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First look: Could Microsoft OneNote for Mac replace Evernote?

Jeffery Battersby | March 18, 2014
Microsoft has just released a version of OneNote--its note-taking app for capturing, storing, and organizing all kinds of information--for the Mac. The company is positioning OneNote as a competitor to Evernote, and as such the app does offer some compelling features.

Connecting notes

One thing I really like about OneNote is how easily it allows you to link notebooks and pages together. Secondary-click on a paragraph in your document, for example, and a menu appears offering the option to Copy Link to Paragraph. Pasting this link into your document creates a hyperlink to that paragraph; clicking the link takes you right to that paragraph. This can not only link to items within your current notebook, but also to items in other notebooks you've created. It's a potentially powerful tool for indexing and interlinking anything you're working on in OneNote.

In my brief experience, OneNote is a bit less successful syncing notes to other platforms. So, for example, the freeform capabilities of the new Mac app spawned some interesting problems in OneNote on other devices. iOS devices had no problem displaying what I'd added to the page. But I couldn't find a way in the iOS app to move anything on a page I'd created on the Mac.

The Web app was a mess. Anything opened in the OneNote Web application bore no resemblance to its Mac OS and iOS counterparts. Text that was next to an image in the Mac app overlaid the image in the Web app. On the upside, I was able to move anything I wanted to, but what looked well laid out on the Web looked hideous in the Mac app.

There are a few more things I noticed in this brief look that warrant mention. First, there is no obvious way to insert documents from other applications into your OneNote notebook, although it appears from the OneNote webpage that this should be possible.

Likewise, copying a chart created in Excel and pasting it into a OneNote page resulted in nothing at all, even though Microsoft screenshots indicate that this should be possible. Finally, OneNote doesn't support drag and drop from applications or the Finder, so you can't drag text from an existing document or a file from the Finder to insert it into OneNote.

Final thoughts

While a full review of the application may reveal more of OneNote's strengths and weaknesses (including its collaboration tools, Web clipper, and fruits of its partnerships with vendors like Brother, DoxieGo, Epson, Feedly, IFTTT, and Livescribe), overall I'm impressed with it. OneNote's price, collaboration capabilities, and particularly its freeform note-taking feature make it a compelling application for capturing your ideas as quickly as possible. Whether it'll be a compelling alternative to Evernote remains to be seen.


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