Recovering data after OneDrive for Business “ate” my OneNote notebooks…

Yesterday, I wrote about troubleshooting OneDrive for Business. What I didn’t write about though was the problems that a simple repair to OneDrive for Business (acting on advice to resolve some sync issues on my client) caused for me…

The OneDrive for Business repair operation works as follows:

  • Disconnects all libraries that were experiencing sync problems.
  • Reconnects these libraries. This means Repair downloads and syncs the current server version of each library, as if you were syncing for the first time.
  • Creates an archive copy of any file that had unsynced changes and places these files in a library folder under C:\users\username\OneDrive for Business archives\.

So, if you are using that full 1TB of storage… you’d better have a good network connection to pull the entire contents of the library from the cloud (which is why the next version of the OneDrive client has selective sync).

In my case, I’m only using a few GB but, because I moved my entire Documents folder to OneDrive a few months ago, my OneNote notebooks were part of the data that was pulled down from the cloud.

I rely heavily on OneNote – I stopped using paper notebooks when I left my last job, as my everyday device is a Surface Pro 3 (which I find ideally suited to note-taking) – and here’s the lesson I learned:

OneNote and OneDrive for Business do not (always) play together nicely.

It should work – there’s even Microsoft advice for moving a OneNote notebook to OneDrive (and the same process works for OneDrive for Business) but it seems the mistake I made was to move all of my files in Windows Explorer. Whilst researching this blog post I’ve found Microsoft’s OneNote syncing best practices (KB2819334) and what I should have done is move the OneNote notebooks from within OneNote…

After the OneDrive for Business repair, I was left with a .ms-one-stub file which Explorer reported as being 1KB in size. 6 months of notes had disappeared – and opening OneNote didn’t follow the stub and magically pick up my notes. I felt physically sick. I thought I had two copies – one on the PC and one in OneDrive for Business. But no, OneDrive for Business was my backup – and it had “eaten” my work.

Luckily, there was another backup copy. It wasn’t current, but it was only a couple of days out of date, rather than starting from scratch. I found that OneNote stores a copy of notes in C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\OneNote\15.0\Backup.

That location has a folder for each notebook. Each folder contains a OneDrive recycle bin (OneNote_RecycleBin) and copies of  my .one files for each section, with a date when the backup was taken – for example project.one (On 22-11-2015).one. I’m not sure when the backup is taken (I’ve made changes to sections today that are still not reflected in the OneNote backup, but losing a couple of days is vastly superior to losing 6 months.

Even with the new information about the correct way to sync OneNote to OneDrive for Business, I’m not sure I completely trust it. From now on I’ll be making a third copy to another location…

 

Returning to the analogue world of note-taking

I take a lot of notes in meetings. I’d like to say that I’m good at it – although that’s a subjective view – some one say that the essence of good note-taking is to capture the pertinent points and not the whole discussion but I’ll save that debate for offline (although it did come up in my recent appraisal…).  My preferred tool is Microsoft OneNote (at least on the PC) but there are issues around storing notes from meetings on personal devices (iPad, smartphone – and supporting cloud services) that strangely don’t seem to be an issue in the analogue world…

After a recent meeting with some senior management, where I found myself becoming the “minute-taker” because I’d been taking notes (intended for personal use), I decided that this wasn’t helping me establish myself as any more than just the most junior person in the room (I’ve been advised to think about parent-peer-child relationships in business meetings – not as in hierarchy but in terms of managing stakeholders and engaging at an appropriate level). Consequently, I’m dumping extensive notetaking in OneNote (at least for meetings – it still works for me at external events) and going back to a paper notebook.

I was recently given some Moleskine notebooks as a present and these are perfect for the job (there is a Moleskine app for iOS too but that kind of misses the point). But Moleskine products are a) attractive and b) expensive – that meant that I needed to find a system for note-taking that would 1) work well and not just end up as a horrible mess of hieroglyphics and 2) not result in pages and pages of notes just like the ones I used to make in OneNote…

I called my friend (and long-time Moleskine user) Garry Martin (@GarryMartin) for advice – after all, why not start from a system that works for someone else? Garry recommended an approach that’s outlined by Michael Hyatt in his post on recovering (or even rediscovering?) the lost art of note-taking, including the use of symbols for scanning later:

  • Indent everything.
  • Use stars for important things.
  • Use an open square for an action (and tick when complete).
  • Use an open circle for an action on others that needs to be tracked (and tick when complete).
  • Use a question mark for items that need additional research.

Additionally, Garry recommended the use a different colour when going back later with additional information.

It’s early days yet – and this is only one small step on a long journey but let’s see if this return to a simple notebook will help me overcome the digital mess that I’ve created in previous attempts to streamline my work.

Downloading content from the US iTunes Store, outside the United States

I’m getting increasingly tired of seeing apps launched in the US iTunes Store and not here in the UK.  And the worst culprit seems to be, would you believe, Microsoft?!  For example, the Bing app – freely available in the US, but not here.  Sure, some of the content is US-specific but not all of it – and it’s been around in the States for ages now!

Then, I heard that OneNote has shipped on iOS.  Yes, OneNote. Microsoft’s fantastic note-taking app, on iOS. Further more, it’s currently free of charge (for a limited period). Ever since I bought an iPad, I thought that OneNote would be brillaint on that platform and, as good as Evernote is, it’s just not good enough.

Sadly, the OneNote Mobile app for iPhone is only available in the US iTunes Store but there is a workaround:

  1. Purchase a US iTunes gift card. If you have friends in the States, they might be able to help (they can e-mail you the code on the back of the card) or there are sites on the web that will sell you a code, usually for a hefty commission fee…
  2. Launch iTunes and sign out from the local iTunes Store.
  3. Switch to the US iTunes Store – for example attempt to buy some content that’s only available in the US (and iTunes will prompt you to switch stores) – it needs to be free content though (like a free iPhone app), in order to display a payment option of none in a later step.
  4. Redeem  the code from a US-issued iTunes gift card, creating a new iTunes account in the process.  You’ll need an e-mail address that’s not already associated with iTunes and a valid address in the States.  If you’re staying with friends, or at a hotel, that would work.
  5. Select the payment type of none, then continue the process to complete the account opening process and download the content.  Your new account will be credited with the value of the gift card.

I don’t know if this breaches terms and conditions on the Apple store (maybe if they were shorter, and written in plain English, I might actually read them…) but it works. As for legitimacy, I might be writing this from the United States, in which case using my hotel address and a gift card seems perfectly acceptable.  At least it does right now – Apple may try an tighten things up later but what’s in it for them? This way they can sell content in multiple regions from the same customer… and I’m talking about apps here, it’s not as though I’m advocating circumvention of media distribution rights for music/video. Of course, I’m not a lawyer – and I can’t be held responsible for anyone else’s actions based on the advice in this blog post.

Content not authorised in iTunesWhen you sync your device with iTunes, you will probably get an error indicating that the apps are not authorised on the computer.  Simply follow the instructions to authorise the computer for use with that iTunes Store (Authorize This Computer on the Store menu in iTunes).

Content syncing with a device in iTunesAfter doing so, the next device sync should copy the app (iTunes will have one library containing content from both the US and the local iTunes Stores) and you can freely switch back and forth between US and local iTunes accounts to make new purchases.

As it happens, OneNote Mobile for iPhone is exactly what it says – it’s an iPhone app and doesn’t make full use of the larger screen on the iPad.  This is a missed opportunity for Microsoft – the best iOS apps detect the device and present an appropriate view to make full use of the display capabilities – and they could have a knock-out app running on a competitor’s platform. Hey ho.