OneNote tries to draw in Evernote users with a migration tool

Microsoft's note-taking service has fired a shot across Evernote's bow

Microsoft is trying to lure users away from Evernote with a new tool that lets people migrate their notes from the startup’s note-taking service.  

The Redmond-based company released a beta version of its OneNote importer tool for Windows on Friday. It allows any user to migrate their Evernote notebooks into Microsoft’s note-taking system. Users install the tool, select the notebooks they want to migrate to OneNote, and then sit back and wait while the importer works its magic. 

The whole process took a little less than 15 minutes for my roughly 1,200 Evernote notes. OneNote couldn’t import a few of them, since the importer can’t handle large media attachments (like the 50MB audio files attached to some of my interview notes), or reminders in notes. 

People who have lots of notes that fit those criteria are probably best off waiting for Microsoft to improve the tool. And there’s a lot of room for improvement. Microsoft expects to gather feedback from users after releasing the beta importer, and it will use that information to improve the tool.

Importing Evernote files into OneNote also exposed one of the key differences between the two services: design. OneNote looks like a physical notebook with tabbed sections. Evernote is vastly different: Notes can be contained in different notebooks, which essentially are just buckets of files. 

Trying to merge the two is an exercise in negotiating their differences. There’s an option to use Evernote tags as tabs in OneNote notebooks, which should have meant that all my notes tagged as “Article Draft” were put under one tab in my work notebook. But that only works so well, because notes can have multiple tags in Evernote while OneNote only allows them to live under one tab. 

Straddling that difference is going to be difficult for Evernote users. Darren Austin, OneNote’s director of product management, said some OneNote users like the product's structure because its notebook-tab-page design convention is something they can easily grasp and are able to adopt quickly. 

"That said, it’s also one of our limitations,” Austin said. "Because while some people gravitate to it very naturally, other users don’t. And especially new users have a hard time grasping it on occasion."

For that reason, Austin said OneNote’s design might see some tweaks in the future as Microsoft tries to make it appealing and useful for both people who like rigidly organized notebooks and those who want less structure.

"I do think that in the long term, as we think about where OneNote goes, not prescribing a particular organizational structure is something that we’re looking at," he said. "Because we do think that tools should conform to the way users want to work."

Right now, the Evernote importer is only available for Windows, but once users have moved their notebooks over to OneNote, their notes will be available from any OneNote client, whether on the Web, iOS, Android, Windows Mobile or Mac OS.  

These sorts of importing capabilities are nothing new. Evernote has let users bring in files from OneNote for years, and users have built unofficial tools to import their Evernote files into Microsoft’s platform. But this shows how keenly Microsoft is interested in expanding OneNote’s reach. 

Right now, Evernote is focused on refining its existing product and not releasing whiz-bang new features, which leaves it more vulnerable to something like this move by Microsoft. 

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