Life organizers: Microsoft OneNote and Evernote

The so-called ‘getting things done’ methodology is something that I’ve never been able to fully grasp.  I am probably very opposite of that and am in a state of constant disarray.  Probably not the best way to live, but I think I am doing OK.  Problem is, though, that I cannot remember many things and needed a way to ‘organize’ the more important aspects of my life.  The death of my father in law nearly two years ago drove home the need to have certain things in order and make certain information available to both myself, my wife and my son.  Should something happen to us, there would be one place for him to go. Likewise, if something happened to my wife, I would know all of the information about our life.  Same for her.  So, how to accomplish this?  Do I write something, I am, after all, a developer. OneNoteBut, I don’t wish to reinvent the wheel. 

One day, while laid up with a back injury, I started playing with Microsoft OneNote.  Whoa…this is it.  So, I set up a personal notebook, created sections for each of us and we began to populate it. We were amazed at how much information that we knew individually, but not collectively.  It was quite an eye opener.  We keep everything in there now, including medical information and prescription history.  I have a central copy of the notebook that all of the PC’s access.  Each PC has a local replica of the notebook as well.  Since I have a Windows Mobile Smartphone, I run the mobile version of OneNote and keep medical information there.  When I go to my doctor, I can pull up all of the medication I have to take, and any other pertinent data.  When I take my son to his doctor, I have his information as well.   OneNote made it really simple.

Enter my professional life.  I am a developer for a fortune 500 company.  I deal with many aspects of my company and work on many projects at the same time.  I wanted to use OneNote at work, unfortunately OneNote is not free and I ran out of licenses to install it on my workstation.  I began searching for an inexpensive alternative.

I found several potential alternatives to OneNote, but only one really stood out:  Evernote.  I downloaded the free version and liked it.  It was very, very close to OneNote.  I liked it so much that I spent the $40 and bought the application.  Not long afterward, I discover that there was also a mobile version of the application.  Great!  I setup up my ‘tape’, which is like OneNote’s notebook.  I was pretty happy with Evernote.  I could create templates, which was a tremendous feature, to record things like meeting notes, work schedules, script snippets and other important information.  I could even replicate the databases.  Wonderful.  I even got several free upgrades.  Even better.  Then, Evernote went the wrong way with the upgrades.

Evernote 3.0 is a radical change from 2.2.  Evernote 2.2 was versatile and very robust.  You could do just about anything with it.  It even had OCR in it:  it would recognize text in photos.  This was very useful:  I could photograph a white board and then index it.  Pretty darn cool.  Unfortunately, that and most of what made Evernote 2.2 truly useful, went away in favor of Mac OS X and web features.  The Windows version of Evernote was gutted.  The mobile version was replaced with a lame read only version and the application lost much of its usefulness…and it’s loyal supporters.  All along, the Evernote team maintained that the features-most of them-would eventually be restored.  So far, I don’t think many of them have been.  The character recognition, I believe, is the only one that has been restored.  I am going to be wholly unfair now.  I have not checked out the latest releases.  After being fed a bunch of crap through the user forums and seeing little progress, I have pretty much given up on Evernote 3.  I still use Evernote 2.2 at work, but we’ve recently gone to Office 2007 so I will be pushing for OneNote. 

It’s too bad that Evernote took a big step backward. It is not often that a great product takes such a huge step backward, but Evernote did.  Still, Evernote has value.  For people who have never used the older versions, Evernote 3 is a useful application.  You can synchronize with the web and access your ‘tape’ anywhere that you have internet access.  There is an iPhone version that looks great.  Clearly, Evernote was more concerned with having something that was more web centric and they were not worried about losing what installed base that they had because they knew they could make up the loss with people who are easily impressed with form over function and a ‘clean’ user interface.  For me, this is unacceptable and LOSING functionality in favor of the web piece was step backward. 

OneNote is superior to all of its counterparts.  Hands down.  Why Microsoft does not promote this product more is beyond me.  The versatility of OneNote is, hands down, unsurpassed by any other similar application.  Though it was originally designed for tablet computing, and still has tools built in for that, it works very well for mouse and keyboard.  It also has indexing of text, images, video and sound. 

For me, OneNote and Evernote have been a godsend.  I am a bit more organized and feel more comfortable that important information will be easily accessed for my family, if need be.   (You can password protect your databases as well.)  Both applications are worth a look.  OneNote is the industrial strength, get it done application while Evernote, in it’s 3.0 incarnation, is the warm and fuzzy, form over function application.  If you use a Mac, Evernote is your only choice.  OneNote is, for some strange reason only Microsoft knows, Windows only.  And that is too bad.  It is a terrific application and should not be a Windows only tool.  Microsoft should not only put out a Mac version, but they also should let the whole damn world know about this marvelous product.


  • Evernote – Free to $45 a year for online storage; free version is advertiser supported
  • OneNote – $79 to $99 standalone; included in the Home and Student Edition of Office 2007 ($99-$149)
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3 thoughts on “Life organizers: Microsoft OneNote and Evernote

  1. I bounced between Evernote and OneNote for about 6 months – I am no using Evernote exclusively for new notes and OneNote only for the old notes I have. Evernote could import these, but I just don’t see the use. Like to switch to OneNote sometimes just to see if it does have a long forgotten feature I miss but so far, nothing.Evernote just recently released version 3.5 of their Windows client and it is a HUGE improvement over the 3.x releases. Almost completely new interface, speedier, just great overall. Give it a try if you have a few minutes sometime!I am also a BlackBerry user so OneNote mobile was not an option for me. The Evernote BlackBerry client is a little weak but it does work so when I am on the go, if I have to, I can access my notes or add new ones. I would love to see a more native client that is closer tied into the notes application, but hey, it’s still great! Just nice having all this information in a central place.I haven’t used their web application too extensively but I am pretty sure you can do almost anything on it that you can do from within their desktop client.I’d be curious if after trying 3.5 you’d still prefer OneNote and if so, why. Just wondering if I may be missing something.Thanks for the article!

  2. Greg,Yes, I have used Evernote 3.5 and it is still inferior to OneNote. I really wish the people who are only now using Evernote 3.x could have used the 2.x version. 2.x was far and away better than the current version and more like OneNote. The problem with Evernote, now, is that they sacrificed alot of the felxibility of the product for the web stuff and, I’m guessing, the Mac client.OneNote is far more useful and much easier to organize your notes. With the 2010 version coming, OneNote will be closing the one gap that existed: cloud sync. I can already do that with both OneNote and Evernote using Live Mesh, but, with 2010, OneNote will do it on its own. I still use Evernote, but only for the sync ability with my Pre. I copy certains notes from OneNote into Evernote. These would be a few key notes that I know I will need (things like medical info for my family, etc.) As for the 3.5 interface, it looks better, but, once again, seems to be a step backward and I’m not quite sure why. I do plan on posting more about Evernote and OneNote, once 2010 is available and I’ve spent more time with 3.5.Thanks for visiting.

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