Mac Alternatives to OneNote (Part 2)

Zengobi Curio


Price: $89 for an academic license (which gets you the “pro” version of the software), 15 day free trial, just email the developer and ask for a 60-day extended trial if you need more time to decide.

Zengobi’s Curio was the first piece of software I found after actively looking for a OneNote-equivalent for my Mac, and I have to say that it’s by far the closest of ANY of the programs out there to the real “feel” of OneNote.  While version 6 of the software was lacking a few features that made true OneNote style organization more difficult, I’m pleased to say that the recently released Version 7 (which I was privileged enough to beta test!) has addressed many of my former complaints.

Curio’s organized much like OneNote, with big, expandable pages that you can fill up with pretty much anything that you like, including rich text, shapes, figures and drawings, lists, and even mind maps.  Much like OneNote, you can tag files you insert into “idea spaces” (pages), and then use these tags much as you would in OneNote, to instantly jump to relevant portions of your project from the search feature.  You’re also able to spread pages of a PDF directly into your “idea spaces” so that you can annotate the PDFs with a pen tablet or any text, figures or drawings that you like.  While it’s not quite as tightly integrated as Outlook and OneNote, you’re very easily able to pull content from other programs into your projects, including mail messages, attachments, Address Book entries, iCal events, and even tasks.  In OneNote, you’re able to create tasks that sync to Outlook, and you’ll find similar functionality here with the built-in to-dos that live in iCal and Mail.app

Beyond having a number of features that compare quite favorably with OneNote, Curio offers quite a few unique features that often make me ask “why can’t I do this in OneNote?”  You’ve got a lot of control over the look of your idea spaces and the things that you put on them.  You can use almost any picture on your hard disk as a background for these “idea spaces” in addition to a number of built-in backgrounds.  I also enjoy the ability to really customize the display of information on a page—you can stylize and theme any bit of text, list, drawing figure, or mind map.  Speaking of mind maps, you get a basic, but still very functional mind-map generator built right into Curio.  Unless you’re an absolute power-user of another mind-mapping program, the built-in mind maps in Curio will suit you just fine.

A feature that I find quite useful is being able to instantly create new files for other programs (Word, Excel, etc.) right from Curio.  The files live in the project, much like a file you would have dragged or copied in to Curio or OneNote, and because of the way Curio’s files are structured as packages (much like folders), you’re able to access any files that are in your projects from any computer, with or without Curio being installed.  While you can’t see anything but your file attachments, it’s nice to know that the very thing you’re trying to organize are accessible anywhere.  Adding to its usefulness is very tight integration with Evernote: you’re able to easily drag in notes that you store in your free or premium Evernote account, bringing all of their associated metadata—including Evernote’s text-within-images recognition— with them.  Your imported Evernote notes are then fully searchable with Curio’s powerful search feature.

I’m really only scratching the surface of the features—the best way to test everything out is to really download the trial and put it to the test.  Thankfully the help manual is incredibly helpful, and the developer is incredibly quick to respond to emailed questions, or questions that show up on his web forum.

Compared to OneNote by feature:

1. Curio is a fantastic place to organize a lot of information, whether its your lesson plans, or organizing for your own continuing education classwork.

2. If you want to use Curio for research and web clipping, you’ll be pretty pleased, as there are a number of ways to clip information into a project.  Evernote provides an excellent way of gathering web research, and it’s easy to import it right into Curio.  

3. Sharing and collaboration are unfortunately weak points for Curio.  You can export your projects to HTML for viewing on the web, or to PDF, or even a number of picture formats, but there’s no real way for a project to be open on more than one computer at a time or to keep track of multiple authors’ changes.  I’m generally inclined to believe that there’s really not a Mac program out there that matches the magic of a OneNote shared notebook.

4. Curio would be a great place to take notes, especially if you’re someone that likes to work with mind maps, or spatially organize their thoughts with text, charts, and diagrams.  Outlines can of course be used as well.  Sadly, while audio can be recorded, there’s nothing that allows for it to sync up with notes that your typing, and it most certainly isn’t searchable (like it is in OneNote 2010).

While I said earlier that I had one more program to discuss, I’ve become so enamored with Curio that I’m really willing to say that its the definitive OneNote replacement for Mac users.  If you find that it still isn’t quite what you’re looking for, there is one more alternative:  Circus Ponies’ NoteBook.  More on that, a program I’ve been happy to use for several years, in my next post.

Until then,


  1. jjambrose posted this