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Evernote and Microsoft OneNote: Comparing Two Noteworthy Tools/Services

Microsoft OneNote has garnered a large population of mostly PC-centric users since its first release in 2003. Of OneNote's competitors, the most prominent is Evernote, which addresses some of the same requirements, but from a different starting point. In this article Peter O'Kelly introduces Evernote, compares OneNote and Evernote, and provides some guidance on how you might want to consider using Evernote and OneNote together, if you routinely use non-Windows devices.
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Microsoft OneNote is an increasingly popular solution for information management and collaboration, and it has garnered a large population of mostly PC-centric users since its first release in 2003. Of OneNote's competitors, the most prominent is Evernote, which addresses some of the same requirements, but from a different starting point (more Web-centric than PC-centric). This article includes a high-level introduction to Evernote, a OneNote/Evernote comparison, and some guidance on how you might want to consider using Evernote and OneNote together, if you routinely use non-Windows devices.

Evernote and OneNote are not the only contenders in this context; some of the other alternatives include Catch (formerly 3banana), Dropbox (partial overlap), Notational Velocity, Simplenote, and Zoho Notebook. (Additional competitors can be found in Wikipedia's Evernote article.) The market domain has also seen some highly visible failures, including Google Notebook. Evernote and OneNote are currently the most popular choices by a wide margin, so they are the focus of this review.

Exploring Evernote

Introduced in 2008, and boasting more than six million registered users as of the end of 2010, Evernote is a Web-centric note-taking solution with client applications available for a wide variety of PC and smartphone devices. The company's overall mission (as of this writing) is stated comprehensively on its website: "Our goal at Evernote is to give everyone the ability to easily capture any moment, idea, inspiration, or experience whenever they want using whichever device or platform they find most convenient, and then to make all of that information easy to find." In an October 2010 blog post, Evernote CEO Phil Libin elaborated: "We're going to grow Evernote from a solution that helps you remember everything to the global platform for human memory. Our goal is to become the trusted, permanent and ubiquitous destination for all of your lifetime memories."

From a user conceptual model perspective, Evernote and OneNote have a lot in common:

  • Both products enable note capture and creation in a variety of ways, including integration with popular browser clients and Microsoft Office.
  • Both products handle a wide range of information item types, ranging from basic text to multimedia types such as image, ink, audio, and video content.
  • Both products offer a range of options for searching, organizing, and sharing notes.
  • Both products offer Web-based storage and synchronization across multiple client device types.
  • Both products facilitate a range of hypertext content-based collaboration.

Figure 1 shows an example of Evernote's Windows client (version 4.1). It is similar to an email client view in many respects, with an index of notebooks (organized into stacks) in the upper-left corner, an index of notes within the selected notebook in the top center of the window, and a preview of the selected note in the main window area. The panes for Tags and Attributes on the left side are used to filter the note view by different criteria. In this example, I'm viewing a note created from an email message I forwarded to my Evernote email account.

Figure 1 Evernote 4.1 Windows client. The Web browser client has a similar structure.

The client application versions sync according to a user-specified frequency; for example, synchronization timing options for the Evernote 4.1 client for Windows include 15 minutes, 30 minutes, hourly, and daily.

How do you capture Evernote notes? Figure 2 shows the Outlook 2010 ribbon with the "Add to Evernote-4" action added. It is similar to the Send-to-OneNote action used for Outlook and OneNote integration (and included in the Move area of the ribbon shown in Figure 2).

Figure 2 The Add to Evernote action is shown at the right end of the Outlook Home tab.

Figure 3 shows an Evernote example of clipping content from the Google Chrome browser client. As suggested in the example, the Evernote Chrome clipping extension allows users to preview the new note content, adding values for desired attributes such as note title, notebook location, and text description. The extension can also be used to explore other notes in the same target notebook. In this example, the tabs at the bottom of the Evernote window indicate that I had already clipped three items from the current Que Publishing site (notice the 3 in parentheses following "quepublishing.com") and had collected and/or created a total of 156 notes across all of my Evernote notebooks (indicated by 156 in parentheses following "Notes").

Figure 3 Evernote Chrome clipping extension.

Figure 4 shows the generic Evernote dialog that appears when content is clipped from other applications, including Internet Explorer and Outlook. Outlook clipping to Evernote is supported for the email, calendar, contact, task, and note item types. (OneNote supports all but Outlook notes.)

Figure 4 Evernote New Clip dialog.

In terms of pricing and licensing, Evernote is a popular "freemium" offering, with both free and fee-based options. Figure 5 shows a clipping with some of the details from the Evernote website's Premium page. (I confess that I used OneNote for this clipping, but I could also have used Evernote, which includes a similar screen-clipping feature.) Evernote is updated frequently, so you should check the source page for the latest details.

Figure 5 Evernote version summary.

As a final topic in our brief Evernote tour, Figure 6 shows the main page of the Evernote Trunk, which is essentially an Evernote store for a variety of related hardware, software, and other items. Think of the Trunk as an Apple iTunes for Evernote users.

Figure 6 Evernote's Trunk.

For additional information about the Evernote user experience, including some video examples, Kathy Murray's articles are a great source:

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