Microsoft OneNote

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Having used Microsoft Office for, well forever, in both my professional life and at home, there have always been parts of it I just had never looked at.  Let’s face it, MS Office Pro is a massive suite of software and very few people use the entire thing.

In the current iteration of Office (2010), there have been two applications I didn’t even install, Infopath and OneNote.  Until recently, I had not found a use for either and so they remained a mystery to me.

This changed over the last couple of weeks a I moved to a Windows Phone 7 device and syn’ing my Exchange Notes folder to the phone was no longer possible.

Previously you could sync your notes to a Windows Mobile phone through active sync.  It required a wired connection and sync and to be honest half the time it created duplicate entires.  However it did do the job.

This first broke for me about a few months ago when I upgraded to Office 2010 on my desktop.  Specifically to the 64 bit version of Office.  It seems that the 32bit Device Center in Windows does not acknowledge the existence of Outlook 64bit, so it could no longer find the Notes folder to sync with.

That didn’t cause too much of an issue as I don’t use the notes folder that often and so for a while I kept the notes in sync manually.  However, WP7 doesn’t support any kind of sync with the notes folder and for that matter doesn’t even have an equivalent application on the phone (the HTC phone I bought does actually have a Notes app, but I didn’t want to use an app that wouldn’t be on any other WP7 phone I might change to later).

Just after WP7 launch last year in Canada, I had been talking to a Microsoft employee and he had gushed about OneNote and how he kept all his notes in it and had them sync’d to his new WP7 phone.

With that in mind I decided to install OneNote and see if it could accomplish what I needed.

Loading OneNote for the first time was pretty straight forward, with a quick question about using either local or on-line notebooks the only real configuration step involved.

Knowing I’d be sync’ing to my phone, I selected to create my notebook on my Windows Live SkyDrive.  OneNote supports three locations for notebooks, Web based (SkyDrive), Network (file share or SharePoint) as well as local.  Surprisingly, during initial setup it only offers Web based and Local as options which seemed a little strange.

At the same time, I created a new notebook on my WP7 as well, this created two notebooks on my SkyDrive, however each platform did not by default see the other.

Adding notebooks from the SkyDrive to either WP7 or OneNote was not quite as easy as I would have expected, neither platform offers a way to browse your SkyDrive and select notebooks to load.  Instead they both expect you to have the URL to enter manually.

After a big of digging, it turns out the easier way to load notebooks, either on the desktop or the phone, is to browse the SkyDrive in a web browser and then “open” the notebook which will then automatically add it to OneNote.

This was a little counter intuitive, but worked in the end.  One minor point is that if on your WP7 you have selected to view the desktop version of websites by default the notebook will not load in to OneNote, instead giving an error.

Once I had the two notebooks loaded, I decided to rename the one I created on my desktop and delete the one from WP7.  This didn’t good particularly well 🙁

The deletion was fine, but I had to add the second notebook on the phone and set one of the pages as the default page for unfiled notes.  Then the unfiled group on the desktop got stuck pointing to the deleted notebook on the SkyDrive.  The only way to resolve the issue was to close OneNote, load regedit and repoint the unfiled catagory to a note in my new notebook.

This was a little strange, but I presume it was because I created the first notebook on WP7 instead of the desktop first.

Once setup, moving my notes from Exchange to OneNote was an adventure all on its own.  If you want to add and e-mail to OneNote, Outlook as a button to let you do this.  However, selecting the Notes folder, this button disappears and you instead have to manually copy the notes in to the Notebook.

Again, as I didn’t have too many notes in Exchange, this was not a big issue.  And to be honest, it gave me a chance to clean out the old crap anyway 😉

Once copied over, everything sync across to my phone without issue and I have to say that OneNote is actually quite nice.  Creating new notes and editing existing notes is easy and intuitive.

I have been trying to get WP7 to talk to SharePoint instead of SkyDrive, but have not yet managed to get WP7 to talk to my SharePoint server, once I do I’ll make a post on my struggles with that.

The Good:

  • Easy to take quick notes with.
  • Much more flexible than the old Exchange Notes folder.
  • Sync’ing to multiple computers and devices is fast and easy.

The not so bad/not so good:

  • When you first start OneNote on the desktop, the ribbon bar is hidden by default, kind of a strange choice.
  • When you load OneNote on the desktop after you have updated a notebook on another system, there’s no obvious interface to tell you its changed for a few seconds before it updates.

The Bad:

  • No way to import Notes from Exchange.

Bill C32 and digital locks

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In Michael Geist’s recent post about digital locks, he talked about who was actually impacted by the restrictions on circumventing digital locks for non-infringing purposes.

I personally agree that Bill C32 as it currently stands is far to restrictive to provide a practical, enforceable and fair implementation of digital locks.  Mr. Geist’s logic is sound in the article, but I do believe it does not go far enough in finding the reality of digital locks in technology and how they impact consumers.

In the real world, every significant digital lock that has been implemented to “protect” content has been broken.  And to heap insult on to injury, it hasn’t even taken much effort to do so.  Most of the people breaking the digital locks are single users working in isolation.  Image if any significant group of computer scientists were to put effort in to breaking digital locks…

Bill C32’s digital lock restrictions is based on a fallacy, that digital locks actually work.  They don’t and it’s not news to anyone who has done even the most basic of searches on the Internet on jailbreaking, dvd decrypting or cracks of just about any kind.

Bill C32 will not stop this behaviour, just as the DCMA has not in the US.  There will always be individuals who will circumvent digital locks for nothing more than the challenge of it.

Digital locks need to be treated much more like real locks.  When I buy a house, with locks on it, I am allowed to circumvent those locks when I need to.  Imagine buying a house, losing your keys and being unable to call a locksmith to circumvent the locks because it was illegal to pick them.

The content industry may argue that in fact you don’t buy the content, but instead just rent/lease it, like an apartment.  However that argument falls flat very quickly, once you have “bought” your Bluray, you never again interact with the company, no ongoing fee’s, no limited time use, etc (yes, the most obtrusive of DRM can inflict these kinds of things, but that’s not what most people get and it’s only purpose is to restrict your use of the content, not produce an ongoing relationship between the consumer and vendor).

Once I’ve bought my Bluray, I expect it to work today, tomorrow and in 10 years without having to “buy” it again because someone else decided I shouldn’t be able to watch it anymore.

Digital locks are not the answer to the content industries concerns over copyright infringement.  The best example of this is the music industry itself, which went from music formats with DRM to DRM free MP3’s.  Did sales of digital songs suddenly crash because the DRM was removed?  No, digital music downloads continue to grow and will eventually be the only way to get music due to its convenience and speed.

When infringement happens, there are laws to deal with it.  Creating new laws that simply define everyone as an infringer do nothing to stop infringement and only create more problems for everyone.

The WP7 Calendar

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Having used the WP7 calendar now for a while, one item that kind of jumped out at me was how it interacted with multiple accounts. Currently on my WP7 phone I have three accounts setup, My Exchange server, Windows Live and Facebook.

When I first set up these accounts I left the default names in place, so they were called Outlook, Windows Live  and Facebook.  However I didn’t like “Windows Live”, so I changed it to just “Live”.

I don’t actually use my Live account at all, it doesn’t even have a mailbox, it uses my Exchange account as the login id.  This works well as I really don’t want yet another mailbox to work with.  However there is no way in WP7 to disable Calendar and Contact sync with a Live account, once you have setup a Live account, you get sync’d with everything.

So having nothing in my Live calendar I went in to the WP7 calendar options and turned the Live calendar off.

One would expect that turning the calendar off would disable all functionality in the calendar app, but really it just turns off the display of calendar items.  Which I guess is ok, but seems a little counter intuitive.

Shortly after all of this, I created my first calendar item on the phone and this is where it got interesting.  When creating a new appointment, WP7 picks the first account with a calendar in alphabetical order, weather  it is turned on or off.  So in my case, since I’d renamed the Live account, I had to select my “Outlook” account each time I created a new appointment.

It was an easy “fix”, I just renamed the Live account back to Windows Live, but really there are three questions I have for Microsoft:

  1. Why can’t I disable calendar sync on my Windows Live account?
  2. Why doesn’t turning off a calendar disable all of its functionality?
  3. Why is there not way to set the default calendar to use for new items?

Perhaps on of the updates this year will answer one of these questions, but until then the workaround is pretty straight forward.

P.S. A fourth question might be why the default name for an Exchange account is Outlook, but that kind of answers itself as most people think of Outlook as their mail server, not Exchange, because that’s what they see on the client 🙁

More thoughts on my HD7…

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So a week on from my first post on my new HD7 and I thought I’d give an update to a few things.

The case I bought with the phone is now in the trash bin, it was truly the worst case I have ever had for a phone.  Over the weekend I went around to several stores to try and phone a better case as well as a holster, no luck on the holster but I did find an Otter Box for the HD7 at TBooth.  I have to say I love this case, it makes the phone feel very solid and doesn’t block any of the ports.  It would be nice to find a holster as well, but it’s still early days for accessories for the HD7 in Canada.  I’m headed to the US shortly and will take a look to see what’s available when I’m there.

I mentioned in my original post that sometimes selecting items seems to “miss”, this is still an issue, but not as much as at first.  Some of my original “misses” seem to actually have been the need to hold the button for a second or so, like to delete a message.  I assume this is a “feature”.  It’s not a big issue and it looks like over time I’ll get over it.

Likewise, my tendency to swipe down and hit the search button seams to have cleared itself up quite nicely 🙂

I’m adding to the “not WP7’s fault but it would still be nice” list the lack of task sync as well.

Finally, I didn’t mention anything about the office hub in my original post and that was due to the fact I don’t use it, however I’m setting up a SharePoint server to poke around with it so I’ll do a future update on what I find.

That’s it for now.

The first WP7 Update

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Yesterday Microsoft pushed out the first update to Windows Phone 7 and I guess I’m one of the lucky ones to have received it in the first “wave”.

The update is nothing special, just an update to the update software, presumably to get us ready for the next “copy and paste” update coming in March.

Installation required a sync with my PC and an update to the Zune desktop software.  I only ran in to a single problem, after downloading and updating the new version of the desktop software it tried to “restart” the Zune desktop, however it failed with an error message.

Re-launching the Zune software however picked right back up and continued to deploy the patch.

The longest part of the update was the complete backup of the phone, which seems like it was  good thing as there is some chatter around the net that some phones needed a hard reset after the update.

Remember, backups are your friend 😉