OneNote screenshot2 - http://andybrandt531.comMicrosoft is Clearly Challenging Evernote. Let’s compare.

On Monday, March 17th, Microsoft announced the release of a new version of OneNote for the Macintosh, ending a decade-long wait for the program to come to Mac users.

Microsoft also announced that all versions of OneNote are now free, even if you don’t own Microsoft Office. (Previously, the only way for a Windows user to get OneNote was to buy one of the Office suites or use the weak tablet-style version on Widows 8.) One caveat, though, is that if you want SharePoint support, Outlook integration, password protection, or to use OneNote for business, you need the Office suite or an upgrade of some sort.

Microsoft is also opening up the OneNote online service to work with third-party programmers. That makes it possible to email notes to OneNote and to use a OneNote clipper in browsers: Microsoft Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.

OneNote vs. Evernote, on Frugal Guidance 2Putting OneNote and Evernote Head to Head

With these announcements, Microsoft is throwing down the gauntlet to compete, head-to-head with Evernote in the digital notebook field. Both services include cloud access and collaboration tools.

There are other notebook applications, too, such as SpringPad, Zoho Notebook, and Ubernote (and others for Android and iOS exclusively). Most of these are limited in which platforms they serve or only exist as online tools.

Today, Evernote and OneNote are the only ones which offer ubiquitous clipping tools, email submission, and include Web, Windows, Windows phone, Mac, iOS and Android versions. (Evernote also supports Blackberry and hp WebOS, which Microsoft doesn’t, yet.) Neither has native support for Linux.

Both applications also support a variety of third-party tools for integrated document scanning, sharing tools, phone apps, including phone photo clipping with automatic text translation (only on Windows phones for OneNote).

Evernote has an advantage with a set of integrated apps from their own labs, including Evernote Food, Clearly (a browser tool for focused reading of web pages with clipping support), Skitch (a graphic / photo manipulation tool, now only for Macs and iOS), and Penultimate (an iPad note-taking and hand-writing recognition tool). The company also offers Evernote Business with office-wide integration and collaboration and document sharing for small businesses. Evernote’s recent collaboration with Moleskine resulted in scannable paper notebooks. Evernote also has a new Atlas map tool. It’s list of third-party tools on its App Center is also impressive.

OneNote, of course, offers full Microsoft Office and SharePoint integration, which is nothing to sneeze at. When comparing OneNote with Evernote, you could consider Microsoft Office as an impressive, if very expensive, OneNote add-on.

Just announced is OneNote integration with the RSS reader, Feedly, IFTTT (If This, Then That), News 360 (a news reading app), Weave (an Intuit-made iOS app for To Do’s, projects and money tracking), JotNot (an iOS photo-scanning app) and Genius Scan (an iOS camera to PDF scanning tool). Brother and Epson scanners can work with OneNote on some devices (they also work with Evernote and other online tools). The smartpen maker, Livescribe, supports both OneNote and Evernote, as does the Doxie scanner.

Microsoft won’t tell you that Evernote already has Feedly, IFTTT, News 360 and Jotnot at the Evernote App Center, plus many more apps.

Hands On With OneNote

Trying out OneNote for a couple of days, the Microsoft application has some impressive features. An important feature for OneNote is that it is more flexible in how you arrange text boxes and graphics on the page, allowing you to move them around in what Microsoft calls “containers.” (Evernote is more Wordpad-like, although you can also add graphics, sound files, PDF’s, and videos there, too.)

OneNote Screen Shot - http://andybrandt531.comWriting in OneNote

I do like the writing environment in OneNote better then Evernote. For bloggers and other writers, OneNote offers a cleaner, uncluttered interface, all the standard Microsoft Office formatting choices, and the ability to hide the menus and ribbons. You get Microsoft spelling and grammar checking, too. There is a style sheet function, but unlike Word, there’s no way to adjust the style formats that I can see. You can also access many formatting options which pop up whenever you select text or right-click, even if you are hiding the menus and ribbon.

If you like a minimalist, distraction-free, zenware-like writing experience, you should try the new OneNote with the menus all rolled up, or click the diagonal arrow on the top right of the note to enlarge it to full screen. (I think this is the only Microsoft application that allows you to hide all the distracting menus, ribbons, sidebars, windows and navigation tools in order to concentrate on your work.)

From the Review ribbon, you can select Research to connect to selected dictionaries, thesauri, and Bing search. You can also translate between a variety of languages using Microsoft’s Translator service. (Vous pouvez également traduire entre plusieurs langues. 您還可以用多種語言之間翻譯 .) These services require an active Internet connection.

You have to hunt a bit for it, but there is a generous supply of templates for various “paper” designs ranging from note-taking forms for classes, business forms, agendas and minutes, and decorative pages, all of which you can print or use to create a PDF. (The PDF export function might not be ready in the Mac version, according to comments I’ve read.) The drawing tools look fairly impressive but are probably more practical with a touch screen or a Wacom tablet than with a mouse.

If you like to tinker with toolbars and the Quick Access menu, you can customize them to your heart’s content.

All these Word-like tools play to Microsoft’s strengths and do make for a flexible writing environment.

Ordering Your Notes

Another nice feature in OneNote is that you can drag and rearrange your tabs and pages.

OneNote has hierarchical notebooks: you can have many notebooks, each notebook can have many tabs, and each tab has pages. If you collect lots of notebooks with lots of tabs, navigating between them can be a challenge. Tags help.

Evernote has notebooks too, which you can group into stacks. Notebooks have pages. Evernote has more ways to browse your pages, with cards, snippets and lists. You can sort pages in more ways, too, but there is no free-arranging the order as with OneNote. You can add shortcuts to the Left navigation panel (at least in the Windows version), so you can switch between selected notes with one click. That way, switching between your notes and a writing page is simpler.

Using Tags

Both programs use “tagging,” but they mean slightly different things. OneNote allows you to tag with pre-defined tags, each with its own icon, or add your own. The tag goes with the specific paragraph of the article, so searching on tags brings you to the specific paragraph. You can have many tags on one page.

Evernote allows you to define your own tags and use them for searching for notes, but the tag is for the entire note, not specific to paragraphs. However, Evernote lets you list them all on the navigation panel (of their Windows app) for easier search.

Linking to Notes

Another difference is the way the programs add links. OneNote allows you to create and copy links to a specific paragraph, which is handy to cross-reference notes back and forth.

Although Evernote doesn’t have that granular level of control, it can create an HTTP link to any note, making it easier to share select pages, even with people who do not have Evernote. You can use the links to publicly publish selected notes, or keep them private for selected readers and users.

Web Clipping

OneNote’s web clipper is less flexible than Evernote’s. Microsoft’s web clipper will only send an entire article or web page to the OneDrive version of OneNote.

Evernote’s tool allows you send highlighted excerpts or entire articles. Also, using Evernote’s Clearly, you can read the online article using your preferred font and margin size, hiding ads and other online distractions, and then send the entire excerpt to Evernote with a single click. Or you can highlight just the portion you want to save. In other words, Evernote’s clipper works better and is more flexible. Clearly is also very useful for reading articles, especially if they use small print.

Full Disclosure

I was a OneNote user long before I tried Evernote, using the Office 2003 and 2007 versions. However, when I eschewed upgrading to Office 2010, my 2007 version was no longer compatible with OneNote online. In effect, Microsoft forced me to choose which one to use: the desktop or the online versions. I chose Evernote instead. I’ve been a big fan of Evernote since, using it on my PC, my iPad and my Android phone.

Who Should Try OneNote?

Microsoft Office Users

Obviously, if you have one of the recent Microsoft Office suites (except on Macs), you already had OneNote. Add the free web browser clipping tools, if nothing else, to extend what you can do with the program. If you have Outlook, check out the new Outlook to OneNote tools, too.

If you have an older, pre-2010 Office suite, you can now use the latest version of OneNote along with its online version.

Mac Users

Mac users should look at OneNote if they’re new to notebooking. If you already plan on upgrading to Microsoft Office 2014 for Macs, consider this a partial preview. Soon after Microsoft announced the free program, OneNote was the top download from the iTunes store, so there’s some pent up demand.


OneNote was originally designed for students and note-taking. It still excels at that and makes a pretty decent writing tool, too, but you probably want alternate tools for publishing. (If you only use free software, you could use OneNote to create a draft and cut and paste your work into LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice or your favorite online apps.)


Writers, bloggers and researchers who write drafts in Evernote should probably try OneNote to see if its writing, formatting, spell checking, dictionary,  thesaurus, and research tools match your work flow.

Happy With Evernote? Stay Put.

If you use Evernote for Business, or do a lot of web clipping and research, or if you are just a data hog, don’t give up on Evernote. If you are comfortable, there’s no real advantage to changing. Evernote is still as awesome as ever.

Who Wins? The Users!

Although Microsoft revolutionized the idea of a notebook application with OneNote, they ignored Macs and mobile platforms for so many years that Evernote now feels like the more mature cross-platform application. This is an unusual position for Microsoft, but they seem to be trying to catch up.

In short, we have nothing but good choices here. If you can’t decide, use both. Be aware that if you do, and you use both to collect web clippings and research, you may find yourself hopping between programs trying to find that critical note, cursing the fact that you can’t remember which program you used to save it. (I know that problem, curses and all, from when I first switched from OneNote to Evernote.)

Hopefully, with competition between the two programs heating up, we will see more features and choices than ever. A good thing.

Frugal Guidance 2 has featured a number of posts on using actual paper notebooks as well as note-taking and data collection programs. In particular, we’ve posted a number of articles on using Evernote:

Use Evernote to Remember Anything Frugally

Evernote for List Makers

Using Evernote for Travel

Where to Download

Macintosh users can get their free copy of OneNote from iTunes.

OneNote for Windows is available for free from the OneNote website.

Evernote, free and Premium, plus all the Evernote apps (Evernote Food, Clearly, Skitch (now only Mac and iOS), Penultimate (iOS), Evernote Business), are available from the Evernote website.
Partnered apps are at the Evernote App Center. The Evernote Market features mostly non-digital add-ons, including over-priced leather goods, backpacks, and even socks. (Why socks?)

Frugal Guidance 2 -