This article discusses how OneNote 2016 is being replaced by OneNote for Windows 10 and what it means for customers with practical suggestions and guidance.  There is a comprehensive resources section at the end of the article with all the related links.

Microsoft announced in April 2018 significant changes to OneNote for Windows users.  These changes are being made in preparation for the release of Office 2019 later in the year. This will affect Office 365 customers, for example, those using Office 365 ProPlus and those who purchase Office 2019 separately.



Nothing changes for OneNote Mac, iOS or Android users, these changes are specifically for Windows users.

What exactly is changing? 


OneNote 2016 for Windows is being depreciated with OneNote for Windows 10 replacing OneNote 2016 as the default OneNote experience.  Why are Microsoft doing this? These are some of the reasons given:

“The app has improved performance and reliability, and it’s powered by a brand new sync engine. We don’t need to worry about being on the latest version since it’s always up-to-date via the Microsoft Store, and it lets us deliver updates faster than ever before.”

OneNote 2016 will not be receiving any new features, which is a key piece of information, as it means all efforts to improve the OneNote experience are now being put into OneNote for Windows 10 instead.  This means OneNote 2016 is end of life but will remain supported for years to come.

What is OneNote for Windows 10?


There have been two Windows OneNote applications available, the conventional desktop application part of the Office suite and the modern Windows 10 application, which is also known as the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app. 

“OneNote for Windows 10 (simply labeled “OneNote”) is the best and most up-to-date version of OneNote on Windows. It was designed to feel natural with any input method — from mouse and keyboard to pen and touch — and it contains numerous improvements for better performance, battery life, and reliability.”

OneNote for Windows 10 had lacked many features available in OneNote 2016 but over the last year, Microsoft has added over 100 features from the conventional desktop app bringing them to the Windows 10 app. Now the reverse is true, OneNote for Windows 10 is the most feature-rich version of OneNote with many exclusive features that take advantage of Windows 10 and new ways of working.

“OneNote for Windows 10 also has a number of features that are not available in OneNote 2016 — including ink effects with a dramatically improved ink-to-text option, Researcher, a notification center, deep integration with Windows 10, and much more.”

Was this expected?


In as much as having two Windows applications for OneNote and how that split progress, making it harder to deliver new features and consistency, no this isn’t surprising at all.  Consolidating, putting all the effort into a single app is sensible in many ways.  

That’s not to say there hasn’t been some controversy with these changes.  Office 2019 was announced in Microsoft Ignite September 2017.  Microsoft waited more than six months to share details about these changes to OneNote in Office 2019.  

Rather than bringing customers along for the journey, informing them on developments and how this was changing, it may have come across as a rather arbitrary change instead.   How Microsoft communicated the convergence of Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams is the best example of how a significant change can be made without alienating customers in the author’s opinion.

What if I don’t want to use OneNote for Windows 10?


OneNote 2016 isn’t going anywhere, if OneNote 2016 is being used, it will remain, even after the Office 2019 upgrade and can be used as normal.  OneNote 2016 will receive bug fixes, and security updates through October 2020 for mainstream support and October 2025 for extended support.

OneNote for Windows 10 and OneNote 2016 can be used side-by-side on the same computer, so users are free to check out the new app, without disturbing their current setup.  

What is changing is Office 2019 will not be installed by default with Office 2019 and Office 365.  However, if OneNote 2016 is detected as being in use and there are multiple ways that Microsoft look to see if OneNote 2016 has been used, Microsoft will not upgrade users to OneNote for Windows 10.

What if I need to open local notebooks with OneNote for Windows 10?


This isn’t possible, OneNote for Windows 10 supports the cloud for storing notebooks and can’t open local notebooks from a computer.  Customers can move notebooks from computers to OneDrive for example and carry on in much the same way, along with the benefits this brings.

For users that don’t want to store data in the cloud or can’t for compliance reasons, they can continue to use OneNote 2016 for as long as needed.  Microsoft knows this may not be ideal for some customers and for some that may mean exploring alternative solutions.  

“We understand and respect that some people might not want any data stored in the cloud. For the vast majority of OneNote customers, however, having access to their notes on all their devices is a core part of the value of OneNote. We know that this means some of we might look for other solutions, and we understand. We have an open file format that other note-taking apps and developers can use to export notes from OneNote.”

It's worth pointing out none of the other OneNote apps supports local notebooks, OneNote for Mac, for example, doesn't, so OneNote 2016 was the odd one out and this change brings a consistent experience across platforms.

What if I use Windows 7?


Office 2019 will not be supported on Windows 7, so this means Windows 7 users will be left only with OneNote 2016.  Ultimately, these users should consider upgrading to Windows 10 to take advantage of new features and remain with a supported platform.  Windows 7 is end of life January 14, 2020.  OneNote Online will offer the best and most up-to-date experience for Windows 7 or 8.1 users but ultimately upgrading to Windows 10 would offer the biggest benefits.

What does this mean for administrators?


Admins will be able to deploy OneNote 2016 alongside Office 2019, though it won’t be installed by default.  Further details will be made available, but this is likely to be done with an Office Deployment Tool configuration.xml that’s used for deployment.

If users already have access to the Microsoft Store app, that provides easy access to OneNote for Windows 10.  Otherwise, Microsoft recommends adding OneNote to the private store in the Microsoft Store for Business and Education.  This is an easy way to control and provide access to specific applications including OneNote.  Further details will be made available about this option.

Next steps


Here are some recommended next steps and how to prepare for this change.

If your using OneNote 2016 on Windows, check out OneNote for Windows 10 today, it’s come a long way and has a lot more functionality that it did before plus it can be used side-by-side on the same computer. Microsoft will continue to add new features to OneNote for Windows 10 such as insert and search for tags, so if you don’t see your favourite feature yet it’s probably on the way. 

If you don’t have access to OneNote for Windows 10, now is the time to ask your IT team for access or even an upgrade if not on Windows 10, if you’re in a work or education environment. If you’re a home or small business user on Windows 7 or 8.1, investing in a Windows 10 upgrade would be worth considering.

If you access local notebooks, ideally move these to the cloud, which enables you to start using OneNote for Windows 10 and have access to them from any device.  If you are not able to do this for legal considerations or just a personal preference, then continue to use OneNote 2016.

If you do continue to use OneNote 2016, have a plan.  While OneNote 2016 will remain supported for many years, you’ll miss out on new features and eventually anyway, you’ll have to move off OneNote 2016 when it becomes unsupported.  Why not embrace OneNote for Windows 10 sooner and get the full benefits that OneNote offers?

If you are a Mac user or use the Android or iOS apps, then nothing changes, you’ll continue to receive updates every month with new features and improvements, same as the OneNote for Windows 10 app.

Summary


While there are still more details to be made available about this change, ultimately Microsoft isn’t making this change for the sake of it, it’s being done to improve the OneNote overall experience for all customers. This change could be disruptive for some users, which isn't ideal but this move unifies the OneNote experience across all platforms and allows Microsoft to deliver a better OneNote experience. Here is a recap of the main talking points:
  • With the launch of Office 2019 later this year, OneNote for Windows 10 will replace OneNote 2016 for Office 365 and Office 2019 customers
  • No new features are being added to OneNote 2016
  • OneNote 2016 will no longer be installed by default but will remain optionally available
  • If already using OneNote 2016, then continue to use it for as long as needed, even after the Office 2019 upgrade 
  • If OneNote 2016 has never been used, OneNote for Windows 10 will be installed during the Office 2019 upgrade
  • Admins can configure OneNote 2016 to be installed with Office 2019 and Office 365
Microsoft Office 2019 will ship in the fall of 2018 with previews available in the second quarter of 2018. It's well worth following developments and news on the Microsoft Tech Community as more details become available. 

Resources