I do a lot of Java development for my company (ScreamingToaster). I also do a lot of planning and write documentation that’s product related. I’ve struggled with organizing all this information, across multiple machines (development workstations, multiple laptops, my personal machine, etc). Then there’s the issue of sharing this stuff with other people on my team.
I found that sharing doc files or text files didn’t scale very well, and they were difficult to organize in folders on a hard drive. Plus sharing was not easy, or tracking changes. I tried using a Wiki… sharing was easy, access was universal, but it was a royal pain in the ass to create content using the limited editing software (I don’t like the idea of putting my ideas in a text area). So I moved away from Wikis. Then I tried using a blog engine as a cheap content management system, and things were a little better… and Windows Live Writer made it more bearable to create content, but it was still cumbersome and not natural. I considered using Sharepoint, but I didn’t want to invest the time to install it, and use it.
While I was trying to figure out how to share information with myself, across various machines, and others on my team, I discovered OneNote. I’d heard about it years ago, but actually started using last year. I use it to hold all my hand drawn diagrams, notes, documents, random notes, images, and even files. I can easily tag information, and search for this quickly, and I can even insert printouts into my notebooks. It has become my repository and content management system. However, the .One files (notebooks and sections) still had to be shared amongst all my machines, and with other people. So I decided to use Subversion as a CMS, and started putting all my notebooks into SVN. This worked out really well for a while. But adding changes became cumbersome. For eg, if I have a notebook where I write down my thoughts on developerlife, and I update it on Machine 1, I would have to remember to update my working copy on Machine 1, before adding the new thought… otherwise, I run the risk of a collision (in case I have a newer version of the notebook in SVN). The workflow was clunky, unnatural, and prone to errors. And it got in the way of my creative process.
So, I finally decided to invest the time in exploring the sharing features of OneNote. I’d seen something in the file menu about sharing notebooks. So I did a little research, and I no longer use SVN to share my documents, and other information. I allow OneNote to take care of it all! There are a couple of ways you can do this, and I’m only going to mention the simplest ones here:
I use option 1 and 3 above. I have a server on my LAN that hosts my SVN repository and testing app server, which is where I store all my notebooks. I regularly backup this entire machine (using Acronis), so my source code and documents are backed up together and kept in a safe place. Disaster recovery is quite simple as well, with this approach. The backup of this machine is just one file, which I upload to a remote server regularly.
If there is more interest on using OneNote’s sharing capabilities, I will post an in-depth review in the Reviews section. I think it can be very helpful to people who want to manage lots of fluid information that must be persisted and replicated reliably, without having to copy files, and run cron jobs, or know how to use SVN and setup a SVN server.
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