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Why I love Microsoft OneNote BY Kim Skimmons

Microsoft OneNote[T]he biggest thing that kept me from moving from the PC to a Mac a few years ago was one program: OneNote. I love this program and couldn’t see functioning without it.  Yes, my Mac-enthusiast friends all insisted that surely there must be a Mac program that does the same thing at some silly Microsoft program — and ten times better by the way. It was just inconceivable to them that Microsoft could actually have a product that beat the pants off anything the Mac could offer. More on that in a sec.

What is OneNote?

Simply put:  Microsoft OneNote is a digital note-taking program.  But it is oh so much more than that.  It is a beautiful, organized, intuitive repository for any kind of notes you can dream up.  It works the way you do.

I have literally replaced several filing cabinets worth of reference files, client files, personal files, research notes, and more with OneNote. My stack of manila file folders is about 6 inches high now, and that’s really just for original copies of things that I need to retain.

And not only that, I can now find things that I’m looking for in seconds. Never could do that with my paper files.


OneNote screenshot

The Interface

The OneNote interface is broken into a logical hierarchy consisting of Notebooks, Sections, and Pages — just like a real multi-subject notebook. Notebooks are listed down the left side, Sections are colored “tab dividers” across the top or nested under the notebook names on the left, and Pages are down the right side. This is very intuitive to understand and to use. Unlike a real notebook or file folder, you can put all kinds of things into a OneNote notebook: text, images, audio, video, web pages, and more.

“Type Anywhere”

To add notes, you simply click your cursor anywhere on the page and begin typing. Anywhere. None of this left-to-right, top-to-bottom nonsense like in Word or Evernote. Just click and type. Like a real notebook.

OneNote table

Here’s a simple table I created to keep track of car problems.

Instant Tables & Lists

Need a quick table to organize your notes? Easy. Just type the first cell of data (A1 in Excel-speak), press the Tab key and voila you are now in A2 as OneNote understood the tab key to mean that you are creating a simple table. Press Return to go to the next row. Return twice and the table ends and you’re back to regular paragraph text.

Need a numbered list? Just start typing “1. ” and OneNote starts creating a list for you.  Bullet list?  Type “* ” and an instant bullet list appears.



Like the little magnifying glass at the top of your Mac screen, OneNote has a simple search box that searches for whatever you type across all your notes and makes it simple to pick from a list of results until you find the right page.


I got hooked on labels in Gmail, now I can’t live without them. I just love the way you can slap one or more tags onto something to make it easy to find later. OneNote comes with a standard set of tags and you can create your own custom tags.

Cloud Access/Sync

If my computer dies, my notes are safe. If I’m away from my desk, I can still get the password to the copier thru my cell phone. If I make changes from one device, the others are synced right away.


I don’t do this often, but sometimes I need to share a notebook or part of a notebook with someone else. I can password-protect individual notebooks too.

The Competition

Back to my Mac friends who insisted I go with a Mac solution rather than even think of polluting my Mac by installing Windows on it. I looked at all sorts of similar programs for the Mac but came up empty. The best of the bunch were:

  • Evernote
  • Circus Ponies
  • Growly Notes (closest to OneNote but not really in the same league)
  • Zoho Notebook
  • Curio

None had all the features I wanted: Intuitive interface, the ability to just type anywhere/overlap notes/draw as in a “real” notebook, tags for tagging notes, powerful search, cloud-based access, ability to selectively share notebooks, and a big-name company behind it that I was pretty sure wasn’t going to vanish overnight, my notes along with it.

Evernote is good for those quick, off-the-cuff notes but it is not structured enough to be a substitute for OneNote. The other products above each had pluses and minuses but none had the total package.

My Solution: Windows on Mac with Parallels

parallels coherence running windows on mac

Windows (left) and Mac (right) living together in perfect harmony.

Parallels Desktop is a nifty product. It lets you run multiple operating systems on one machine. In my case, I installed Windows on my Mac. It also has what’s called “Coherence Mode” that makes Windows programs float seamlessly alongside Mac programs on the desktop. It’s like you don’t even realize you’re running two OS’s at the same time. You can copy and paste between OneNote and any Mac program, or vice versa. Very cool.

So that’s how I got my Mac and OneNote too.


Microsoft OneNote is in a class by itself when it comes to serious, full-featured note-taking apps for both personal and professional purposes. If you need a note-taking application, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Learn more about Microsoft OneNote on their website.


  1. This is a great solution. At first I thought the copy and paste wasn’t working between the browser and onenote when you had embedded images. If you get the same issue then try using Firefox rather than Safari.

    • Kim Skimmons

      HI David. Are you saying that you couldn’t paste images from Safari but you could from Firefox? I always use FF as my primary browser so haven’t noticed this quirk with Safari/OneNote.

  2. If you select a portion of text+image within FF. Followed by mac copy/paste (cmd-c/cmd-v) into OneNote then text+image appear ok.
    If you do the same in Safari then only text appears. Its likely you have to use special Parallels key presses (cmd-shift-3 or cmd-shift-4 or something) and then drag the saved image/file into ON.
    I’m recently ex-windows so someone else might know a better way but for me FF is working so I plan to stick with that.

    • Kim Skimmons

      Yes, I see that now. IE works fine, but you would expect that with IE< -->ON. More interestingly, Chrome works fine too, even though Chrome is based on the same engine as Safari — heavily modified though, I think. From what I’ve read, Chrome on OS X is mostly a thin wrapper for Safari.

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