Microsoft OneNote


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.


Greg is the head cat at JumbleCat, with over 20 years of experience in the computer field, he has done everything from programming to hardware solutions. You can contact Greg via the contact form on the main menu above.

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Greg is the head cat at JumbleCat, with over 20 years of experience in the computer field, he has done everything from programming to hardware solutions. You can contact Greg via the contact form on the main menu above.

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