The Essential Guide to OneNote for Mac

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Are you a Mac user thinking about trying out OneNote? You’re not alone: Mac users have been curious ever since Microsoft made OneNote free, and offered versions for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone.

My recommendation: if you’re curious, you should absolutely try out OneNote for Mac. Forget about any Microsoft hatred you might harbor, because good software is worth using regardless of who made it – and this is good software.

We’ve gone over all the unique ways you can use OneNote in the past, but really how you use this app is going to depend on what you need it for. In my case, I compile potential article ideas in one notebook and keep track of things that need doing around the house in another. But any project that requires you to compile and act on a lot of information could become easier with OneNote. Here’s how.

Getting to Know OneNote on the Mac

OneNote is definitely the sort of software you need to settle into before you find out how useful it is, but where it really shines is organization. The user interface is built around one main metaphor: a series of notebooks, each with their own tabs, where you can gather the information you need for projects on individual pages.

onenote-mac-overview

Information on these pages can be organized however you like: click anywhere on the page and you can start typing. You can also embed images, entire print outs of PDF files, and even files.

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Basically, it’s designed to be a place to gather research for projects. The interface can be a little weird at first glance, however, particularly if you’re the sort of Mac user who has never used the ribbon.

onenote-mac-ribbon

It’s not complicated, though: just three tabs full of quick access to formatting and other options. If you’d rather not use the ribbon, that’s fine; just click the currently open tab to hide the ribbon. It’s not necessary because, like all Mac applications, OneNote offers every function in the menubar.

onenote-mac-menubar

As you can see, this is also a great place to learn the keyboard shortcuts for the app, most of which are mostly the same as those in the other Office 2016 apps for Mac.

Below the ribbon you’ll see the name of the currently open notebook on the left. Click this to browse your notebooks:

onenote-mac-books

You can add a new notebook, if you want, using the plus sign at top-right.

To the right of the notebook button are the tabs of the currently open notebook.

onenote-mac-tabs

You can add as many tabs as you like, scrolling if necessary. You can also change the color of the tabs, allowing you to keep things organized visually.

That’s a brief tour of OneNote on Mac. You’ll need to work out for yourself how many notebooks and tabs to create.

Things Mac Users Need to Know About OneNote

If you’ve got Microsoft Office 2016 installed on your Mac already, there’s a good chance you’ve already got OneNote installed. But even if you don’t use Word, Excel, and Powerpoint on your Mac, you can download OneNote from the Mac App Store free of charge.

You’re not done after installing OneNote, however; you’ll also want the OneNote clipper, which lets you quickly clip articles and entire web pages to the notebook of your choice.

onenote-clipper-web

If you’re a Chrome user, you can check out the official OneNote Clipper for Chrome. Safari and Firefox users, sadly, do not get an official browser plugin – they’ll have to use a bookmarklet instead. It works just as well as the extension, but is stored in your bookmarks toolbar instead of with your other extensions.

Key OneNote Features from Windows Missing on Mac

OneNote on the Mac is relatively new: Microsoft only released it in 2014, a decade after the first Windows version launched. A lot of features are missing from the Mac version, meaning if you’re a longtime OneNote user who recently switched to the Mac you may be confused.

Users have documented these missing features at the UserVoice forum for OneNote, but here’s a few OneNote features missing from the desktop version that the Mac version doesn’t offer:

onenote-tags

  • Custom tags. OneNote for Mac lets you add from a pre-set number of tags, seen above. Unlike the Windows version, however, you cannot add custom tags. So far as I can tell, custom tags from Windows will also not sync over. There’s also no support for searching tags.
  • Drawing shapes. On Windows, and mobile versions of OneNote, there’s a section of the ribbon dedicated to freehand drawing. This does not exist on the Mac, but any drawings you make on other platforms will sync over.
  • Opening .one and .onepkg files. OneNote for Mac is strictly for syncing notebooks to OneDrive, and you cannot use OneNote for Mac without a OneDrive account. Your notes are stored for offline use, but you cannot save them in a .one or .onepkg file – and you cannot open such files using OneNote for Mac.
  • Templates. OneNote for Mac does not offer templates.
  • Printing is offered, but it’s pretty basic. You can’t change the page layout or size, so sometimes things are going to come out badly formatted.

Migrating from Evernote Requires Windows

One more thing Mac users should be aware of is that, if you’re migrating from Evernote, you’ve got some work to do. I’ve outlined how to migrate your notes from Evernote to OneNote, but the tool the process requires, Evernote2Onenote, is only offered for Windows. Try as I may, I could not find a Mac-friendly alternative.

This means Mac users looking to migrate need to tediously copy all of their notes using copy paste. Alternatively, they could install Windows on their Mac, or just bribe a Windows user and borrow their PC for the afternoon. Beer works, I find, as do cookies.

A Great Mac Version that’s Missing Some Features

If you’re a longtime Mac user who has never used OneNote, I think you’ll be pretty happy with OneNote for Mac. The application has, in my opinion, surpassed Evernote as the best note-taking option for Mac users.

But if you’re a longtime OneNote for Windows user who only recently switched to Mac, you might find yourself disappointed. It’s not clear if Microsoft is going to add all these features to the Mac version.

Of course, I’m just one person. I’m sure there are other opinions out there, and I can’t wait to hear them. Let’s talk about what you like, and don’t like, about OneNote for Mac. I’m looking forward to it!

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