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Some Room for Refinement

Some Room for Refinement

While OneNote 2010, OneNote Web App, and support for shared OneNote notebooks on SkyDrive and SharePoint are collectively compelling and powerful, there are also some minor idiosyncrasies (a euphemism for what I consider to be unfortunate products design choices and/or bugs). Some of the following issues may be addressed in Office updates, and others may persist until the next major release of OneNote.

As someone who spends a lot of time working with web content in IE, some minor inconsistencies that are mildly annoying include:

  • OneNote 2010 doesn’t offer an “open in new window” option when working with links. That’s an option I routinely use in IE (both “open in new window” and “open in new tab”), and the fact that it’s missing in OneNote means I have to go through more steps than I’d like to, when working with multiple OneNote pages.
  • OneNote Web App completely overrides the browser client right mouse button action menu, so it’s not possible, for example, to open a OneNote Web App content link in a new IE tab. I suspect the OneNote product designers put more emphasis on maintaining consistency between the OneNote 2010 and OneNote Web App client user experience models than they did the expectations of people who spend a lot of their time working in IE.
  • In terms of overall page navigation, OneNote 2010 has a back button action but not, by default, a forward button action. It’s easy to add a forward action to the OneNote Quick Access Toolbar, however; Figure 7 shows the OneNote 2010 Quick Access Toolbar settings menu, from which you can add the forward action to your OneNote Quick Access Toolbar, in order to simplify browser-styled page navigation.

Figure 7 OneNote 2010 Customize Quick Access Toolbar menu

There is, as of this writing (early December, 2010), a bug in the OneNote 2010 link insertion dialog (accessible from the OneNote 2010 Insert tab or by pressing Ctrl-K). If you make a selection in OneNote 2010 and then use the Insert Link dialog to associate a link with your selection, OneNote 2010 will default to pasting the web page link rather than a OneNote 2010 link—i.e., when you later click on the link while using the OneNote 2010 client, the application will launch the target page in OneNote Web App rather than simply opening the link in OneNote 2010. A work-around for this bug is to avoid using the Insert Link Dialog by instead copying and pasting links in separate steps (copy and paste a link and then, if necessary, edit the link text, rather than first selecting text with which the link is to be associated).

There are some inconsistencies between the OneNote 2010 and OneNote Web App user experiences. Wiki-styled authoring (e.g., double-bracketed text to create new pages and links) isn’t available in OneNote Web App, for example, and the OneNote Web App client also doesn’t show in-line file attachments.

A OneNote Web App limitation that’s likely to be more than a minor annoyance to people who use Apple iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad) or devices running Google Android is the fact that the OneNote Web App client is not fully available on those platforms. This is almost certainly related to limitations in the browser clients included with those platforms, because OneNote Web App works on the leading browser clients on a variety of PC-centric platforms (e.g., Windows, Mac OS, and Linux), so hopefully it will be resolved in future iOS and Android releases. In the meantime, lack of support for non-PC mobile device platforms from Apple and other device vendors puts OneNote at a competitive disadvantage to alternatives such as Evernote, which is popular on iOS and Android devices.

MobileNoter is an option for people who want to work with OneNote content on iOS devices (and soon, according to the MobileNoter site, also Android devices), but it is not a complete or entirely robust solution for people who want the full OneNote feature set on non-Microsoft device platforms.

A compelling OneNote Mobile client is included with Windows Phone 7 devices, and Microsoft also surprised many people by recently introducing a OneNote Mobile for iPhone client. However, at this point, OneNote users working with other mobile device platforms don’t have great options. Hopefully Microsoft will provide OneNote Mobile clients for Android devices and other popular mobile platforms as well in the not-too-distant future, but the company has not announced any plans to do so at this point.

Despite some room for refinement, OneNote 2010 and OneNote Web App are intuitive and powerful options for a range of hypertext information management and collaboration scenarios, and Microsoft’s commitment to supporting OneNote users working with a wide variety of browser clients is laudable. For web-centric usage contexts such as collaborative endeavors facilitated by SkyDrive-based shared OneNote notebooks, it’s possible to use OneNote Web (for free) and/or OneNote 2010 (for a very reasonable price, as it is included with all versions of Office 2010) for many requirements that might otherwise be addressed with less capable (and generally more complex) alternatives. For organizations using SharePoint 2010, OneNote’s SharePoint synergy is similarly compelling.

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