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The Note Taker’s Dilemma

Mankind has been taking notes using paper and pencil since paper and pencil were invented.  We do it to capture ephemeral information that would otherwise escape us, and to aid our fallible human brains, which often do not recall things clearly or at the precise moment we need them to.

Note taking on paper is easy, but limited in features.  There is no Google-style search, no way to ensure that notes are automatically stored in a filing system, and no way to instantly make exact copies of a note or piece of information.

Two solutions on the market today offer similar approaches to the problem of capturing and storing ephemeral information.  OneNote 2010, part of Microsoft’s Office 2010 suite, is the latest iteration of the company’s solution that first debuted in 2003.  Evernote, which launched in 2008, offers both free and paid versions of its software, which provide a similar feature set.   On a basic level, both solutions allow users to use a desktop client, a browser-based application, and mobile applications for smartphones to take notes, store links and documents, digitize hand written notes, upload pictures and make them text searchable, record audio, share notebooks with other users, synchronize notes and notebooks between devices, and search through stored information.

OneNote is tightly linked to other Microsoft offerings such as Outlook and Word and, just as those offerings, features advanced editing capabilities, templates, and more structured file organization.  However, when it comes to mobile phone support, OneNote is limited to Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s recently launched mobile platform.  It is possible to access the OneNote Web App via a smartphone browser, but that isn’t an optimum solution, as the user loses what I consider to be the best feature of the mobile application, which is the ability to take text searchable pictures of notes or business cards from a smartphone.

Evernote, on the other hand, lacks the tight integration with office productivity tools such as Microsoft Office and doesn’t offer the advanced editing tools and templates that a power user would typically require.  It is, however, available on multiple platforms including Apple iOS, Palm webOS, Android, BlackBerry OS, and Windows Mobile. (There is, however, no Evernote for Windows Phone 7 mobile application at this time.)  A key feature is Evernote’s Trunk, an online application and hardware store that allows download and purchase of applications and hardware that integrate with Evernote.
The dilemma for the knowledge worker then is integration with everyday office tools versus greater platform support.  For the Microsoft Office-centric knowledge worker, OneNote has a clear advantage, but for the user that depends largely on his smartphone and who probably doesn’t have a Windows Phone 7 device, Evernote is the more attractive option.