OneNote 12 begins…


Today we’ve been talking about Office12 at the PDC (Professional Developer’s Conference) in L.A. There are blogs going up about Office12 from some of the people on the team (see for example Jensen Harris  ). BillG’s keynote is also up – the first 30-40min covers Office 12 and Vista – good stuff. One of the obvious changes that people are talking about is the new UI. Julie Larson-Green, the Group Program Manager for the Office User Experience (UEX) team does an interview here. She’s also on Channel 9.


One of the things some people are going to be confused by is that not all the applications in Office 12 have this “new UI”. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and parts of Outlook have it. The others do not, including OneNote. How can this be? Naturally, your first reaction to hearing this will be determined by your built-in bias. If you like the new UI, you’ll be disappointed. If you fear the new UI, you will be happy. If you hate “M$”, you will talk about how we are just stupid. If you respect “Microsoft”, then you’ll be searching for understanding. For the real explanation about the new UI, you should look at the links above.


But the explanation for OneNote goes something like this. The main driving force for the new UI was to improve the “authoring” experience. The whole design of the UI (especially the “galleries” to quickly apply complex formatting) is optimized for applications that build richly formatted output. These applications also happen to have oodles of features which were getting buried in the previous UI metaphor of menus and toolbars. People were complaining they couldn’t get value out of all the capability in the product. A menu and toolbar approach can display 50-100 commands without difficulty. Word has 1500+ commands. Something had to be done.


OneNote doesn’t really match this target. We’re not focused on formatting fancy-looking stuff, and we are not suffering from command-overload. People can generally find nearly all our functionality since we don’t have years of features yet. As the UEX team says it: there’s nothing wrong with menus and toolbars. They work great for apps with tight sets of functionality that aren’t focused on visualization. Does this mean that OneNote will never see a new UI? Hardly. OneNote 12 actually has some new UI for navigation and organization. For example, you can pop open your set of notebooks (yes, you can now have multiple notebooks!) and leave it sitting next to your note page (on the left) to make it easy to navigate your notes, and also to use drag ‘n’ drop (Yay! Drag ‘n’ Drop!) to rearrange your pages, sections, folders, and notebooks. But we still use toolbars and menus, since they work fine for us. In the future, the UEX team is going to tackle the problem of what non-authoring apps might need for a new approach to UI. That’ll be us.


Since we’re now public about Office 12, I’m going to be blogging more about it (especially OneNote) in the next while.

Comments (11)

  1. filburt1 says:

    I’ve always thought that the toolbar paradigm is getting stale. With programs as complex as Word (2003) and less complex ones such as Outlook, there are so many commands that you can’t possibly convey each one clearly though a 16 by 16 pixel icon. I’m used to keyboard shortcuts for productivity, but obviously those are often the least intuitive to new users because they’re hidden from the user interface usually.

    In fact, in OneNote, the only toolbar buttons I primary use are for changing the pen color and thickness, and note flags. I don’t even need the eraser button because my pen on my tablet PC has an eraser and OneNote switches to it.

    Toolbar implementations are also tricky for OneNote given you need to maximize your writing area. I’m fortunate to have a Toshiba M200 which has a 1400 x 1050 screen, but most tablets have skimpy 1024 x 768 screens. Sure, the digitizer has the same resolution no matter what and pages may appear to be the same size, but UI components like tabs, menus, toolbars, the taskbar, etc. will intrude in the working area.

    Being able to rearrange section tabs is great. I’ve been hoping for that for a while; I always want the Notes section in each of my folders to appear before Classwork, Homework, etc.

    On a side note, is Office 12 the official version name for the next release of Office, or still merely a code name?

  2. OneNote is #1 says:

    "…the UEX team is going to tackle the problem of what non-authoring apps might need for a new approach to UI. That’ll be us."

    Hmmm… I always thought of ON as an authoring tool. I author a lot of content in ON, at work, at school, at home.

    From the PDC videos I have seen showing Office 12, it seems the new UI is more targeted at what I would call publishing (page layout, document formatting, etc.). Although, maybe this is just a difference in terminology.

    Anyway, ON is one of the best apps around, keep up the great work Chris (and others) and I can’t wait to see more on the future of ON.

  3. james zar says:

    my stupid computer is really stupid, it came pre-installed with onenote, but it doesnt have half the features. Now when i want to download the service pack 1 so that i can get the power toys, i cant!! i dont have the cd. microsoft will charge me for their assistance and my laptop company doesnt help at all. SOMEONE HELP ME!!

  4. James, some PC makers include a "recovery CD" or similar, and this often actually has the installation files of OneNote on it. After you try to install the service pack, it may ask you for the location of the "msi" file. This can often be found on the recovery CD (possibly inside a ZIP file or self-extracting EXE). I know this is lame – actually the PC makers are not supposed to do this so it is something we have followed up on with the few of them that did this.

  5. Brian says:

    Hi Chris. Thanks for some info on the next version of OneNote. I am one who is a little relieved to hear that the UI will not be like the rest of the core Office apps. As a novelist, I use OneNote to plot and work out ideas, outline, etc. This is an app that I have been waiting for and has now become part of the way I work.

    Funny enough, I used to write on my PowerBook using Office 2004 in which Word has some features kind of like OneNote. But when I started fooling around with OneNote, I moved everything over to my Dell laptop.

    Any chance of a Mac version? I kind of miss my PB. And how about some screenshots of OneNote 12??

  6. Le guru de Onenote a enfin le droit de parler 😀 2 posts aujourd’hui, un assez général sur office 12 , la nouvelle interface et pourquoi Onenote 12 n’en profitera pas (pas assez de fonctions). Vous pourrez trouver également le lien sur le keynote de billou qui présente Office 12 et Windows Vista. Et un 2eme poste qui rentre plus dans le détail sur les fonctionnalités d’OCR (reconnaissance de caractère) de Onenote 12. Autant dire que c’est extremement puissant. N’importe…

  7. Pimp Daddy says:

    New UIs aren’t always a good thing. I think it’s good that the other Office products are going to fit in with the ‘Vista look’, but you have to always take into account the fact that the user may not necessarily like that look.

    As an example, I do not like the changes XP brought to the look of the Control Panel. I prefer the Classic View and that’s what I’ve set it to on all my systems.

    To conclude, I think that if you are going to make changes to a UI, always include the capability to switch it back to an older view.

  8. Tim says:

    I disagree. One Note is a prime canidate for the new interface. As an application that takes full use of ink and Tablet PCs the larger, easier to navigate ribons would be perfect. With a pen I think the new interface would be easier to use. I guess we’ll see when the beta comes out which is easier to use with a pen.

  9. Brian: I hear from quite a few writers who like OneNote – I guess it is a handy tool for organizing all the little bits of things that go into creating a novel…as for a Mac version of OneNote – don’t hold your breath.

    Thomas: Merci pour les bons mots. C’est d’hommage que les accents français devient des entités numériques…

    Pimp Daddy: I think switching to an older view is reasonable if all that has been done is cosmetic rearrangement. But in Office12 the new UI is much deeper than that. Once you get a chance to use it you will understand what I mean – it is not as obvious from static screenshots.

    Tim: We actually did map out what the new UI would mean for OneNote. It is a reasonable if not ideal fit. The new UI paradigm misses some design focus for "shell-like" container apps such as Outlook and OneNote – that’s the main reason we are waiting until next time so these concepts can be worked through fully. One thing that was weird in the mock-up was how much capacity the new UI has for exposing capabilities. It needs it for the feature-laden core apps, but the OneNote feature set felt very sparse in our mock-ups. That’s evidence that for us the menus and toolbar paradigm is not yet overloaded for OneNote.

  10. prasanth says:

    One thing I hope the onenote team has considered is that ability to carry the onenote program on a USB disk. I am never at the same computer all day so when I want add new information to my onenote file it would be convenient to have a portable onenote application on my USB…There are examples of firefox and evernote all working off of the USB. Would love for onenote to do the same.