We have come a long way from memorizing phone numbers and carrying written notes with us just to maintain schedules. In the modern era of getting things done, there is tremendous demand for note taking apps, which is why suites like Evernote and Google Keep generate so much interest. We even compared the top note taking apps around this time last year and the competition was stiff. Under Microsoft’s new regime, we see the arrival of Microsoft OneNote for Mac. The Mac variant has debuted as a free download along with a free version for Windows desktop.
Since its first release in November 2003, OneNote has not held the kind of market share commanded by Evernote (rel. 2008), but in certain scenarios, especially academic note taking, OneNote has its fans. It was once part of the Microsoft Office Suite as well as available for independent purchase. However, multi-platform support didn’t come along until 2011 and even then there were limitations.
I have been an Evernote fan since it came out, because it was available even on unpopular platforms such as the Maemo-based Nokia N900 with identical functionality and I never had to lose track of a single note. As much as I would have enjoyed trying out Microsoft OneNote, I wasn’t ready to pay for it. Which brings us to the free, multi-platform release of OneNote. It is a watered down version of the premium app and you will need a free Microsoft account to operate OneNote, but neither is a setback, or unusual. The older versions had a 500-note limit, that is not the case with this release. It will run and sync using OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) for as long as you please.
At launch, we are treated to a launch screen familiar to Windows users and an interface very familiar to Microsoft Office users. The first launch, as almost always, features a tutorial, walking you through the numerous possibilities in Microsoft OneNote.
You can click anywhere to start typing your note. I didn’t like it at first, but in a few clicks, I was wondering where this had been all my life. No more looking for your place in the document, just note it down wherever you want and sort it out later if need be.
After testing the sync on my iOS and Android device (instant), I wanted to know how the lists work, because that is the cornerstone of my note-taking needs. This is where OneNote stands out from the competition. Maintaining the actual list is almost identical to Evernote, however, the advantage here is that you can tag each note (paragraph or list) as many times as you need for it to be relevant. I didn’t know I needed this, but I do very much so now that I’ve seen it. I can mark something down with a single tag or a highlight and I’ll know what to make of it.
The app is not quite perfect yet. For instance, it lets you add new notes in separate tabs via cmd + t, but when you press cmd + w, instead of closing the current tab, it closes the entire app. There is no support to attach audio and video notes, which is a bit of a setback and there are not any reminders either, so this serves as purely a text-based note taking app, not extending beyond its core function in anyway. During my testing, I deleted a note and there was no way to recover it; no trash, no previous version, no recovery. The startup and closing times were a little on the excessive side, which I don’t even get from heavy apps like Adobe Photoshop CC on my MBPr (2.4 GHz i5 with 128gb flash storage).
In conclusion, Microsoft OneNote is a new release and not quite perfect yet. It has some features that I would want to see integrated in Evernote (or vice versa), but it does not yet pose a threat to its major competitors. I imagine future builds will integrate all feedback and continue to improve as time passes on. I will be sure to keep an eye out for this. Even though I have long since abandoned Windows, I still have a soft spot for Microsoft products and I really want to make OneNote a part of my every day experience. What’s more is that it functions nearly identically on any platform I’ve tested it on. I enjoy using apps with no cross-platform learning curves.