Microsoft updates OneNote

Microsoft Corp. is updating its OneNote note-taking application with a service pack that adds significant new features, including ones that increase Office integration and support syncing with Pocket PC notes.

A preview version of OneNote 2003 Service Pack 1 is scheduled to be available as a free download from Microsoft's Web site. Microsoft plans to release the final version shortly after the company launches SP1 for Microsoft Office, which is expected this summer, says Bobby Moore, OneNote product manager.

Moore says most of the improvements are inspired by OneNote user requests. Enhanced Office integration "was a hugely requested feature," he notes.

New features

Microsoft had initial assumptions of how OneNote would be used, but its users went beyond that, Moore adds.

"There are definitely usages of the product that we did not foresee. One of the features we did not realize was the use of audio notes; people are using audio notes in tons of ways we did not imagine," Moore says. Microsoft's development team relied heavily on user comments to craft the first service pack, he says.

"We really wanted to get lots of feedback. The update is the next step of the product," he says.

For example, the update will let users insert meeting information from Outlook calendar as well as images of Office documents into OneNote documents. The images (but not the documents themselves) can then be annotated like any other images in OneNote. OneNote users will also be able to create Outlook contact and calendar entries from within OneNote.

Pocket PC users will be able to sync notes taken using Windows Mobile's memo pad to OneNote (but not the other way around). Audio and video captured by Pocket PCs can also be synced to OneNote, Moore says.

In addition, the audio notes usage inspired Microsoft to come up with video notes. Users will be able to record meetings using a Web cam or a camcorder and then synchronize the video with their typed or handwritten notes, Moore says.

Collaboration features are another major area of improvement. With SP1, OneNote users can share entire folders (now, you can only share specific sections). You'll be able to password-protect specific tabs.

Multiple OneNote users will be able to work on the same document simultaneously, in real time.

"We leverage the same technology that games use for online play," Moore says. Such shared sessions can be initiated via e-mail, he adds.

Attending to details

SP1 also tweaks a number of interface elements.

"These are more fit-and-finish things," Moore says. Among them: new note flags, better support for stationery or templates (such as the capability to customize existing stationery), and the capability to insert dates and times anywhere in a OneNote notebook.

Moore says the update improves support for Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, including adding support for tablet gestures and enhanced support for digital ink. OneNote "is getting to be more similar to Journal (Tablet PC Edition's digital ink-capture application)," Moore says.

Under the hood, OneNote SP1 makes it easier for third-party developers to enable importation of their data into OneNote, Moore said.

As with most service packs, OneNote SP1 will address glitches in the product as well as overall performance. "You'll definitely see some performance improvements with the products -- when you're inking, when you're searching, things of that nature," Moore said.

He said the update would fix at least the top five of ten reasons OneNote users cited for causing the application to crash. But in general, Moore added, "we haven't seen as many problems with OneNote" as with other products for which Microsoft has released service packs.

Target audience

Since its release last year Microsoft has worked hard to get OneNote out among users and has targeted several vertical industries as likely users. The company has aimed the software at students, legal professionals, engineers, and journalists.

Additionally, Microsoft offers special academic pricing for OneNote. The company said last year that it would give away the product to educational institutions that have a special Campus and School Agreement with Microsoft.

Service Pack 1 Preview for OneNote is an 82MB download and is available in English only. The final service pack will be available in 19 languages and will be included with the retail version of OneNote, Moore says.

Joris Evers of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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