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Windows File Shares: OneNote Shared Notebooks – Options and Troubleshooting – Part 1

Shared notebooks are a key feature of OneNote that have been described as “near magic”. They allow you to share notes across machines with yourself, or with a team of people. OneNote lets multiple users write in the same notebook, even on the same page at the same time and it just takes care of syncing and merging everything in the background. It’s a great way to share information, it’s very seamless, and once you’ve set it up it just works. Except when it doesn’t…

Sometimes things go wrong, or you have trouble setting it up in the first place. Mostly due to issues in the underlying file system chosen. Not all file storage systems are created equal. Some are great, some are not. Some are great for some purposes but not others. I’m going to write a series of posts as a comprehensive overview. I’ll explain each, and include pointers to trouble shooting potential issues. I’ll update this over time as I get questions and may add links to more details.

The key deciding factor in sharing your notebook is the location you choose to share it from and the technology used to access that. These include.

  1. Windows File Shares (otherwise known as SMB or CIFS shares)
  2. SharePoint servers
  3. USB drives / SD cards / other removable drives
  4. Windows Home Server
  5. WebDAV servers
  6. Peer replication technologies like FolderShare or Groove
  7. Other web storage services (Sky Drive, Office Live, etc.)

I realize this list makes things look complex. In the basic scenarios things just work. But there’s a great diversity of file sharing technology options out there that at least some people somewhere are using and it’s worth being comprehensive.

There are sub categories within each of these. I’ll go over each in a separate post. This one will cover Windows File Shares.

Windows File Shares


  • Windows File Shares are generally the best performing, fastest and most reliable place to share OneNote notebooks (I use them mostly)
  • Work very well on home networks, or work networks
  • Usually not available over the internet (although they can be with VPN software like Hamachi)
  • Use the SMB (otherwise known as CIFS) protocol
  • Available on Windows Servers (common in work environments), or personal Windows XP or Vista machines
  • Mac OS and Linux also provide support for Windows File Shares using SMB
  • On Linux SAMBA is the technology most often used to provide Windows File Shares using SMB
  • Home network hard drives that are small Windows Files Share/SMB servers are becoming more popular and are cheaply available under brands like Western Digitals “My Book”, iomega, Maxtor, Buffalo, Linksys, DLink etc.  Technically these are NAS devices, and are usually small servers inside running Linux and SAMBA. I don’t recommend these for reasons discussed below.

Performance and Reliability

  • Performance is very good.
  • OneNote can access only the parts of the file it needs. It does not have to update the whole file when syncing.
  • Syncs every 30 seconds.
  • Generally very reliable, with the big exception of all SAMBA based shares (see below) and some issues if you’re using Windows Offline Files

Troubleshooting tips

Below are some potential issues, explanations and resolutions.

  1. Can’t write to the notebook. Can’t create it or save it to the windows share.

    • Confirm you have permissions
    • As a simple test copy a small file (text file or something) up to the same folder location as the notebook using Windows Explorer.
    • If this fails you don’t have permission to access the share or file system. You need both share permissions and file system permissions (that’s the most confusing aspect for some people). Here’s a technical article about the distinction between Share permissions and File System permissions. I’ll try and post a simpler guide later [TODO]. In general, if you setup a Share on Vista the normal way, then it takes care of these two types of permissions automatically (I think XP SP2 does too…).

Full Article

Windows Live, Windows File Shares, OneNote, Shared Notebooks, Tips and Tricks, Trobuleshooting, Guide, Knowledgebase, Microsoft

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