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Microsoft to debut notepad software

The software giant plans to debut specialized software intended as an electronic version of the standard notebook.

LAS VEGAS--Microsoft is set to unveil on Sunday new software intended as an electronic replacement for the standard paper notebook.

OneNote, a new PC application expected to be introduced during a keynote address by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, is the Redmond, Wash.-based company's attempt to make it easy to transcribe quick notes, preserve URLs and easily find information on your hard drive.

Conceptually, OneNote, expected to debut by the middle of next year, is similar to word processing, but it is intended for quick handling of short notes as opposed to long multipart documents, Microsoft said.

"Think of it as an electronic notebook," said John Vail, a director of product management at Microsoft.

OneNote is primarily designed to be used with keyboards on desktops and notebooks. However, the application will also be compatible with Tablet PC, which already comes with a notepad for taking handwriting notes.

OneNote, formerly code-named Scribbler, largely tries to emulate the world's most enduring communications medium by adopting its look and feel. The interface resembles a notepad. Tabs located on the fringe of the data input area of the "writing" surface provide a visual navigation system for stored notes and resemble dividers from school binders.

OneNote differs from Microsoft Word in that users can create and manage several independent documents on the same screen at once, just as someone can use the entire surface of a sheet of paper.

"A lot of what we do is to improve the efficienty of information work and paper has been at the center of how people do information work," said Jeff Raikes, group vice president of Microsoft.

A single note can also contain both typed characters and handwriting samples, added Raikes. One document, therefore, could contain lecture notes and a hand-drawn graph. The handwriting capabilities will work on all versions of OneNote for all computers, but the handwritten text will only be searchable on Tablet PCs. Over time, OneNote will likely displace the journal-application on the Tablet PC OS, he added, which lets users write text by hand.

Audio Notes, another feature, also preserved auditory recordings in the OneNote index, said Chris Pratley, group program manager for OneNote.

Navigation tools and indexes for finding old memos have also been included. Microsoft is already looking at how to migrate some of the features of the interface and navigation tools to existing Microsoft applications, Pratley added.

A beta version will go to testers in the first part of 2003, Vail said, while a commercial version will be released in the middle of the year. It is not yet determined whether OneNote will be included in the Office suite or delivered as an independent application.

Notes or Web data preserved in OneNote can also be saved in word processing documents or in e-mail messages. Saving short notes in word processing, however, is impractical as each document has to be given its own name and fit into a growing document file, Vail said. Navigation through visual memory is also not as practical in traditional file systems, he added. As with word applications, OneNote users can look for documents through term searches.

Microsoft in recent years has targeted its software as a replacement for standard paper-based notetaking. Earlier in the month, the company released the Tablet PC, a new version of Windows with built-in handwriting recognition.