Unifying the analog and the digital with OneNote

One of the long term visions for OneNote is to bring together "your information" and make it findable and reusable, regardless of format. When we look at the types of info we try to help people organize, it is obvious that a lot of it lives outside the digital realm: Business cards, handouts, receipts. People always have a collection of paper that accompanies their PC because it is hard to include that stuff in their digital storage. Beyond paper, there are other analog forms of information such as speeches (audio) and "performances" (video). You hear and see things today, but all you have are your memories of that, or maybe a recording on tape or mini-recorder. As you know from the current release of OneNote, there's a lot of value in just being able to capture various kinds of information in one place: text, HTML, ink, photos, audio/video recordings. In OneNote "12", we're going to go even farther.

More or less, anything you put into OneNote 12 becomes searchable.

Printed documents: today, you can print a document or PDF or whatever into OneNote using the
OneNote ImageWriter PowerToy (thanks Darron!) . OneNote 12 includes its own "OneNote Import Printer Driver" which captures the text of any document that is printed to it, and stores it with the images of the pages you print into OneNote. This lets you have not only images of printed pages, but you can search through the text in those images. This printer driver works for anything that can be printed, not just Microsoft applications or documents.

Scanned documents: if you scan a document or business card into OneNote, or just drag an existing image of a document (such as a fax) into OneNote, we'll recreate the text "underneath" the image and make it searchable more or less as if you had printed the document into us - even though you never had the text in digital form. That is, we run an "OCR" (optical character recognition) pass on the image (thanks MSR!), figure out what the text is, and put that as meta data on the image. Pretty slick. BTW, this even works for PDFs that consist of scanned documents. So those PDFs of product brochures, or PDFs someone created on their new office copier that scans to PDF will become searchable. For you existing OneNote users, that means the documents you have printed into OneNote already will all automatically become searchable!

Photos of documents: you can also take a digital camera photo of just about anything with text in it, put it in OneNote, and we'll make it searchable. The poor-man's scanner. Of course cameras are portable, so you can capture documents while travelling, shopping, etc. I find taking pictures of things a great way of taking "notes"...

Screen clippings: When you use the screen clippings feature in OneNote (Windows-S shortcut), you can insert a screenshot of an area of the screen you choose. This image is then OCR'd just like those other images. In fact, we're including about four different OCR engines in OneNote, each one optimized for different types of images that contain text. We sniff the type of image and use the appropriate one automatically.

Audio/Video: Audio and Video you have recorded or placed in OneNote will also get indexed (Video is indexed by the audio stream). This is some cool MSR technology from our lab in Beijing that we're quite pleased to have. The way this works is pretty cool. The audio is converted from waveforms to phonetic equivalents, and those are indexed. You can type your search term, then this is converted by OneNote into a phonetic equivalent which searches against the phonetic index of the audio. Actually this is a gross oversimplification but you get the idea. You can use this to search your notes for a particular voice note you took, or to find the point in an hour-long interview when a particular word is mentioned (way better than fast forwarding and rewinding to find a spot)

Of course handwriting is also searchable (on a Tablet PC) - that was our first example of taking analog data and making it part of your digital world.

Oh, and I should mention that OneNote12 uses the new Windows Desktop indexed search engine, so all searches are instantaneous! Sweet! Dude!

Comments (50)

  1. Shadowen says:

    Wow, I’ve been dreaming of digitizing my life like this since I first started taking notes!!! I’ll keep my expectations realistic, but OCRing anything visual that we pump into OneNote is clearly the way to go. If it wasn’t included in this version I was thinking of trying to write a plugin to do it!

    I’m also a huge fan of using a digital camera to ‘take’ notes… it’s like having a photographic memory. I was recently on a trip where I met a whole bunch of people and we all wanted to exchange addresses. Knowing that I’d probably loose half the little slips of paper people gave me I just took a photo of each one, so quick and convenient! And doing it with voice recordings too… might have to get a voice recorder to carry around with me to take notes whenever some inspiration hits.

    Keep it up OneNote team… I really think you’re starting a revolution in personal information management. Eventually everyone will see the light, I’m sure of it. We’re not going to be scratching notes on dead trees in 2020, I’m sure of it… just a matter of time.


  2. FrankieFives says:

    Chris, first off, its great to see you posting again, I am always interested in hearing more about both onenote and the other topics you’ve felt like covering.

    that being said, i have a question for you, that can be summed up in one word: firefox?

    are you going to do integration/a plugin/something in order to make it so that onenote doesnt consider firefox a second-class citizen? to be frank (and i AM frank, so i can be frank quite easily), i’m seriously considering a switch to EverNote merely because i have a button on my toolbar that elegantly copies slected text/graphics from firefox right into evernote.

    and i dont have to mess with a "print to onenote" interface, it’s just a simple "copy-this-to-evernote-thank-you-very-much"

    that being said, i’m not convinced that feature by feature evernote is going to win me over, but the lack of strong support for firefox in onenote has irritated me for months now.

  3. Technovia says:

    Some really cool stuff is coming down the line in OneNote 12, according to Chris_Pratley’s OneNote WebLog. The best bit for me? Indexing of audio and video content: Audio and Video you have recorded or placed in OneNote will also

  4. Tobias says:

    Chris, in the three months I’ve been working with OneNote now, it has become the single most important piece of software for me. First of all, thanks for your great work! Btw, I use ink vs. non-ink ca. 30% vs. 70% of my time.

    The only piece of information I still keep "outside" are PDFs — several hundreds of scientific papers which I want to annotate _and_ search digitally (I am currently using a tool called PDFAnnotator for this task which has much better ink support than Acrobat Professional). Thus, I was delighted to hear that PDFs (and apparently much more) will remain/become searchable after integration in ON12. I hope that you’ll be able to prevent PDF file size explosion — it wouldn’t be nice if a 300kB PDF will turn into a 50MB image after "printing" to OneNote. Maybe it would be good if users can adjust the resolution? For example, I _never_ print out things, so I don’t need 300dpi. From the web it is obvious that many other users are longing for a good way to integrate their PDFs into ON, so I hope very much that you do as well concerning this feature as in the rest of this great program.

  5. Asbjoern Andersen says:

    Brilliant to see that document scanning will be better integrated in the next OneNote – and the search capabilities definitely sound great as well!

    Chris, I’ve posted a few feature suggestions for an upcoming version of OneNote in the "Anticipation…"-thread, but I’m curious as how to officially submit feature suggestions (and bug reports) for OneNote – could you shed some light on that?


    – Asbjoern

  6. OneNote is #1 says:

    Wow, I can’t wait to get OneNote 12!

    Although I do have a question. When you say:

    "Oh, and I should mention that OneNote12 uses the new Windows Desktop indexed search engine, so all searches are instantaneous! Sweet! Dude!"

    Does ON12 _use_ the new Windows Desktop search or does ON12 _require_ the new Windows desktop? That is, will ON12 be able to support all these great new features on Windows XP Pro and Office 2003, or will it only work with (and require) Windows Vista and Office 12?

  7. Jehtris says:

    Wow, can’t wait to get this. One question: Will it support scanned in handwritten notes? If so, then OneNote would truely be the killer app that TPC OS has needed.

  8. filburt1 says:

    The OCR and print imaging features you said were exactly the main new features with OneNote. Great. 🙂

  9. Vince Anido says:

    Well, I’m out.

    In one post you’ve addressed all my main requests of OneNote.

    Excellent work guys. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. You’ve fundamentally changed the way I work – Thank you.

  10. Guy Kewney says:

    You’ve come SO CLOSE to implementing a feature I have been wanting for some time: the ability to use OneNote as a podcast medium.

    As I’ve briefly <a href="http://www.theikew.co.uk/2005/09/i_like_onenote_.html">tried to explain</a> the trouble with an ordinary podcast is that it’s just an audio stream.

    The work you’re doing on indexing audio, plus the inherent annotating power of OneNote, means that I’m seriously thinking of producing my blog as a OneNoteCast…

  11. Oh, the agony of waiting to see this in action. This all sounds marvelous. Kudos to everyone on the team.

  12. FeralBoy says:

    Oh man, Chris, you guys have outdone yourselves…and this is just the FIRST look at a "single" new feature in ON12! I’m gonna be pressing "refresh" on you page a lot for the next couple days!

  13. BlueJay says:

    Will we also be able to select and copy the OCR text, or the audio/video text? That would be a great feature!

  14. Le guru de Onenote a enfin le droit de parler 😀 2 posts aujourd’hui, un assez g&#233;n&#233;ral sur office 12 , la nouvelle interface et pourquoi Onenote 12 n’en profitera pas (pas assez de fonctions). Vous pourrez trouver &#233;galement le lien sur le keynote de billou qui pr&#233;sente Office 12 et Windows Vista. Et un 2eme poste qui rentre plus dans le d&#233;tail sur les fonctionnalit&#233;s d’OCR (reconnaissance de caract&#232;re) de Onenote 12. Autant dire que c’est extremement puissant. N’importe…

  15. I really love OneNote. I think it’s probably one of the single most useful applications ever created….

  16. scoobie says:

    Sounds great, but I just hope we get categories (like Outlook) so you can properly index notes. Lots of outliners had this sort of functionality (look at infotree for instance)

    This would be useful to students using onenote for instance. A

    note might be a lecture on "leadership" but also relevant to the categories

    "change management" and "Human resources." This helps cope with the fact

    that everything doesn’t fit into neat sections; in real life topics tend to

    overlap. You can use noteflags to do the same sort of thing of course but

    there aren’t enough of them. It would be easier to index by the words rather

    than noteflag symbols anyway as the symbols are pretty meaningless.

  17. Tobias: file sizes of printed PDFs will likely be larger than the original file because we are going with an image rather than "text + PDF rendering engine". We’ll try to set the default so the results are a reasonable tradeoff betwen size and print quality. You’ll be able to adjust those.

    Asbjoern: I saw your other comment with feature ideas. We’ll have to see, but some of those are realistically lower priority than others (check our newsgroup for the likely list of new things in OneNote – we draw from what people request most often)

    OneNote is #1: OneNote 12 search does not require Office 12 or Vista or the consumer "Windows Desktop Search" to be installed. We use that engine if it is already installed, otherwise we install it oursleves and run it silently in the background, only for our own files.

    Jehtris: scanning and OCRing handwritten notes is a much harder problem than the other cases, but it is something MSR is researching. Maybe someday…

    BlueJay: if I get my way…. Actually, for audio/video there is no "text", just phonetic possibilities. Converting that to a "transcript" by oickign one possibilty is still beyond our capabilities to do without so much inaccuracy that you just get annoyed rather than find it useful.

    scoobie: categories you can do today by typing unique search words on pages. Then do a search and the "category" list comes up. For example, anywhere on that page type "leadership, Change management, and Human Resources" (or, "#lead;#change;#HR", then search on "#lead" or whatever)

  18. Frankie Fives: I realize I missed a question of yours: FireFox support. My understanding is that FireFox has an extensibility capability. Our import API is available and public. I think someone is working on a powertoy for FireFox to send pages to OneNote. I’d be glad to see that.

  19. Larry says:

    Everyone who hates Microsoft just had their hearts turn a little darker. I don’t know what Microsoft is putting in the programmers’ Mountain Dew, but keep it up. Very cool stuff.

  20. Configurable Modes/Codecs for Recording. Especially adding Audio Gain to the Audio codecs?

    My biggest gripe is that while most Tablet PC’s (where OneNote Excells) today come with in-built mic’s. They have just one mono speaker. Hence when you play back the audio recorded its hardly audible. If there was a way to auto- increase the level of audio recorded it would be very easy to actually utilize audio more popularly. Today I need to stick it out to external speakers to listen to the recordings – pretty bad solution. Since even with headphones you generally do not get the clarity of voice.

    Also on codec’s I belive MS has a special Voice Codec in WM9. Why not have modes for recording audio? So I could switch the underlying codec based on what kind of content I am recording (usually meetings).

  21. David says:

    While the search features for PDFs, sound, video etc sound GREAT, it would be even greater if I could get them without putting these files into OneNote… I see myself pasting audio and video files into OneNote, just so that I can search them with desktop search. That would really be a shame. Couldn’t you just install enhanced IFilter implementations for audio, video files with OneNote (or maybe even just with Vista) so that I get these cool search features with any file on my harddrive? Otherwise it seems to me that you clearly get design that is driven by product group structure within Microsoft (ie the OneNote team wants to do that, so it is all completely tied to OneNote), rather than what is usefull to customers.

  22. EMRhelp.org says:

    People are not understanding OneNote’s Support of PDF.

    You will be allowed to "Print the PDF to OneNote", but after that it will NOT be a PDF file.

    I hope this blog is only mentioning a very small percentage of the new features in OneNote 2.0. So far being able to have oneNote OCR image files is not the progress this immature app needs.

  23. Saurabh: You can configure what codecs are used for Audio/Video recording in Tools/Options/Audio and Video. If the gain on your mic is too low, try running the Tuning Wizard (there’s a link to it in the same Tools/Options location at the bottom of the panel). You could also look in Device Manager to see if there is an option for "Mic Boost" or similar for your audio device. If that doesn’t work, there’s not much that can be solved in software – you may just have a bad mic.

    David: An iFilter just exposes text content to the search system. The Search work OneNote did was to run analysis to try to create text that can be searched. I think it might make sense for Vista to do something like this eventally. The code is available for them to do it once it becomes a priority for them – I think they are working on bigger issues right now.

  24. EMRHelp.org: Actually, I think it is pretty clear that people *do understand* that printing a PDF into OneNote makes it a searchable image. Tobias’ comments make it clear he understands, and I clarified above in my response to him (as well as in my original post – which wa spretty clear). FWIW, when you print, we will retain a link to the PDF you printed. You are correct that this blog entry mentions just one of the many new features in OneNote 12.

    Since I know you regularly post in the OneNote newsgroup claiming OneNote is useless, could you clarify what capabilities you think OneNote would need to become "mature"? And are you implying as you do in the newsgroup that it doesn’t have any utility until it is "mature"? I think the comments of others here would say otherwise, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

  25. Andy Y. Lin says:

    I mentioned this on TPCBuzz, but I’ll put it here too:

    I think it’d be good to have an option that lets you import a document for pure screen reading. So OneNote would scan it at the appropriate DPI for OCR, but when it prints to the screen, it will choose the current screen resolution. I’ve found that 96 dpi is often just fine for reading on the screen. This way you can save disk space in the OneNote sections.

  26. Rob Stevens says:

    Hey Chris … if you need some in-depth "real world" feedback, let me know. I’ll be using nothing but OneNote and Acrobat PDF eBooks this quarter (and for the next two years if all goes well), so I’ll be relying on OneNote pretty hard. 🙂

  27. Harry Moyal says:

    Chris, I’ve just discovered your blog and I love it!

    Before commenting on your latest post, I just want to STRONGLY disagree with EMRHelp.org’s statement about the interest and maturity of OneNote. I am using it since I acquired a Tablet PC (i.e. 1 year ago) and it quickly become the application that I am using the most. Every addition to the product (SP1 and lately the "Send to One Note" included in the Education Pack) enhanced my user experience significantly.

    I was convinced of OneNote’s value in the professional context but now that I am student again, OneNote’s value is just 10 times bigger! And the daily extatic comments that I hear from both my professors and classmates make me believe that you are in the right direction … so keep up the great work!

    That said, you can imagine how thrilled I am by the improvements that you described for Office 12 … I just can’t wait. Will you organize a beta program for maniac like me? 😉

  28. Andy: You can set the DPI of the virtual printers (ImageWriter. etc) in their options (properties) dialog. Choose 100dpi to get screen readability and save space.

    Rob: More info on public beta will be forthcoming as we approach the new year

    Harry: thanks for the strong support. We can always improve but it is great to hear people having positive experiences with the current product. As I told Rob, more info on beta you can participate in will be available towards the new year.

  29. Leanne Owen-Keenan says:

    Hi Chris

    It’s beginning to look like OneNote is trying to be a replacment for Document Management Systems (e.g. like Scansoft’s Paperport) or maybe I am missing something. Not that I have a problem with it being so, but if it is then it could end up top heavy with pages and pages of copied/scanned items or, if it’s not then we are back with the same problem of having duplicated info in two places on the PC – thus seriously increasing data storage requirements.

    Sorry, the comment above is definitely not intended as a moan, just a "trying to understand". You may recall that I posted a while ago about not following what use I could make of a product like OneNote but have subsequently actually found it immensely useful (some of the stuff I do includes bits and bobs about Geneology records – copy/pasted from websites, typed notes from conversations with relatives, extracts from emails etc etc). What I’m concerned about is the old (tired?) arguement of software/data file bloat.

    Still, I’m looking forward to the new version and, as others have said, keep up the blogging! As far as I’m concerned it’s far more useful than most training days or help files and makes me feel like my input actually gets through and that it might even be listened to 😀

  30. Leanne, if you scan a document and put the result in OneNote, it is searchable, and there is no need for an extra copy (you can always extract the scan from OneNote easily). So I am not sure about the point you make regarding "duplicated info". If you print a document into OneNote that you also have on your hard drive, you can leave the file where it was or move it to be an embedded file on the OneNote page. You could consider the printed version and the original two copies, but I assume you printed it and kept the original for some purpose (such as to annotate). I wouldn’t recommend for example printing all your electronic documents into OneNote unless you have a need to do so. There’s no question that if you make enough scans to fill your hard drive that’s a problem – but that’s also a lot of data with today’s HDs in the 60GB+ range. Even with a hi-res scan that is many tens of thousands of pages. Glad you’re enjoying the current product!

  31. Philip Schlesinger says:

    Hi! I’m now using the Send to OneNote printer to import my PDF lecture notes into OneNote and OMG my .one files are huge! Anybody got a better suggestion?

    – Phil

  32. Try reducing the output resolution. Changing 300dpi to 200dpi reduces the size by more than half. To 150dpi reduces it to 1/4. To 100dpi to 1/9.

  33. gmx lee says:

    This is an extension for firefox, which can send selected text and images to OneNotes.


  34. ND says:

    Are you to poor to afford a few piuctures ?

  35. Beta 1 of &quot;OneNote 12&quot; (and &quot;Office12&quot;) is now available for download for those people who are signed…

  36. scoobie says:


    Just seen your response on categories,  thanks for that, and the suggestion that you can do it now by putting in unique words e.g. "#lead"

    I did realise that myself – but it took me ages to figure it out and I reckon most people wouldn’t realise you can do it that way.

    But I like having a list you can select predetermined categories from using a tick box (eg as in outlook, and some other information managers). Otherwise you have to remember your categories all the time.

    I think most information managers have this sort of functionality, and I don’t think I’m the only one advocating it for onenote, so I hope it will make it up the to do list !  thanks

  37. OneNote_Fan says:

    Does this mean scanned pages of handwritten notes will become searchable also? Thanks for a great product! OneNote has made school work fun! I am looking forward to the next version.

  38. scoobie: got it

    OneNote_Fan: Sorry, we don’t make scanned *handwriting* searchable. That’s the next step but it wasn’t high enough quality to make it in this release.

  39. scoobie says:


    Thanks for noting my point about categories (tags). Its great to be able to access the developer team with ideas for the product.

    2 programmes I suggest you or your team looks at for Category functionality ideas are Evernote (take a look at the category view) and an older outliner programme called Infotree by http://www.Nextword.com which was , in my opinion, way ahead of its time.

    Infotree calls its categories/tags "keywords" and has a really powerful search function for keywords (you can search on keyword search and text search simultanously) plus a good editor for editing your master category list (like Outlook has)

    Infotree is here


    It’s struck me that a simple way you could implement categories is to have an unlimited number of noteflags and allow each noteflag to have a text based name (I’m not sure if either of these ideas are in Office 12 already). It would be useful to be able to search on more than one noteflag at a time, and to be able to search on noteflags and text at the same time.  

    Keep up the good work, you’re developing a world class product.

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  44. Last week we released Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Office System 2003. This includes OneNote 2003. Although

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