I tried really hard to like Evernote. I really did. In that time when it ruled as one of the trendy start-up darlings I really wanted to make it work for me. I loved the design and aesthetic but using it just left me a bit cold. The Android app was OK, and that was probably where I got the best out of it, but as I tried to use it via the web app it just seemed less and less intuitive. Worst of all, though, it was pretty much file and forget. Stuff was going in but because of my lack of buy in it wasn’t coming back out
When I started a new job back in September 2015 I had an opportunity to start fresh with some new ways of working and I was determined that one of them would be digital note taking. I was all set to give Evernote another go but decided I better check out the competition as I’d not really looked into for a while. Like most good geeks/nerds I went straight to Lifehacker.
It’s here that you should know a bit about me in terms of the tech I like. Short version: aside from a dabble with an iPod Touch 4th generation, I am an avowed Apple critic and Android proponent. I started using Linux in 2003 and am a big fan of the open-source “why pay for something you can get for free” mentality. Apple to me was the antithesis of this. Microsoft, on the other hand, was a professional inconvenience. I’ve never worked in an environment where I can choose which software I use and so I’ve made the best of what I had. This might be a reason why I couldn’t get on with Evernote, does it have an Apple-centric philosophy?
So, what did Lifehacker tell me? Well, I was surprised. Not only did the readers and writers of Lifehacker think OneNote was OK they actually thought it was pretty great. Since I’ve never been one to invest in a platform that didn’t have decent backing this was important to me. As I’m writing this I’m looking back at Lifehacker and reading some direct comparisons of EN and ON and much of it agrees with my experience.
I never got on with tagging in Evernote, in fact, I don’t get tagging at all. Tagging is something that works well when you want to collate items by tag, like tasks in Remember the Milk. What it doesn’t do well is help you find items with particular tags. Also, most tagging systems don’t do much to help you avoid duplicating tags with slightly different names. Tagging made sense when searching was slow and inefficient but now, for example, OneNote will let you search text in images without any user intervention. Tags are old hat.
When I got interested in Evernote I was mainly through the web clipping craze. This is YEARS back now but there was a real goldrush around web clipping until Evernote cornered the market. Most of the other web clipping tools are closed now but may favourite used to be Amplify. I had two amp logs, which I used as pseudo-blogs. Twitter eventually made a lot of what amplify did rather pointless when it introduce twitter cards, effectively providing a clip of the site you were sharing automatically. Anyway, web clipping, it was a big thing and, apparently, it still is. I don’t do it anymore; it doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe the idea of saving whole articles offline was great when online storage didn’t cost $0.02 per GB but now the only thing that makes content disappear from the web is bankruptcy.
In the early 20-teens, Evernote had a bit of a shake-up. Obviously it needed to monetize, and I can’t begrudge them that, but for me the costs associated with Evernote (before another rethink) became laughable. At around about the same time OneNote became free…
I also blame Evernote for encouraging other providers to offer ridiculously over-priced premium versions (looking at you Pocket and Feedly) that offer limited additional functionality. Just charge everyone a $1 a month for anything other than the most basic product.
Microsoft Office Integration
Work was my main motivation for digital note taking and this is where investing in OneNote has paid dividends for me. We just upgraded to Office365 and with that came Office 2016 on the desktop; a shared OneDrive and SharePoint sites. All of this just makes having a team notebook in OneNote a doddle. You can link meetings to notes in OneNote with a click and the whole team can read and contribute. Also, it’s helping me get out of my inbox. I used to keep emails indefinitely just in case I needed to refer back to them. Now I can push them to OneNote, cut out all the crap and keep the key details, and file it in a relevant notebook or section. Chances are I’ll actually stumble upon it when I need it now rather than forgetting it was ever there. You can also embed documents into notes, which again everyone can open. While this is a terrible idea for work products it’s great for the things you want to keep or share “for information.” I mean, where do you file that stuff in a shared drive anyway?
Evernote does none of this that I know of.
With OneNote firmly established in my work life it’s been even easier to adapt to it at home. OneDrive integration means I can access various notebooks kept in various places from any location. I’m drafting this blog post in OneNote. It just makes sense. For me it excels in capturing researching from the web. If you copy and paste from a page it captures the URL automatically. Inserting links and images is a piece of cake. I just found out today you can make sub-pages too, which makes organize your notes so much more intuitive than I ever found Evernote.
I haven’t even touched on some of the more powerful aspects of OneNote because, frankly, I’ve never even used them. There’s a thing called templates. No idea what that does but I can imagine that capturing things like recipes would go very well in a template!
To Sum Up
If you don’t use Macs almost exclusively, you’ll probably have a Microsoft account already and access to the OneNote app. It’s all you need to get started. Microsoft even have a tool to help you migrate from Evernote now.