My thoughts about Evernote and Onenote

Both Evernote and Onenote are online services that allow you to store your interests, thoughts and project related information. In general, they are reference material systems.

I have been using Evernote for the past 3 years, and I am quite happy with everything it provides, but from time to time, it is importnt to question your toolset, and look for worthy alternatives.

I’ve spent some time googling, and it seems that the Microsoft poduct Onenote is the main contender for Evernote. I decided to investigate Onenote in the hopes that I found my “next big thing” for storing my reference materials.

Here are my thoughts:
Evernote Camera Roll 20150409 211241
 

The investigation started quite promising. Onenote support all of the major operating systems namely Windows, Mac, Android, and Ios (both Iphone and Ipad), also those versions have been around for a few years with a healthy number of updates, which is always a good sign.

Right at the beginning I liked Onenote structure of storing notes. Onenote uses a predefined hierarchy of notebooks that can contain an unlimited number of sections , sub sections, and finally pages. Pages can consist of different types of paragraphs from plain text, to drawings, and pictures. This type of hierarchy allows to rearrange the content very easily. Also i’ve noticed that Onenote allows you to tag a specific paragraph which I thought can be useful (more about that later).

Next I found out that it is completely free (compared to Evernote that has a paid subscription model for more advanced features) , which sometimes makes me worry (usually it means that I am the product – they would probably use the information for Statistical information, usage patterns etc), but most people consider it a good thing, so I will treat it as a plus.

Onenote also allows you to send an email into your inbox (Evernote does as well), that would have been a show stopper if they did not have it in place.

All in all, the feature set and the UI seemed like a good start, but that’s where all the good things ended for me.

Very quickly I found that even though the Onenote versions for the Apple world were released years ago, they are still a second citizen. The support for tags is very minimal (I was not even able to search by tags), the ability to create custom tags is only for Windows and the created tags did not transfer to the iPad / Mac versions. The clipper installation page did not work on my iPad, and the extension for iOS 8 creates an image of the page (versus a PDF for Evernote). Images mean that even if the product allows you to search in images for OCR’d strings, it still does not allow you to copy and paste content from the clipped information.

I found that searching did not extend to PDF and image files (maybe I did not give it enough time to index those – I’m sure they have it, but I thought that a few hours would be enough to let it index the small number of notes I added).

There is no built in migration tool from Evernote to Onenote (but there is the other way around). I found some third party tools that can transfer the information from Evernote to Onenote (the one I tried was Evernote2Onenote (google for Evernote2Onenote Filehacker). The migration worked (I migrated 78 out of my 1700 notes). The issue I found was that attached PDF files were translated to html attachments that had a link to the PDF file, so It is a bit weird.

On the sharing side of things the iPad app for Onenote does not allow sharing of the different levels (notebook , sections etc) to PDF. I did find an iPad App called “outline +” that is almost a fully featured integration with Onenote (missing very minor things like strike through in text and such but other than that a seamless integration).

On the Mac side of things I found that there is no “print to Onenote” functionality (you can use Evernote as a “printer”, when it prints to Evernote, the information is turned into a PDF that is attached to the note, fully searchable etc). Apparently this functionality does exist with “Outline +” for Mac, but I did not purchase it because it costs $45, and I’ve decided that there are too many “work arounds” to use something that’s been in the market for so many years.

All in all I’ve decided to stick to my current setup with Evernote. I did borrow some concepts from Onenote around and adjusted my notes structure a bit, so it was not a complete waste of time. I’ve changed my Evernote setup to include the equivalent of notebooks / sections instead

of completely relying on tags with a single notebook, but that’s a topic for another blog post.