OneNote desktop-Store merger: What does it mean?

Neither OneNote 2016 (desktop) nor OneNote for Windows 10 (Store) is going away as Microsoft merges the code bases and integrates the new Fluid framework.

OneNote on the desktop was never ‘dead’ because it never came out of support, but the way that Office 2019 uninstalled OneNote 2016 made it look less ‘mainstream’ and more ‘legacy’. The announcement at the 2019 Ignite conference that not only was OneNote 2016 getting the same support lifecycle as the rest of Office 2019 (until October 2023, with extended support until October 2025) and going back into the default Office install (in March 2020), but that the desktop and Store app codebases were merging caused a certain amount of confusion as well.

Did that mean the Store version of OneNote was dead instead? No. The message from OneNote Principal Product Manager Ben Hodes is that this is about choice: “your notes your way,” as he put it.

“When we say ‘one place for all your notes across your whole life’, that one place is OneNote,” Hodes added. “It’s not any specific endpoint or version. It’s OneNote.”

So while development is restarting on OneNote 2016, OneNote for Windows 10 is still being actively developed. By early 2020, Microsoft hopes to have fully merged the code base for the two Windows versions. That doesn’t mean the two versions of OneNote will merge, though, any more than that the Mac, iOS and Android versions will become the same applications. Instead, over the next 18 months Microsoft will be able to bring the advances in OneNote 10 to OneNote 2016 — and put the same new features into both of them.

Sometimes a feature may come to OneNote 2016 or OneNote 10 before it reaches the other Windows version. But the plan is that, over time, all the versions of OneNote will get the same features.

In particular, this is about giving OneNote new features that are going into the other Office applications without the OneNote team having to write their own versions of them, and doing that on top of having to continue porting missing OneNote 2016 features into OneNote 10. This includes the ability to store notebooks wherever you want, macros and add-ins, using the Office AutoCorrect dictionary, the ability to paste multiple images from the clipboard — whatever your favourite missing feature is.

The official OneNote feature roadmap.Image: Microsoft

Bringing Office features to OneNote

The main impetus for the decision to merge the OneNote codebase to take advantage of these Office features was the Fluid framework, which is about fast collaboration, chunking up information and tools like ink — all core OneNote tenets. OneNote will have a preview of the Fluid framework “some time next year” Hodes said. Expect more news and possibly a demo at the 2020 Build conference in May.

The way that Fluid will be implemented in Office and other applications such as the Office Canvas is actually a good way of thinking about the two versions of OneNote for Windows. All the apps and services that use Fluid will be able to sync information back and forth at high bandwidth (using the SharePoint Online backend), but the way that shows up in applications will depend on what suits those applications. The Office Canvas will be one implementation of Fluid, based on a common core provided by the Fluid team, but built specifically for Office. Application teams like OneNote will be able to choose which Fluid component they need and write their own Fluid components (and contribute those back to the framework for other apps to pick up if they’re useful). The OneNote team has already been talking to the Fluid team for months, to see how this will work for the OneNote Canvas.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Some existing Office features can come to OneNote more easily now that Windows 10 can share the OneNote 2016 codebase, which integrates Office features like AutoCorrect and Editor spell checking. The first of those will be @ mentions, which are already available in Word and Teams — so that when you type @ followed by someone’s name, they get a notification. If it’s in the OneNote notebook associated with a Teams channel, they’ll get a Teams notification the same way as they do when they’re mentioned in the Teams channel. @ mentions will come to OneNote in the first half of 2020. There will also be better task integration between OneNote and Microsoft To-Do.

OneNote 2016 will get the same Microsoft search feature on the title bar that Office 2019 applications already have. That won’t replace the current search in OneNote 2016 (which hasn’t been updated in a long time), but it will help to expose more of the information stored in OneNote or elsewhere in Office. OneNote Online will also get better search; currently you can’t find inside a page in OneNote Online because the indexer isn’t running; hopefully the move to Microsoft Search will fix that.

Bringing Store features to OneNote 2016

Although OneNote for Windows 10 is still missing plenty of OneNote 2016 features, it has several that aren’t in desktop OneNote. These include more sort options, the ability to sync custom tags between devices, and much better accessibility features. Once the code bases are merged, OneNote 2016 will get those as well.

Features planned for the combined OneNote.Image: Microsoft

The first Store app feature to come to OneNote 2016 is dark mode, which is already available for users in the Office Insider program. It’s flexible, so you can have a dark interface but a white background if that makes the note clearer.

More ambitious is the fact that OneNote 2016 will get the faster, more efficient ‘modern sync’ that’s in the Store version of OneNote. The sync protocol used in OneNote 2016 was designed for notebooks stored on local file shares and synced to a PC over a high-bandwidth company network. Other OneNote clients use sync designed for internet connections that may be slower and not always available, so ‘modern sync’ moves smaller chunks of content, which means that pages update with new content that someone else is typing into a note more quickly.

OneNote 2016 will get that, but it will continue to allow you to store notebooks on your own PC if you want (and sync them through OneDrive without having to store them only in the cloud, just as you can today). That can make for large files stored on your PC, including the local cache and backups (by default OneNote 2016 stores three backups of each notebook): “we err on the side of making sure that you have as much stuff as humanly possible when you go offline,” Hodes noted. In future, that will give you more options for what gets cached locally, using adaptive sync that’s a bit more like OneDrive Folders on Demand, where you can pick which sections you do and don’t want to have available when you’re not connected to the internet.

Brand-new OneNote features

OneNote 2016 isn’t only getting Store features. Now that the OneNote team isn’t trying to rewrite all the desktop features to put them into OneNote for Windows 10, both versions will start getting new features.

The section and page template features in OneNote haven’t been updated in many years, and those will get more attention and some new options.

Instead of having to either share an entire notebook or email a copy of the current page, you’ll finally be able to share just a section of a notebook. There will be enterprise versions of the staff and class notebook features that are so popular in education, where sections can be made read-only or only accessible to some people — for example, a manager doing assessments could have a section for each staff member that is shared only with them.

That kind of differential sharing will be useful for meeting notes: you can already pull the list of attendees and meeting information from OneNote, but you might not want to share those when you distribute the notes you take in a meeting.

Microsoft Information Protection and data leakage protection features will also show up in OneNote, so that regulated companies can be comfortable letting staff share notebooks without worrying about information in them breaching compliance. They’ll also be able to audit notebooks and even set time-sensitive information to expire or be unshared automatically.

Those are all features that will make OneNote much more useful to businesses, especially now they can be confident that they don’t need to store notebooks in the cloud to get the latest features.

All Rights Reserved for Mary Branscombe

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