In my October 2003 article, I said that it is software that will determine how useful and popular the tablet PC will become. Microsoft OneNote is one of those programs that really makes the tablet PC a useful tool.
Windows XP Tablet Edition includes Journal, an application that emulates a sheet (or a stack) of paper. You can write, draw, doodle, etc., just as you would with paper. Once you've written some notes, you can convert them to text or leave them in your handwriting. Whether you convert the notes to text or leave them in your handwriting, you can search the text.
If you think of Journal as the equivalent of Windows Notepad, then OneNote is more like Microsoft Word. You can use OneNote like a sheet of paper to store text or handwritten notes and drawings, and you can search the notes. But there's so much more you can do with OneNote.
While Journal can emulate a stack of paper, OneNote provides multiple levels of organization that you can use if you wish. OneNote can have multiple folders, and each folder can have any number of sections. Sections can have any number of pages. A page is not limited to standard paper length -- the page will continue to expand to hold as much information as you want. A page can also have subpages.
If you need to take a quick note without stopping to figure out where it belongs, tap the OneNote icon in the taskbar (which is there even when OneNote is not running). That opens up a small window where you can enter a note, which is added to a section called "Side Notes." You can go back to it later and move it to the appropriate location.
You can use the pen to write notes, or type them with the keyboard. OneNote will run on any PC with Windows XP, whether or not it's a tablet.
OneNote also allows you to take audio notes. (If, of course, your PC has audio recording capability.) You can use that to record an entire meeting or lecture, or just to make quick voice notes. An icon is placed in the note indicating that there is an associated audio recording. By tapping the icon, you can hear the audio that was recorded at the time that note was written.
You can make it easier to find items by using note flags. The types of note flags available by default are To Do, Important, Question, Remember for Later, and Definition. You can create four custom note flags. The Note Flag Summary window will show you all note flags that you have created. (You can view the flags in many different ways: current section, current folder, current folder with subfolders, entire notebook, today's notes, yesterday's notes, this week's notes, last week's notes, and others.)
I particularly like the To Do note flag -- this one places a checkbox next to the note. When you view the Note Flag Summary, there is an option to include -- or hide -- notes that have been checked. This makes it easy to see only the items that are still pending.
By default, new pages you create in OneNote are blank. However, OneNote includes several different types of stationery you can use for new notes, and you can create your own. Stationery can include colors, text, formatting, graphics and note flags.
A small but very nice feature is the way the eraser works in OneNote. It doesn't work like a conventional eraser, that is erasing the ink that it touches. Instead, when the eraser touches handwritten text, it erases the entire stroke. I really like this because when I'm entering multiple lines of handwritten text, it's common for part of a letter to intersect with part of the letter above it. If I need to erase the word on the lower line, I need only touch it anywhere within the word and -- since I'm writing in cursive and the entire word is basically one stroke -- the entire word disappears. I don't need to go over the whole thing with the eraser, and risk deleting part of the text above or below.
If you're used to processing text on a computer with a keyboard, OneNote takes a little getting used to. Even when you're using it with a keyboard, it doesn't behave quite like other text-based keyboard programs. But if you give it a chance, you may find it to be an effective way to capture and organize text information.
Microsoft OneNote really makes it worthwhile to use a tablet PC.
© 2003 by Charles M. Olsen
Charles Olsen is a writer, trainer and MIS professional. He presents classes on Palm computing and time management on the Palm, and writes a monthly column about handheld computing for the HAL-PC magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.