Unleash the Notes!
We live in interesting times.
Microsoft, fresh on the heels of a new CEO announcement, is unleashing a new version of OneNote for Mac. It’s completely free.
Not only that, they’re making the Windows product and all of the mobile versions completely free as well. They’ve spent time giving the product a cloud backing that is almost as feature-rich as Evernote.
I’ve spent the last two days with OneNote for Mac and have compiled my thoughts. This borders on a review. Hopefully I’m arming you with enough information to evaluate whether or not it’s time to jump off the Evernote boat.
I Liked Evernote Once
Evernote is a darling of the mobile revolution. The application was lightweight and feature-heavy. It was available on every platform. It synchronized against the cloud service and offered a way to keep everything in check. To monetize the solution they packed on a monthly quota. If you wanted to raise the quota you were conscripted into the Evernote army by paying a yearly fee.
Evernote also succeeded by offering a feature-rich API. Developers used this to plug in to the service at every corner on almost every device. There were so many ways to get information into Evernote it was ridiculous. You could clip into Evernote from any browser. You could email a note to the Evernote service and it would happily drop the email into your notebook. You could NOT think about a note and have it appear, but it was almost possible.
Evernote’s last few rounds of updates started causing some headaches. I was having sync issues. Notes were disappearing. The chaotic layout of my notes and difficulties with search started to bother me. I found myself running a Windows virtual machine to use OneNote (and Project, but that’s another story).
I started to wish.
Yesterday the OneNote team unleashed a full attack on Evernote. They released a OneNote for Mac client in the App Store for free. They also blessed OneNote 2013 for Windows with the freebie wand. They’ve also been working to get the OneNote cloud services onto feature-parity with Evernote.
The Mac OneNote app is a good first start. It has a few shortcomings that I’ll discuss in a moment. But let’s start with the good news.
It’s About the One Drive… OneDrive
OneNote for Mac talks to your OneDrive OneNote notebooks by default. This makes sense because the mobile clients do this as well. If you intend to sync notes across devices you’ll have to use OneDrive or some other service. There’s no way to plug in to Dropbox (that I’m aware of yet) to work with a OneNote notebook. OneDrive is built to run these notebooks anyway.
OneDrive is accessible with your Microsoft account. That doesn’t mean your O365 Enterprise account. It means your Microsoft account. Yes, there is a difference… for some reason. Regardless, OneNote for Mac takes its cues from the mobile clients and uses OneDrive by default. Personal plans for OneDrive include up to 7 GB of drive space. If you have an O365 account you can end up with as much as 25 GB of OneDrive space.
You can create as many notebooks as you like on OneDrive and the OneNote for Mac app will happily connect to all of them at once.
Clip or Email to OneNote
Microsoft has introduced a clipper for Safari and other web browsers. This works pretty much just like the Evernote competitor. You’re browsing a web page and you see something you want to remember. You click the clipper and clip the web page into the “Unfiled Notes” section of your Personal notebook on OneDrive.
For you privacy-holics, be aware that this will send the URL of what you’re clipping to the OneNote web service. This web service will download the HTML source of what you’re clipping and dump it into the OneNote notebook.
In my tests, the fidelity of the captured page is pretty solid, even for a Mac app. I expected the Mac app to render the HTML a little wonky as Office for Mac products tend to have bizarre font and rendering issues between the Mac and Windows versions of the products. That appeared to be not the case with the OneNote for Mac app.
Honestly I’ve been in the habit of clipping to Pocket or Safari Reader for a while now. I’m not so sure how often I’ll use the OneNote clipper, but we’ll see.
If you’re not into clipping you can also email the note or information to firstname.lastname@example.org. This service will look at the FROM: address of your email and determine where the note should go. You have to visit your Microsoft account settings and add email addresses that are available to send on your behalf. Again, if you have privacy concerns about this, pay attention here. Your emailed notes will go into this service in clear text.
The Mac App Itself
The Mac App is interesting. It doesn’t necessarily look like the Office for Mac 2011 products. That makes one wonder if we are seeing a glimpse into the future of Office for Mac applications. The app is also very lightweight on resources. That’s all good news.
There are a few shortcomings with the app itself, however. We’ll have to see how Microsoft prioritizes and fixes these items. I’ll bullet out those thoughts here.
- Peculiar choices on menu shortcuts
- For some bizarre reason, CMD-W on OneNote for Mac closes the application. CMD-Q does the same thing, but I’m used to CMD-W closing a window - not the entire application. Ever stranger… CMD-Q is not listed in the menu anywhere. CMD-M is minimize, but who minimizes on a Mac anyway?
- A strange conflict with Citrix
- I sometimes have to run the Citrix client to connect to customer resources or other items. When the Citrix remote desktop app is running, OneNote appears to struggle with the system. I ended up with a beach ball, especially if I hit CMD-W (that’s when I discovered that CMD-W quits OneNote instead of closes the window).
- Sharing is not password-protected
- The OneNote for Mac app allows you to share notebooks with others. However, once you create the share link, it’s available for anyone to access if they possess the link. There’s no user/password check available. You also cannot password protect your notebooks themselves. If you decide to share a notebook, be cognizant of this limitation.
- Only OneNote notebooks on OneDrive or local hard drive are supported
- Right now you cannot connect to a notebook in O365 or an on-premises SharePoint server. You still have to use the OneNote Web App for working with these notes. I must admit this one depressed me, but I can continue to use the Web App… for now. The mobile clients support O365 and on-premises SharePoint, so I can only imagine that this feature is coming soon. Even the help file states that it’s not possible with “this version of OneNote for Mac.”
- No Outlook 2011 integration
- One of the coolest features of OneNote for Windows is the ability to mark an item as an Outlook task. The item then gets linked into your Outlook mailbox as a task. OneNote for Mac doesn’t support this ability. We can only hope that the next version of Office has this kind of integration, as I have a feeling that this is Outlook for Mac’s problem… not OneNote.
- Cannot edit the tags or set custom tags
- OneNote on Windows allows you to modify the tags for your items. You cannot do this in OneNote for Mac. Hopefully you can in the future.
- No ability to filter on tags
- You also cannot filter or search on the tags themselves. This is one of the biggest reasons to use OneNote tagging. I can only imagine this is in work.
- No support for embedded files
- OneNote for Windows supports the ability to embed or attach files. OneNote for Mac does not.
- No Evernote import
- This isn’t entirely OneNote’s fault. Evernote makes it very painful to get notes out of its silo. Sometimes I just resort to copy/paste notes and if there are a lot of notes in one section, I’ll just decide to forget they exist.
Like I said, OneNote for Mac is a good first step and it’s great to see where Microsoft is going. Let’s hope they don’t abandon it. Let’s encourage them to improve the product.
All in with the API
Finally, Microsoft has made it clear that they intend to expand the OneNote universe. There’s an API out there for OneNote and apps are already starting to hit the market. You can preview some of those at http://dev.onenote.com/apps.
Hopefully, this article has given you a quick overview of the new product and given you enough excitement and caution to check it out. I like what I see so far and I’m very much looking forward to Microsoft’s forthcoming updates to Office for Mac.