There are two types of notetakers: The first searches far and wide for the tool best suited to their individual needs.
The second type uses whatever is most convenient—whether that means a native app like Apple’s Stickies or a nearby notepad.
Many people who use OneNote fall into the second camp. They use Microsoft’s notetaking offering mostly because it’s free. But is it the best notetaking solution for their actual use case?
To help you decide, this article highlights five free OneNote alternatives worth considering.
Why OneNote falls short of expectations
OneNote has many things working in its favor. As a free standalone notetaking app, OneNote allows users to add multimedia elements like audio, video, and images to their notes.
It also boasts an impressive folder-based organization system that will feel familiar to anyone who’s ever used a Microsoft product.
Unfortunately, this is also where OneNote starts to falter: Finicky drag and drop functionality means you’re likely to put things where they don’t belong.
Organizational hierarchies aside, here are the most glaring limitations to notetaking in OneNote:
You can’t save local files with the free version
OneNote’s primary pitfall is that it’s mostly a cloud-based service.
While cloud-based tools are great for knowledge sharing and retrievability, they can create challenges for people and organizations who need to store files—in this case, notebooks—on devices they own and control.
For people who use OneNote extensively, either at home or at work, you could find yourself in a situation where you have hundreds of pages of information without a way to back it up.
Buying a Microsoft Office 2019 or Microsoft 365 subscription
Making a one-time purchase of Microsoft Office (Note: Your license is only good for one machine, so the cost for multiple machines may be prohibitive).
Upgrading your OneDrive plan for additional cloud storage space
You might lose your notebooks
If you change Microsoft products, such as switching from Office 365 Home to Office 365 Business, your notebooks won’t transfer over. Worse, there’s no efficient way to transfer the notebook data from one Microsoft account to another.
It’s hard to find your notes
Poor searchability is another common complaint about OneNote. It’s difficult to guarantee your files will land where you want them, and despite a cross-notebook search feature, it’s also challenging to find and retrieve information.
Some bugs have been around forever
Like many huge companies with legacy software, Microsoft neglects to fix bugs that impact the user experience. According to some users, certain bugs have gone unaddressed for years.