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Exploring Microsoft OneNote, a Content and Collaboration Chameleon

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OneNote is part of the Microsoft Office suite, but you may not even be aware that you probably have it. Peter O'Kelly talks about why OneNote deserves attention and how useful it can be, not only as a tool for taking notes, but for organizing your work and collaborating with colleagues.
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Microsoft OneNote was introduced in 2002 as a new note-taking application within the Microsoft Office suite. Although it has been popular, especially for people whose roles entail extensive note-taking (such as students and journalists), OneNote hasn't achieved the same level of mainstream usage as its Office siblings, including Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.

In this article, I'll show you why I consider OneNote to be a content and collaboration chameleon, useful in a wide variety of scenarios. If you haven't used OneNote, I hope that this article will entice you to consider it as an everyday tool for a range of information management and collaboration needs. If you're an experienced OneNote user, I'll introduce you to some features that may be new to you. In either case, you'll see why I believe that OneNote is currently poised for significant growth.

A Noteworthy Application

When OneNote was announced in 2002, Microsoft described it as "an application designed to allow people to capture notes in one place and then organize and use them more effectively." OneNote's first major release came as part of Microsoft Office 2003. Now in its third major release as part of Microsoft Office 2010, OneNote still fundamentally focuses on note-taking, as suggested by Figure 1.

Figure 1 The OneNote experience (source: Microsoft).

The OneNote conceptual model starts with notebooks containing digital notes. OneNote's notebooks are essentially digital journals, organized into sections. In this example, three notebooks are open and listed in sideways text on the left side of the screen (see Figure 2):

  • Work Notebook
  • Personal Notebook
  • Business Planning Notes

In Figure 2, the Business Planning Notes notebook is selected. This notebook is divided into three sections (shown as tabs along the top of the OneNote editing pane): Green Project, Rebrand, and Hiring Plans. The selected Green Project section contains several pages, listed in a page index on the right side of the screen. The "Brainstorming for 'Green' Stores" page is selected; its contents, including a mix of images and text, are displayed in the main OneNote editing area.

Figure 2 Parts of the OneNote user interface.

For additional overview information about OneNote, see Microsoft's "Features and Benefits" web page for OneNote 2010.

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