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  1. Exploring Evernote
  2. Notable Differences Between Evernote and OneNote
  3. Complementary Competitors
  4. What's Next?
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Notable Differences Between Evernote and OneNote

Notable Differences Between Evernote and OneNote

Now that we've taken a high-level look at Evernote, let's turn to a comparison of Evernote and OneNote capabilities. This section reviews some fundamental product differences, highlights collaboration-related differences, compares supported device platforms, and discusses a few additional high-level considerations.

Figure 7 presents a diagram of the primary parts of the Evernote user conceptual model.

Figure 7 Evernote conceptual model (fragment).

As suggested in the diagram:

  • An Evernote user may have a collection of notebooks, optionally organized into stacks. In Figure 1, for example, the stacks include "Demo," Home," and "To harvest," among others.
  • Evernote notebooks contain notes. The notes may include multiple information item types (such as text outlines, images, and video recordings), so notes are actually composite information items, but for the most part the Evernote user experience operates at the note level of abstraction.
  • Evernote notes may be associated with zero or more tags, which are essentially note category names created by a specific Evernote user.

Figure 8 provides a partial view of the primary parts of the OneNote conceptual model, elaborating on the model diagrams included in my previous articles "Information Item Management in Microsoft OneNote" and "Microsoft OneNote as a Distributed Information Item Database System."

Figure 8 OneNote conceptual model (fragment).

Let's highlight some of the major differences between the Evernote and OneNote conceptual models:

  • OneNote has more levels of organization than Evernote. Evernote manages notebooks (optionally organized into stacks) containing notes, while OneNote notebooks may be further organized into section groups (which can contain additional section groups and/or sections), sections, and page/sub-page relationships. OneNote's multiple levels of organization are also stored in each notebook, whereas Evernote stacks, in particular, are visible only on the latest Mac OS and Windows PC Evernote clients. For example, Evernote stacks are not visible in the Web, Android, or iOS Evernote clients.
  • OneNote has more sub-page capabilities. Evernote supports tagging at the note level, while OneNote supports tagging, as well as Outlook task associations, at the paragraph level. A OneNote paragraph is any selectable/linkable intra-page item, such as an outline, image, or ink drawing.
  • From a user conceptual model perspective, many OneNote settings, including user-defined tag types, are managed at a device/user level (such as a specific user account on a Windows PC). As a self-contained service, Evernote stores most user-level settings in its cloud service. (By "self-contained," I mean, for example, not relying on Windows, SkyDrive, or SharePoint for identity services, as OneNote does.)

Some other differences (not directly reflected in the conceptual model diagrams) relate to collaboration and content versioning. Although Evernote Premium users may share notebooks with other people via their email addresses, and Evernote has a form of versioning in maintaining some note history, OneNote's collaboration and versioning capabilities are more advanced. Following are some of the key differences:

  • Evernote does not track page item-level author attribution, so the system can't inform you about who did what.
  • Evernote does not provide new-activity indicators at any level in the Evernote notebook hierarchy, so it's not easy to see what has changed since the last time you viewed a shared notebook.
  • Evernote indexes PDF file attachments; OneNote doesn't. Neither Evernote nor OneNote indexes other types of file attachments, although both can index text content in handwritten notes and embedded images.
  • Evernote has relatively limited options for reviewing note history, and the note history feature is available only to Premium subscribers. OneNote's version tracking is more extensive, including paragraph-level author attribution, and the feature is available to all OneNote users, regardless of license type.
  • Based on my experience testing shared notebooks on Windows, PC browser, iPad, and Android smartphone Evernote clients, Evernote's shared notebook synchronization services are a bit inconsistent, with update synchronization timing being unpredictable in some test scenarios. OneNote's synchronization approach, based on near-real-time updates (when users are network-connected) instead of Evernote's user setting of 15-minute (or longer) synchronization time intervals, produces a more predictable and consistent user experience.
  • Client platform support is another major difference between Evernote and OneNote, and it's a domain in which Evernote currently has a strong competitive advantage. Evernote clients include Apple's Mac OS and iPad, along with Android, Blackberry, and HP Palm devices, none of which are supported with native OneNote clients. (OneNote Mobile for iPhone can be used on the iPad, but isn't optimized for that platform.)
  • The browser-based OneNote Web App client works on several of the Evernote-supported platforms; for example, including the use of Safari on Mac OS, but that's not helpful for people using Android, Blackberry, or HP Palm smartphones or tablets. Both Evernote and OneNote either currently are or soon will be available in versions for the iPhone (and iPod touch) as well as Windows Phone 7.

I'm hopeful that Microsoft will eventually deliver a full OneNote client for the Mac OS and the iPad, along with OneNote Mobile clients for Android smartphones and perhaps Blackberry devices (it's not yet clear if HP will be able to revitalize the Palm device platform), but Microsoft hasn't announced any related plans at this point. Overall, for many people, the lack of broad support for non-Microsoft platforms is a significant competitive disadvantage for OneNote today.

Let's briefly review some additional high-level competitive considerations:

  • The Evernote Web client model can be useful for viewing all of your notes across all notebooks. OneNote supports search operations across all open notebooks, but it doesn't provide a single interface with which a user can review all notes across all notebooks.
  • Evernote creates an email identity for each Evernote user, associating a user-selectable mail-in notebook with the email input channel, so you can send information items to Evernote from any email application. There's a "Send to OneNote" action from Outlook, but Microsoft doesn't otherwise support email as a OneNote input channel.
  • On Windows PCs, you can open only one instance of the main Evernote client and one instance of Evernote's note editor window. With OneNote, you can open multiple OneNote instances—a convenient option when you're working with multiple notebooks and pages (for example, copying/pasting or linking content between pages).
  • Evernote does not support hyperlinking as flexibly as OneNote does. With OneNote 2010, it's easy to create links to notebooks, section groups, sections, pages, and paragraphs. There is no way to create links to Evernote content in the Windows Evernote client, although it is possible to create note-level links from the Evernote Web client.
  • OneNote has no equivalent for Evernote's Trunk. Microsoft maintains a site with some OneNote templates, but many of them are for earlier versions of OneNote; there aren't yet many resources specifically for OneNote 2010.
  • Evernote is not integrated with Office applications other than Outlook; for example, there are no Evernote add-ins for Word or PowerPoint. By contrast, OneNote offers several integration options for Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote itself (such as creating linked notes to other OneNote pages), and shares many common services with other Office applications, such as the Office-wide spell-checking dictionary.
  • Unlike OneNote, Evernote is not integrated with SkyDrive and SharePoint.
  • Evernote is available for multiple device platforms at no cost (in an advertising-supported client), and in a fee-based Premium edition (refer to Figure 5 for details), which costs either $5/month or $45/year. OneNote also offers a no-cost option with limited capabilities (compared to OneNote 2010), using the OneNote Web App and SkyDrive (with OneNote Web App advertising). For the full OneNote feature set, OneNote 2010 is included with all Office 2010 editions, and is also available as a standalone client application—but that is unlikely to be a cost-effective option for most people, considering the low price of Office Home & Student edition, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. At the time of this writing, the Product Key Card (download-only) version of Office Home & Student 2010 was available on Amazon.com for $105.99, so you could purchase four Office 2010 applications (licensed in perpetuity) for a little more than the cost of a two-year Evernote Premium subscription.
  • Evernote is used as a target for item saving/sharing by some third-party vendors, such as My6Sense. To my knowledge, no vendor other than Microsoft supports sending items into OneNote at this time.

To recap, Evernote is a handy note-taking application available on a variety of client platforms, but its collaboration and sharing features are limited. OneNote is a more mature and powerful offering, and is more closely aligned with other Office applications. Relative to Evernote, however, OneNote is constrained by supporting fewer client platforms, and it also doesn't offer a unified, browser-based view of all notebook content.

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