The newest member of the Microsoft Office family certainly doesn't lack ambition. It's called OneNote, and it wants to be the repository for all of your notes, scribbles, sketches, lists, and just about anything else that you might normally commit to paper during a meeting.
The OneNote beta we examined was part of the second prerelease version of Office 2003. We're already intrigued by what we've seen.
Microsoft has said that OneNote will be available as a stand-alone product later this year, but hasn't decided for sure whether it will be included in the final version of Office when the suite ships this summer. Prices have not been set.
The same uncertainties apply to another new application called InfoPath, an XML document creator that's central to Microsoft's suite-wide XML enhancements.
Also new in Office 2003: Outlook has new junk-mail filtering features and a business contact-management add-on. Publisher, Office's desktop publishing program, is beefier and now focuses heavily on business materials.
But the star of the beta is clearly OneNote.
It's obvious that OneNote is aimed at paper users who take lots of notes and want to retrieve and reuse that data quickly. Employing a paper notebook-style interface, OneNote lets you type or draw anywhere you like on customizable electronic pages. The software makes it easy to add tabbed sections for quick categorization of your material. Can't remember where you put a note? Move the cursor over page markers to browse your pages on the fly. It's much faster than opening and closing Word documents. You can drag and drop Web content to your pages, too, or record audio clips that you can link to whatever you're writing at the moment.
OneNote can run on any desktop or notebook PC. But when used on a portable device running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, it offers a wealth of digital-ink features, including the ability to create searchable handwritten notes. OneNote automatically preserves everything you scribble or type--no need to click Save.
On the minus side, we missed the basic drawing tools you get with Word. We also wished the app would index your notes to speed up keyword searches (Microsoft says searches will be fast without indexing).
Nevertheless, we look forward to the final version of OneNote. Watch this space for further updates on the Office suite and add-ons.