A lot of the world’s advances in personal information management would never have happened if men were allowed to carry purses. We have developed all kinds of complicated belt-clipped and pocket-sized devices, like smart phones and PDAs, to replace the perfectly functional, but bulky paper agenda.
“Notebook” software is a somewhat recent addition to the mix of purse-less agenda replacements. I’m talking about software that keeps track of a collection of text, picture and multimedia clips. Although most agenda software has a simple notepad of some kind built in, it’s often nice to have a tool specifically made for keeping notes. A couple of years ago, I started keeping a plain text document (still called “New Text Document.txt”) that I would edit with notepad.exe for little things I needed to jot down. That document is automatically synchronized with my PocketPC so I can take it everywhere with me.
Microsoft OneNote took the “notebook software” idea to the next level by adding a whole raft of new features. It was designed as a companion for the Tablet Edition of Windows XP. I’ve been using OneNote for several months now, and I’ve yet to use some of the advanced features, like the spell checker, audio recording or drawing tools. Sometimes it’s because I don’t feel the need to use them. In other cases, as with the Outlook “integration,” it’s so complicated or poorly implemented that it’s not worth the effort. For instance, OneNote would be much more useful if it could synchronize in real-time with your notes in Outlook so you could take them with you on your Windows Mobile or PocketPC device. But I digress.
Google Notebook is a new project from Google Labs, and it is similar in many ways to MS OneNote. It takes a slightly different approach though. While OneNote keeps all your files on your local PC, Google Notebook stores your data on Google’s servers. Depending on how you feel about the security and privacy of your data, you may or may not like this, but it has some advantages. The biggest advantage is that you can retrieve your notebook information from anywhere you can access the Internet.
Google Notebook is also a lot simpler than OneNote, which isn’t entirely a bad thing. Like I said before, I don’t use most of the advanced features of OneNote, so having a leaner program with less clutter can be an advantage. Google Notebook has all of the basic features of a notebook program though. You can create different sub-notebooks to organize your things. You can manually create new notes, or you can copy and paste them from websites. One very cool feature is that you can set any of your sub-notebooks as “public” so you can share them with the world. It’s a bit similar to del.icio.us, but feels slightly different because it is geared more towards notes rather than bookmarks.
Google Notebook runs within your browser. It’s written in AJAX, so although it’s a web application, it acts like a desktop application. In the screen shot above, you can see that I’ve grabbed a note and I’m dragging it to a different section of the notebook.
There’s an optional, but highly recommended browser extension for Firefox that makes Google Notebook much easier to use. After you install the extension, you can select any text or pictures from a web page, right click and “Send to Google Notebook.”
After you’ve added the new note to your notebook, you can move it to a different section, edit it, or delete it. You can also manually create new notes and just type them in.
As good as Google Notebook is, there are some limitations. For instance, for obvious copyright reasons, it doesn’t copy pictures into your notebook. It just displays them from the originating server, so if that web page is removed, or if the server is set up to block external linking to images, you’re out of luck. At least with OneNote you can copy and paste the actual image into the notebook.
Also, I wish there was a way to send a note directly to a certain section of your notebook. Right now, it just sends the note to the last section that was opened. You have to either open your notebook and manually switch to the right section before copying the note, or you have to drag the note into the correct section after copying it. It’s a bit cumbersome, and could be solved by expanding the “Send to Google Notebook” menu item to show the existing sub-notebooks within. To be fair, this is a limitation shared by OneNote too.
There’s also no way to synchronize Google Notebook with my PocketPC. Since OneNote doesn’t do this effectively either, I am still left with my original New Text Document.txt for keeping notes that I want to take with me when I go out.
So, it seems that each of my methods of note-keeping has managed to stay useful to me in some way. I’m now concurrently keeping notes in my New Text Document.txt, MS OneNote, and Google Notebook. Google Notebook is still in beta stages (like nearly everything with “Google” in front of it), so there’s still hope for the future. But, life would be a lot simpler if I could just carry a purse! 😛