Microsoft’s OneNote

Writes Steve Gillmor (via

OneNote [is] a powerful idea processor from the Office group. Mark my words: OneNote is the new center of the Office universe, relegating Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to the edges of the architecture in a single leap. Billed as an Office add-on, in reality it’s a smart device programmed to transform Office from a suite of applications to a grid of interactive components.

OneNote — stupid name, so let’s call it Note for short — derives from Steve Ballmer’s directive to focus not on product groups but on scenarios. Scenario No. 1 for me has been capturing and manipulating ideas. Whether it’s writing this column, brainstorming, prototyping business plans, or retaining the myriad bits of information that keep my marriage intact, it all starts with a note.

These days we live in the e-mail client. I estimate my time splits up about 60 percent in e-mail, 20 percent in the browser, 10 percent in Word, and the rest staring out the window, trying to retrieve a semblance of a good idea. When (or if) an idea arrives, I typically capture it in the most inelegant way — as an email to myself.

Note is agnostic about three forms of notes data: text notes, handwritten notes, and audio notes…These notes can be typed or inked, and intermingled at that. Note lets you drop notes at any location on the page; drag and drop Web page data; reorganize and auto-categorize thoughts, lists, and documents; and then search all this data chronologically, by category, by contextual flags, and across both typed and inked notes.

Everything is weighted in service of idea capture, with processing available when you get the time.

Then Office’s current tool set becomes rendering engines for Note data: Word formatting, Excel calculations, PowerPoint presentations, and Outlook communications. Version 1 has a pseudo XML data format, and no visible programmable object model. But Pratley says turning XML on will take “a matter of days once we define the schema.”

There are three points I want to make on this:

First, we had an idea (building on some what I had seen with Radio’s Instant Outliner) many months ago of doing an outliner, and in fact had even written one. I used it for a few weeks ago, and then for some reason I stopped. I think that happened because the single page got too bulky to handle. Note seems to be a bit like the Outliner – a way to organise ideas. Maybe we should revisit it some time. I was just thinking the other day that inspite of all that we have on the computer, there is no simple writing space if one gets an idea or wants to remind oneself of something.

Second, I like the idea about using Office components for rendering notes. I had found the outliner good for writing and reading, but at times one wished for better rendering. Need to think this through more.

Finally, the point made by Ballmer on using scenarios. As we think of Emergic, especially the SME part, one thought keeps lingering: we need to talk the language of SMEs. In the opportunity to be the “IBM for SMEs”, what is needed is thinking through scenarios and mapping out business processes and information flows in typical SMEs. When we meet an SME, I’d like to sit with them and instead of showing the software we have (which they find it hard to relate to in a 15-minute demo), I’d like to: (a) show them the process and (animated) information flow maps, so we can relate to what they are saying, (b) give them a demo of mock scenarios in companies following information and events as they make their way through the enterprise, and (c) then talk about how various technology building blocks can be used to closely match what they are doing.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.