Using OneNote on two or more machines


One question I hear pretty often is: “hey, I have two machines with OneNote – how do I keep my notes in sync?” There are a lot of ways to do this. In some ways it depends on what your needs are. After all, what doesn’t?


First, be certain that you have Sp1 of OneNote. Use Help/Get Updates to check if you are not sure. SP1 has some adjustments to perform better when using files across multiple machines.


Next, decide if you want to sync all your notes or just have a portion of your notebook available on both machines.


Next decide if you need to have the notes accessible when you do not have access to your network.


Now, here are some typical ways:


Use Windows offline files


With this scheme, you will designate one machine as the “server”. The other machine(s) will be the “clients” (there can be more than one client). If you have a laptop and a desktop, either one can be the server. They just have to be able to see each other on your network. When the client gets onto the same network as the server, it will connect and synchronize any files that are different between the two. While it is one the same network, OneNote on the client will work directly against the files on the server. The thing you must avoid with this setup is making changes to the same OneNote section on both the server and the client while the machines are not connected. If you do, there will be a conflict and you will have to manually resolve which file to keep.


On the server machine, make the portion of the notebook you want to share into a shared folder. For example, if you want to sync your entire notebook with a second machine, make the folder “My Notebook” a shared folder (right-click on the folder, choose sharing, etc. Note one gotcha is that you not only have to give yourself read/write access, you also have to give yourself security permissions to access this share. If you don’t know how to do this, consult Windows help.) I should note that of course you can also use an actual server for this, and make both machines clients of that server.


Now, on the “client” machine, connect to that share (e.g. \\mastercomputername\notebook). Now, make that folder available offline. If you don’t know how to do this, first read this article: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/307853/.  Now, read this article on how to set up OneNote using this method: http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=831596. Keep in mind that this second article provides the most secure steps to avoid any trouble. Most of the time everything works fine without being religious about closing and manually syncing. Best to follow the steps in the link though if you plan to do this a lot and edit a lot on both machines.


If you have a different sort of setup, such as a desktop at work and at home, plus a laptop you carry between home and office, you can consider some options;



  1. Make the laptop the server. I can’t recommend this if you think the laptop will be offline most of the time, since the chance for conflicts gets greater if the time between syncs gets large – you will forget which sections you have modified on which machines. But if you mostly use the laptop, this should be fine
  2. Share only a portion of your notes. For example, pick a folder to share on the laptop and be careful to only modify the notes in there on one machine before syncing. This is good for sections of notes with things like passwords or other rarely changing info.

Use a file syncing program


There are lots of utilities that will sync files between two machines. You can use these to make two folders have identical content when the machines reconnect with each other. This is similar to Windows offline folders. These tools have the same limitations in that you cannot modify the same files (sections) in two places without syncing first. Some of these tools let you pick which file types to synchronize. You can opt to not synchronize the hidden *.onetoc files which OneNote creates in each folder and which hold the information on which sections are open or closed in that folder. If you do not sync those, you can have a different set of sections open on each machine even though the set of *.one files is the same.


Use a “real” server


You can place a single section, multiple sections, or an entire folder (with subfolders) onto a UNC server share (i.e. normal file share using the \\server\share syntax) or multiple sections onto an http:// location that supports WebDAV (http://www.webdav.org/other/faq.html) Typical servers that support WebDAV you might be familiar with are MSN Groups and Windows SharePoint Services, as well as any of the “hard drive in the sky” websites.


For example, I keep one section on my personal website (my hosting service supports WebDAV), and all my machines and my wife’s machines point to it. I set this up just by saving the file to the web site (Use File/Save As, then paste the URL of your web site into the Save dialog). This adds to your set of sections a “Shortcut section” tab to the section file which is now on the web site. You can go ahead and delete the original now. Then from every other machine I just did a File/Open and navigated to the web site, and opened the file. Of course each machine needs to have read/write access to the location where the section lives.


The difference with this system over the offline files or file sync approach is that the data always lives on the server. If you cannot see the server, you cannot see the data. Conversely, there is no conflict danger since only one person can change the file at a time. This is a good solution for desktops that are always connected to the internet or your internal network.


Create a shared notebook


What I call a shared notebook here is just a folder share that is accessed from many machines (yours or other people too). It works only with UNC shares. First, set up a share like \\servername\sharednotebook. Now, use File/Open Folder, and open that folder share. That’s it. Tell everyone you want to work with to do the same. Do it from all your machines. Now you have a shared OneNote “notebook” that shows up as a folder in your own notebook. You can’t take it with you since it lives on the server, but you can work on any section, create new sections, etc and every user sees the same stuff on their machines (in addition to their private notes in other folders). While you work on a section you prevent others from editing it, but after a minute or so of inactivity others will be able to work on it. If you want to hurry that up, you can always right click on the section tab and choose “Allow others to edit”.


Let me know how it goes!

Comments (32)

  1. Aloha Chris!

    Good tips. There is one other option I can think of and that is locating the notebook you want to share on a flash drive and moving it back and forth. I’ve done that in the past and it worked fine; you just have to remember to move the drive back and forth.

    -Ben-

  2. Right – I knew I forgot one! Thanks Ben.

  3. Chris Pratley, einer der OneNote-Gurus bei MS, hat sich in seinem Weblog einem Thema angenommen, was viele OneNote-User – so auch mich – immer wieder plagt: Wie kann ich mein OneNote-Notizbuch auf mehreren Computern (Desktop und TabletPC im Regelfall) nutzen und synchron halten?

  4. Edicted Blog says:

    n très bon articles de Chris Pratlet qui travaille sur Onenote chez microsoft. SOn blog regorge d’infos intérressante sur ce logiciel pas comme les autres. Aujourd’hui, toutes les techniques pour partager son blocnote et l’utiliser sur plusieurs machines. Using OneNote on two or more machines One question I hear pretty often is: "hey, I have two machines with OneNote – how do I keep my notes in sync?" There are a lot of ways to do this. In some ways…

  5. derek says:

    I’ve been using the briefcase function on Windows to sync my whole My Notebook folder, which has worked great so far. I’ve never had a problem, even when OneNote is open on both machines, as long as I haven’t been working for a while on them, they sync fine (since each file is then saved and goes into "read-only" mode.

    My question is syncing the stuff other than the data–how do I get the settings (like the buttons on my toolbars and the note flags) to sync?

  6. Mark says:

    To sync OneNote settings, you need to synchronise the folder located at:

    c:Documents and Settings(your login)Application DataMicrosoftOneNote

    ‘Application Data’ is normally hidden, so you need to set Explorer to show you ‘hidden files’ if you’d like to browse to it normally.

  7. Benoit_Barabe (MS) says:

    For using offline files, I strongly recommend using Windows XP SP2 or Windows Server 2003 SP1, in addition to making sure you have SP1 of OneNote. These have many fixes that makes the experience much smoother.

  8. James R-S says:

    I use Groove (www.groove.net), the newly Microsoft acquired tool, to do the folder synching. The beaut thing with Groove is that I can share sub folders with other people and any conflicts are manifested as "Conflict" tabs in OneNote.

  9. Gordon Watts says:

    I use the offline files, with a small trick. I have setup my portable as my "server" — it exports everything. I then use a free IP DNS service (no-ip.com for me, but anyone will do) to register the local IP address of the computer. I then use a share name like "\mymachine.servequake.comnotebook" to connect to. The advantage of this is when I’m at home behind a NAT I can still easily share my notebook. The OneNote SP1 features really make having multiple versions of OneNote going easy to use — thanks!

  10. John Gibson says:

    I use the Groove to synch my OneNote files and it works great.

  11. HPClean says:

    i’m using Syncback for synchronise Onenote Notebook betwenn 2 or 3 computers (2 Tablets – M200 and NEC versa pro and My desktop).

    It’s really a great piece of software very simple to use

    a review in french: http://www.tabletpccorner.net/revue_72.html

    Syncback:

    http://www.2brightsparks.com/syncback/syncback-hub.html

  12. Doug says:

    I’m having a really hard time finding an affordable ASP.NET host that also offers webdav. Any suggestions?

  13. Nick says:

    I am attempting to Use WEBDAV to access a shared section but OneNote is throwing up a very generic error. When I say WebDav, I am completing a file->open->section and entering "http://www.temp.com/section.one". It looks as though it is connecting and then errors with "OneNote has encountered a problem and cannot complete this operation." Where are the log files so that I an further troubleshoot? Thanks All.

  14. Nick, are you able to use, say, Word and do a Save As of a document using that path?

  15. I really wish there was a way in OneNote itself to say that I want to copy these 5 sections from my Tablet back to the OnteNote folder for my desktop PC (which is a mapped drive on the server but as the Tablet leaves the office it can’t be the OneNote folder for the Tablet too). I don’t want the desktop notes on my Tablet, but I do want the Tablet notes on my desktop. I have problems with Offline Files because my desktop runs XP Home (because I do the reader QA for the Official Widnwos XP Magazine and Home XP is the domiant OS for the questions, so I need to live the pain). It would be very neat to see OneNote expose something in the the SyncManager in Longhorn to do this 😉

  16. Dennis says:

    How about using the Microsoft’s SyncToy? Wouldn’t that allow to sync onenote files? Specifically to answer Mary’s request, it allows to synchronize files one way only.

  17. Mark Orlassino says:

    Use Groove Virtual Office’s File Sharing Workspace URL: http://www.groove.net. It works great and you can install Groove on 5 machines per user license. Basic Groove (Groove File Sharing Edition) with this very powerful feature costs $69. Money well spend since I’ve found my other uses for Groove File Sharing which includes synchronizing the OneNote My Notebook. BTW, Groove Networks is now owned by Microsoft. Ray Ozzi (of lotus notes fame) was the principle of Groove he is now Microsoft’s CTO.

  18. Yes, I’ve started using Groove too and it works very well (automatically going through firewalls is awesome). Like all the file-based sync technologies you do have to be careful not to modify the same section on two machines before syncing, but with the firewall traversal, at least you don’t have to VPN into your work machine to sync. Other than that it works really well. Of course, offline files is free…

  19. ponzu says:

    Thanks for the tips. I am just now looking into One Note, and unless I can keep my notes accessible via Internet, it is of little use to me. Hence the question: are there any free WebDAV services?

    (And if not, which paid service(s) do you recommend?)

  20. ponzu says:

    I found two WebDAV services that could work for me: MSN and Intranets (my company uses it). I am able to save and open a section (.one file) to and from the web folder. However, I seem to be unable to host my entire notebook on the web: when I click File->Open-Folder… or Tools->Options->Opena and Save->Paths->My Notebook, it says "You cannot use an Internet address here. Enter a path that points to a location on your computer or on the network."

    Is this consistent with your experience/mode of OneNote use? If so, what good does it do if I can store one (or multiple sections) on the web?

    My goal is: whichever of my three computers I use, I should see the same notes. Regardless of which onese of them are online, or whether any Synchronization took place. Am I dreaming?

  21. Ponzu, you’re not dreaming, but we don’t do all that yet. In Onenote2003, you can host individual sections on a web site (potentially ALL your sections, but I wouldn’t recommend it). All your machines can see them and edit them. On each machine though, your notebook root has to be local or on a file share. That means all your remotely hosted sections will appear as shortcuts – that is, they look like they are in your notebook but they are not available when offline. Try this out at first with just one section of notes you think you need to share and see how it goes. Not every site implements all of WebDAV, so you may find your experience is better with certain sites.

  22. ron eagle says:

    I am kind of new at this but what we want to do is have two machines running the exact same program (media shout3) simultaneously. We need immediate failsafe as this program displays song words and scriptures during church service so there is no room for errors. We are planning to buy a second identical computer so that all functionality is identical and then link them through a switch device so that we share keyboard, mouse and monitor. Would the "OneNote" software do what we want? or is there another product that could do better

  23. Ron, sorry, OneNote is not that sort of produc. It doesn’t synchronize execution of generic programs on two machines. I am not sure I can think of a program that does that although I am sure there is something out there. If you are going to have a human pressing keys to make the words advance then your approach of a switchbox that sends the same commands to each PC should be fine.

  24. Steve Bonario says:

    I have set up a folder share on the recently acquired "FolderShare" (foldershare.com) for sharing OneNote 2003 notebooks between two of my machines. Finally gave me the flexibility and consistency I needed. Wondering if this is how OneNote 2007 will handle single notebook sync and collaboration…

  25. Its an obvious thing. You have two or more PCs that you work with. You want to access all your stuff…

  26. Its an obvious thing. You have two or more PCs that you work with. You want to access all your stuff

  27. First, let me point out that Owen Braun is blogging now. He’s the lead program manager on my team responsible