Microsoft OneNote for Mac — is it an Evernote contender?

OneNote is Microsoft's answer to Evernote and other note-taking software. It's available for iOS and OS X (along with Android and Windows Phone), but I'm going to focus my attention on the Mac version (opens in new tab). Is it a viable alternative to Evernote? Let's take a look.

OneNote requires you to use a (free) Microsoft account to create and maintain your notes. The notes are stored online, which makes synchronization and collaboration easy, as long as you (and anyone else you're working with) are connected. The notebooks themselves are stored on your OneDrive account — both good and bad, depending on how much you need to work offline.

OneNote is free to download and use, provided you have a Microsoft account. You get a free 15 GB repository on your Microsoft OneDrive to hold your OneNote contents (this is up from 7 GB when OneNote debuted for the Mac in 2014). You can buy more storage either a la carte as a monthly fee or by subscribing to Office 365, which includes 1 terabyte of OneDrive storage (and nets you the latest copies of Microsoft Office for Mac, still the now-ancient 2011 version as of this writing). For $9.99 a month, Office 365 for Home isn't a bad deal, especially considering you can install the complete suite of Office apps on up to five computers (Macs or Windows PCs).

OneNote's interface is modern and clean, evocative of the Metro user interface that Microsoft has employed in Windows 8 and newer applications. Microsoft's a very active iOS app developer, and OneNote for Mac follows many of the user interface conventions employed in its iOS counterpart. That creates a consistent look and feel that, while not entirely native to OS X Yosemite, isn't too far off the mark either.

OneNote distinguishes collections of notes using the familiar notebook paradigm. You can create an unlimited number of notebooks, and each notebook can have an unlimited number of pages associated with it.

Creating a note in OneNote is as simple as just positioning the cursor and clicking, then beginning to type. OneNote takes a freestyle approach to page layout: Wherever you click the cursor is where OneNote creates a text field that you can begin to populate. OneNote doesn't take a rigid, linear page-based approach to note taking, so you can get pretty wild and wooly with the placement of text and images on your notes if you want to.

You can create subpages and sub-sections, reorganizing your notes however you'd like. OneNote sports myriad formatting features to make your text look however you'd like it to, as well. You can embed images and you can also create tables that can include some basic calculations. It's no replacement for Excel, but it's good enough to get some basic tabulation work done if you need to.

Unlike Evernote, OneNote doesn't have any easy way of embedding web pages into your notes, which makes it a less-than-ideal tool for collecting info off the web for later collation and digestion. You can embed PDFs after a fashion, as "printouts" that can then be annotated. Files can be attached as well. Late last year, Microsoft added the ability to open notebooks stored on SharePoint Servers, as well. You can share notes with users outside your workflow by embedding the note in an email or by sending links; Microsoft offers the option of a read-only link or an editable link as well.

I don't have any experience with the Windows version of OneNote, but I've read numerous complaints from users of both versions that suggest the Mac version comes up a bit short, especially in areas like saving text formatting options, document and file importing and attachment and more. As in all things, your mileage may vary in this regard.

It's weird to think of Microsoft as underdog, but they really are when it comes to this kind of app. The 800 pound gorilla of the note taking app market is Evernote. To that end, Evernote has a better fleshed-out ecosystem of apps, accessories and tools to help you get the most out of it.

OneNote is a good start as a Mac app from Microsoft. If you're invested in the ever-growing constellation of Microsoft cloud services, or if you use a Microsoft-heavy workflow at work or school, OneNote is certainly worth exploring — especially for the price.

  • Microsoft OneNote for Mac - Free (opens in new tab)
Peter Cohen
29 Comments
  • Notability FTW Sent from the iMore App
  • I need something that's more cross platform so Notability is out of the running.
  • Notability is cross platform, it runs on Mac OS and iOS ;p
  • Notability Sent from the iMore App
  • I use onenote daily in my wp. Opening time is much faster than evernote. And much simple note taking app for mobile and pc. The worst part still Onenote is not highly popular app among Windows users.
  • The funny thing is that I started using Evernote many years back primarily because OneNote, which I had been using for years on Windows, was not available for Mac (and I was also moving to just a single Mac Laptop as opposed to a Windows/Mac combo). In many ways, I like the interface and usability of OneNote to Evernote, but the problem that I'm faced is that I have "gotten used" to Evernote and it is very difficult to easily migrate tons of notes from Evernote to OneNote (there are a few tools out there, but none of them work very well). The other BIG issue I have is that OneNote requires the use of a Microsoft account. At present, there are two types of Microsoft accounts. One account is a true "Microsoft Account." The other is a "Work Account" (also known as a Office 365 for Business account), which is a type of Microsoft account that allows access to certain services, but isn't fully integrated into the entire Microsoft suite of cloud services. This is currently a problem for me because my work email address is both a "Microsoft" and "Work" account and I also have my own personal account. Thus, I have 3 "Microsoft" accounts, all of which require switching between, to get to my notes. While Google doesn't have a note-taking app like Evernote and OneNote, they at least have solved the account problem by merging work accounts (Google Apps) into all of their services and by allowing you to link and easily switch between work and personal accounts.
  • Hi tezgno,
    I'm ambidextrous and use OS X and Windows, iOS and Android. I've found 'Keep' to be well integrated into the Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Drive. Keep on Androis Note 4 works a treat. But I contine to use OneNote, almost making myself using Evernote less with my subscription to Off365.
    And to that's the rub between the two mobile OSes. iOS has a full fledged Office suite. Including OneNote, Word, Excel and PP. I prefer Keynote, but as mentioned at ten bucks a month and 5 TB of family/small business aggregation storage and collaboration, cross platform operating systems with five computers, five tablets. It's a bargain 'just' for the storage. 5TB/month for ten bucks and it comes with the largest and most used (by a long distance) Office suite in history --- gratis.
    I'm enjoying the new CEO, wish Ballmer best of luck in basketball and in a decade, after switching to OS X as my primary business and personal system with its incredible integration and 'continuity' with iOS.
    I bought into Win 8.1 a year ago with a. Ultrabook, bought immediately after Haswell's release. Almost a year in, I'm happier than I thought I'd be and look forward to decent hard and software competition.
    Unfortunately Android is without the MS/OS X vertical and horizontal support. Chromebook's are great for home and personal computing if you're fine with Google
    If you wanna be productive and prefer not to rely on constant 'phone home OS with a lack of 'muscle', storage, apps and software native,y built for the system without the need to resort to external alternatives
    MS is doing some incredibly cool stuff and it's the SP3 has gotten my eye. I'm looking forward to its 4th iteration, better iGPU and PCIe storage as well, the energy savings built into Broadwell
    Cheers to competition
  • Even though it looks nothing like a true Mac app, Evernote's features clearly outdo OneNote. The biggest problem with OneNote is that the date stamp on notes is when the note was created and doesn't update when the note is edited. Notes don't even scale when printing or exporting to PDF. I also don't like OneNote's dedicated online access... if I'm not in WiFi range, the app is useless on my tablet.
  • I like the UI of OneNote much better, as Evernote doesn't have an equivalent of tabbed-sections. It uses 'stacks' which we've run into becoming 'undone' for no apparent reason, resulting in a list of all our notebooks that have to be 'restacked'. I do prefer Evernote when it comes to handling of attached PDF, Word, Excel files. The attach-as-printout method in OneNote can quickly turn into a confusing mess. If OneNote can fix that, it'd be a no-brainer as to which to use ;-)
  • Is anything Microsoft make these days a contender? Lol Sent from the iMore App
  • Spoken like the clueless little Apple shill. Every software or service Microsoft offers is vastly superior to the crap Apple turns out fanboy. Go back to jerking off to your pictures of Steve Jobs.
  • ...so yeah - THAT was a reasonable response. Sent from the iMore App
  • Windows 8. Nuff said. #Garbage
  • 8 maybe, but 8.1 is a solid overall experience. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Way to make those of us OS X fans look ignorant ;)
    I'm OSx and iOS pretty much 85% of the time, Windows the other 15. Pages doesn't equal Word. Nor does Numbers equal Excel. Nor are they a player in mobile yet and the Surface isn't anywhere near threatening to the iPad
    That said, completion is good. And Ballmer out is a 'good' thing. Apple SMOKE MS when it comes to creative, its operating system and its ability to work in tandem with mobile devices of any OEM. In fact, my rMBP runs Windows 7 pro faster, more fluently and more enjoyable than my Dell workstation Quadro laptop.
    Your response is typical, blind folded ignorance to today's technology. Period. Completely clueless and adds nothing to the conversation. And truth told, other than software sold ten years ago and 'Ofice' MS isn't 'contending' at all right now. Changes? Maybe. But iPandorum isn't asking a question. Rather stating fact.
  • My vote goes to OneNote. The free Evernote account simply does not have enough storage space. Just a few pics and you are already out of room. With OneNote, you get the storage capacity of whatever is on your OneDrive. I do wish OneNote had the handwriting recognition capabilities of Evernote though.
  • Which is the issue with OneNote. OneNote has good handwriting recognition... On WINDOWS. The problem with Microsoft is that they Launch products on OS X, but they don't really commit to them. OneNote was launhed on OS X in March 2014 (March or May, one of those two) and it's still lagging heavily behind the Winodws version. I use an iMac, iPhone, and Windows Notebook so I use both verions of OneNote. The Mac Version is like a Desktop version of the Windows 8.1 OneNote app. The Windows version of OneNote is 10x the functionality of both of those versions. As far as features are concerned, OneNote is WAY ahead of Evernote. Microsot just needs to invest more resources into fleshing out the Mac version. And I agree with you about Evernote. The free storage (not even storage, bandwidth... it's 2001 over there!) is just too low to be useful. I don't really care about clippers, but OneNote clipper probably should be ported to the Mac and it should integrate with the OS X sharing system as an extension.
  • Evernote's web clipper is 100x better than OneNote's featureless version. Sent from the iMore App
  • I use OneNote at work and Evernote at home. Even thought EN is buggy as hell and I looked for an alternative more than once I prefer it over ON. More versatile and I prefer EN's list / snippet view over ON's tabs. I also tried Notability and found it too basic for my needs.
  • Back in my windows days, I used OneNote. I really enjoyed the program. When Evernote first came out, I tried it. I really liked it, and as it grew, it got better. My only gripe, back then, you could use third party templates with Evernote. OneNote had more templates, but I liked Evernote. The templates were broken in an update of Evernote, and despite the pleas to the developers, we really never got the templates back. That is where OneNote really shines. You can better suite it to your needs in the template area. Web clipping is different. Evernote shines here. Very easy to clip sections, or whole pages. I have never needed the paid version of Evernote. I like them both, but lately find myself using Evernote more. I am like Ninotschka, I use OneNote at work, and Evernote at home. If OneNote would make a stand alone universal app for iOS, and OS X, at a fair one time cost, then I may go back. Miss the templates.
  • The end of your comment is confusing. It makes no sense.
  • Afraid I need to offer one correction: you now actually get unlimited storage with one drive if you have office 365.
  • Does the mac version allow free hand writings?
  • I love OneNote. It's clean, intuitive, and supports tabs. I've used Simple Note, Notabilty, and Evernote. But they all have some sort of problem.
  • I use OneNote. Easy to use. Great program, works on all platforms.
    I quit Evernote simply because they want $5 to have a pin lock on the app.
    If they want to be that greedy, I will use OneNote, I like it better anyways.
  • My nephew runs Windows on his MacBook Air, mostly because he depends so much on OneNote for school. I don't want to buy an Evernote subscription. I'm looking forward to see if OneNote will be useful for me.
  • I've been using OneNote for years, though I do occasionally use Evernote. I like OneNote because I like the paradigm of notebooks, and that it fools me into thinking I'm writing and organizing notes into them. But unlike real notebooks, I can type in them, move notes around, add pages, tabs, etc. There's a good reason that the old paper tied together with rings worked. So far, MS has keep it simple; power tools aren't getting in the way, yet. MS lost me with Word back in the late nineties. But OneNote is different, cleaner. It's can still just be notes and sectional notebooks.
  • Personally I prefer OneNote for its simplicity. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • It appears the "OneNote Clipper" feature doesn't work on Yosemite. The sign-in windows flashes open briefly and then is gone. Both Safari and Chrome. Anybody using this successfully in 10.10.x?