, receipts. People always have a collection of paper that accompanies their PC because it is hard to include that stuff in their digital storage. Beyond paper, there are other analog forms of information such as speeches (audio) and “performances” (video). You hear and see things today, but all you have are your memories of that, or maybe a recording on tape or mini-recorder. As you know from the current release of OneNote, there’s a lot of value in just being able to capture various kinds of information in one place: text, HTML, ink, photos, audio/video recordings. In OneNote “12”, we’re going to go even farther.

More or less, anything you put into OneNote 12 becomes searchable.

I was instantly amazed that OneNote could search my handwriting without having to first convert it to text – definitely a major wow feature. Now it’s going to be able to search everything else too? Crazy. If you read his full post, there are more details on how the various searches work, and he mentions that OneNote 12 will in fact use the new Windows Desktop indexed search engine, which means a search should be pretty much instant.

If you haven’t yet tried OneNote, I highly suggest that you do. You can download a free trial here.

Read: Chris Pratley

Office 12 Feature Request!

Post ImageAccording to Scoble, there’s a ton of cool stuff that will be announced at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference (PDC) next week. One of the new applications that we should find out a lot more about is Office 12, the successor to Office 2003.

I haven’t been paying attention to Office development at all lately, as it’s just really outside the day-to-day stuff for me. Working in Word 2003 this afternoon though caused me to think of something I want to see in Office 12: every single Office application should have OneNote style “saving”. If I am working on a document in Word, I shouldn’t have to click save, or have the application attempt to auto-save every now and then. It should work exactly like OneNote! As soon as you type it, it’s saved.

Also, Visual Studio Tools for Office should be extended to every application in the family, not just Word and Excel! It will be interesting to see what is announced next week.

Read: Microsoft Office