Key differences between Microsoft OneNote apps and preparing for a future unified app

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For almost twenty years, the Microsoft OneNote desktop app has been the ultimate in digital notetaking. Originally offered as a premium notetaking app in the Microsoft Office 2003 productivity suite, the OneNote app was in 2018 split into two separate versions: a premium “desktop” app for Microsoft Office customers and a stripped-down version available for free that was built into every copy of the Microsoft Windows 10 operating system. In 2021, Microsoft announced that these two separate apps will be slowly combined into a single unified OneNote by the end of 2022.

It’s a smart move by Microsoft because unifying the two separate apps into a single codebase reduces their overall costs while minimizing the “which OneNote app should I be using?” questions asked by customers. Amaxra consultants are often asked by our clients to explain the differences between the OneNote desktop app for Microsoft Office and the built-in Windows 10 OneNote app. This blog post will cut through the current confusion around the two separate OneNote apps—and give you expert insights into what your organization must do to prepare for using the unified OneNote app in the future.

Storing OneNote files in the public cloud vs. local or private

The most obvious difference between the built-in OneNote app for Windows 10 and the OneNote desktop app in the Microsoft Office suite is the ability to deal with local OneNote files. The built-in Windows 10 version of OneNote can only store notebooks in Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage while the OneNote desktop app offers the option to either store in the cloud (i.e., a personal OneDrive folder, a team-oriented Microsoft SharePoint folder, among other cloud-based options) or on a local hard drive. Although many information workers are comfortable with storing documents in a public cloud for ease of use across multiple devices and locations, this is not an option for some organizations. For example, people in the legal profession, government workers, and many in the financial sector can’t save files to any public cloud-based storage service.

This is where the OneNote desktop app shines because it also allows users greater storage flexibility along with the ability to export notebook files. When you think about the previous example of a law office unable to sync OneNote notebooks to the cloud, the natural inclination is to view this as detrimental to collaboration. While a paralegal might be unable to sync notes taken in the built-in OneNote app in Windows 10, the OneNote desktop app in Microsoft 365 can be quickly packaged up in a secure email in Outlook or shared as an encrypted notebook that could be opened up with the OneNote desktop app by an authorized user.

Outlook integration with the OneNote desktop app

Notetakers, especially those who attend business meetings, are often in charge of assigning tasks and keeping track of their progress. Another key advantage the OneNote desktop app in Microsoft 365 has over its built-in Windows 10 sibling is the ability to “at message” colleagues that in turn integrates with Microsoft Outlook’s task management system. This direct integration between OneNote desktop and Outlook empowers a notetaker to assign tasks by tagging a person in the organization with their “@firstname lastname” in the note. Doing so automatically adds the person’s name with a task to the Microsoft To Do list along with an email with details of the task and putting a due date reminder on that person’s Outlook calendar.

Along similar lines, there is an Email page button in the OneNote desktop ribbon menu that is lacking in the built-in OneNote for Windows 10 app. Users of the OneNote desktop app can use this feature to quickly—and securely—send the contents of a note page as the body of an email to a colleague. To be fair, users of the OneNote for Windows 10 app could just cut and paste the text into an email, but the OneNote desktop app’s one-click button feature is much easier. From a cybersecurity standpoint, Amaxra stresses the ability to cut and paste text from the OneNote for Windows 10 app into any email client should be blocked by any IT department serious about data leakage and protection of valuable corporate intellectual property.

How IT departments should prepare for the new unified OneNote app

Microsoft plans to ship a series of software updates for both the OneNote desktop and built-in Windows 10 apps over the next twelve months. These updates will implement a new navigational user interface and other user experience improvements meant to bring the two apps closer to feature parity. Although new installs of the upcoming Windows 11 operating system will not include the built-in OneNote app, Microsoft was very clear that there will be a single, unified OneNote app that will be offered at no cost for all users.

For now, the guidance Microsoft and Amaxra consultants are giving to IT departments is to wait. Along with the regular software updates sent from Microsoft, organizations using the OneNote for Windows 10 app rather than the desktop app that comes with Microsoft 365 will receive more information on how to smoothly transition to the unified app in the second half of 2022. While you wait, connect with Amaxra for strategies on how to get the most out of the new unified OneNote app. As a Gold-level Microsoft Partner with over a decade in business, our experts can help your organization successfully deploy cloud-based Microsoft solutions to supercharge your business productivity.

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