OneNote Viewer

I sometimes get asked if there is a "viewer" available for OneNote files. There are viewers available for Word, Excel and PowerPoint (among others) so this is a natural question.

The answer for OneNote is yes: it is called the trial version. You download it here for free, and it lets anyone view and search and print OneNote files with perfect fidelity. Oh, it also lets you *edit* and create such files for the first 60days. And you can convert this viewer into the full product by purchasing a license and activating it with the code you get when you purchase (no additional download required).

As I write this, the viewer (trial) is only available for residents of the US, Canada, France, Germany and Japan (thanks for the update Patrick!), but it will be available much more broadly shortly (as it gets rolled out for markets where using a credit card to purchase online is not as feasible). It's also a pretty hefty download (195MB) since it contains the entire product but with broadband it's just a few extra minutes.

Ok, now you might be saying: Chris, don't be smarmy. A trial is not actually a viewer. The difference might be a smaller download, no limitation on which markets can access it, and um, something else I suppose - oh yeah, cross platform. 🙂

Many people asking for a viewer are concerned that others cannot read files they send from OneNote. We anticipated that, which is why there are so many options for output in other formats such as Word, PDF, and HTML. And it is also why when you use the email function (with Outlook) we include HTML in the message body so any recipient can view the notes. (a full OneNote format attachment is included for colleagues who use OneNote)

Once in awhile someone asks why there is even a separate OneNote file format at all. After all, if OneNote used some other format there'd be no need for a viewer. Suffice it to say many of the slick things we do with auto-save, multi-user, remote sync of internet-based notes and so on require it, not to mention many other features that are better and more robust as a result. Other file formats are optimized for something other than what we need, be it feature set of some unrelated product, human readability, backwards compatibility with some other older product, etc. We actually have a lot of innovation baked into our format that helps OneNote be what it is.

So, why isn't there a viewer for OneNote other than the trial? The answer is that making a special viewer is non-trivial work, especially testing (and forget cross-platform - that is nearly a whole new product). OneNote is a small team, and every bit of work we do on a viewer means we don't get to work on something else that many people have begged us to add (as I wrote nearly three years ago). The trial covers most people's viewer needs (and then some) so the few extra % of users the viewer would help lose out to the people who are ecstatic that we added other much-requested features to the product instead.

(Update 7/20/07: David Tse from the OneNote team has made a PowerToy that publishes an HTML view of a notebook packaged as an MHT file. It is designed for use with Sharepoint but can be used elsewhere. Give it a try

Comments (33)
  1. davidacoder says:

    The real killer feature would be if Sharepoint would allow to edit OneNote files that are stored in a Document Library to be edited via a HTML/Wiki UI 🙂 Or at least be viewed via HTML rendering on the server.

  2. Patrick Schmid says:

    Trial versions are also available for other countries. See for a list of links to them.

    Patrick Schmid

  3. davidacoder: Indeed! there’d be a lot of compromises but that would be nice. Lots of work of course…

    Patrick: Thanks for the update. I guess those other versions went up in the last 48hrs or so. I edited the post to reflect that. Thanks!

  4. Erik says:

    here here.  I would much prefer a better program than a viewer.  IMHO, with the new student and home editions of office, like 60% of the world is going to have OneNote anyway…

    That, in of itself, is an entirely new blog post you could write.  You have no idea how excited my tablet club at school is because of this…we can more easily share notes with our non-tablet users…

  5. AdamB says:

    Chris: It seems like that (installing a trial) is a little overkill. What if the end user doesn’t have Admin install privs?

    Ideally there would be a standalone .exe that could run under limited user accounts and view these files.

    Of course this is probably a low priority when the publisher can just save to PDF. But if there are some extra OneNote people looking for a small project, a viewer would be quite useful I think.

  6. Erik: OneNote "penetration" is definitely a topic for a future post. I am a little limited in what I can discuss in term of actual numbers but its worth covering. Of course I did talk about the suite options here: And Toshiba pre-installs OneNote on all of its machines which is huge coverage especially in the laptop/tablet market.

    AdamB: overkill in terms of what exactly?

    Download size? (yes, too big, but really just a few minutes for most people – the requirement to activate is probably a bigger hurdle)

    Too much functionality? (I don’t quite buy that one on its own – the whole "too much functionality" argument is a red herring IMHO).

    As for admin rights, I am not sure a viewer would be able to install with lower rights than the trial. The fundamental things are still there (install an exe and run it, make changes to the registry, etc). FWIW I think this is quite a bit better under Vista as that team tried really hard to make running as non-admin a feasible experience, unlike in XP where nearly everything requires you to be an admin.

    Bottom line is the world is full of nice-to-haves, and no one has infinite budget. I think the trial-as-viewer is a pretty decent solution (free, solves the problem for most people) for a moderate-scope problem.

  7. Chris has a great post: OneNote Viewer , here is a preview: I sometimes get asked if there is a "viewer"

  8. tzagotta says:

    I think you guys should just get started on a OneNote viewer, instead of making excuses and substituting the trial version as a reader. The notion of a viewer is well-understood, and clearly a need for such software exists. The only question is whether Microsoft will provide it, or whether you will wait and see it provided by a third-party instead. If the latter happens, you’ll have potentially have dozens (or more) shareware/freeware utilities to consider from a compatibility standpoint as you work on future releases. And who wants that kind of burden when creating a reader is so easy for Microsoft to do?

  9. tzagotta: See, I knew someone would say I’m just being smarmy. I suppose you could call prioritizing "making excuses". The fact is that there are limited resources for all things and we don’t get to make every single thing that is worthy of existing.  You can read about this process in the post from 3 years ago I linked to in the post above. When the need for a special case viewer separate from the trial rates higher than the need for the other stuff people want from us it’ll get done. Until then the trial works pretty well as a viewer – I just find people don’t think of it as a solution because we don’t call it out.

  10. Carol says:

    Just how small is the staff that produces OneNote?  I’ve always been curious as to what size of team is needed to produce something great like this.   Coming from an ‘inside’ development department which doesn’t produce a single product of this scope, I have no idea how many it takes 5? 10? 50?

  11. Carol: It’s hard to measure that because in addition to the people who work only on OneNote there are other contributors, and OneNote uses a large amount of shared code from Office which lets us focus on OneNote specific work. For example, all the UI code is from Office (we just use it to build the UI). Perhaps the number you are looking for is 12, which is the budgeted number of people who write code specifically for OneNote. The actual number fluctuates as we hire or people move on. And there are people in program management (which was my role), test, design, user assistance, product managment (marketing)etc who also work on the product.

    Better products come from smaller teams in my opinion. If you have too many resources, you get sloppy with decisions because you don’t have to be careful. Having watched several 100-person efforts collapse under their own weight, I feel very strongly that more is not better. Especially too many too soon.

    I think by now most people are familiar with the mythical man month and all that – more people means less efficiency, lower clarity of vision, more difficult communication, and leads to unconstrained decisions that tend to be non-optimal. Let’s do that because we can, or because we don’t have to figure out a more clever way. Creativity comes from constraints.

    A team of one is very "efficient", but not large enough to do larger projects. As the team grows it gets less efificent and more unwieldy to a point of diminishing returns. The most powerful organizations are ones that build processes that can coordinate larger numbers of people effectively and push that point of diminishing return higher so they can take on more things and still do them well.

    In my experience the Office System team which includes OneNote (several thousand people altogether, although any particular team is small like OneNote  – no more than 4x at the largest) is the most capable engineering team around (and probably in the world based on track record, but its not like I have done a study) in terms of its ability to execute on extremely large projects effectively and predictably.

    Office doesn’t slip more than 10-15% off its schedule (and once had 0% slip), nearly always delivers exactly what it promised and aims high to maintain its revenue and profit growth, which for a project its size is phenomenal.  In contrast, just look at the experience our OS colleagues had, where they are somewhat larger but without the organizational strength. More people is definitely not better unless you can handle them correctly.

  12. thadk says:

    I can see how a viewer would be a bit of trouble for such a new app. Still, it would be nice to be able to share all the audio/text information OneNote has encoded together. Perhaps a PDF with an attachment of the audio or an HTML page with an embedded windows media player bit which will respond to clicks on the audio icon at the beginning of lines, jumping to positions in the audio file found in a DocName_files folder.

  13. Thadk: that sort of thing is something we think is interesting -including full representations of notebooks as web pages (especially for viewing rather than full editing). The problem with HTML is that it is not a single file. If you have audio then it is a separate file which makes mailing them around a pain. That’s why MHTML was created – so maybe that’s the route we take.

  14. A collection of some good posts by other Microsoft bloggers to tell a tale about quality in software development.

  15. Craig says:

    Trial as viewer is a bad idea. There’s no need to explain why, you know the reasons.

  16. Craig says:

    ummm….one more thing to Chris’s defence….ON 2007 supports exporting to PDF.

  17. Craig, I am not following you.

  18. Aimee says:

    I say forget about the viewer and make a Mac version a priority. 🙂

  19. Joel Mansford says:

    I came to this site having searched for "OneNote Viewer".

    I am the IT Director here, I create Visio files of various things and it is handy to put the Visio viewer on every PC regardless of licence (budget!) constraints – likewise for Powerpoint.

    I’m now evaluating OneNote (via the Partner programme and MSDN) and am thinking that if a few of us used OneNote at least I could easily give visibility to our files without a huge capital investment.  If it proves successful then I would then look to purchase further licences.  I’m not going to install a trial version as that’s a lot of hassle as my users don’t have admin rights.

  20. Joel, are you unable to install the trial for users who are not admins? I did this on Vista and it was fine. I am an admin on my XP machine so I am not sure exactly what the experience is.

  21. Mr. Pratley:

    Please forgive me posting an off-topic comment, but this is the only way I know to contact you.

    I wanted to bring to your attention a BUG in WORD which has existed for the last several versions. The bug has to do with the "SPIKE" auto-text entry and TABLES. If you select text in a table cell which includes paragraph marks the end of selection runs to the end of the cell (to the cell mark if you have formatting marks turned on) then Word will CRASH every time. It is so on Word 2003 and has been for the last several versions — so long I can’t remember when it was introduced. But I know that Word 95 didn’t do this.

    Since there has never been a workgroup-wide-autotext (I actually still call it the Glossary, but I started on Word 1 for Dos — some habits are hard to break) we put snippets of text that we need to share in tables inside of a special document (_master.doc). We create one such _master.doc per project (lawsuit). This lets everyone working on that case share snippets of text, such as addresses of opposing counsel, the case style (e.g. Chris vs. Pratley), etc.

    We used to use the heck out of the Spike feature. But then the crash bug was introduced and we had to stop using it. I actually called MS Tech Support to report this, but was told the solution was "don’t use it anymore." Nobody seemed to care.

    Today a random link lead me to your 2004 blog entry about Word. It was like a trip down memory lane. I have owned and used every single version of Word for Dos or Windows ever released. If you’re still reading this, then I know that your pride in the Word program will see to it that this bug is reported to the right folks for killing. Then again, Word 2007 may have fixed it.

    Thank you for your time and patience.

    Gray Strickland

    gray at this domain:

  22. dhiren boni says:

    Hi, I have a question about OneNote 2007. In the 2003 version, I used to type up outlines in bullet format, which OneNote handles much much better than in Word.

    Then to print outlines, I’d just send to Word, and print it out.

    Now if I try the same thing in OneNote 2007, the bullets are all messed up. They’re not staggered or indented correctly; any help for this issue?

  23. Hermann Klinke says:

    "ON 2007 supports exporting to PDF."

    My trial version of 2007 does not. I looked under file/save as and file/publish as and there is no PDF option. How can I save my onenote files as PDF??

  24. Gray: as we corresponded, I believe this is fixed in Word 2007 (I could reproduce your problem in Word 2003 but not Word 2007). 2007 also has a much better feature than the Spike – a full Building Blocks library which you can fill with your own stuff. check it out on the Word team blog:

    dhiren boni: is this using Word 2007 and OneNote 2007?

    Hermann Klinke: if you are using the trial, you can’t download the PDF feature because the trial does not validate as "genuine" software (I think this is a bug but a minor issue in any case). Once you convert the trial to full product, the menu item "File/Find add-ins for other file formats" takes you to a web page where (if you validate as genuine) you can download the PDF add-in.

  25. Evets says:

    I’m having difficulties using the "Save as" and "Publishing" features in OneNote 2007 Beta (12.04017.1003).

    To begin with, I am not able to double click on a tab and then select another tab, either by holding down control or shift. In fact, I can’t even select multiple tabs while holding down either key. When  I do this, it looses the focus from the first tab.

    I have tried to save the entire notebook in mht or xps, however the radio button will not activate for me.  The only method that does work, is publishing as a pdf, or one. And when I publish it as a pdf, the printed pages are split into several pdf pages.

    Any advice?

  26. Evets says:

    "# re: OneNote Viewer

    Saturday, January 27, 2007 4:10 PM by Hermann Klinke

    "ON 2007 supports exporting to PDF."

    My trial version of 2007 does not. I looked under file/save as and file/publish as and there is no PDF option. How can I save my onenote files as PDF??"

    You could always download the free Cute Pdf Writer. Just use your favorite flavor of search engine for it.

  27. evets: you are using the ancient beta 2 code, which expires tomorrow I think. Please upgrade to the released version, or to the trial if you still aren’t sure. See my most recent post on this:(

    To multi select pages, first make sure the current page is actually *selected*, not just active. To do this, click on the current page tab which should highlight in blue and put a blue border around the entire page. Now Ctrl-click other pages (or Select-click).

    For the export issue, I am pretty sure this is fixed now. I am not quite sure what you mean about multiple pages in PDF output – of course very long OneNote virtual pages will need to be split into two or more fixed size PDF pages – or do you mean something else?

    As for using something other than the built-in PDF writer in OneNote, you could certainly do that. The built-in save function preserves things like hyperlinks so I think it is preferable unless of course you can’t use it because you have the trial. 🙂

  28. dhiren boni says:

    chris, this is using OneNote 2007 and Word (and Office) 2003.

  29. dhiren: please send me the page of notes from OneNote 2007 (in *.one format) that you are sending to Word 2003. Thanks! [chrispr(at)]

    evets: BTW, you can now download the PDF feature even with the trial (as of Feb 1, 2007)

  30. Evets says:


    If there is an upgrade available from ON 2003 to 2007, I can’t find it. I think it sucks that I’ve beta’d and contributed input on ON 2007, and now it quits working without an upgrade or discount available.

    Thanks for nothing Microsoft.

  31. Evets: yes – at least when you go to convert the trial there is an upgrade pricing option ($79). There should be that option for retail as well, but I bet you will have to look online. Amazon has it for $79.99 which is ironically $1 more than their discounted price for the full version ($78.99). There is also Home and Student OneNote at $53.99 upgrade price. And 2007 Office Home and Student for $128.99 (which has Word/XL/PPT as well as OneNote for a few $$$ more).

  32. dhiren boni says:

    chris, just emailed it to you. thanks for your help.

  33. dhiren boni says:

    chris, let me know if you can help. i’m ready to buy this software, except the formatting issues i’m having are a dealbreaker for me. as a student i heavily rely on outlines, and being able to send them to Word in a proper manner is a huge deal to me because if i want it on paper, i need to send it to Word. thank you.

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