I often say that Visio is one of Microsoft’s best-kept secrets (and I think I’ve said it here on dadams.co.uk) but I also say that OneNote is the unsung hero of Office. People tend to think of Office as the famous three or four (depending on whether you include Outlook when you think of Office), and some people will add Access to that list of core applications. But OneNote is sometimes the forgotten child… although I often speak to zealots who absolutely love it. Before I joined Microsoft I think I mostly wrote things down in a notepad with a pen (and then struggled to read my own terrible hand-writing, so bad that it makes your average doctor look like a calligraphy expert).

When I joined Microsoft I was converted to the religion of OneNote, but since being blessed with a Surface RT my fervour for OneNote has gone into overdrive. Prior to Office 2013 and the Surface RT I always found it really useful that whatever I pumped into OneNote on my laptop would then be accessible from my phone, my iMac (using the OneNote web app) and even my iPod – all synced on SkyDrive. Then three things came along… the Surface RT, Office 2013, and our deployment of SharePoint 2013 on Office 365. These three things caused a shift… we were encouraged to use SkyDrive Pro (in Office 365) rather than SkyDrive, Office 2013 improved the sync-up with SkyDrive Pro, and the Surface RT became my primary note-taking device. Here’s a quick run-through of what’s new in OneNote 2013:

  • Send to OneNoteThe ‘Send to OneNote’ tool – a small panel which allows you to grab part of the screen, suck in the contents of an open web page, or type a quick note
  • Improved integration with SharePoint, particularly SkyDrive Pro
  • Touch mode (as with the rest of Office 2013)
  • Improved tables – now supporting the ability to sort, add shading, and convert to an embedded Excel spreadsheet in order to perform more advanced data manipulation
  • Page templates – select a look and feel, and a structure, for a page
  • Insert Excel and Visio contentInsert an Excel spreadsheet or Visio diagram into a page – when selecting a spreadsheet you can embed the whole thing or select a table or chart
  • Add online pictures – from SharePoint, Flickr, SkyDrive and Bing image search
  • The ‘History tab’ – easy viewing of recent edits and page versions

OneNote app radial wheelIf you’re working on a touch-based device you may prefer the experience of the OneNote app designed for the Windows 8 immersive interface. Yes, in effect there are two OneNote applications available for Windows 8… the traditional desktop edition and the Windows 8-style app.

The Windows 8 app is, not surprisingly, optimised for touch. Instead of the Office-style ribbon, the OneNote app features a context-sensitive on-screen touch wheel which radiates commands and options. Select some text and you’ll get text-oriented options (seen here) – place the cursor in the text and you’ll get a wheel more suitable for adding tags, images and tables. The OneNote app recognises that most touch devices have a camera available, and thus the app allows you to take photos to add to your notes. As screen real-estate is often a consideration on tablets, the OneNote app allows you to slide away the lists of notebooks and pages so that you can get maximised focus on the current page.

OneNote 2013OneNote app for Windows 8To allow you to compare the two applications, I’ve included screenshots showing the same page of a notebook. Click on the first logo (left) to see the traditional Windows edition of OneNote 2013, and the second (right) to see the OneNote app for Windows 8.

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