finishing up this blog post, listening to Eric Clapton. I saw him this past
Wednesday, just a few days before his 67th birthday. This is his 50th
anniversary tour. It is hard to imagine that Slowhand has been making music for
that long. Don't let his age fool you. He's still got it. Know where his
nickname "Slowhand" came from? Back in the early sixties, he used to
play his guitar strings so hard, they would break. So he used to sit onstage
and replace them, while the audience slowly clapped their hands…hence the
nickname. Man he is talented and very inspiring. Some good reading music...
or do not. There is no "try" - Yoda
on getting this post out about a week ago. That is until my youngest decided to
get sick. She loved me so much that she smiled and gave it to me. Take a garden
variety cold and add a swirl of pollen and you end up with what is best
described as an angry hurricane in your chest. Bear in mind that all of the world's
pollen seems to emanate from right here in Atlanta. Just ask anyone who lives here. Today's
count: 8,024. To put that into perspective for ya, normal counts are below 100.
(Pollen Count Index).
There is no getting away from it. Anyway, it made a bad situation a bit worse,
making me sit out a day and a half from work. Ugh. I did get a laugh,
albeit brief and ending with a coughing fit, thinking about this great movie
scene, about being sick. This one will bring back a memory or two. Too bad
missing work is not as glorious as missing school was.
pulling together a list for each of the platforms I use regularly. I figured I
would bust it up into a few lists. My intent is to have them as "living
documents" that I will add to on an ongoing basis. So, to make sure I
don't end up becoming just another propeller head with "his" apps, I
have established a single rule: The apps I list will only be ones I really use.
And I'll try and give you a good reason why they are cool and useful. For this
blog though, I'd like to tell you about one app that really stands out:
This is by far one of the most important apps I use every single day. And it is
nothing short of awesome (Microsoft
OneNote site). So what is the big
deal? Well, cop a squat and I'll tell ya a story. Way back in 2003, Microsoft
was at the forefront of tablet technology.
picture? That's the Motion tablet I carried around. Yes, they existed back
then, and they were not made by Apple. However they were much thicker and
worked via a pen instead of your fingers. They weighed about 3-4 lbs, sported a
Pentium III processor (the CPU now found in my washing machine) with 256Mb of
memory and a 3-hour battery, which was code for "fake battery life."
Real battery life was about 1.5 hours so long as you had the screen brightness
turned all the way down, no WiFi and low CPU usage. That meant watching movies,
and working on complicated spreadsheets was out so long as you remained
cordless. Keep in mind, this was ten years ago. I remember travelling with two
batteries plus the power brick. Anyway, there was a version of Windows called
the Windows XP Tablet Edition. It contained a program called Journal; kind of
an electronic piece of paper for writing notes right on the tablet screen. You
read correctly. You could write, draw, scratch…anything you could do with a normal
pen, in any color and just about any thickness. The idea here was to introduce
people to write-on-the-screen technology, also known as pen computing. It was
very cool and represented serious progress from the old monochromatic Palm days
and the miserable Windows CE experience. But it was limited and a bit basic.
Then along came OneNote. Same idea taken to a whole new level. Where Journal
resembled a piece of paper, OneNote was an unlimited three ring binder. You
create pages of information, which you can place in color coded sections, that
you place in notebooks. Interest. Microsoft may be on to something here. Keep
what you are thinking; you type faster than you write. Or your penmanship
resembles the feet of a parakeet having a muscle spasm while hopped up on three
cans of Red Bull. Sounds like a step backwards to you? Not exactly. Step away
from your first thoughts for just a moment. OneNote wasn't conceived around the
notion that people would be going back to writing versus typing. It's bigger
than that; it's about something we all do: drawing. I am not about to suggest
that we're all gifted sketchers like Matt Groening or even Frank Lloyd Wright.
Yet at one point or another, we've all resorted to whipping out a piece of
paper and drawing what we cannot express in words. From driving directions to
the shape of furniture, drawing is one of our most basic expressive skills.
And, it is very effective. In fact, some of the world's best ideas have been
doodled on small pieces of paper. Southwest Airlines began life scribbled on a
bar napkin in San Antonio. How about "Louie, Louie?" Who could forget the famed song which was forever cemented into fraternal consciousness thanks to the Deltas in "Animal House." It started out on a piece of toilet paper in 1957. Speaking of songs, the Star
Spangled Banner was first scratched on the back of a letter that was stuck in
the pocket of Francis Scott Key. Imagine if the mail hadn't come that day? And
who could forget Jack Nicholson's riveting performance in "A Few Good
Men." You may not be able to handle the truth of the movie's script. Adam
Sorkin wrote the idea for it on…you guessed it…a cocktail napkin. He did so
while watching the first act of La Cage aux Folles in New York City.
Try this on. For that meeting or
class you attend every Wednesday morning, you grab your phone, a legal pad, a
pen, and perhaps a folder or two. You watch as a list of items are created on a
whiteboard, with circles and arrows, in different colors. Swiftly you try and
re-create the whiteboard on your legal pad, as best you can. It is at this
moment you realize the silly but true fact that you have two hands and can only
use one pen at a time. Then there's the guy running the meeting. You know the
one that moves really fast. So much so, it seems like he is erasing items
before they are even written. Wait…wait…NO! Gone forever. Ugh. Now with the meeting over, you head back to your desk to go through the
time-honored tradition of converting your hand-written notes to some electronic
format. This usually involves typing your notes into your PC. Sucks doesn't it? Then there is the diagram. Sigh. So instead of hobbling between the
electronic and written universe, you choose to just stay in your notebook and
do double work to keep track of things.
let's try this again with OneNote and my old tablet. Same meeting, same
situation. This time though I am writing down notes on the tablet. Ok, that's
kinda cool. Then comes the diagram. Ah ha! I can draw it in all the right
colors…right on the same page as my notes…just like a piece of paper! Oh it gets better. The meeting leader
references a website. No problem. Pop open your favorite browser…again on the
tablet, find the link, and paste it in the page. How great is this? Freely
placing and organizing your thoughts…just like a piece of paper, with no real
boundaries. When the meeting ends, press a button and my chicken scratch is
converted to type-written words. No fuss and really fast. Need to highlight a sentence? Easily done. Misspell a word? Just scratch through it with the pen and write
the correct one in its place. You can even open a Word document inside of OneNote and mark
it up with edits. And when you are done, you can email it back to the author.
Sound like what you do? I know it does. This is OneNote. I'm telling you, truly revolutionary. I
can remember showing people how I used OneNote. Everyone's reaction was pretty
much the same: jaw dropping like I was using some kind of alien that just walked straight out of Area 51. Too bad the devices were $3,000. But wait, it gets much, much better.
rapidly gained stardom as THE killer app for tablets. Trouble was, early
tablets met with marginal success, even as new versions of the OS were
introduced. Yet all of us hard core tablet users were willing to overlook the
shortcomings because we loved what they represented. We were enamored with OneNote. So much so
that we also loaded it on our PCs too. What you say? A tablet program on your
PC? You bet. After all, it was Windows. And if you had a
server…oh man…your kung fu was hot. Get this: you could take all of your
OneNote notebooks and stick them in a folder on your office server. That way
you could use the same notebooks on your tablet and on your PC! Come back from a meeting,
jack into the network and BANG…all your tablet notes are now on your PC. Then, something unexpected happened. People all
over started using OneNote on their PCs…without even having a tablet. They
loved the free-form notebook idea and the thought of being able to organize all
their stuff into one place. Before you knew it, all sorts of stuff was being
piled into OneNote. Take me for example. I have a notebook for all my blogs; I
have one for the things I need to catch up on reading; I have one for recipes.
Ah recipes. Let's stop there for a moment. So I have an entire section filled
with recipes that I like to cook. It contains a page for each recipe including the stuff you would expect like
ingredients, prep, cook time etc. It also has pictures and even a few links that go directly to the Internet, just to make sure my Etouffee doesn't
turn into a gumbo. What else? I have a notebook for work stuff. In it, you will
find knowledge base articles I've written, employee handbooks, policies and
procedures…you name it. I know you are saying to yourself, "I can do all
that right now in a Word." Yes, you can. But you would be stuck with a
hundred or so different Word files stuffed into folders in some sort of order.
Searching across them would be near impossible and they wouldn't be easily
moved between devices. In OneNote, everything lives in pages and sections
within notebooks. If I want to cook something, I flip to the recipes section
and find what I am looking for…no file opening required. Can't remember where
you placed it? No problem. Just type in a few words in the OneNote search
field, say "Rick's Paella," and OneNote finds it for you. What else?
I have a To Do list. Things to get from Lowes, Costco, etc. And I have a
notebook for shop projects. This one is kind of cool because not only does it
have my ideas for building things, it also contains sketches and even
picture. Just awesome!
So now we
are up to OneNote 2013. And if you thought I was giddy before, now I am going
to put this whole thing into orbit. The Windows version comes bundled in
Office, or you can just buy the license on its own. Wait just a second. Don't
run off yet. OneNote is a free app available for iOS and Android. And there is
also a free web version that runs in your browser. So you don't need to buy a
thing. Yup, I have it installed on my phone, my office PC, my ultrabook, and my
tablet. No, I don't have all these disparate notebooks floating around on all
these different devices. That would be uncivilized and maddening. Instead, I
see the same single set of notebooks across all my devices. I just heard a
collective "Hmmmm. How is he doing that? Ah, it must be that server
thingy. I don't have a server thingy. So much for this idea." Hold on a
minute. Remember that whole cloud thing? THAT is how all of them stay in sync
with each other. A little cloud storage service called Skydrive. Skydrive is
the Microsoft equivalent to Dropbox, a free cloud-based storage locker where
you can place music, photos, files and folders. As long as you have Internet
access, you can get to your Skydrive. You'll notice I said equivalent and not
equal. In many ways, Skydrive is better. I'll save that explanation for another
blog. Anyway, where was I? Ah, tying it all together. Ok, here is how it works.
Stay with me, you're almost there.
you sign up for your free Skydrive account (www.skydrive.com).
Next you can download the Skydrive app to each of your devices. This gives you
direct access to your Skydrive account from your device. Or you can use it via
any Web browser and not even worry about installing the app. Once you're done,
you not only get your Skydrive storage locker, you also get the Office Web
Apps. This includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint and…you guessed it…OneNote. I then
create a folder in Skydrive called…wait for it…Notebooks. Then one by one, I
moved my old OneNote notebooks into that folder. Easy. So, all my OneNote
notebooks live in a folder called "Notebooks" in my Skydrive. Next, I
have the OneNote app installed on each device. OneNote is Skydrive-aware, no
matter what device. This means that it "knows" how to connect to
Skydrive all by itself, once you give it your username and password merely
once. From there, OneNote takes care of the rest. It goes out to the Net and
automagically synchronizes the notebooks to each device simultaneously. You can
even tell it which notebooks to sync to each device. For example, I may not
want my office notebook to sync to my phone. Not an issue. Uncheck the folder
and it won't sync to that device. All devices and all notebooks in perfect
harmony. Like wooden ships on the water very free and easy.
moment and think about it. I start my Costco list at work. Then I add a few
things to it at home. Now I am at Costco and looking at the list…on my phone.
Mind you, I didn't email it to myself, nor write it down. I just opened OneNote
on my phone and there's the list. How about ribs for dinner? I've got a great
recipe I've perfected over the years. I grab my phone and open the recipe
notebook. Yup, there it is. I pick up the ingredients at the store and while I
am there, I remember the last time I cooked them I increased the amount of
spice. I edit the recipe on my phone so I don't forget. Anyway, now I get home
and want to start cooking. No need to bring my laptop into the kitchen. So, I
open up the recipe notebook on my iPad, prop it up, and start cooking with both
hands' free. And the change I made at the grocery store? It's already in front
of me on my iPad. Get the idea? Let me give you one more example. I am writing
this blog right now on my laptop. I won't finish it tonight. Tomorrow, when I
pick it up again, I will likely be in front of my work PC. No worries. Open up
OneNote and there it is…exactly the way I left it; no copying it to a thumb
drive and moving it around. Nothing. It just syncs all by itself.
Let It Rain
Let's go go back to
the meeting example one more time? This time with the latest version of OneNote
and all the goodness you just learned. We go to the meeting or class, this time
with just a tablet and your phone. Now you can type or write the meeting notes
directly on the tablet within OneNote. Or better yet, just record the meeting.
Yup, OneNote does this too. Turn on the mic and set down your tablet (or phone
for that matter). It will record and place the recorded file as a link on the
page. OneNote will even transcribe the recording into written text. I just saw
all the doctors and lawyers just perk up a bit. Meeting leader moving too fast?
No problem. I lift up my tablet and snap a picture of the whiteboard…while I am
in OneNote. The picture lands on the page, right next to my handwritten notes.
And thanks to my wireless connection, my notebook is already in sync with
Skydrive…and my other devices. Oh and by the way, one click and I can email the
notebook to my co-worker who couldn't keep up during the meeting since he was
using a pen and a legal pad.
of sharing, there is one more thing I should tell you about. Up until now I
spoken largely about list and note-taking. What I haven't done is told you how
I use it in daily business life. I'm talking about sharing information with
customers and changing the way you work with them. Sounds ominous doesn't it?
Ok, wrap your mind around this example. I'm preparing a proposal for a new
network. It is made up of a series of files: an overview in Word, a cost
analysis in Excel, and a diagram in Visio. Pretty normal stuff. Due to the
proprietary nature of what I do, I never send these items in their native form.
Instead, I convert them to .PDF. And, like you, I used to email them to
customers. For years, this approach served me well, yet I was contributing to
the very madness that I sought to prevent; the endless volley of emails and
attachments, with revision after revision of documents. It occurred to me that
it would be much better to create a project notebook. In it, I could place a
copy of all the aforementioned items, in addition to notes, timelines,
pictures, hyperlinks to products and more. As I went through revisions, I
simply place the latest versions in the notebook. Makes complete sense, right?
That is, except for one thing. How does the customer see it? Easily done in
three steps. First, I create a folder in my Skydrive, specifically for my
customer. I can do this by logging into Skydrive via my browser or the Skydrive
app. Next I create a OneNote notebook and place it inside the newly created
Skydrive folder. Easy enough eh? Add your notes, documents…anything you wish
for your customer to see. Finally, you finish the process by choosing to share
the Skydrive folder with your customer. Yes, you read that correctly. You can
share a Skydrive folder with anyone, even if they don't have their own Skydrive
account. When you share a Skydrive folder with someone, it asks for their email
address. Skydrive then sends them an invitation, including a special browser
link, that takes them to this private folder. As the owner of the folder, you
can set permissions for what your customer can do; read, edit, or both. Now
then, take a moment and connect the dots. You're my customer. Instead of an
email loaded with ten attachments, I've sent you a link for a secured, private
folder on the Net which contains all the information you need for an upcoming
project. And thanks to the files being on Skydrive, we can discuss the project
while viewing and editing the same set of files, together in real time. Once
the revisions are finalized, a simple trip back to the web folder and there
they are. What have I done here? For starters, I have completely eliminated the
email ping pong match you are forced to endure from proposal revisions. No more
sifting through previous emails trying to find the latest version of a
proposal. Next, I am able to give you more timely and relevant information,
organized and presented in a way you can easily understand, in a folder versus
a myriad of email attachments. And finally, I've given you a single place for
all your project information, that you can access anytime you wish, knowing the
information is up-to-date and readily available to you everywhere you go. Yes,
you may now clap and cheer!
of Your Love
in and of itself is wonderfully satisfying and very powerful to use. Pair it up
with Skydrive and you have something quite compelling. It changed the way I
keep up with things and conduct business. You will be the king of all the info you survey. OneNote is kind of like the Grateful
Dead. If you like it, you love it and you join the legions of Noteheads that
are enamored with it. I don't know if we are really called Noteheads but it
sounded good didn't it? The Dead had a reputation for never, ever playing the
same set of music at any of their shows. They improvised, jammed, and were free
to create on-the-fly. I bet you would be hard pressed to find two people that
use OneNote the exact same way. And if there is one core principle of OneNote,
it would be the freedom to create on-the-fly, however you wish. All of this
from a little known software app that happened to start its own life as a
humble idea scribbled on a piece of paper. Who knew. So the next time you belly up to the bar, and the barkeep throws down that cocktail napkin and asks you "what'll you have," consider asking for a pen instead of a cold one. You just never know. Nah, get the cold one...and just use ask for a tablet with OneNote instead. You'll thank me.