***update June 15, 2010***
If you have Onenote 2010, the easiest way to sync notes across PCs is to store the notebooks on SkyDrive. Either create notebooks on Skydrive at office.live.com and open them into OneNote, or from your PC, use File/Share and choose Web as the method. Log in to Windows Live as directed and choose the folder to store the notebook. Then from other PCs, go to office.live.com and click the button to open the notebooks in OneNote which will set up the sync. You will need to upgrade the notebook format to 2010 if it is older since this is required for Skydrive (you’ll be prompted to do this), and 2007 or older clients will not be able to work with notebooks on Skydrive. You can also view and make some edits to OneNote notebooks stored on Skydrive in a browser using the OneNote Web App.
Its an obvious thing. You have two or more PCs that you work with. You want to access all your stuff without having to think about which PC you have it on. You don’t want to have to manually schlep files between the two.
OneNote 2007 provides a way to keep your notes available on all your machines. I’ll explain below why using OneNote’s Shared Notebooks feature is even better than the many folder syncing tools you can use.
I wrote about this some time ago for OneNote 2003. This is an updated article for OneNote 2007. We actually targeted this scenario for 2007 so it is much improved.
Scenario #1: Two computers at home.
Let’s say you have a desktop at home (for serious gaming, uh, I mean work), and recently bought a laptop or tablet that you take with you when you go out for coffee or to school or to meet a client. Maybe you take lecture or meeting notes on your laptop, but do most of your web research and brainstorming using OneNote on your desktop. (it’s great that a single copy of OneNote is licensed for two PCs, isn’t it?)
Here’s how you set up your machines so that you can see the notes on both machines.
Step 1. Use Share/Create Shared Notebook to create each notebook you want.
Step 2. On your laptop, open the links you get in mail. Do this while you are at home on the same network as the desktop.
That’s it. OneNote 2007 will cache the notebooks on the laptop. You will be able to edit them at any time even when not at home. If you leave your laptop in your car, you can edit on the desktop too, and when you go to sync up, even if you edited the same pages in the same sections, the changes will sync and you will see them all merged onto the page. In rare cases we will highlight where you did something contradictory (such as changed the wording of a sentence in both places but wrote something different each time). Syncing happens whenever the laptop is on the same network as the desktop (the desktop has to be turned on and not “asleep”) and OneNote is running on the laptop.
Here’s how easy it is to create a shared notebook for use on two or more machines:
Question I Expect To Be Frequently Asked #1 (QuIET, BeFA#1): Um, I already created a bunch of notebooks on my desktop so how do I share those?
Answer: The wizard doesn’t do any rocket science you can’t easily do yourself. All you need to do is make those notebooks accessible to your other machines. If all your notebooks are in My Documents/OneNote Notebooks, you can make them *all* shareable by making “OneNote Notebooks” a shared folder using right click, Sharing and Security…” on that folder. Once that is done, check that you can connect to that folder from your laptop. Next, from OneNote on the laptop, use File/Open Notebook, then select the folder that represents the notebook you want to open (e.g. the “My Lecture Notes” folder in the example above). Repeat that for every notebook. Remember that when using File/Open Notebook, you need to open the containing *folder*, not a file.
Scenario #2: I have a desktop at home and at work, and a laptop from work that I bring home sometimes. How do I keep notes all in sync?
Ok, a little trickier, but here goes. I’ll assume for now that you can VPN into your work once in awhile from home, but you can never see your home PC from work.
In this scenario, put the notebooks you want to share on your work PC. Make the folders they go into shared (use the wizard in Scenario #1, or the steps outlined at the end of scenario # for pre-existing notebooks).
For the laptop, open the shared notebooks using File/Open Notebook, and navigate to the location where the notebook folders are. Remember that when using File/Open Notebook, you need to open the containing *folder*, not a file.
For the desktop at home, connect to work via VPN, and do the same thing as you did for your laptop.
Ok, you’re good to go. Remember to VPN into work from home occasionally while OneNote is running to keep your home machine up to date (I leave OneNote running all the time myself).
QuIET, BeFA #2: I want to sync some notes between my home PC and my laptop. Do I have to always connect to work to do this?
Answer: No, just do what is in scenario #1 for those notebooks.
Scenario #3: I have three machines at work. How do I keep them in sync?
You could treat this the same as #1, but a more robust solution would be to use a server since they are always on and often some IT guy is backing them up for you which gives added warm fuzzy feeling.
Use the new notebook wizard, and make sure the third option is selected. When you are asked to provide the location, use a file share you know all your machines can see (at work, we have team file servers for this with names like \\onenote\public). Many companies provide a “P: drive” or public drive just for this sort of thing with paths like “P:/username/files”. Use that path. Many other companies are adopting Microsoft’s Windows SharePoint Services, or SharePoint Portal Server. This is also a great place to put your notebooks. With Portal Server, try putting the notebooks in the document library in your “My Site”.
The nice thing about using a server is it tends to be accessible all the time, whereas laptops and even desktops can go to sleep to save power or otherwise be inaccessible occasionally. Obviously if you have a computer at home it can also hook to this server at work if you VPN into your work network.
Scenario #4. I have a machine at home and one at work, and my spouse has a machine at home and one at work. How can we keep a shared notebook for our family that we can see at any time on all these computers?
I have this exact situation. The solution is to put the notebooks on a server that can be seen by all machines. Since there are multiple firewalls involved it would be tricky to use a server at one of your workplaces (usually it is hard to VPN from one corp network into another).
What I do is use a web site as a “relay server”. My ISP provides WebDAV access to directories on my web server. I can use the same wizard as in the above scenarios, but for server location I use a web address like “http://www.mywebsitesURL.com/notebooks“. OneNote can sync to web servers that support WebDAV, so all four of the machines can keep in sync with the notes found on that server.
If you run a small business, Microsoft will host SharePoint for you at Office Live. You need to sign up for Live Collaboration or Live Essentials to get WebDAV support.
QuIET, BeFA#3: Hey, why don’t I just use Foldershare or SyncToy or Windows Offline Files or Groove or some other nifty file syncing/sharing technology?
Answer: Hey, I won’t stop you. Those technologies work fine and if you aren’t having any issues, then great. However, all of them have a problem if you make changes to the same section on two different machines when at least one machine is not connected. When they go to sync, they will tell you that the two files are different and what do you want to do? Keep both (rename one), or delete one? Both of those options are pretty unpleasant as you have to figure out what has changed and manually fix things or you delete some of your work. If you use one of the methods I describe above, you allow OneNote to intelligently merge anything you changed in that section so that you do not see conflict messages like this.
QuIET, BeFA#4: Hey, it seems like this would be really cool if I wanted to invite other people besides myself to be a part of these notebooks…we could all work together in a kind of giant, permanent multi-page, 2D, multimedia whiteboard IM session. Or maybe a super-wiki that works offline for each of us, allows easy editing and formatting, and richer types of data on pages beyond text like pictures, ink, audio, video, embedded files, etc.
Answer: That’s not a question, but I completely agree. This is what Shared Notebooks are all about. I wrote about them here, and they are the biggest new thing in OneNote 2007. The new version of OneNote has grown up and become a tool for teams to use in business settings. I was talking with a big oil firm this week about their collaboration needs. They have teams of people with some of the members of each team located in Houston, some in Alaska, and a few of these people go into the field and have no net access for long periods of time so purely web-based solutions are not going to work for them. OneNote is perfect since they can set up a shared notebook as a project binder. Each machine that opens the project binder caches its contents locally for access offline. Anyone can make edits at any time and they are auto-merged for others to see without conflicts when the machine comes online. You can even put project documents such as PDF, Word, PowerPoint, Excel etc onto those note pages and those files replicate to each user. If you want to show the guys in Houston the corrosion on the rig in Alaska, drop photos you took onto the “Inspection” page, annotate them with your comments on the nature of the corrosion (even write on them with a pen too with arrows and circles!), and the whole thing is replicated to the notebook for the Houston team members to review when they want to!
Give sharing a try – you will like it and be amazed by the auto-merging in particular.