Microsoft OneNote sounds new tune

The software giant's accidental release of Office 2003 Beta 2 gives developers and enterprise users a first peek at OneNote, one of two new applications.

Developers and enterprise customers are getting their first glimpse of OneNote, one of two new Office 2003 applications that Microsoft accidentally posted--then quickly removed--from the Web on Wednesday.

Microsoft inadvertently released a new test version of OneNote, along with copies of the other new program, InfoPath, and the entire Office 2003 Professional suite.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company posted the Office 2003 betas to its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) around noon Wednesday, but pulled the software a little more than six hours later following an inquiry from CNET

The accidental posting pre-empted the scheduled March release of Office 2003 Beta 2.

Microsoft released an earlier Office 2003 beta, then code-named Office 11, in October to about 12,000 testers. But only a small number of testers received copies of OneNote, which is similar to a word processor but is intended for quick handling of short notes as opposed to long multipart documents. Wednesday's posting potentially greatly expands the number of people outside Microsoft working with the new software.

Noting the difference
OneNote differs from Microsoft Word, the company's popular word processing program, in many areas. Most of the major differences have to do with concept rather than the gulf of features between the two products.

Microsoft considers OneNote more of a "pre-content" creation tool, where the user takes more charge of how he or she organizes ideas or information, said a Microsoft spokeswoman. Word, by contrast, gives a more rigidly defined "left to right" means of creating documents, she added.

One visual difference is immediately obvious: OneNote does not come with a "Save" option. The program automatically saves handwritten notes or text as they are inputted and again when the user closes a document.

In another departure from Word, the user can input notes anywhere on the page, a process that might appeal to people used to jotting down information anywhere on a document. The information exists in what Microsoft calls a "container." The user can rearrange the containers anywhere on the page, another feature not found in Word.

OneNote documents also use different organizational methods than those found in Word. The user's OneNote notebook is organized into pages that are accessed using tabs across the top of a document. Each page also can be divided into subpages, which are accessed by tabs running down the side of a document.

The concept of organizing information using tabs is not new. Lotus SmartSuite introduced tabs as a way of organizing information within a document more than five years ago.

Besides inputting typed text, users also can draw with a mouse--or stylus, if working on a portable running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Users can choose to keep handwritten text in its original form or convert it to typed text for use in other documents.

OneNote also distinguishes between drawings and written text when the user taps the container. This distinction is important, because of new handwriting-search features available in OneNote and other Office 2003 applications. Users can search for specific handwritten information as well as apply formatting to handwritten text, such as bullet points. The search feature also is capable of finding notes by date or even by page number.

Microsoft also has provided a number of rule lines to simulate writing on paper, such as that used for standard lined paper, college ruled or grids found on graph paper.

The software accommodates audio notes, in addition to those typed or written. OneNote uses Windows Media Player 9 Series codecs to record the audio notes, which can be saved in a variety of mono or stereo bit rates. The feature requires that a microphone be attached to the computer, hardware typically provided with portables but not necessarily desktop PCs.

OneNote supports Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), so that users can publish their notes as Web pages. But the program--at least in its first incarnation--does not support the Extensible Markup Language (XML) used in Web services, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman. Microsoft is touting XML support in other Office 2003 applications, such as InfoPath and Word, as a way of simplifying data exchange between documents.

Microsoft has not said whether OneNote would be included with Office 2003 or sold separately. But according to the Help file included with the software, OneNote will be part of Office 2003 Professional. Microsoft also could choose to include the software with Office 2003 Standard.

A Microsoft spokesman would not discuss Microsoft's bundling strategy ahead of any official release of Office 2003 Beta 2. But he warned that the information contained in the Help file doesn't mean Microsoft has made a final decision on OneNote bundling.

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