OneNote and OneDrive

Have you tried using OneNote recently? It is a free product from Microsoft, but it rarely gets a mention. Combined with OneDrive, it is a good tool for keeping track of different types of information related by topic.

OneNote has been around since 2002. It is one of those products that you don’t hear much about, and it is easy to overlook. But it is a very useful tool for keeping track of different types of information related by topic. For example, let’s suppose you find a good article online. You want to make a note of the author, the URL, the key points and a graphic. Maybe you have other notes on the same topic. How do you do it, and where do you keep it?

You might try Notepad; but you can’t save the image or a hyperlink there. You could use MS Word, of course. Now you have a document. But how would you relate it to other material on the same topic: all in one document; or using different documents in a folder? And how you would you add something new from your mobile?

OneNote organises information in a hierarchy of Notebook, Section within Notebook, and Page within Section. You can move sections and pages around, if you want to reorganise. You can make links between sections and pages. In this sense it acts like a Wiki.

OneNote Example

You can use different types of material: text, images, tables, audio and video files, hyperlinks, file attachments.

OneNote Insert

You can also use OneNote as the notes manager for Outlook items, like appointments, contacts or tasks. The Outlook plugin adds OneNote to the menu bar, and lets you choose which notebook to save notes in.

Outlook Ribbon

From the notification area on the desktop taskbar you can make "quick notes" without opening OneNote.

OneNote Notification

This opens a note with a cut down menu.

Quick Note

In Edge you can use the OneNote Web Clipper to clip pages or parts of web pages and put them straight into notebooks. For example, here we are clipping a piece of a web page from Wikipedia:

OneNote Clip

The screenshots shown here are from the free version included with Windows 10. Office 365 has an enhanced version: for example you can add a spreadsheet item instead of a simple table.

When you open OneNote, you sign in with a "Microsoft" account, either a personal account at or a business account through Office 365. You can add more than one account so, for example, you could share a Travel notebook between your personal and your business accounts. You only need to open the notebooks you choose, so at work you could open a Projects and a Travel notebook, while at home you could open a Travel and a Family notebook.

OneNote notebooks are saved automatically in OneDrive, the online personal datastore. This makes them accessible from anywhere, provided your security settings allow it. You can open your notebooks from Windows, Mac, iPad, Android and Windows Mobile clients. So, if you are away from your desk and you want to make a note, you can save it in the right notebook instead of hunting around for it later.

You can also share notebooks. You can share with Edit or View rights. The sharing is managed through OneDrive permissions, and you can manage the sharing in OneNote or OneDrive.

Share Notebook

OneNote is a good example of a simple idea developing over time into a useful tool. Do you remember Groove? Groove was a tool created by Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes. Groove Networks was founded in 1997, and acquired by Microsoft in 2005. Groove allowed document synchronisation and sharing, where both parties connected through a broker. Ray Ozzie later became Chief Software Architect at Microsoft., where he started the services that became Azure. The broker was the forerunner of SaaS services, and Groove was the forerunner of OneDrive. Now OneNote and OneDrive do more or less what Groove used to do, but in a simpler and more versatile way.

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