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Collaboration in OneNote

Collaboration in OneNote

Turning to an overview of OneNote's collaboration-conducive capabilities, let's revisit an example scenario introduced in my earlier article "Web-Centric Microsoft OneNote Usage Scenarios," in which I collected some book-related information for a group project. It's a shared OneNote notebook scenario, with one person (not very creatively named "Demo") using OneNote 2010, and a second person (me, using my Windows Live identity) working in the OneNote Web App.

Setting the context for the collaboration scenario, assume that Demo has created a OneNote page in a shared notebook named "Team project," capturing information about a book that may be useful for project team members. After seeing the book information, I created a new page, as a sub-page to the book reference, titled "Looks like a great resource." Demo then sees the OneNote view in Figure 3.

Figure 3 OneNote 2010 new activity indicators.

In Figure 3, the notebook name ("Team project") and section ("OneNote info") containing the new (to Demo) page are boldfaced in the left-hand column, as is the page tab ("Looks like a great resource"), in the right-hand column, for the page I added. As the example suggests, OneNote 2010 makes it easy to notice, at a glance, any new activity in a shared notebook.

Upon selecting the new page, Demo sees intra-page new activity highlighting as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4 OneNote 2010 page with new activity highlighted.

The entire page is new to Demo in this case, so all of the page contents are highlighted. If Demo and I had an ongoing exchange in the page, only page content new to Demo would be highlighted, again making it easy for Demo to see precisely what has changed since the last time the page was viewed. After Demo views the new page, OneNote considers it read, and removes the highlighting that marks unread activity.

OneNote's intra-page new-activity indicator model is subtle but exceptionally useful, compared to other tools that provide only page/document-level unread activity indicators, or that rely on email message-based notifications to inform workspace participants about new activity.

Note that the new activity (content) also includes author attribution. In this example, the letters PO appearing next to the highlighted text in Figure 4 is an abbreviation for my Windows Live identity (PO, short for Peter O'Kelly). OneNote's author attribution is also very useful, for scenarios wherein multiple people are collaborating in a shared notebook.

Page-content author attribution is also available in the browser-based OneNote Web App client, as suggested by the example in Figure 5.

Figure 5 OneNote Web App, updated page view.

In this example, after seeing my comment about purchasing several copies of the book, Demo updated the page to indicate the purchase of three copies of the book. When I subsequently view the page in the OneNote Web App, I see Demo's content addition along with author attribution. (Note that I had toggled the Show Authors option on the OneNote Web App View ribbon tab; the default setting does not show author attribution.)

The OneNote Web App displays my full Windows Live identity name (Peter O'Kelly rather than just PO) in the OneNote Web App client, making me feel mildly schizophrenic, and reflecting the fact that OneNote doesn't attempt to provide complete single sign-on or other identity-reconciliation services. I think that's a reasonable inconsistency, however, since OneNote relies on Windows, SkyDrive, and SharePoint for identity services, and OneNote users will benefit when the underlying services are more closely aligned in the future.

Note that the same user experience model works in browser clients other than Internet Explorer, on Windows, Mac, and Linux PC clients. A scaled-down user experience optimized for mobile devices is also available, with OneNote Mobile for Windows Phone 7 devices and OneNote Mobile for iPhone (optimized for the iPhone and iPod touch). A OneNote Mobile client is available for the obsolete Windows Mobile device platform as well, but it is far less feature-rich.

You may have observed that the user-experience convention of boldfacing unread activity is similar to the approach used in email clients such as Microsoft Outlook. If you prefer, in order to make the OneNote user experience more consistent with the email client approach, you can move the OneNote 2010 page tab navigator pane to the left side of the OneNote window, as shown in Figure 6. You can switch the page tab display side from the Display Options settings, available in the Options dialog found on OneNote 2010's File tab.

Figure 6 OneNote 2010 with page tabs on the left.

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