Microsoft Signals the End for OneNote Desktop Application

Microsoft is planning to stop building its OneNote desktop application, with the current OneNote 2016 product being the last of its kind.

Instead, Microsoft is putting its development efforts behind the OneNote App for Windows 10 going forward, according to a Wednesday announcement. The current OneNote 2016 desktop product will be supported throughout the lifecycle of Office 2016, which means it'll still get updates and security patches until Oct. 14, 2025. After that date, though, it'll be an unsupported and potentially insecure product.

The switchover to the OneNote App for Windows 10 formally will take place when Microsoft releases Office 2019, according to the announcement. Microsoft has previously suggested that Office 2019, its next perpetual-license Office product, will be commercially released in the second half of this year.

However, for new users of Office 365, the switchover to the OneNote App for Windows 10 is already happening. Both new Office 365 users and future Office 2019 users will get the OneNote App for Windows 10 by default on any new installation of the productivity suite. With such new installs, the desktop OneNote version won't be there.

On the other hand, nothing will change for existing Office users who have the OneNote 2016 desktop application installed, provided that they've used it. However, if Microsoft's telemetry indicates that the OneNote 2016 desktop application hasn't been used, then it'll disappear on a future Office 365 update. It'll also disappear under that circumstance when Office 2019 gets installed. They'll get the OneNote App for Windows 10 instead.

Lack of Feature Parity
Microsoft touted the OneNote App for Windows 10 because it's frequently updated with new features. Coming this summer will be the ability to insert and search for tags. An example might be tagging some saved portion of text as being "Important." Another feature will let end users preview Office files that get saved using the OneNote App for Windows 10. There also will be improved content syncing between devices.

Microsoft freely admits that the OneNote App for Windows 10 still lacks some features that are currently available in the OneNote 2016 desktop application. Microsoft is adding some of them, but it urged users to give feedback on any missing features that are important for them to see in the updated OneNote App for Windows 10.

Reader comments in reaction to Microsoft's announcement weren't very positive about the switch. In particular, many pointed out that they need to save OneNote notebook files in their local offline storage. For instance, a lawyer indicated that he can't save files to a public cloud-based storage service, and a government worker made the same claim.

Offline storage, though, is just not a capability that the OneNote App for Windows 10 will get, despite user pleadings to add it. Storage for notebook files using the OneNote App for Windows 10 happens on OneDrive, which is Microsoft's public cloud-based storage service. These files also are locally cached, which permits offline access to them.

Since the files are locally cached, it would seem that local storage might be a feature that Microsoft could add. However, the company isn't budging on that point, as explained in a Microsoft FAQ document:

In the latest versions of OneNote -- specifically, our apps on Windows 10, Mac, iOS, Android, and OneNote Online -- your notebooks are stored in the cloud so you can access them from anywhere. Notebooks stored only on your hard drive or a file share (called local notebooks) are not supported.

The FAQ added that Microsoft "respects" that some people don't want any of their data stored in the "cloud" (which is another word for Microsoft's datacenters). It's just too bad, though. Those users will just have to find some other application down the line to store their notes, according to the FAQ:

We know that this means some of you 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.

New Office 365 or Office 2019 users will still have the option to install the OneNote 2016 desktop app. It will work side-by-side without conflict with the OneNote App for Windows 10 product. Microsoft plans to tell users how to optionally install the OneNote 2016 desktop application in some future communication, according to the FAQ.

Note for IT Pros
The FAQ included a note for IT pros. The OneNote App for Windows 10 is included with all Windows 10 installations. It's managed and updated via the Microsoft Store, and so end users will need to have access to the Microsoft Store App. Alternatively, instead of giving them such access, the OneNote App for Windows 10 can be added to the Microsoft Store for Business or the Microsoft Store for Education.

It'll be possible for IT pros to add back the OneNote 2016 desktop application during an installation of Office. It's done using "a config file or configuration manager," according to the FAQ. Microsoft plans to provide instructions "soon" on how to add it.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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