By Adrian Booth

Every now and then a new business tool comes along that’s so handy, pretty soon you are wondering how you managed without it.

That’s certainly true of my latest discovery, which is a digital notebook called OneNote, part of Office 2010.

Before you shout OneNote has been around for ages’, you are right. OneNote isn’t a new program, but it is new to me. The crazy thing is, I’ve had access to OneNote for years as part of Office 2007, but all I did was vaguely wonder what it was until researching articles for this column finally persuaded me to take a closer look at the updated version in Office 2010.

Basically then, OneNote is the best information organisation tool I’ve come across. It is helping me keep track of all sorts of bits and pieces of information that come in wildly different formats like text, graphics, photos, video and web links. It is a massive storage facility offering notebooks, sections and pages which you can add to or remove as you like. You can also move them around, colour code them, merge them; animate them, whatever seems right.

You just grab information you want from emails, the internet and databases; in fact almost any digital source; and drop it onto your OneNote page. You can even scan-in handwritten notes too, to keep related information all together where you need it.

Now I’m aware of what OneNote can do, I’m realising there are heaps of business applications. Those that spring to mind include compiling project reports as you go along; putting together materials for business presentations; gathering the building blocks of web pages; keeping product info at your fingertips; and of course collating market research materials. It even makes a handy place to keep records of your expenses.

I don’t pretend to know everything about OneNote, but it does seem easy to flip through notebooks, pages and sections, to swiftly access valuable information. As soon as you start typing what you are looking for, OneNote shows you where to find it. In fact the program searches your written text, or text within images, and even finds keywords in audio and video recordings you’ve include in your notebooks, which is clever. What’s more, you can search all your notebooks at once if you want, or just search within individual pages, sections or notebooks.

So if you are working on a Word document or PowerPoint presentation, you can run OneNote on the side of your screen and keep all your notes, action items, and follow-up questions in one place. A helpful clickable icon appears in the margin beside your linked notes, so later you can open the source file and jump straight to the paragraph, slide or web page you were working on when you took the note.

Now it gets even more interesting! OneNote makes it possible to collaborate and share the contents of One Note notebooks with anyone you need to, which means you can have several contributors working online together. That means you’ve got a virtual whiteboard too for bouncing ideas round. And to avoid confusion, when notebooks are changed, it is clear who did what too, because automatic highlighting shows recent changes and indicates who made them. If someone changes content in error, you can restore a previous version of the page.

Of course working online also means the ability to work from anywhere you need to as long as you have access to the internet, although you do need the OneNote Web App to make this happen.

And if you are lucky enough to have a Windows 7 phone, you can get OneNote Mobile, a simplified version of the program which gives you the ability to view and edit your notes, insert audio clips or pictures, or even add images from your camera phone. A lot of different devices are becoming more OneNote friendly it seems.

The advantages of OneNote for business are obvious, but I’ve been thinking it would be great for keeping family records, including film and photos etc in one place. Students probably love it already, keeping track of your references is a serious business. I can imagine teachers making good use of it, and so it goes on....

So if you want to take a look at OneNote for yourself, why not download Microsoft’s free 60 day trial of its Office 2010 suite of programs, which includes the new updated version.

Watch the video below featuring Gill Le Fevre, IW Online Services Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft UK, explaining how Office 365 addresses the challenges that small businesses face.


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