When I learned that Microsoft was going to be offering its note-keeping flagship application OneNote free, not only for Windows, but also for Mac and iPad, I was initially happy. I then started to have reservations that revolved around my concern that having such a behemoth free on all these platforms would suppress innovation by smaller developers, and that terrific apps like MagicalPad and Outline would wither on the vine. But, of course, I had to download the latest versions, not only because I am a CRIMPer and I can’t help myself, but because I am a fan of OneNote for Windows.
So I first loaded it on my MacBook Pro, and everything looked great. Sure, there are a lot of the Windows version features missing from the Mac version. Here are the ones I noticed right away:
- No drawing features.
- Export options limited to PDF.
- No custom tags.
- Can’t modify date format.
There are certainly many others — I haven’t checked, but I doubt the Mac version offers OCR of scanned text, for example.
But I could live with those limitations, because most of the key ones are there, including the same easy-to-build tables. But then I tried to install OneNote on my MacBook Air, and found I couldn’t, because OneNote requires OS 10.9 (also known as Mavericks). I have avoided upgrading the Air to Mavericks, because I regret having done so with the MB Pro, since that computer runs much slower since the upgrade, often grinding to a halt at times. So that was the first mark against a universal OneNote. Still, I could have lived with that, since I could use Outline to read my OneNote files and make edits to the text.
On my Windows PC at work, I’ve been using OneNote 2010, which I paid for. I was excited by the opportunity to upgrade for free to ON 2013, and did so. Everything looked peachy — the notebook I had created on my MacBook Pro synced beautifully with ON13 on my PC. I thought that I may have found an option that would allow me to drop Evernote completely, and even retire TheBrain (which I like, but which can be a little clunky and stodgy at times). But then I tried to add a new page to an existing notebook that is stored on my PC and not on SkyDrive, Microsoft’s version of Dropbox and iCloud. That’s when I got the following notice:
“Subscribe to Office to continue using this notebook.” Then, from the web page that opens from clicking the “Learn more” button:
Anyone can download and use the free version of OneNote. When you subscribe to Office 365 Home Premium for just $9.99 per month, you get the premium version of OneNote, which easily integrates with the other latest Office applications and comes with additional capabilities, including the ability to:
Create notebooks on your PC. Create notebooks saved to your hard drive (offline) in addition to being saved to your OneDrive. Being able to work with notebooks offline as well as online is great for anyone with a spotty network connection or those who are always on the go.
Support your business needs. Your notes are synced to your OneDrive for Business, so you and your teammates can collaborate easily. For added security, you can password-protect your notebooks. And with Office 365 you get the latest Office applications, which means you get a complete note-taking experience, with embedded Excel files and added Outlook tasks, meeting notes, and contacts.
Record your notes. Why just write or type your notes when you can video- or audio-record them at the same time? That way you’re sure not to miss any important information. Perfect for students and for those important meetings. (Emphasis added.)
Look, it’s not unreasonable that Microsoft wants to make money from their products, but this all feels a little like a bait and switch. There is no mention that there is a fee for full service from the download page. I’d be willing to pay a fee to get full service on all my devices, but I don’t want to be coerced into subscribing to Office when I have no use for any of the other apps.
I could, of course, go on using OneNote free and relying on SkyDrive for storing my information, but I’m uncomfortable with that option, since I live in a rural state and don’t always have wifi handy when I want to access that information. I also have a lot of information in notebooks on my PC that I have no need of storing in the cloud, but I would need to subscribe in order to keep using those notebooks with ON13. It looks like I CAN use ON10 on the PC and sync my notebooks as I did before, so there’s that. But it begins to feel like a real Frankenstein’s monster, with a system cobbled together from different editions of ON, as well as Outline.
I’m going to dabble with this OneNote cobble for a little while to see how it works, but I suspect that when it is all added up, I’ll probably end up dismissing it, not only because I am not comfortable with it, but because this discomfort makes it easier to continue to support smaller developers.
There is no free lunch.