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Compelling Collaboration Capabilities in Microsoft OneNote

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OneNote 2010 is known primarily for its note-taking capabilities, but with related clients including the OneNote Web App and OneNote Mobile, and OneNote-integrated services including Windows Live SkyDrive and SharePoint, OneNote is also a powerful collaboration solution. Peter O'Kelly highlights OneNote's collaboration-related capabilities and explains how OneNote fits into the broader SharePoint-centered Microsoft collaboration landscape.
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With OneNote 2010, OneNote Web App, and integration with Windows Live SkyDrive and SharePoint, Microsoft has transformed OneNote into a powerful solution for a wide range of collaboration needs. This article includes a brief review of collaboration concepts and market dynamics, an overview of OneNote's collaboration capabilities, and an explanation of how OneNote fits into Microsoft's bigger-picture product portfolio for collaboration (e.g., OneNote's SharePoint synergy).

On a personal note, I have been focused on collaboration and information-management domains since the early 1980s. I've worked in product management and strategy roles for companies including (in chronological sequence) Lotus Development Corporation, IBM, Groove Networks, Macromedia, and Microsoft. Among the dozens of collaboration-related products and services I've explored during the last three decades, OneNote rates highly among the most useful. I hope you will share my enthusiasm as you consider OneNote's compelling collaboration capabilities.

Collaboration in Context

Before exploring OneNote's collaboration capabilities, it's useful to review the overall communication/collaboration market landscape briefly, because terms such as communication and collaboration have not been not used consistently, and the shift to enterprise social software (including the "Web 2.0" and "Enterprise 2.0" waves) has further blurred historical collaboration-related product category boundaries.

The communication/collaboration framework in Figure 1 explains how various communication and collaboration tool types relate to one another.

Figure 1 A communication/collaboration framework.

Elaborating on the concepts in Figure 1:

  • Communication is simply the transmission of information from one point to another; it is usually handled by sending information items through a variety of communication channels.
  • Collaboration describes joint, purposeful activity, typically managed in workspaces containing shared information items and tools.
  • Synchronous (same-time or real-time) communication tools include telephony and instant messaging.
  • Synchronous collaboration tools are generally focused on web conferencing (and real-world meeting rooms), and include capabilities such as shared presentations and whiteboards.
  • Asynchronous (different-time) communication tools include email, blogs, and messaging-based discussion forums such as those commonly used in product support forums.
  • Asynchronous collaboration encompasses tools such as document libraries, lists, wikis, and workspace-based discussion forums.
  • Ideally, communication and collaboration concerns share a common foundation for information architecture and platform services such as identity, authorization, access control, subscription, notification, and search—as opposed to having different tools/services redundantly and inconsistently bundling their own services.

OneNote is primarily applicable in the asynchronous collaboration part of Figure 1, with shared OneNote notebooks serving as collaborative workspaces. To establish additional context for tools in that category, Figure 2 provides more information about common asynchronous collaboration tool types.

Figure 2 An asynchronous collaboration tool matrix. Based on the Burton Group report "Asynchronous Collaboration Alternatives" (client login required to review the full report).

To be more precise about OneNote's collaboration role, it is ideally suited for Web-centric content, providing a collaborative hypertext journaling system. OneNote can also be useful as a shared document library, and for some facets of asynchronous, content-based discussions, but it is most applicable for the domain described in the final column of Figure 2. OneNote also has some near-same-time collaboration capabilities, which we'll review later in this article.

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