Windows to Mac - Replacing OneNote

The best OneNote replacement IMO

I am a OneNote addict

I don’t know whether OneNote maps to how my brain works or I’ve mapped my brain to OneNote, but when it comes to organizing my thoughts, it’s my favorite tool… on Windows… in it’s 2016 Desktop edition, not the Windows 10 UWP app.


It’s got multiple ways to subdivide and organize your thoughts: notebooks, sections, section groups, pages, and subpages. You can link internally between them. Additionally, the UI on pages is not a simple top to bottom text editor. Text, images, and attachments are added in blocks you can move around the page. You can make columns, make a detective board


Gradually, over the years, Microsoft has made changes to the UI, moving things around. Everything’s now on the left and the section/section-groups are in a left-hand column rather than tabs at the top, but that’s not a deal breaker.

What is a deal breaker? When you use OneNote 2016 for Mac or the One Note Windows 10 UWP app, you can only create and save OneNote Notebooks in OneDrive. And if your employer hasn’t authorized (or even blocks) OneDrive for business purposes, Microsoft has effectively killed your ability to use OneNote in 3/4 of its OneNote options (web, Mac, UWP).

Why? Ask Microsoft. I’m sure their PR has worded a talking point around why there’s a very good, totally non-coercive and non-creepy reason they’re trying to force you to use OneDrive.

Enter Outline

I’ve used other note taking apps, but those blocks… they are the killer feature my brain needs (sometimes). And Outline has them. In fact it supports the .one notebook format for OneNote and multiple cloud services, so I can store my notebooks wherever I want and access them with Outline on my Mac and OneNote on my Windows machine… at least OneNote 2016 Desktop.


Downsides (at least for me):

  • It’s Mac only. That’s not a huge problem as the OneNote 2016 Desktop app remains compatible, but it could be a problem when that Microsoft app becomes unavailable or a security risk.
  • It does not have drawing tools. I don’t often use them and don’t make detective boards with lines between objects, but sometimes I will get a little sketch notey or flowcharty and those drawing tools are appreciated.

OneNote is free for Mac and Windows while Outline costs $39.99 + tax after a 14 day free trial. Honestly, for the productivity boost (and because I can expense it… I hope), I think $40 is totally worth it and I’m glad to support the people who make it.

So if you’re a (former) Windows user and OneNote addict like me who is integrating a Mac into their work life, check out Outline. It will make the transition at least a bit more comfortable.