That Seamless Sync’ing Feeling
It’s easy to take Internet connections for granted these days, with data service-enabled smartphones, widely-available Wi-Fi services, and even networking options on airplanes. For most people, however, there are still circumstances in which you’ll need to be able to work without a network connection, or can’t be confident you have a sufficiently trustworthy network connection. This is a usage pattern previously addressed by products such as IBM Lotus Notes/Domino and Microsoft Groove (which was expanded and rebranded as SharePoint Workspace in Office 2010).
OneNote’s database framework includes a seamless synchronization service that makes it possible for OneNote 2010 users to work with local copies of shared notebooks. Indeed, when working with shared notebooks, OneNote defaults to working with automatically-maintained local notebook copies, and unobtrusively synchronizes edits (your work and updates from others working elsewhere, using OneNote 2010, OneNote Web App, or OneNote Mobile). To a OneNote user, all activity appears to be local, but in reality there is only one master copy of a shared notebook, residing on SkyDrive or SharePoint.
From a user experience point of view, you can track OneNote synchronization status by expanding the notebook view on the left-hand side of the main OneNote window, as shown in Figure 7.
Figure 7 The expanded OneNote notebook navigation pane
The small circle with a checkmark, to the right of “Team project” in Figure 7, is a synchronization status icon. The tiny arrows in the green circle move when OneNote synchronization is active, and an error icon appears if OneNote is unable to reach the shared notebook host for any reason. Clicking on the icon presents the dialog in Figure 8, which presents more synchronization status information and options.
Figure 8 The OneNote Shared Notebook Synchronization dialog
Most OneNote 2010 users do not need to be aware of the options in the synchronization dialog, but some people may find it useful to occasionally switch OneNote to “work offline” mode, in order to, for example, work on draft content to be synchronized later.
If you’re familiar with the Microsoft Sync Framework and/or SharePoint Workspace, incidentally, and are wondering if OneNote uses the same underlying technology, it doesn’t; the OneNote product team created a OneNote-specific synchronization framework instead, although it’s likely the various Microsoft sync frameworks will be consolidated in future product releases.
Returning to database concepts for a moment, the OneNote 2010 storage model is conducive to very efficient synchronization operations. OneNote notebooks are not monolithic files; instead, each notebook is a folder, as is each section within a notebook. With this model, it’s possible for fine-grained changes to be detected and synchronizedmeaning, for example, that if you edit some text in a OneNote page that contains multiple large images, the unchanged images won’t be needlessly synchronized after your edit.
As a final observation on OneNote’s shared notebook and synchronization capabilities, I recommend you default to using shared notebooks, hosted on either SkyDrive or SharePoint (based on your usage scenario and any applicable employer policies), even for personal notebooks that you don’t plan to share with other people. While it may seem a bit counterintuitive, even personal notebooks are now multi-user domains for many people, as they can be routinely accessed from multiple PCs using OneNote 2010 (e.g., your work and home PCs), OneNote Web App (from any modern browser client), and from OneNote Mobile on Windows Phone smartphones. Another benefit of defaulting to shared notebooks is that your work is always backed up, and won’t be lost if your PC (or OneNote Mobile-equipped smartphone) fails or disappears.