OneNote + Windows Home Server = Awesome

5 05 2009

In this installment of my ongoing consumer technology series, I wanted to write a little about how I use my Windows Home Server with OneNote.  This time, I’ll focus on OneNote’ shared, synchronized notebook capability.

A computer for all seasons

Whether you have a home office, or you’re just really geeky, you may discover that you have need for more than one computer in order achieve true enlightenment.  Maybe it’s a desktop at home and a notebook for travel, or a netbook for compact, light duty work and a bigger notebook for heavy lifting.

Whatever the situation, you will eventually run into a multifaceted issue: how do I keep my digital life synchronized?  Let’s take on one aspect.

Intro to OneNote

Previously I wrote that one Microsoft has made a couple awesome applications.  One of them is OneNote.  OneNote is a little different than some of the other Office applications both in design and function.  Also, they first built it in Office 2003, so it’s pretty new.

Since it’s a fresh icon in your Start menu, it’s sometimes hard to explain why people should use it.  It’s not just for students or meetings.  People use it for lists, brainstorming, drafting ideas, presentation or report citation collections, or blogging.

The reasons I love OneNote (others available at the I Heart OneNote blog) boil down to:

  1. Never having to save my work
  2. Searching all my notes (including handwriting and text in screenshots / pictures)
  3. Ink support for my tablet (copying drawings or diagrams from whiteboards)
  4. Screen clipping capabilities to take screenshots
  5. OneNote Mobile for my Windows Mobile device
  6. Shared notebooks

I could write a post about each, but this time we’re talking about shared notebooks.

What’s a shared notebook?

When you set up a shared notebook, you are ensuring that any notes you take in that notebook will automatically show up on all your computers using OneNote.

OneNote does all the hard work for you.  The most important thing to know about the process is that OneNote’s synchronization works in a similar way to Exchange and Outlook.

Why is that important?

If you manually sync a notebook file or folder (copying / pasting, Live Sync, SyncToy, SkyDrive, DropBox, etc.), you will eventually get out of sync and lose data.  Also, the size of the file sync is punitively large compared to OneNote’s synchronization engine.

OneNote’s sync engine handles collisions, multiple authors making edits to the same notebook and pages, and sends only incremental changes to the notebook each time it syncs.

The critical point of a shared notebook is having a common, accessible location available to all your OneNote installations once in a while.  It has to work like a drive or folder, not a sync service.  It doesn’t have to be available all the time, but synchronizing periodically will ensure your notebooks are up to date.

Adding in Windows Home Server

When you have a Windows Home Server (WHS), you have an obvious place for shared files and media.  You can copy the OneNote notebook you want to share to a shared location on WHS (like your user folder, or make a new share if you like).

Here’s how I did it:

  1. Open OneNote on your computer
  2. Close the notebook file that you want to copy to your WHS share
  3. Find the OneNote notebook file or folder (usually these are in a folder called “OneNote Notebooks” in your documents folder)
  4. Copy the OneNote notebook folder or section file you want to share to a WHS share (e.g. \\server\users\name\MyOneNoteSyncFolder)
  5. Map a drive on your computer to that shared folder location (I mapped drive “O:” to the share – I like it this way, it’s probably not required)
  6. Go back to, or open OneNote again
  7. Open your shared notebook or section file from your WHS share
  8. That’s it

Now you have to do steps 5-7 on each computer you’d like to use that shared notebook.

Make sure you close the old OneNote notebooks on each computer (if you had one with the same content).

Tip:  If you’d like to share pages or sections from other unshared notebooks in OneNote, you can either repeat the sharing process, or just move sections or pages into your new shared notebook and OneNote will take care of the rest.

Extra credit and information

Remote access while you’re on the road is the next step.  I will probably write a post about how I have enabled my WHS to share my content remotely over a VPN.  When I connect to my WHS on the road now, I just go to Windows Explorer, open my shared drive (this activates my mapped drive “O:”), and OneNote synchronizes.

In the end, WHS protects your OneNote notebook files using its folder and file replication.  Sure, you always have WHS backups too, but that doesn’t help you share content easily.  This powerful combination has helped me stay in sync as I move back and forth between my computers.  It also helps me minimize configuration in case I get a new computer or want to flatten one and start over.

Of course, you have a lot more files to synchronize.  So, I’ll be writing a post on how to use Windows Live Mesh with your Windows Home Server to help keep the rest of your digital life in sync.



10 responses

5 05 2009
Zach Scott

Ya live mesh has been a valuable asset for me. Now that my work is synced i don’t know how i lived without it. Going from one machine to the other seamlessly makes completing big projects much easier.

6 05 2009

I need to rationalize a couple more folders in my Meshed life, but it’s been pretty good. I think I had more problems on XP with Mesh than on Vista or Win7.

So, more on that later on… Thanks for reading!

5 05 2009

WHS = Great. Mesh = Great. WHS + Mesh = not yet (but work in progress…)

6 05 2009

True… so I will be posting on how things are working with my setup to get some support in Mesh for my computers and getting some WHS goodness in there too…

Thanks for reading and I’ll be posting more soon!


5 05 2009
OneNote on Windows Home Server « MS Windows Home Server

[…] Read the details here. […]

8 05 2009

I cant wait i am a realtor in need of this sort of access from my tablet pc

Extra credit and information

Remote access while you’re on the road is the next step. I will probably write a post about how I have enabled my WHS to share my content remotely over a VPN. When I connect to my WHS on the road now, I just go to Windows Explorer, open my shared drive (this activates my mapped drive “O:”), and OneNote synchronizes.

18 05 2009
Windows Home Server and the Hamachi Surprise* « Spackle

[…] how I said I synchronized my OneNote Shared Notebooks to WHS when I was at home or on the go?  The secret ingredient is Hamachi.  If you’ve already […]

21 07 2009
Windows Home Server + Live Mesh = Nice « Spackle

[…] P.S. Absolutely DO NOT use Live Mesh to synchronize your OneNote Notebooks!  Learn how to do that with WHS. […]

4 09 2009

I keep getting messages that my Notebook is currupted. Then when it fixes the corruption, all data is lost. Notebook was created on the WHS as a shared notebook.

Is this because I just saved the shared notebook on my WHS without mapping the drive to the computer I’m using?

All I want to do is create one notebook on my WHS and share it amongst multiple PC’s in our house.

4 09 2009

I think it should work without the mapped drive. However I’ve not tried that. I don’t have OneNote installed on the WHS. I just made a shared folder, copied my existing notebooks there and opened them on each computer.

The one big difference is that mapped networked drives don’t reconnect all the time. I have to specifically browse to my O: drive to start a sync. It syncs only “when I want to” by browsing to the drive.

Maybe that’s the issue? Hard to say. I’m using Office 2007.

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