When To Do worlds collide (with OneNote)

For many years in the OneNote desktop client (i.e. 2013, 2016, not “OneNote for Windows 10”) we have a “To Do” tag that appeared in the ribbon:

But what does it do? Not much, just a nice little checkbox:

That checkbox is literally nothing more than a tag that can be used for searching, and a visual queue. The most excitement this little feature gets is when you check the box:

And for many years that’s been just fine, as savvy users of OneNote would use these tags (and others) to filter and find notes across pages, sections, and even notebooks.

Wait, this isn’t the same as Microsoft To Do?

No, it’s not. This is Microsoft To Do:

It’s a task management app, available both free for consumer users of Outlook.com as well as organisational Office 365 users.

To Do differs between the free vs. business/education Office 365 versions. In the latter it can connect to Planner, Microsoft Teams, Outlook email, calendar and tasks.

However, Microsoft To Do has absolutely nothing to do with the “To Do” tag in OneNote despite using the same capitalisation. This is important to note because for many people they would only be discovering OneNote now (despite the fact it’s over 15 years old) as well as Microsoft To Do, and potentially getting confused by this feature that appears not to work properly.

Is there a connection at all?

Yes, like a bizarre love triangle there is a connection between OneNote, Outlook, and To Do.

In the world of Office 365, Microsoft To Do relies on Outlook as its underlying storage service. In fact, tasks in To Do are actually tasks in Outlook. Go on, dust off the tasks button in Outlook and have a look – you’ll see all your tasks from To Do.

When using Outlook on the web, the tasks button has been replaced with both the To Do icon and functionality. The integration is strong, in that flagged emails in Outlook show up in a dedicated folder in To Do. As well as this, users can drag emails into To Do to turn them into tasks and drag tasks into their Outlook calendar to turn them into appointments. Very cool stuff. You can read more about the functionality here.

The connection between Outlook and OneNote has been strong for quite some time (but not the “OneNote for Windows 10” version – that can’t connect to Outlook). In OneNote we can link to Outlook calendar appointments, and from appointments we can link to either our own area of OneNote or a shared location for a meeting. You can read more about this functionality here, and here respectively.

However, there’s another linkage of OneNote that only power users have taken advantage of – and that’s the ability to create Outlook tasks from OneNote. Let’s look back at the ribbon in OneNote and we can see our friend Wally hiding in plain sight:

If we use this button on a line in a OneNote page, we should see a flag show up at the start of that line, as can be seen in the second line of this image:

So where does this task go? If we have a look at the tasks area in Outlook, I can now see this:

The linkage isn’t one way though, if I mark the task as complete in Outlook it will update in OneNote too:

You can read more about this functionality here.

But wait, there’s more!!! The triquetra between OneNote and To Do with Outlook in the middle gives us this:

If we mark this task complete in To Do, it will update in Outlook tasks (because that’s where it’s stored) and therefore update in OneNote!

It’s not all happy endings

If you’re a savvy To Do user, then you probably have multiple task lists – not just the main Tasks folder. So, it seems quite reasonable that you’d want to move the task from this folder into one of your other task lists.

Let’s create a new task in OneNote:

Let’s verify that it’s there in Outlook:

And in To Do:

I’ve moved it into a different task list:

The change is reflected in the “In Folder” column in Outlook tasks:

But something happens in OneNote:

Hey… the colour is different.

It looks a bit pale.

Is it unwell?

Yes, yes it is. Hovering over the pale flag, a message shows up:

Wait what!? This is a little confusing because we confirmed that the task is still visible in Outlook, so why is OneNote saying it can’t see it?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. All I’ve been able to demonstrate in this blog post is that we can connect between the three apps, and while the changes we make in the To Do and Outlook worlds don’t seem to make much difference, the connection to the origin in OneNote is broken.

Comparing the Surface RT against the Surface Pro

As I posted a few months back I have happily converted from an Apple iPad 3 (aka “new” iPad) to a Microsoft Surface RT.

I think we need to stop and focus there when reading reviews of the Surface and people comparing it against the iPad. When the Surface hit the market it was effectively a v1 competing against the iPad v4. Microsoft advocate aside it is hardly fair to compare a generation 1 device against a generation 4. That being said though Microsoft is not new to attempting to create tablets nor operating systems so it’s hard to create a true comparison.

My recent acquisition of a Surface Pro however showed that there truly is no comparison between the Surface and any of its competing operating system devices.

Why? It’s simple. Any other tablet on the market pales in comparison to the level of functionality to a full computer – be it running a Microsoft Windows or Apple OSX.

When I see an iPad in case with a keyboard attached I think it’s fantastic that the devices exist and can replicate some functionality of a full computer – but they never really are. It’s like the toys my 10-month old daughter plays with. She knows if she presses the music button that music comes out. Give her a Casio keyboard that requires turning on and she’d quickly get upset as this seemingly complex device that doesn’t play music when she hits keys (little does she know it needs to be turned on!).

This I think is the difference the Surface Pro brings to the world. Having used a Surface RT as my exclusive tablet since late October I found it to be a wonderful device – so wonderful in fact that I didn’t touch my iPad again (it has subsequently been sold). The problem was that it wasn’t a full computer. So while it was useful for meetings, presentations, travelling, working on the couch – it was never the same as using my real notebook. This became slightly frustrating as I would have to carry around both devices as IT Pros differ from normal users in that we generally need more power and functionality than an iPad can offer.

The key things I saw as an advantage of the Surface running Windows 8 over an iPad were the portability of my information (due to the Microsoft account) and the fact that Office 2013 was pre-installed and allowed me to access information store in SkyDrive, Office 365 or anywhere else.

The killer for me was that I couldn’t run Outlook nor could I install some of the desktop applications I needed.

Along came the Surface Pro – released only a few weeks ago. Unfortunately the 128GB model quickly ran out of stock, and while I feel that the 64GB device would be sufficient for the average worker who accesses cloud-based content, again for an IT Pro I need local storage space for large files or temporary content. The 64GB only comes with 23GB of free space and that was enough for fellow MVP Jethro Seghers who quickly snapped up a Surface Pro at the Microsoft Bellevue store. However I was only after the 128GB model which was out of stock – however another fellow MVP Sean McNeill found one in his Microsoft store in Denver and brought it to my waiting hands at the MVP Summit last week.

Since receiving the device I have not touched my Surface RT or my Lenovo X201 tablet. It has become my primary and ONLY device other than my phone.

Some grievances I do have with the unit:

  • A few millimetres thicker than the Surface RT
  • A few grams heavier than the Surface RT
  • Can get a tad hot
  • Battery life not as long as the Surface RT

Really the above-mentioned issues would be the same for any device that is running more processing power than a mere tablet. So while they can annoy me from time to time, I simply accept them as something I have to put up with. (First world problems.)

Notice the Surface Pro sticking out at the back?

The things that amaze me about the unit:

  • Far thinner and lighter than my previous tablet notebook (Lenovo X201)
  • Faster than the Surface RT
  • Sharper screen than the Surface RT
  • Plenty of local storage (I have put a 64GB SD card in for non-essential content I carry with me such as ISO images and VHDs)
  • The ability to flip between using my finger or stylus

The key thing here is that the Surface Pro is a full PC which also doubles as a tablet. While it’s not 100% perfect (we’d all like it to be thinner, lighter, cooler and with longer battery life) it has successfully replaced both a notebook and tablet device. I can quite easily perform the majority of my job armed with only a phone and my Surface Pro.

You cannot compare the Surface Pro to a MacBook or an iPad – it is both, and does a damn good job of it!