What's next for Microsoft's OneNote

What's next for Microsoft's OneNote

Summary: Microsoft's OneNote team has a lot on its plate, from honing its new Android tablet client, to improving the overall meeting experience.


If there were one product that could be described as the poster child for Microsoft, the newly self-christened productivity and platforms company, it would have to be OneNote.


The OneNote note-taking app is made for dual usage scenarios, where work and home are not two totally separate experiences, said David Rasmussen, OneNote Group Program Manager. Rasmussen maintains growth has been "super strong," but won't offer up any OneNote download/installation figures. The largest group of users are enterprise users, he said.

OneNote is one of the four "hub services" on which Microsoft's Applications & Services Group is focusing. The other three are OneDrive/OneDrive for Business/SharePoint; Skype and Lync; and Outlook.com/Exchange. In some respects, OneNote has a smaller profile than the other three hubs, Rasmussen acknowledged. At least in part, that's because OneNote is newer than some of the businesses in the other three hubs. OneNote was born in 2003, but only became part of all editions of the Office Suite in 2011.

"Cross-platform is an essential part of our strategy," Rasmussen said. "We're trying to make sure anyone -- companies, individuals, educational institutions -- can use OneNote across different devices."

There are currently eight different OneNote clients now: OneNote for Windows, Windows 8, Windows Phone, iOS, Mac OS X, Android phone, Amazon Fire Phone/Kindle Fire tablets and OneNote Online (for use with a variety of browsers). Microsoft has provided 18 updates for these clients in total over the past 12 months, Rasmussen said.

"Cross-platform is an essential part of our strategy," Rasmussen said. "We're trying to make sure anyone -- companies, individuals, educational institutions -- can use OneNote across different devices."

Microsoft is in the midst of beta testing an updated version of OneNote for Android that will be optimized for tablets, not just phones. Microsoft opened the beta program in late March 2014 and has been updating the beta since. Fall 2014 is the target release date for this version, which means it could debut simultaneously with the rest of the touch-first Office on Android tablet suite which Microsoft is developing.

The coming Android release will support digital inking, allowing users to take handwritten notes or draw with a stylus or finger. It will add more formatting options, including font types, font sizes, alignments and tags, and will allow users to move between notebooks, sections and pages with a swipe. It also will add support for LG G3.

Microsoft also is working on an updated and revised version of modern/Metro-Style OneNote that will be part of the suite of touch-first Office apps known by some as "Gemini," which the company is expected to release in the first half of 2015. Rasmussen didn't share more about that version, other than to say "There's an evolution coming there."

Across the board, Microsoft is focused on helping OneNote users more easily see where they are saving any information they're putting in OneNote, as well as on managing multiple accounts more easily, Rasmussen said. Expect more investments in OneNote tutorials and guided-user education. That would be a welcome addition, given how many OneNote users and wanna-be users note in forums that OneNote is still much harder to use/learn than Evernote and other note-taking apps.

Behind the scenes, the OneNote team is working on updating its core storage and sync model. As a recent OneNote Microsoft job posting noted, "our core Storage & Sync model is still based on the original designs from the first version of OneNote. Notes were originally a collection of directories and files on the local drive. Notes are now a collection of directories and files in the cloud with a sync engine and caching placed in-between."

This design is "limiting from both the robustness and innovation points of view," the post continues. The team is looking for experts to help "build a modern foundation for all of OneNote's data" that will enable user sharing and collaboration at a finer level. "We need to support cross platform devices that have limited local storage and yet still provide access to all of your notes," the post added.

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The post noted that the OneNote team will be coordinating with OneDrive and OneDrive for Business teams on "future Cloud storage designs." Those aren't the only teams with whom the OneNote team is working, however.

As evidenced by the integration of the OneNote functionality and the Surface Pro 3 pen, the OneNote team is doing a lot of work with both the Surface and the Windows teams, Rasmussen said. Rasmussen said there will be even more collaboration with those teams going forward, especially as Microsoft moves toward Threshold, aka, the next major Windows release which tipsters say will be out in the spring of 2015.

The OneNote team also has worked with Windows Phone around more integration around Cortana, Microsoft's personal digital assistant. And there will be more cross-team work between OneNote, Skype/Lync and Perceptive Pixel (PPI) teams, given all are very focused around improving users' meetings experience -- a pursuit of the Microsoft Office team for the past several years.

"A lot of company and enterprise usage comes in two forms: Collaborative notebooks for project plans and meetings," Rasmussen said. "There's been a lot of evolution in meeting notes, with OneNote as the starting point."

Once notes are available on the big screen, "that definitely changes the dynamics of meetings," Rasmussen continued. He said that OneNote has had a lot of conversations with the Lync and Skype teams about how to improve these experiences. And because users will want and need a more simplified user interface when using large-screen PPI monitors, there are areas where OneNote and PPI can work together to improve that meeting experience.

There's also work happening to increase the collaboration between Bing and OneNote, with Bing acting as the machine-learning, graph-based knowledge base of which OneNote can take advantage, Rasmussen said. The recent introduction of OneNote's recipe-clipping functionality, as well as the use of optical character recognition technology to send images and text for incorporation into OneNote are examples of this integration in action, he said. There will be more machine-learning-fueled capabilities coming to OneNote in the future, Rasmussen said.

Topics: Mobility, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Unified Comms


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • WHY there are no integration of OneNote with Exchange Server?

    "OneNote has a smaller profile than the other three hubs".

    I dont know WHY there are no integration of OneNote with Exchange Server and add capabilities of OneNote to Exchange/Outlook or fusion with Outlook, the best PIM. All my notes are in our company Exchange Server and I'm not interested and never put my data on external servers (cloud).
    • the little note feature in outlook

      Is certainly no OneNote; personally I'm grateful they've designed it the way they've designed it - Exchange integration would have little use to me. Share point would be a thousand times more useful.
      • RE: the little note feature in outlook

        Of course notes in Outlook are not the same as OneNote. The point is not little notes but the fact that some companies are not allowed to use the cloud. Being unable to simply disable this in OneNote 2013 as it is now is a kill switch for us unfortunately. Being able to use OneNote with Exchange on premise would be ideal.
        • um, then don't use the cloud?

          OneNote (for Windows at any rate) has never required it - not is it even a default condition.
        • Then

          use SharePoint or local file storage - works for Windows, Mac and iOS versions can't currently cope with non-cloud OneNote documents though, which is a major pain.
        • You can also create network shares of OneNote notebooks

          Just put your notebook on a network share, use AD to restrict access, and add that tab to your notebook tabs. OneOne is very flexible.
          Rann Xeroxx
      • SharePoint Integration

        ...is there in SharePoint 2013. What exactly are you looking for?
        • It has been there longer than that

          SP 2007 had it.... But it isn't steaming sync like Dropbox, so it is quite sluggish to load.
      • OneNote as a substitute for Outlook notes and comments

        Everywhere in Outlook, where I can write a description or note, I'd like to be able to write it as a OneNote-note instead.

        Say I were to send a meeting invite. I'd like to be able to send the agenda as a OneNote instead. Right now you can "link" a OneNote to a meeting, either a personal note or one that you share with the meeting. The problem is that it is not very obvious that there might be a note linked to the meeting. If the note itself was actually the one you were looking at in the description of the meeting itself.

        Btw. if you want to share the note you have to share the whole notebook that the note is placed in. You cannot just share just that single note. I think this is one of the reasons why they want to redesign the underlying core storage and sync model. Also, it is only the organizer who can share notes, which is another limitation.

        Likewise I'd like to have OneNotes for my contacts, tasks, etc. each one of them integrated directly into the Outlook forms.

        There may be a smarter way to do this than what I am suggesting of course, I just feel like the current implementation/integration is very limited and always has been. The main point I am trying to make, is that Outlook and OneNote feel too disjointed. The integration between them should be much tighter. In that I agree with supercocoloco.
        • There is a reason...

          Microsoft is trying to make OneNote as standalone and stable as possible. Its the same reason that you cannot add an OLE Excel doc in OneNote because that creates a dependence on Excel and a break point. Try sharing this note with someone without Office suite and it breaks the note.
          Rann Xeroxx
      • Have you ever used OneNote?

        You can already integrate and store OneNote in SharePoint and it is searchable etc?

        Cortana may also begin to close the integration with other productivity apps too!
      • OneOne is part of SharePoint

        You can have team OneNote notebooks in SharePoint. This is how my team shares How Tos and meeting notes. You simply add it to your notebook tabs.
        Rann Xeroxx
    • OneNote on a shared network drive

      Multiple users can open and collaborate on OneNote files simultaneously.
  • OneNote as part of Office.

    Mary Jo,

    Thanks for a great article on a great bit of software, I have been using it for years, and think it is the best of Office.

    Just one correction I would like to make though, OneNote was available in Office long before 2011. OneNote that I know first was put in Office 2007, but at that time it was only in the Home and Student, Ultimate, and Enterprise versions. While purchasing a laptop for my daughter to go to university with, we purchased Office 2007 Home and Student, she was more excited about the fact that it had OneNote, than even the new laptop. She gave me brief explanation of what it done, as I had never used it, as I had access to Pro Plus through work.
    Never the less, I have been a user since, and will give a talk on it next week for a local user group here in Charlotte.
    Bobby Edwards 2nd
    • OneNote in Office 2007?


      You're right it was in a couple of editions as of Office 2007. But wasn't until Office 2010 that it was in ALL Office editions. More here: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/descapa/archive/2009/07/14/onenote-included-in-all-office-editions.aspx

      Thanks. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • It was also a part of Office Professional Enterprise edition 2003

        I remember it being in that edition along with InfoPath.
  • Is that Good

    OneNote really is that good. I now spend an average of 2 hours every day in it. I use it on a Windows 8 hybrid with a digitizing stylus. The weakness is PDFs. If they supported them better it would be closer to 4.
    • Exactly

      I hear you. Why do PDFs and other "printed" content have to show as a bunch of pages? The "Read" feature in IE/Modern is really nice - why can't there be an option to import PDFs and web pages like that?
  • Thankfully

    "Microsoft also is working on an updated and revised version of modern/Metro-Style OneNote"

    So glad to hear this, because the current WinRT / Metro OneNote is terrible. It strips out way too much of the unique functionality that makes OneNote (desktop / 2013) compelling.

    And hopefully, that includes universal functionality (and even better, maybe eventually pen input) for Windows Phone. The OneNote beta for Android is seriously making me consider a Galaxy Note (and I really don't like Android in general) solely because OneNote is so important to my workflow.
    • Metro OneNote

      On the Surface, using only touch and the stylus for input, the Metro version cannot even compete to the desktop version. Even on a tablet, the desktop version is better than the metro version. Funny that skype is also mentioned in the article - the same applies there.

      In my opinion OneNote is lacking 2 things:
      - Allow to detach storage from OneDrive.
      - Add pen support for Smartphones.