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Microsoft finally sets OneNote free

Under the reign of new CEO Satya Nadella, it's clearly a new Microsoft. Take Microsoft Office. Not only has Redmond re-SKU'd the suite to allow for a less expensive Office 365 Personal edition, but now the company has taken one of Office's long-underrated components and released it on all platforms for free.

That's OneNote, of course, the free-form notetaking app that's often compared to online services like Evernote. Despite shipping in Office for years and packing quite a punch for notetaking and research, relatively few Office users were intimately familiar with this program, in part because Microsoft didn't promote it effectively, and in part because it was available only on PCs, not Macs. So, in an integrated workplace with both Macs and PCs, only some users even had access to OneNote.

Until now, OneNote was part of certain Office 365 and Office 2013 editions on the PC, but not the Mac. However, there was a free OneNote app for iOS -- both iPhone and iPad -- and for Windows Phone. Microsoft also created a free version for Windows 8, optimized for the modern touch-screen environment. Oh, and don't forget the free Office Web App (now called Office Online).

All that meant you could get access to OneNote on most, but not all, of your devices, depending upon whether you were a PC or Mac user, and which version of Office you owned (if any).

To reduce that confusion, Microsoft finally decoupled OneNote from Office and released free desktop versions for PCs and Macs. Bottom line: you can now get OneNote for pretty much any platform, for free.

OneOne still ships with Office, so the free desktop versions are slightly trimmed down. All the core features are there, but the premium version of OneNote that you find in Office also has SharePoint support, Outlook integration and versioning. Few users exploit those features anyway, so the free edition should suit almost everyone.

Perhaps the best news, though, is the presence of the OneNote Apps library -- a place for both Microsoft and third-party add-ins to OneNote. Currently available are over a dozen apps designed for Windows, Windows Phone, iOS, Android and the Web. Not every app works on each of those destinations, which can make the new library a little confusing to browse (Microsoft needs more obvious labeling), but it has some real gems.

The OneNote Clipper is a browser extension that can capture entire Web pages to OneNote, for example, while Email to OneNote lets you send anything you can fit in an email message to OneNote by sending it to from a registered email address. If you have Windows Phone, you can use Office Lens to send camera photos to OneNote as well.

Third-party apps are represented as well, like the NeatConnect app that sends documents from the NeatConnect scanner to OneNote (coming soon), and a similar tool from Epson that's here now. Maybe now more users will find out how useful OneNote can be.

Photo courtesy Microsoft.
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