On Software: In which I beat upon OneNote

I'm starting a new series about software design in the vain hope that at least a few people get educated on what makes software good. And to kick it off, I'm reviewing OneNote and EverNote.

Take a good look at the two screenshots above. Notice anything? (No, the second was not taken on a mac; I just have a heavily themed version of XP.)

You should notice a major difference between the two programs.

I wandered, by clicking a link in an rss feed to another blog, and from that blog to another, and so on, until I hit Wikipedia for the screenshot of OneNote. OneNote, as you should know, is Microsoft's widely acclaimed note-taking program. I've wondered what made it so good, but, not needing a note-taking program before, never downloaded it. Then, when I did need one, I'd recently read about EverNote, so I downloaded that instead.

My first reaction when I saw the shot was, "So that's OneNote. Ok, cool. Nothing special here." But then I got to thinking (and dangerous things happened =]), and I realized a few other things.

First: there's about 2 million buttons on the screen. Now, I don't know anyone who needs that many buttons to take good notes. In fact, it's distracting. Now, I'm sure each of those buttons has a function, but it's overwhelming. I don't need to control fonts and text sizes and stuff while I'm jotting down a note.

Second: there's nothing special about being able to store notes in notebooks with sections and pages. Nothing. In fact, I could do that just about as easily in Word, with a bit of trickery (and a lot less expense).

Third: from what I'm seeing, it looks like it's overfunctional. In other words, it suffers from creeping featurism. OneNote looks like a conglomeration of a note-taking program, a word processor, and an annotation program. That's not what most people want in a note-taking program.

But overall, what I noticed was bleh. Nothing new or innovative. Nothing unique. It looks like something almost anyone could have designed (proper copyright permission from Microsoft notwithstanding).

Compare this with Evernote.

EverNote has a really simple interface. Just type to type. No click needed =]. There's a few buttons, that's all. Also, EverNote does categories, and you can put a note in multiple categories. Another thing that blew me away when I started using EverNote was that it knew where I got my stuff from. For instance, I was copying and pasting stuff from Firefox. It automatically put the note in the Web Clips category, as well as noting the source URL so I could link back to the page without hassle (which makes citing sources much easier). Evernote also stores notes on a digital roll of paper, so you visually scroll through all your notes.

But most of all, EverNote just takes notes. That's it. This is good for many reasons. There's no extra overhead for markups, etc. both resource- and feature-wise. If I wanted to mark up a document or tweak fonts, etc. I'd actually use a word processor. It's conducive to taking notes. It's UI is specific to taking and quickly organizing notes.

My apologies if I've ripped unneccessarily on OneNote. I've never used it. But to my eyes (and I'm a software developer), it looks bland and has featuritis.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, no, EverNote's default notes do not have clips from webpages on Islamic ideology. That's my research =]


Matt said...

I've never used either. But it looks to me like they serve slightly different purposes. Evernote is definitely more minimalist in its design. OneNote looks as if it's more spatial in its design. It's intended for people who are visual learners, I'm guessing. Actually, I think it sounds cool from the way it is described in the screen shot.

I think they're just different, not "better" or "worse". Maybe I'm wrong. I haven't used either, as I said. But I would think it all depends on how you like to organize your thoughts.

Knowing you, I'm not really surprised at your choice.

NoteScribe said...

That's a good review of both programs. I noticed from reading that you're not a big fan of clutter and that you're looking for something to "just take notes" (or at least that is my interpretation?).

I would like to recommend NoteScribe
which I believe would be something to suit your needs. Give it a try, there is a 30-day free trial on the website. Let us know what you think!


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