The Mobile Mac

Why Microsoft OneNote is the Best Digital Scrapbook

- 2006.11.15 - Tip Jar

I've used many computer programs on many machines for many years, and my thoughts on the perfect hardware and most valuable software are always changing.

Back in the mid 1980s, my ideal hardware was a large 386 tower running Windows 386 with that most killer of all applications . . . a word processor. In more recent years it was the BBS client, and later the email client that got me excited. And let's not forget the Web browser, instant messaging, and photo editing.

There have been a number of "killer applications" over the years that we've considered essential at different times, and opinions remain as varied as the users of those applications.

My next killer app is the digital scrapbook.

There are many digital scrapbook programs for Macs and Windows PCs, and they've been around in various forms for years. Last year I played with two on the Mac, StickyBrain and Yojimbo, but neither really did anything for me. The problem wasn't any deficiency on the software's part, just that it didn't match the hardware I was using at the time. I currently use Microsoft OneNote on a Toshiba Tablet PC, and I've found killer app heaven.

The deficiency in the Mac programs I tried last year was the Macs I was using them on....

To start, OneNote isn't any better or worse than Yojimbo, and it might even be a step below StickyBrain (which is an amazing program that can even plan music and video, where OneNote is limited to mere voice recordings). The deficiency in the Mac programs I tried last year was the Macs I was using them on, a 12" PowerBook and a 13" MacBook. Both computers were more than powerful enough for the software, but note applications really are better suited to pen input.

With a note program, you can essentially drag anything into your notebook and store it. If you have a tablet (either a tablet PC or a graphics tablet on your PC or Mac), you can also sketch, doodle, or write.

What makes this uniquely powerful on the tablet PC is the ability to search your handwritten notes, convert them to editable text, format your handwritten text, and fully manipulate handwriting, imported text and graphics, and your own doodles. Make your signature bold (or even green), convert your chicken scratch to editable text, or export it to Word with surprising accuracy.

I use OneNote whenever I'm not at my desk, and I can send my scrawls anywhere, to any program, as an email, whatever!

In court I scribble notes of subsequent hearing requirements, requests from the other side, or whatever pops into my head. Unlike the yellow legal pads I used to employ for such duty, I have nothing to retype when I get to the office or to lose if I fail to do so.

Yes, note programs work fine with a keyboard, but it's the pen that really makes them come alive. It was playing with OneNote that made me want to buy a tablet PC, and now that I've been at it for more than a month, it has truly become my next "killer app".

As noted in Apple's current adds, Windows PCs are productive tools that just aren't that much fun (except for the games). Simple tasks like word processing and Web browsing are done just as efficiently on a PC as on a Mac, but with a touch less grace and poise.

I hope Apple comes out with a tablet style portable. Such a machine (and a slick program like StickyBrain or perhaps an actual Apple scrapbook program) would do the same for my killer app. Sadly, tablets haven't caught on to the extent that Bill Gates predicted, and until or unless they do, an Apple tablet may be just wishful thinking.

Until then, the tablet PC and OneNote does a pretty decent job. LEM

Further Reading


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Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.

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