OneNote has been part of the Office suite since 2003, and has been freely downloadable for much of that time; it’s an invaluable tool for note taking or just capturing information that you’ll want to recall at some point. There have been a few sideways turns in the roadmap, though – as well as the Office application (on Windows and Mac), there is OneNote for mobile devices, OneNote the web experience and OneNote the “Modern” Windows app.
To try to simplify the roadmap somewhat, the app formerly known as OneNote 2016 is now just “OneNote”, and the Store app that shares more of its UX with the mobile and web versions, is OneNote for Windows 10. For more detail on the differences between all the versions, see here.
At one point, the plan was to discontinue the more functional desktop app, and shift development to the simpler Store version, however that plan was rowed back and OneNote (the Office app) will continue to be part of Office, even though it wasn’t installed by default in 2019. The perpetual version of Office (as opposed to the subscription service that is Microsoft 365) will be updated later this year, and OneNote will still be part of that. Probably.
There’s not a lot being published on the Roadmap for OneNote, though, so it may not be getting hosts of new features… See here for a list of some recent updates to OneNote for Windows 10. You can jump to the latest What’s New from the Help menu in the Store version.
As has been covered on ToW passim (here, here), you can start OneNote from the Run command, by pressing WindowsKey+R then onenote <enter> for the desktop version, or onenote: for the modern Windows 10 version. In the latter, you can also pin particular pages to the Start menu, handy if you want to jump to a particular page of quick notes or ideas.
Any version of OneNote is just great at noting down lists – perhaps by using your pen (though if you’re a big inker, you might want to also check out Journal by Microsoft Garage – it’s a notebook intended for “ink first”).
Or maybe by typing a quick few lines at first, and formatting as a list once you’ve got some text. There are some shortcuts to help that formatting; in both OneNote and OneNote for Windows 10, to quickly select what you’ve just typed, hold the shift key and press the up arrow to grab a row at a time.
To create a table, just press TAB to turn whatever you’ve just typed into the first column, and keep pressing TAB to create new columns, or CTRL+ENTER to accept the column layout and start adding extra rows, or to insert a new row into an existing table. Once have content in your table, you can easily move rows around by simply putting your cursor in the row you want to shift, and hold ALT+SHIFT then use the up / down arrow keys to move that row. Much simpler than faffing about with copy & paste.
On the full-fat version of OneNote, you could also select your list and by using the somewhat obscure-sounding menu option “Link to Pages”, OneNote will create a new page for each item in your list and then make a hot-link to it. Hover the mouse over to see the link.
You can manually create links to any page by selecting the text you want to hot-link from, and press CTRL+K; then either select the destination in the dialog box, or paste the link to the page (or paragraph) if you’ve already copied that link to the clipboard.
If you’re going to be doing much with tables, it’s probably better to use the OneNote app rather than the Store one; the older tool has much richer table formatting capabilities, and it also has an Addin architecture which is completely absent from the OneNote for Windows 10 version.
The fantastic OneCalendar addin shows you all the notebook pages you’ve worked on by date, so if you spread your note-taking across a variety of sections or even shared notebooks, then it can be invaluable to jump right to the notes in question.
Its big brother, OneTastic, also allows using pre-written Macros to automate tasks like custom sorting of sections and loads more.
It was announced a couple of years ago that the old Snipping Tool that was part of Windows was to be retired – in fact, it’s still there (following lots of user feedback, akin to the Save the Blibbet campaign) but its successor – the Snip & Sketch app – offers more functionality and is included with current versions of Windows 10. Invoking it with the WindowsKey+SHIFT+S is the quickest and simplest way to grab some or all of the screen, and if necessary, draw or annotate on it, save it as an image file and so on.
There are other screen capturing tools, of course – OneNote had a precursor feature which could be used to do much the same as Snip & Sketch, and even used the same shortcut key. OneNote makes such a great destination for screen grabs that the Clipping option is still there in the trad. version, and of course both variants can be the destination for something that’s been grabbed to the clipboard using Snip & Sketch.
There’s also the super-handy OneNote Web Clipper browser extension, which lets you grab web pages to add to your notebook with a couple of clicks.
Now the Edge browser is going to add some web capture capabilities natively – currently in testing and rolling out to a subset of Insiders, there will be a new menu option to grab a section of a page, including the ability to scroll down the page while capturing (rather than just grabbing what’s on the screen).
Eventually, the new Edge will adopt some of the functionality that legacy Edge had when it comes to annotating web pages with ink, adding notes to pages etc – but the forthcoming web capture is a first step. Note – if you use Mouse Without Borders, it already has the CTRL+SHIFT+S keyboard combo in use, so you’ll need to change that…
Optical Character Recognition is one of those technologies which has gone from being just-about-possible at great expense and hassle, to so mainstream that people just assume it will work flawlessly, all in a relatively few years. Numerous companies offer OCR services or addins to line-of-business systems which help to prepare printed data for easier consumption – scanning invoices for example.
Consumers tend to use OCR in other ways; combined with language translation, you can point your phone at a foreign menu or sign and it may be able to help you understand. In OneNote, if you have captured an image (maybe through the clipper addin from your browser), then it can extract the text from that picture – not always perfectly, and not necessarily well-formatted, but it’s probably quicker than re-typing everything.
A recent addition to the iOS version of Excel is the ability to scan a table of printed data and use OCR plus a bit of tweaking, to import the data into the spreadsheet. See more here. The same functionality was first made available on Android a couple of months earlier …
Start with the grid capture icon on the toolbar of a new spreadsheet, and then use the camera to highlight the area of a document that you’re interested in – the UI will be familiar to anyone who uses Office Lens, as the same anti-skewing technology is used to prepare the “document” for importing.
Then the OCR goes to work and tries to lay out the data as closely as possible to its source – obviously, your accuracy will be improved by having a well-lit and clear original document, and you’ll get to tweak the contents in context of seeing the OCR’d data and the scan at the same time, before committing to insert it.
Here’s a quick tip in OneNote – both the full-fat desktop client and the modern app version – which was inspired either through PEBKAC type unexpected clickery or maybe an Office update that inadvertently switched something off. A common feature stopped working, and it caused a serious dent in productivity…
Despite the two parallel PC versions of OneNote – which have been covered previously in ToWs #441, #427, #386, #320, et al – offering a good chunk of similar functionality to each other, there are still quite a few areas where the old desktop x86 version wins through.
Add-in support is available in the 2016 variant, for example, so you can run OneTastic (and in particular, OneCalendar, which is immensely helpful if you use many notebooks and take a lot of notes throughout your week).
A simpler and more useful feature for many is the ability to grab the contents and context of a meeting request from your Outlook calendar – so you can take notes during a phone call or a meeting, with all the text in the invite, names and email addresses of attendees etc. Can’t do that with
Search in the desktop OneNote is more powerful, too – CTRL-F takes you to the search box, CTRL-E expands your search, but the most powerful and probably least used is to press ALT-O when you have search results from the CTRL-E dialog; it will order them by the date of the page update… helping to filter out current vs obsolete info.
Bullet lists & indentations (sounds like a Muse song)
Did you know that, in both OneNote versions, if you’re typing notes and press the asterisk or dash key at the start of a new line, and then the space bar, it automatically turns your text into a bulleted list? Asterisks in the middle of a text block are ignored; it’s only seen as an auto-correct function if on a new line.
Just hit enter after you’ve started typing to add another new bullet or hit enter at the beginning of new bullet to finish the list. TAB and SHIFT-TAB lets you indent and un-indent a bulleted line. It doesn’t sound all that revolutionary, but if you’re typing notes during a phone call, it can make all the difference between keeping up or missing discussion points as you fish around with the mouse looking to click the toolbar. If you’re used to it and it gets switched off, it’s a real pain.
The same kind of functionality exists in Word and Outlook too, but now and again it does get in the way – if you’re marking a block of text* that you then want to expand on later without auto-bulleting, for example.
* The simplest way to get an asterisk or dash at the start of a new line is to quickly press Undo – CTRL-Z – as soon as the indentation with the bullet happens, and you’ll be reverted to simply having the character at the start of the line.
There doesn’t appear to be any way of disabling the feature on the Modern App (which you can start by running onenote-cmd: at the Win+R box, if you read ToW #445 and #443) – maybe that’s a good thing, preventing the user from harming their own productivity…
Power Users often like to start applications quickly, without recourse to grubbing around with a mouse or a trackpad. Super Users might even want to write scripts that automate all sorts of things that mere mortals with less time on their hands are happy to do manually. Regardless of your penchant for automation, here are a few short cuts you can take to quickly start apps that you use often.
Apps pinned to taskbar
The taskbar in Windows obviously shows you what’s currently running, but can also be used to pin frequently accessed apps or – by default at least – those that Windows thinks should be frequent (Edge, Store, etc – right-click on them to unpin if you disagree). You’ll see a highlight line under the apps that are running, so those without the line are simply pinned there.
If you drag the pinned apps around, they’ll stay in that position relative to each other, and new apps will always start to the right (or underneath, if you use a vertical taskbar, as you really should). Now, if you press WindowsKey+number, you’ll jump to the app that is n along the line, and if that app isn’t running, then Windows will start it. So in the picture above, pressing WindowsKey+2 would start Edge, or WindowsKey+3 would bring Outlook to the fore.
Shortcut to desktop
You could try an old-skool method, by creating a desktop shortcut to apps that are already on your Start menu – press WindowsKey+D to show the bare desktop itself, then press Start to show the actual Start menu.
Assuming your Start menu isn’t full screen then you’ll be able to drag icons or tiles from the menu to the Desktop, and if you right-click the shortcut and look at Properties, you’ll see a Shortcut key: option… just press some key sequence that makes sense to you and press OK to save.
This method differs from the taskbar one above, because each press of the shortcut you set might start a new instance of the app (if it supports that) – which may or may not be desirable. If you end up with several windows of OneNote, for example, you could cycle through them by repeatedly pressing the appropriate WindowsKey+n as above.
Keep on Running
There’s no better mark of being a real PC deity than by launching your apps through running the executable name… you know the drill? WindowsKey+R to get the Run dialog (it’s so much faster than pressing Start), then enter the app’s real name and you’re off to the races. winword, excel, calc, notepad… they’re for novices. The genuine hardcases might even dive into the (old fashioned, obvs) Control Panel applets like ncpa.cpl rather than navigating umpteen clicks.
Looking at the shortcut to OneNote’s modern app above, though, it’s clear there isn’t a simple executable to run – onenote will launch the on-life-support OneNote 2016 version.
Many modern apps do, however, let you launch them from the Run dialog by entering a name with “:” at the end…
Tips talking about OneNote include coverage of the Modern App version, on ToW’s
#320, #386, #427 among others. The tl;dr version is that OneNote 2016 = great desktop app, OneNote metro/store/modern/whatev = not so functional but simpler and getting better, with a consistent UI across Windows, Mac, mobile & web. The OneNote team has basically said the desktop version is on life support and all new function development effort is going into the Store app version. Here’s a summary of their differences.
There have been a variety of updates recently – they should make their way to you automagically, or if you want to give your machine a poke to hurry it along, go to the Store app, click the Ellipsis menu in the top right and choose Downloads and updates.
You might see that the Microsoft Store app itself has had a bit of an overhaul, too…
The OneNote Store version (sometimes officially referred to as “OneNote for Windows 10”) is a new codebase, which misses some of the more power-user features of OneNote 2016 but at the same time has added some new functionality that doesn’t exist in the desktop version, like ink to shape conversion. While many of the new feature adds are filling in gaps to the desktop release, some are adding new functions altogether.
The latest update delivers a mixture of new and old – officially, there are no new features (according to the status page, at least at time of writing) but that’s not what is being reported widely (here, here), and by OneNote program manager @William Devereux, who summarised it nicely on Twitter.
If you’re a OneNote 2016 desktop user, why not set yourself a challenge and try switching to the OneNote for Windows 10 version for a week? Both versions can happily coexist and access the same data files, so you won’t lose any data and can easily switch back and forth between them, even running them both at the same time and perhaps with different notebooks open. To change the default version of OneNote, see here.
As has been covered many times previously on ToW, the OneNote app has a lot of fans who love the product and use a lot of its features, especially when it’s used in the Classroom. Defectors to other platforms sometimes bemoan the lack of OneNote (or a decent alternative) as a hurdle in using their chosen environment.
Talking about OneNote can be confusing, though, as there are the two PC versions – OneNote 2016, the Win32 app that’s evolved ever since the first version shipped as part of Office 2003, and the shiny new codebase that is OneNote for Windows 10, the Store app which also shares a lot of its UX with the Mac, mobile and web versions. Differences are explained here.
Major users of OneNote may have noticed that over the last couple of years, the traditional Windows app hasn’t received a whole lot of new functionality, but the Store version has had regular updates with extra features… though it is a much simpler app anyway, so there’s more to improve. The
Recently, the OneNote team announced that there will be no further development of the traditional OneNote 2016 application, and that it won’t be installed by default in the next iteration of Office (though it will still be available as an option, in case you can’t live without it).
New features are planned for the Store version – like support for tags, and what looks to be a tweak to the search experience, which will provide additional search refinements. Whether it’s as good as the somewhat obscure but quite powerful Search capability in the 2016 app remains to be seen.
To get the latest version of the OneNote app, first check it’s up to date, or join the Office Insiders program. Windows Insiders also get early access to OneNote versions, and there’s an Experimental Features option (in the ellipsis “···” Settings & More menu, Options).
Paul Thurrott – an unashamed fan of the OneNote for Windows 10 app, preferring it to its elder sibling – also reported on the news. Paul points out that the UWP version has better support for ink, that syncing is faster, performance is better etc. Tech Republic has some further commentary too.
In Outlook, any time there’s a date field (like when you’re setting a reminder, or entering the start date/time for an appointment) you can choose or enter a regular date, or put in an expression – like “2 days” or “next Tuesday” – and Outlook will figure out the offset from today, and will set the appropriate date.
In some date fields (like an appointment start time), if you say “4 days” then press enter or TAB, it will evaluate the new date; if you return and put “4 days” again, it may add those extra days to the last date. Try a few other things like “next Christmas”, “3rd Sunday in November”, “2mo” , “7d” or some special days – there are some surprising ones there, like “Lincoln’s birthday”, and other events with static dates … though nothing that might change the actual date from year to year (like Easter, or Thanksgiving).
In Excel, press CTRL+; to insert the current date into any cell – add a SHIFT key to insert the time instead. Excel are many date-oriented functions, but you don’t always need to write functions – simple maths can work on date fields – calculating the number of days’ difference between two dates, for example, or adding a number of days to a start date.
In the desktop OneNote app, if you want to edit the date and time at the top of a page, click on the field and you’ll see a clock or calendar icon appear next to it – click on that is set to, click on that to change the value; handy if you’re updating some reference material and want to make it clear that it’s recent.
Another way might be to insert the current date or time into the text: to do so, press SHIFT-ALT-D, or SHIFT-ALT-T for the current time, or SHIFT-ALT-F for the current date and time. The last one is really handy if you’re taking notes about a phone call, and want to quickly note the time that your insurance company said that everything was all fine, or when you started the indefinite call to the airline. The same shortcuts apply to the desktop OneNote 2016 application and also the OneNote store app.
Word also supports SHIFT-ALT-D and SHIFT-ALT-T like OneNote, though inserts a date or time field rather than a simple bit of text, and is slightly different to the Date & Time command on the Insert tab, which gives a bit more control over the formatting at the point of insertion, rather than requiring the user to insert the field then go back in to edit the format.
Since Outlook uses Word as its text editor behind the scenes, the same shortcut keys will also insert date fields into the text of an Outlook email.
Tip o’ the Week ❤ OneNote. Both the full-fat trad Windows app version (OneNote 2016), and the Store (just “OneNote”) application that has a portion of the functionality and a simpler UI. One side effect of using OneNote a lot, though, is that you might have a huge amount of old pages in your set of Notebooks, especially if you share notebooks with your team, and end up with a Notebook for each project you’re working on.
If you’re using the regular OneNote 2016 application, and go to search content (by entering the search term into the box on the top right, maybe by just pressing CTRL+E to jump straight to it), you may find that the results you get include a lot of old content which isn’t all that easy to parse – the name of the notebook occupies much of the column showing the location of the matching page or section, there’s no date of last update or any means of sorting – so it’s hard to know what’s recent and what might be years old.
If you click on “Pin Search Results” at the very bottom of the results list, or press ALT-O, then you’ll see the results appearing in a pane to the right of the OneNote window, where you can change sorting and filtering options, and see the date the pages were last modified.
Referring to this option as “Pin” may make you think it’s a bit more permanent (such as pinning to taskbar or Start, or pinning to a menu somewhere), but it’s as easy to dismiss the results pane as it is to invoke it in the first place – just click the X in the top right of the window pane, or the close option on the drop down arrow which also lets you resize the pane or even move/undock it from the main Outlook window altogether.
There’s no obvious equivalent of this search granularity in the OneNote store app. ☹