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Microsoft sharpens note-taking tool

The software giant releases a trial version of the first major update of OneNote, an Office-related application that combines handwritten, audio and other notes with documents.

Microsoft released a trial version Monday of the first major update to OneNote, the note-taking application it introduced last year.

The trial version of Service Pack 1 (SP1) for OneNote is available for download now. Service packs are collections of big fixes and product enhancements that the company typically releases every six-to-12 months for major applications.

While the OneNote update includes some "under the hood" tweaks, SP1 largely consists of new and upgraded features based on requests from initial customers, according to Bobby Moore, a Microsoft product manager.

"Ninety percent of the enhancements we're making are a direct result of customer feedback," Moore said.

Microsoft introduced OneNote last year in conjunction with the launch of Office 2003, the company's market-leading productivity package. The application is meant to provide integrated, structured access to data culled from a variety of sources, including personal notes, Web content and e-mail messages. Note-taking information can then be fed into Office applications for creating finished documents.

Thanks to its built-in handwriting recognition, OneNote originally was expected to appeal mainly to those using devices based on Microsoft's Tablet PC format. But the application also has found a receptive audience among college students, who typically use it on a laptop PC to combine lecture notes with information from other sources. It costs $99 after rebate and $49 for the academic version.

New features in SP1 include the ability to synchronize with notes taken on handheld devices running Microsoft's Pocket PC and Smart phone software, and the ability to import meeting data from Microsoft's Outlook e-mail and calendar program.

The updated OneNote adds security features such as the ability to password-protect selected data. Microsoft has also upgraded its collaboration tools for sharing notes.

"What we wanted to do with version 1 is capture the core note-taking scenarios," Moore said. "At the same time, we wanted to observe the ways people used the product and make improvements based on what they told us."