A relevant discovery
I discovered an add in to OneNote one day by doing a web search on what was one of my most frustrating experiences within the product. Pages added to OneNote were sorted from earliest to latest. In other words, the most recent entry was on the bottom.
Now this may be a minor issue to many users, but for me, I have dozens, if not hundreds of pages across multiple notebooks, and accessing the most current information rapidly is important. So, introducing Onetastic:
Onetastic is the product of one of the developers of OneNote, Omer Atay. Omer developed the product in his free time to help users add some key functionality to the product. I want to go through some of the key features so you can enhance your OneNote experience.
What the heck is it?
First off, a brief explanation of what Onetastic is and what it does. Onetastic is an add in to OneNote that provides a basic level of automation to your notebooks and pages through macros. My example above is a key point. Many people consider the addition of new pages to the bottom of the list a defect in the system. There is no setting allowing the user to modify the behavior, so we have Onetastic to help with the work around. See below for an example of the default way Onetastic works, new pages are added to the bottom of the list as are notebooks.
Logically, I prefer to see my most recent pages at the top, and my notebooks sorted alphabetically, not as defaulted in the image below.
“The macro function is a large part of Onetastic”
The macro function is such a large part of the tool, a web site named Macroland, (https://getonetastic.com/macroland), has grown up around the needs of the users.
Macros are basic lines of code that perform repetitive, or simple tasks within the interface. Unlike many other Microsoft products similar to the Office line, OneNote does not support VBA, but Onetastic offers a simple enough language that most people familiar with VBA can pick it up and create macros on their own. Just as a side note, unlike typical macro tools, there is no recording function in Onetastic, so it is all programmatic.
To get more insight on the formatting of macros, structure, and a pretty good tutorial on macros specific to Onetastic, go here for additional information:
OneNote doesn’t have a calendar so that’s weak
Once you dive into Onetastic, you should take the opportunity to take a look at the two main built in functions, the calendar, and styles.
At first, I wasn’t sure where either would benefit me, but after writing several notes, and navigating through hundreds of pages, I realized how smart it was. Just quickly look through the days until you find your note, double click and you are in the page where your notes are. It’s like a master table of contents (they have macros to build those as well by the way), and it is easily navigated. Below is an example of the calendar. Clicking on an item in the calendar opens the page in OneNote. It’s a great shortcut tool.
Another interesting thing about the calendar is that it can use two dates to inform the user, and you can choose to display one or both, and each is easily differentiated. You can choose from:
- Created date
- Modified date
From a logical standpoint, the page will show up in the calendar in both places if you have Onetastic configured to display both. It is simply a matter of narrowing it down.
All of these are managed through the settings (the two small gears in the bottom right of the calendar).
Going in Style
One of the big frustrations of many OneNote users is major limitation of styles. If you look at every other office product, even Excel, there are dozens of default styles, and you can create even more. Onetastic has added the ability to not only use some embedded styles, but add more on your own.
For many users of OneNote, the questions begs “why is this important?” If you look back on several releases of the application, you see that OneNote was partially trying to appeal to students and the educational sector. You had college ruled paper and class calendar templates, the ability to free hand notes, checklists, etc. This flexibility was appealing in that many students started replacing their old Trapper Keeper style notebooks with it. But…there were limitations to this.
The actual styles (fonts, text sizing, colors, etc.) are limited to eleven different formats. From a creative standpoint this is pretty limiting:
Alternatively, Onetastic offers more than thirty default styles (not including the OneNote defaults), and the ability to customize further:
Now to further grow the functionality within the business community, there had to be the ability to almost replace the notebooks and agendas used in business. This meant offering the better formatting that fit into business type writing. It made total sense and provides the flexibility available in other office products available from Microsoft.
Pin it to the desktop
One feature I don’t use, but can see where some people might find handy is the pinning feature. It’s exactly as it sounds. You use the button identified below, and either pin it to the desktop, or to favorites:
Pretty straight forward, but I find that if you simply organize your notebooks and pages, things are pretty straight forward to find. Alternatively, you can use one of the macros to build a table of contents, the main difference here, is that bookmarking, either to a desktop or location on your PC, the updates are maintained, (such as additional pages or when things are moved around), whereas the table of contents is not.
License to Ill
The one big negative about Onetastic is the licensing model is extremely vague. The section on macros reads as follows:
“Downloading macros from Macroland and executing them will also be available on the Free version but it will require a Pro license after a while. This trial period depends on usage rather than time. A user that needs to execute a few macros occasionally may end up never requiring a Pro license. Onetastic will mention when your trial is expiring and when you require a Pro license.”
To me it reads as if you can use it until they feel otherwise. If you dig a bit deeper there is a chart that defines this better by indicating that macros can be run 500 times. Not sure if this is a combo of all the macros or for each. For me this was a bit of a limitation because I use these macros daily, and within 4 months or so, I will most likely be out of time.
A better model would be to give you a solid period of time for when you can use it for free (such as a trial period), ask for participation (such as providing updates to macros or uploading macros), or allowing for a purchase.
An annual cost for the program is only $15 so even with the licensing limitations the product is a bargain. If you plan on doing more advanced development of macros, you can invest in the developer version for $60. It provides a debugger and an object browser.
I have not tested this add on in the online version of OneNote, but I hope to do so in the near future and write about it here but for 2016, this is a very handy and easy to use tool. Download the product and start using it. It is a quick start add in and within minutes you can be using macros and organizing your OneNote content like a pro. I’d be curious of your impressions. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.