I was very pleased to hear that Microsoft has decided to offer OneNote available for free on all popular platforms. I've long depended on a PIM (personal information manager - anyone remember Ecco?) to keep my life organized and to remember the flotsam and jetsam of daily data that I may need later. (How have my cholesterol numbers been over the years? What's my PR for a 10K race?) Pretty much ever since the product was announced, I've used OneNote for this essential function. I outline all my articles and columns using this app.

Mixed in with this big announcement was the OneNote Service API, which allows developers to write apps that integrate with OneNote. One of the very first apps is Office Lens, which provides OCR-like integration into OneNote. Office Lens allows you to take a photo of a document, whiteboard, or just take a photo, and have it sent into OneNote. From there you can right-click on the image, select Copy Text from Picture, and paste it below the image or anywhere else you want.

As a technology professional, this has a lot of potential uses. You could

  • Take a screenshot of an error or other information from  a computer console. This and OCR translation works pretty well for PowerShell commands, so you can usefully grab a short PowerShell script someone else has written - just by taking a picture of it.
  • Cut down on business card clutter by taking an image of the card after a meeting or at a conference. (It's not a full-blown business card management solution, however.)
  • Quickly grab information from a poster at a vendor booth.
  • Save the information on a slide when watching a presentation without finding and downloading the whole thing.

This is an example of Office Lens collecting a card image (before focusing):

Office Lens collecting a card image (before focus)

Once inserted into OneNote, it looks like this:

It's a 1.0 product, so of course there are some areas for enhancment:

  • You can't zoom in if you're taking a photo with it, so you'd better be sitting in the front row. Alternatively, you could take a regular photo and import it into the lens, but this is too time-consuming during a live presentation.
  • It would be nice to choose the image destination within OneNote, instead of Quick Notes only.
  • The OCR capability was not very good in my tests, at least for (my lousy) handwriting and business cards.
  • The auto-sense of the image's orientation could be better, or perhaps some kind of business card recognition, so you don't have to rotate the image in OneNote. 
  • It's only currently available for Windows Phone.

Anything that lessens the need for me to scribble into a notebook I can't handily access and search is a good thing; I'll be using Office Lens a lot in May at Tech Ed. Have any other uses for Office Lens? Let me know in the comments!

Sean writes about cloud identity, Microsoft hybrid identity, and whatever else he finds interesting at his blog on Enterprise Identity and on Twitter at @shorinsean.