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Microsoft OneNote: Complementing Other Office Applications

While the most widely-used Microsoft Office applications are robustly useful for their respective target domains — e-mail and calendar management (Outlook), print-oriented documents (Word), presentation graphics (PowerPoint), and spreadsheets (Excel) — they have not been particularly useful for note-taking or hypertext information management and collaboration. In Office 2010, Microsoft has introduced a variety of OneNote integration options that make OneNote a powerful complement to the traditional Office applications, and likely provide, collectively, a leading indicator of future Office trends that will further blur boundaries between productivity application categories.
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OneNote is a robustly useful application for hypertext information management and collaboration. The first two articles in this series (“Exploring Microsoft OneNote, a Content and Collaboration Chameleon” and “Information Item Management in Microsoft OneNote” provided an overview of OneNote and its information item creation and collection capabilities. This article focuses on the complementary fit between OneNote and the currently more widely-used other Office applications.

OneNote is not intended to be a personal productivity panacea or some sort of uber-application. It’s a powerful application for a wide range of information management and collaboration scenarios, but it is not, for example, an attempt to resurrect the general-purpose compound document model envisioned by the designers of Microsoft’s Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) architecture in the late 1980s. Instead, OneNote should be considered more complementary than competitive with the traditional Office applications, a means of more flexibly working with the various types of information items managed by other applications including Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.

OneNote Integration Options

OneNote 2010 offers several types of integration with other Office applications. One option is to send information items from another application into OneNote, typically creating new OneNote pages wherein the sent items can be more flexibly managed and linked to other items.

A second integration option involves linking information items managed by other applications to OneNote pages. With this approach, new OneNote pages are typically created for personal or shared note-taking, along with persistent links to information items such as PowerPoint slides or Outlook appointments. Some applications have an additional option for linked notes, with a desktop-docked OneNote window for notes. Figure 1 is an example of a PowerPoint-related linked note.

Figure 1 Linked notes in PowerPoint (source: Microsoft)

In this example, the PowerPoint window was automatically resized to make space for the linked note window, making it easy to sustain focus on the PowerPoint content while capturing notes in the companion OneNote window. OneNote also created a PowerPoint link icon (which displays a thumbnail of the linked slide, when the mouse pointer hovers above, as shown in Figure 1), making it easy to later reestablish the source information item context. Linked notes are bidirectional, so you can, in the PowerPoint example, navigate to the linked note page from PowerPoint or, starting from a linked OneNote page, navigate back to the linked PowerPoint slide. The links are maintained (i.e., aren’t broken) if you move or rename linked OneNote pages.

A third OneNote integration scenario involves sending information items from OneNote to other applications, making it easy to, for instance, share OneNote information items via an e-mail message. Figure 2 shows OneNote 2010’s File Send options.

Figure 2 OneNote file send options

A fourth integration option is based on inserting files into OneNote pages. This option can be very useful for consolidating and sharing files, reducing the likelihood that redundant or out-of-sync copies of files are inadvertently used. For example, if you have a product list in Excel and want to be certain to maintain and use a single master copy of the list, you can insert the workbook file into a OneNote page and have people use the inserted file thereafter. Inserted files can be launched directly from OneNote pages, with any subsequent changes to the files automatically saved back into OneNote (i.e., no user steps are required in order to deal with temporary copies of the files). Inserted files can’t be launched from the OneNote Web App client, however; a work-around is to store the files elsewhere in SkyDrive or SharePoint, and embed links to the files.

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