Users brand OneNote’s move away from the desktop a “stupid waste”

James Walker

With Office 2019 now generally available commercially, Microsoft’s OneNote note-taking application is no longer actively supported as a desktop application, and that’s making at least some users unhappy. OneNote no longer comes included with Office 2019 installations, as Microsoft is instead directing users to the UWP Windows Store alternative on Windows 10 devices.

Microsoft first warned about the change earlier in the year, confirming that only the UWP app will receive new features going forward. In an effort to convince users to adopt the newer app, it decided to withdraw OneNote for Desktop from Office 2019.

At the time, the news caused an outcry amongst committed OneNote users. With Office 2019 now released, the issue still hasn’t settled and remains one of the most popular items on OneNote’s UserVoice. Users are calling for OneNote to remain included in the full Office suite. Even though 2019 has now shipped, users are continuing to leave comments expressing their dissatisfaction with the UWP app.

Most of the concerns centre on the UWP app’s continued inability to reach feature parity with OneNote 2016. Many of OneNote’s most advanced capabilities, including Outlook Tasks integration, video recording and third-party plugin support, are not available in the UWP app. Users are also bemoaning the UWP app’s simplified UI, with many noting that the scaling and design of UWP controls remains unsuitable for prolonged desktop use.

OneNote for Windows 10 UI

In comments this week, users variously criticised Microsoft’s decision to offer only a “dumbed down” OneNote that’s a “glorified mobile app.” One anonymous user wrote it’s a “stupid waste” to abandon the “great interface and familiar ribbon” of OneNote 2016, saying the UWP version is “handy on a tablet but can’t compete on a desktop environment.”

The dissatisfaction with the UI and features isn’t the end of the story. The change also brings with it a bigger concern, which has many users – including in enterprise and education – worried about OneNote’s future. To date, OneNote’s UWP app still doesn’t support local notebook files stored on your PC. For some OneNote users, this could be a deal-breaker.

OneNote has long favoured saving notebooks to OneDrive where they can be synchronised over the web. However, with the UWP app, this is the only option. There is no support for offline-only local files, so everything has to be stored on OneDrive. If you have local notebooks created in OneNote 2016, you’ll need to add them to OneDrive before using the new app.

New OneNote

This presents a serious dilemma in many environments. In enterprise and education networks, it simply may not be possible to use OneDrive for all notebook storage. Many organisations store notebooks on shared network drives and may be reluctant to use OneDrive. Others will be apprehensive of being required to use external cloud storage to carry on using notebook files that may contain years of information.

Some consumers will have similar concerns. Throughout its history, OneNote – and indeed all of Office – has supported local, offline storage and remained mindful of its importance in certain environments. Now, Microsoft is seemingly risking the loss of customers in its somewhat forced move to the cloud.

There is at least some good news for OneNote users. OneNote 2016 isn’t going anywhere, or at least not yet. Although it won’t be installed by default going forward, you can still install OneNote as a standalone addon for Office 365 and Office 2019. Any valid subscription license or product key will activate OneNote and enable all its features. Microsoft’s also committed to supporting OneNote 2016 through the end of its maintenance cycle in October 2020.

Still, it’s clear where Microsoft’s focus lies. In the not-too-distant future, OneNote UWP will be the only supported Windows OneNote app. For users with offline notebooks or active adoption of OneNote’s most advanced capabilities, it’s still unclear how feasible migration will be. Microsoft hasn’t published any indication of when or even if OneNote UWP will support local notebooks, so in 2020 users may have to choose between an unsupported OneNote 2016 installation or a forced move to the cloud.