Many years ago I discovered the world of note taking software and I’ve been addicted to them ever since. The good ones help me keep my thoughts organized and out of my head. When I try to hold them all in my head, they bounce around in there and make it hard to focus. When I try loose leaf paper, I often lose track of those random notes. Enter note taking software to the rescue.
After trying out dozens of different software programs, it has boiled down to two note taking programs — Evernote vs OneNote. And they are very different. It is actually quite surprising how different they are. Since they serve quite different functions, I still use both — one more than the other. How do they stack up?
Evernote vs OneNote:
There is a free option that will be good enough for many people.
Lightning fast search. Searches as you type, instead of having to press enter. This is highly preferable.
Good for loose, relatively unconnected ideas that you want to be able to access easily in the future.
Great for keeping a journal. It can never be lost, it automatically date and time stamps entries, and if this is all you want to use it for, it will be free.
Great for web or email clippings. There’s a convenient hot-key set (win-A) you can use to add highlighted text/pics/whatever to Evernote.
Flawless syncing across multiple computers and/or mobile devices. They’ve been syncing for so long, that they have it down pat. I never have issues with this.
More structure to notes. This is the main reason I use OneNote more than Evernote. I like a hierarchical structure to my notes. OneNote has up to 5 levels and Evernote has up to 3 levels. Each level is an order of magnitude higher in organizational structure.
It synergizes with Microsoft Office Suite better. For example, if you have an email in Outlook and you want to send to OneNote, there is a convenient button that does it quickly and easily.
More powerful desktop software than EverNote. It tends to do non-search things faster. It usually takes less time to load.
Upfront one-time only cost. It is not cheap, but you only have to pay once.
Not very structured, so it is sometimes difficult to find notes. Basically you’ve got just notebooks and tags as a way to organize.
The premium version is a monthly or yearly subscription instead of an upfront cost. However, it is only $3.75/month if you pay for it yearly. This is a bargain for the time saving and convenience value they provide me.
No free option. To use OneNote legally, you must buy it.
Not as mobile as EverNote. It is not as good at syncing over multiple computers as Evernote. It takes a smidge of fidgeting to get it working. However, once you get it working, it should be fine.
They both are good at different things. There is no reason you cannot use both. I use both.
I use Evernote for web clippings and keeping a journal. It has a quick and convenient hot-key set for clipping. With journaling, it automatically keeps track of the date and time and is easy to find again.
I use OneNote to hold my “knowledge database.” Important things for work or home or whatever, I keep in different notebooks. It then syncs between my work computer and home computer.
I recommend paying for both. The price is small for the value you get. I’ve tried out the paid Evernote and I like it, but not everyone needs to get it if you’re going to use it sparingly or you are frugal.
There is another option to OneNote that is free, but not as powerful and doesn’t have syncing capabilities (which is huge for me). I would use it if I didn’t already have OneNote and couldn’t afford to buy it. It is called Keynote. You can get the original version (now unsupported) or the updated version by someone else. I would probably go with the 2nd one.
When looking at software that I’m interested in, I always want to see screenshots. When reading reviews sometimes I don’t even read the review — I just look at the screenshots as a first test. If it doesn’t seem like what I want, I move on. Therefore, I will give you some screenshots here of OneNote 2010 features along with some explanations.
The Best New Feature in OneNote 2010
The most important feature added to OneNote 2010 over the previous versions (OneNote 2003 and OneNote 2007) is it’s ability to sync over the web. I use OneNote on 4 different computers — my home desktop, personal laptop, work desktop, and my wife’s desktop. That is why syncing is so important to me. It’s actually pretty easy to set this up over multiple computers. If you don’t have a hotmail/msn account, you need to create one to use the syncing. Then create a new shared notebook by going into the File, then New menus:
New shared onenote notebook
Just login to Windows Live SkyDrive (just below “3. Web Location:”) and pick a name and put it in whichever folder you want and viola you’ve created a shared OneNote notebook! I have two different main folders that I put my notebooks in. One for stuff that I only want me to see and one for stuff that I want to share with friends and family.
Now, if you want to open your new shared notebook on another computer, login to your hotmail account and click on “Office” at the top. This is what my screen looks like at that point:
OneNote 2010 in internet explorer
As you can see I have several books here. Several of these were books I started and never use, but generally I have 3 or 4 open at the same time on each computer. Once I click the notebook I want, it takes me to a screen that looks very close to what the desktop OneNote 2010 application looks like. From there, you simply click on File and then Open in OneNote. It’s really easy. You do have to give OneNote about 30 seconds to a minute to open the workbook the first time if it’s of a significant size. After that, you don’t need to wait anymore or jump through any hoops. You just open up OneNote and your notebooks will be there with the latest changes.
onenote in internet explorer open in onenote
Is OneNote better at syncing than it’s competitors? Actually, I think it’s a wash. Once you set OneNote up on a computer, it’s not any harder or easier to sync than with another program.
OneNote 2010 Basic Features and Layout
First, let me describe the basic layout and how it works with a large set of data spanning many areas. Here is the main screen that I deal with on one of my computers.
onenote 2010 within links and gtd
On the top is the ribbon where you’ve got all of your menu actions. The ribbon is familiar to you if you’ve worked with Office 2010 or Office 2007. If not, don’t worry, you get used to it. Granted, it’s probably more than a little different from what you’re used to, but you should find it really convenient once you adjust.
The notebooks and sections within those notebooks are on the left side. For example, I’m currently in the section “GTD” within the “MyBook” notebook. That’s tier 1 (notebooks) and tier 2 (sections). You can also see the sections for the current notebook at the top as tabs like a real notebook.
The 3rd Tier is on the right side. I’m currently in the “Home” page within “GTD” within “MyBook.” You can also make sub-pages for an extra half-tier or so, but I don’t think that’s necessary really. If I need sub-pages, I usually turn a page into a section.
You can see the links to another page within OneNote at the top of the current page. Also, you can link to files and websites anywhere within OneNote.
Note that the links at the top of the page are kind of floating there. That’s because within the program, you can put text, pictures, etc anywhere you want — just like an actual piece of paper.
With these 3 tiers, you can organize anything and make it easy to find. For example, I have 4 main notebooks — one for my personal stuff, one for my work stuff, one for my personal projects, and one for me and my wife. I have a ton of stuff stored in those notebooks and it’s always super easy to find.
Some of the other important OneNote 2010 features and screenshots
You can have password protect a section as shown below. This is key to putting all your necessary info into OneNote.
onenote password protected section
You can also add tags to any part of a page and search for the tags later across a single notebook or all notebooks. This makes it easy to find different information that goes into different areas, but are still related.
There are a ton of other features that it would take forever to go into. These are just the ones I like and use the most.
To buy or not to buy?
If you have a lot of information to organize and never seem to get a handle on it, forget where you wrote something, or need to reference things you learned more than a few months ago, I highly recommend OneNote. For me, I want to remember lots of things — recipes, to-dos, shopping lists, gift lists, goals, fun ideas, project ideas, and so much more. Therefore, it’s worth it for me and probably a lot of other people too.
Now, the big question is how much is OneNote?
You can get buy it for the regular download for $79.99. Not cheap for software. Then again, for me, it was totally worth it. It has saved me countless hours having to figure something out a 2nd and 3rd time. Honestly, in the last month alone, it has probably saved me about 20 hours of work. I’m not kidding. It is that convenient — especially with the syncing.
If $79.99 is too expensive, then you can get the Home and Student version download for $10 less for $69.99. Not only is it less expensive, but you can install it on 3 computers instead of 2 with the regular license. What’s the catch? The license says, “Not for use in any commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating business or government organization.” Basically, a business couldn’t buy it for its employees.
UPDATE: I’ve found it cheaper on Amazon.com:
I like Amazon and use them all the time. The only drawback to this is that its not a download, so you don’t get it right away. But, if you’re willing to wait a few days, its a much better price.
·it’s probably more than a little different from what you’re used to, but you should find it really convenient once you adjust.
A few years ago when I looked at all the features that OneNote provided and compared it to the features of many other note taking programs, OneNote did not come out on top. I liked it. I really did. It was just missing a feature that others had that I really liked — syncing over multiple computers. Evernote (and others) had it and OneNote didn’t.
I was so frustrated because I really liked many of the features of OneNote and wanted to use it as my main note taking source. It organizes information very neatly and intuitively. It has tagging for using different categories across organization branches. It has a lightning fast search. It works well with other Microsoft programs like outlook and internet explorer. It can link to files, folders, websites or to other notes within the program. Really, it had everything I would have wanted in a note taking program and more except internet syncing.
I used multiple computers over the course of a day and didn’t want to have to copy all the files on a USB drive every day to transfer. Believe me, I tried to do that and it gets unwieldy very quickly. All you have to do is forget the drive one day and then the different copies don’t match and it’s a big mess. Not only that, but it’s a big hassle to ferry your information between different computers multiple times a day.
Unfortunately, Evernote is much more disorganized and its harder to find most types of stored information, so that didn’t really fill my needs either. Therefore, a few years ago I basically abandoned all the note taking programs as too impractical for my needs. I ignored all the note taking software systems until…
…OneNote 2010 came out. With it came internet syncing!! I was so happy I got it and put it on my home computer, my laptop, my work computer and my wife’s computer. I highly recommend getting OneNote.
The usefulness of note taking software is questioned by many people. What’s wrong with pen and paper or just remembering things? Plenty of things are wrong with those methods. First of all, we often write things down because it is difficult to number everything that we need to know. Second, when you write something down that you need to remember, you have to decide where to put it in how to organize it. Organizing is where it gets difficult for most people who are trying to record their thoughts, ideas, or anything else that they might want to remember later. Then you have to remember where you put it when you need it.
Note taking software makes organizing your notes a million times easier. Honestly, I’m not exaggerating that much either. In many cases when I want to remember an idea, so I write it down. I don’t know about you, but I’ve written down so many ideas and then placed them in a place that I was never able to find that I’ve lost count. I’ve even tried to organize them with folders, different notebooks, different note pads, , etc. You name it, I tried it. A note taking program is the easiest and fastest solution I’ve found. Finding the information later is the most important thing because if you can’t find what you’re looking for when you need it, there is not much point in recording it.
One of the most common items that note taking software helps people organize and reference is to dos. By using the program as your to do software alongside with your notes for reference, ideas, links, and any other lists or notes, you make your to do list more effective. Because, after all, your actions are often related to other ideas that are not to dos.
As I got more and more into using note taking programs, I realized how powerful it was to have an intuitive organization system that makes things easy to find. I slowly began to realize that OneNote, while having its flaws, had easily the most intuitive setup. Therefore, it was the easiest to start using. Not only that but it is very easy to find notes that I wrote a long time ago because, again, the organizational layout just makes sense.
Several years ago I stumbled upon a very basic note-taking software and decided that I needed to use some sort of note-taking software. The idea of being able to record my thoughts, ideas, tasks, projects, and everything else in one place for quick reference really intrigued me. OneNote came highly recommended as a unique and high-quality note-taking program, so I decided to check it out along with other software packages.
I downloaded the 2007 trial and got started. When I first started using OneNote, I got really excited. I don’t know about you, but I really loved not having to remember everything by recording it in an easily accessible place. After organizing many things into an intuitive pattern and being able to retrieve them easily, I was hooked on the idea of note-taking software. They have a OneNote Student version and I wish I’d gotten it when I was in college. It seems like it would really work well for that purpose.
What does it actually do? It organizes your notes differently than most other note-taking software packages (I’ve tried a TON of them, but I’ll get to that later). Well, different good? Or different bad? Just different. It really depends on your preferences. I like it. You may not. Basically, your OneNote works like a giant, 3-tier filing system that is quick and easy to navigate. When I had the program open, I would have multiple “notebooks” open. Within each notebook are sections and within those sections are pages. Its very easy to just jump and start using.
I generally liked OneNote, but it wasn’t perfect for my needs and I still wanted to know how it stacked up against the competition. So I set out to compare it to its competitors. I looked at dozens of different programs. I will discuss later the results.
The Skinny: I use OneNote a lot to keep organized.
Nov 13th, 2014 UPDATE: Since making the videos and site a few years ago, OneNote has taken a HUGE lead over Evernote. Now, OneNote syncs flawlessly across all devices -- smartphones included. It is now just better than OneNote at 90% of my note-talking tasks!
Buy below to get organized extremely efficiently -- no joke!
OREvernote is another good option. I prefer OneNote for most things, but Evernote is actually better for certain tasks. Read my Evernote vs OneNote post for more details.
Disclosure: I make a small commission if you purchase through some of my links.