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Transitioning from Evernote to OneNote

Evernote to OneNote

I feel a little bad about this, but I’ve decided to close down my Evernote account and move across to OneNote. The main reason is that it feels like OneNote gets a bit more love and support.

EverNote is fine as far as it goes, but it hasn’t really moved on much, with newer features mostly aimed at business teams rather than individuals.

Plus, I’m paying for two products. Evernote is basically costing me the same as OneNote, except that OneNote comes with the rest of Microsoft Office 365 and 1TB storage.

Another reasons is OneNote support for pens on touch displays. Since I bought a Surface Go last year, I’ve been trying to use a pen and touchscreen more frequently for note taking etc. OneNote handles that well.

OneNote isn’t perfect. The way it’s organised can seem confusing from the outset, and there are multiple apps that replicate the same functionality. Should I be using OneNote 2016 or the OneNote Windows Store app? They both do the same thing, but they’re different. (I genuinely don’t know the answer to this one. I’ve decided to use the version from the Windows store.)


So how do you go about moving from Evernote to OneNote?

Note: I’m doing this on a Windows 10 PC. It might be very different on a Mac, and the tools I use here might not be available.

Well it should be easy. Microsoft has built an Importer that should specifically do the job for you. All you do is install it on a computer where you also have a desktop installation of Evernote, and the importer tool goes away, finds all your Evernote books and converts them to OneNote. Simple!

If only.

I think it works fine if you have small notebooks without large PDF attachments included within them. But I have a lot of PDFs in my Evernote storage.

The reason for that is because I use a Fujitsu scanner to capture paper files and digitise them. I’ll regularly scan long magazine articles, cycling or walking route guides, reviews from print publications and so on. Sometimes there will be a 100 page or more PDF in a note. And those image heavy PDFs aren’t especially compressed – although they are searchable as I use OCR.

Microsoft’s Importer really doesn’t like these massive attachments, and tends to break.

It actually does a partial import into OneNote, giving you a vague notification that some of your notes didn’t import. That’s all a bit useless. If your notebooks are small enough, you might be able to identify individual problematic notes, but that’s a palaver.

You need to know that each “Notebook” is treated by Microsoft as a separate file – in my case, synced in OneDrive. Because with OneNote, you can open and close individual notebooks. I’m not quite sure why you’d want to keep some notebooks closed. But you can.

When the Importer tool broke the first time, I tried again, and ended up creating duplicate incomplete files for each of the OneNote notebooks within my account. This was getting very messy, very fast.

If the Importer fails to work, then my suggestion is that you delete all the OneNote notebooks Microsoft creates and start over.

My Process

  • Export each Evernote notebook separately using the desktop Evernote app.
    Do this by selecting a single note from a single Notebook, then pressing Ctrl-A (Select All) to ensure that every note in that particular notebook is selected.
    Then go to File > Export and export it all as a .enex file. Give the file an appropriate name and save it in a temporary folder somewhere.
  • Repeat this stage for each Evernote notebook you have. These files can get quite large. My largest – including lots of unsorted notes – ran to 3.3 GB.
  • Use the Microsoft Importer Tool with these .enex files, but only using the smaller notebooks. My rule of thumb was that I only attempted to directly import any files under 100 MB.
  • At stage two in the tool, untick everything and select “Import a file instead.”
  • Choose the file and click “Next”. I let OneNote use my Evernote tags as well.
  • Depending on how large the file is, this process might take a while but it shows you its progress.
  • At the end, you’ll know whether or not it has worked 100%!

If it worked properly, then all is well. If it didn’t, I’d advise deleting the newly created OneNote notebook from your OneDrive folder and continuing with the steps below.

Note that by default, I found that everything was syncing to OneNote, and it seemed to have to go up to the cloud and back down again before the desktop OneNote app knew about the new notebook. That can take some time.

Also, by default, the notebook won’t be open.

In OneNote click on “More Notebooks” and find it there. (Recall, I’m using the Windows Store version of OneNote.)

Sometimes even this was not enough. In which case, I first went to my OneDrive folder – the notebook files are stored in Documents by default. I clicked on the respective OneNote notebook which opens the notebook in a browser version of OneNote.

I then closed that tab, returned to OneNote desktop and I now was able to see the notebook when I click on “More Notebooks.”

I don’t know why this step should be necessary. Perhaps if I waited a longer time it wouldn’t. But this was my work around.

For those notebooks that are too large – perhaps like mine, containing large PDFs – I used a different method.

Via a Microsoft Answers page, I found a link to a tool written by Stefan Keung.

  • Download the compiled app from Sourceforge. I used version 1.2.2 which is the most recent at time of writing. Unzip the file and then click on it.
  • Note that it has found my Evernote notebook (imaginatively named), but I’m using the ‘Import ENEX File’ button.
  • Click that and find the large Evernote notebook file you exported. It then processes that file. It’s pretty fast – but it’s doing everything locally and not in the cloud. The resulting file is saved locally in your OneNote folder.
  • Return to the OneNote desktop app and click on “More Notebooks.” You should find your new notebook with a notifier to say that it’s a local file.

OneNote may take a while opening this file. And it will certainly take a while syncing the file back into the cloud.

But repeating these steps and using this combination of tools eventually got me everything over into OneNote.

My premium subscription to Evernote expires next month. So I’m using the next couple of weeks to make sure all is well. But then I’ll fully retire Evernote – or at least return to the limited free version.