The Best Version of OneNote is still OneNote 2016

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Some time ago Microsoft announced that the latest version of Office, Office 2019 available fall 2018 will ship with the OneNote for Windows 10, (UWP) App and that the OneNote team will stop development on OneNote 2016. The announcement was met with screams of pain and derision, for the UWP app is, in significant ways, inferior in the extreme to OneNote 2016. So inferior, in fact, that users that depend on OneNote on a daily basis cannot use the UWP app. There are functions that have been added to OneNote since its inception that make it an extremely useful tool. Some of the most important functions are missing from the UWP app. The UWP app has no Excel or Outlook integration. These are fully integrated features of OneNote 2016. The UWP app also does not have the capability to use or create templates this is a basic and important feature of OneNote 2016. Additionally, the UWP app lacks the ability to create custom tags and it lacks tag search. Inserting and editing files is also missing. You can insert files in UWP, but once the file is inserted it cannot be edited. In order to edit it you must save it as a new file; which defeats the purpose of inserting it. Thus, one of the best features of OneNote is rendered useless in this version. All these features should have been added before the UWP was released.

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As annoying as the missing features are the fact that there is no option to save to the hard drive is insulting. Microsoft wants everybody to save to the cloud because that’s “better” and for most people that may be true, but it should be an option. Telling people that notebooks are kind of available by accessing the cache is just wrong. As William Devereux OneNote Product Manager did April 18, 2018:

We understand if you don’t want to store your notes in the cloud. For most people, having access to their notes on all their devices is a core part of the value of OneNote. None of OneNote’s modern apps support local notebooks, so we recommend using OneNote 2016 for now. To be clear though, that notebooks stored in the cloud are still available offline, since we keep a cached copy on your device. For more details, please check out the FAQ 1

There are some professions that cannot save to the cloud for legal reasons. Saving to the hard drive is a basic function of any program. There is no advantage to not supporting local notebooks. The advantage of cloud storage is clear, but the advantage of local notebooks is equally clear. The choice of where to store notebooks should be left up to the user not the Microsoft OneNote team.

OneNote UWP is annoying, insulting, and it is also confusing. It is difficult to understand why the OneNote team would release such an inferior application. The need for consistency across platforms is understandable. However, it does not have to necessitate the loss of features on the Windows platform. OneNote for iOS does not have the same features as OneNote 2016, which is understandable and acceptable because the more powerful OneNote 2016 is available for mobile use on the Microsoft Surface. The OneNote team has stated that OneNote 2016 is “not going away” and users can stay with it for as long as they would like.2 Nevertheless, it is not clear what will happen after the year 2025 when security updates for OneNote 2016 end. Hopefully, UWP will be a full-fledged productivity application by then. For now, the best version of OneNote is still OneNote 2016, and it will be until basic features are added to the UWP app.

Notes

1 William Devereux, April 18, 2018, reply to Yuk Fai Lo, https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Office-365-Blog/The-best-version-of-OneNote-on-Windows/bc-p/184360/highlight/true#M428.

2 OneNote team, June 25, 2018, response to unknown, https://onenote.uservoice.com/forums/327186-onenote-for-windows/suggestions/32737648-include-onenote-for-desktop-in-office-2019. “To be clear, OneNote 2016 is not going away, and you can use it as long as you’d like.”