Skip to main content

Outline for Mac offers OneNote alternative for note-taking

Gorillized's Outline was developed to be a OneNote alternative before OneNote hit the Macintosh last year. It was originally designed as a mere reader of OneNote files on iPad, but turned into a full-blown editor and has since added Mac support too. That makes it an interesting alternative to both OneNote for people who don't want to part of Microsoft's ecosystem, and to Evernote for people who want something different.

Outline integrates support for Microsoft OneDrive accounts and can also work with OneNote notebook formats, so if you prefer to keep a really streamlined Microsoft-centric workflow, you can. But Outline works independently as well, and doesn't suffer from the same limitations — for example, Outline has no problem whatsoever storing your notebooks completely offline.

Outline uses the by-now-familiar notebook interface as the central gathering place of notes. You can create as many notebooks as you need, with as many pages as you need, divided into sections to help keep things orderly. Pages can be indented to make them easier to find. What's more, sections can be password-protected if there's delicate information you don't want to get out.

Like OneNote, you can just position the cursor anywhere on the page you want and start typing. You can also drag and drop images into place, embed links, attach files and annotate to your heart's content.

Outline uses a number of text formatting conventions and lets you reflow text easily using different styles that are accessible both with menus and with keyboard shortcuts. I couldn't find a way to remap styles, though, like you can with a word processor.

The software went through a major revamp last fall to better suit iOS 7 and Yosemite's more austere user interface elements, along with other refinements like tables, better creation of links, improved PDF handling and more. The most recent release adds support for Apple's share extensions too.

OneDrive isn't the only online service Outline supports. It also works with Box.com and Dropbox. Outline is also available on the iPad, so you can sync notes and work easily between platforms if you prefer.

I like Outline's clean user interface and its familiar OneNote-derived hierarchy and easy integration. Now that OneNote is available for the Mac, I expect that Outline's developers will continue to find ways to differentiate their product from Microsoft's, and we'll see the pace of development accelerate away from merely aping OneNote into some unique spaces.

What worries me, however, is Outline's stability. I experienced a crash while using it that ended up eating my data. Not cool at all.

If you like OneNote-style organization but you'd like to support an independent developer and have the option of working independently of a Microsoft-centric workflow, Outline may be a good option. Just be wary of product stability, and make sure to have a backup.

15 Comments
  • Four things I can't understand about Gorillized in regards to iOS: 1. Why no iPhone app?
    2. Why no text control via bluetooth keyboard?
    3. Why is bluetooth keyboard control limited to tab text? Also, for those interested in the iOS app (not just the Mac version reviewed by Peter), let it be known that you have full control of OneNote sub-sections, something you can't do on MSFT OneNote app for iOS. This makes it possible to not having to need access OneNote online for all the features. Explanation: Standard OneNote for iOS ==> Every file is a notebook with unlimited sections, each section with unlimited pages. Outline for iPad/Mac ==> Same as above, plus unlimited sub-sections. OneNote online ==> Same as Outline, plus whatever MSFT adds in terms of UI. OneNote for Surface 3 ==> that would be the flagship app, topping OneNote online.
  • Nice that it allows offline reading, but does Outline allow for offline creation of new content? Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes.
  • Very nice. Thanks for the reply, Peter.
  • Thanks for this review. This app sounds really interesting. I'm looking at a replacement for Evernote because I'm tired of their holding my content hostage if I happen to be offline and using access to MY content as a "benefit" of a premium membership. I want to ditch them and this app definitely seems like it might be a good replacement. A few problems with this app that I can see, though, unless I'm wrong about them:
    1- No iPhone app, only iPad and Mac (deal breaker)
    2- Need to buy a separate app for iPad and Mac (doubles the cost)
    3- No way to try before I buy (especially important if point 2 is an issue) I'm hesitant to plunk down 10 bucks for an app if it may not suit my needs, especially if I'm wanting to try out several different apps. If Apple doesn't provide an official way to offer trial apps, I wish developers would utilize in-app purchases to achieve the same end.
  • you can download 14-days trial version on their site:
    http://static.outline.ws/Outline.zip
  • You might want to try using MS's OneNote. It's free on all platforms, and if you store the files on OneDrive, does automatic and realtime syncs, realtime collaboration (with other users) and offline access. Plus there are browser widgets/apps for all major browsers on all platforms, making it a great clipping service.
  • 1 word "Notability" nuff said Sent from the iMore App
  • I see the app has been updated to address stability issues on 2/2 - do your stability comments predate the update?
  • Yes they do. My review is based on what was available prior to that date.
  • Thanks. Looks like you have a topic for a follow up!
  • Having used it for two weeks I am very disappointed. It crashes, freezes, is slowwww more often than it works. When it does work I am happy but...only good news so far is that I picked it up when it was on sale
  • I don't see this as an alternative. I seen it as a stand-in while Microsoft was not offering OneNote for Mac. At this point, I don't see the point in it. I rather use OneNote from Microsoft because they will eventually get it to feature parity with the Windows version and it will blow this app out of the water - not that it already doesn't, to be frank. I don't see this app keeping up, especially since Microsoft will only be porting features over, not creating them from scratch. I think OneNote is going to get a huge update when the next Office:Mac releases...
  • Onenote is free !
  • I agree! onenote for Mac and outline for iPad - this way you get most of the features on both. Onenote on iPad is not good - you can't even move text! Right now, outline is only $5.99 for iPad but it's $40 for Mac.... and you don't get much extra compared to the free version of onenote.