Inside Office 2003

Page 8 of 8

Right Tool, Wrong Market

Microsoft's chair didn't put the "Bill" in billionaire by misreading the market for his company's software. But with OneNote, Mr. Gates's marketing machine may be barking up the wrong tree.

The debuting member of Microsoft's Office 2003 "system" is actually sold separately from the various Editions. The company presents the $199 program as a way for PC users--primarily those who work with Tablet PCs--to replicate the experience of writing longhand in a paper notebook. You can scribble on any part of the page to make rough sketches to accompany your notes (whether typed or written longhand).

The problem is: What do you do with the notes? Though OneNote converts digital writing to text, only users who excelled at elementary school handwriting lessons will find the process automatic. For the many people--including me--whose handwriting is less than impeccable, writing in OneNote produces incomprehensible combinations of letters, numbers, and punctuation that look like a cartoon character's swearing (see FIGURE 5

FIGURE 5: Microsoft's new OneNote note-taking application lets you treat handwritten notes the same as typed text, but it flunks the accuracy test.

If you leave the body of your notes in your own handwriting, you'll have a tough time finding them again. OneNote shows individual files as tabs with the title of the note on the tab. And unfortunately, that text title is created through the same flawed handwriting-recognition system, which means I have to remember that my notes on an article about timesaving ideas are stored on a tab labeled 'T@ &v07'.

The real market for OneNote is a not-so-small niche: people who enter their notes from a keyboard. When you stop worrying about the app's poor handwriting recognition, you notice its nice qualities, one of which is its casual approach to file management. You never have to remember to save a note, because it happens automatically. Nor do you have to worry about where to save a note, since they all go to the same folder. To find a file later, you can search for it by keyword.

And OneNote is less picky than Word about formatting your note: Write where you want--even plop the contents of Web pages in the middle of your note--and OneNote won't impose its idea of how your document should look. This alone makes OneNote useful, as long as you use it with a keyboard and not a stylus.

Edward N. Albro

Laurianne McLaughlin is a freelance writer living in Massachusetts. Edward N. Albro is an executive editor and Dennis O'Reilly is a senior associate editor for PC World.
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