OneNote Momentum

What an exciting three months OneNote 2007 has had out in the marketplace. By every measure OneNote 2007 is a hit! Check out this blog activity for one thing:

Blog posts containing "OneNote" over the last 360 days taken May 9 (from Technorati)

Traditionally many people measure a product's success by a particular metric: the number of units sold. But there are many other metrics to use: of course one is "profit" - if you gave away all those units for a song (or for free!), you didn't make any money. Also its not clear how dedicated those customers are. Conversely if you held the price high enough and people bought a lot of it, you have a good sense that people see value in the product.

Another measure is usage. You want to see that people are really using your product. That means they are getting value out of it, and also indicates loyalty.

Another measure is "buzz" like the blog measure above. Are people talking about your product? If so, that's also a good sign. Notice there is a spike not just on the "news" of availability (around Jan 30) but there are higher spikes later - that's when people are using the product and talking about it. For examples of what people are saying, check out Dan's "blog roundup" posts: January, February, March, April. Some of my favorite quotes:

    "OneNote 2007 sharing is indistinguishable from magic"

    "I just purchased a copy of Microsoft OneNote, my life will never be the same."

But those are tame. Why not really go for it?

    "The Greatest Invention in Human History?  I vote for Microsoft OneNote"

    "I need Office OneNote 2007 to live."

And for the you-know-who crowd:

    "I can't believe I'm so excited over some program that M$ came up with. It's probably just all the adrenaline that's been pumping through me lately."

And we're just getting started!

There are other measures. For software there is also "deployment" - many companies have purchased long term contracts with Microsoft for most or all of our latest software, but they don't always get around to putting the new stuff on their users' machines since they have a lot of work to do. So we care about whether that has happened or not since it is a measure of how much they value the new stuff.

I can't share specific sales figures with you all and they don't tell the whole story anyway (there's that "deployment issue" plus lots of people get OneNote on their laptop but don't know it, and so on). I do want to show the existing trends we're seeing however.

First, it's worth noting that OneNote 2003 (the first release) was a success in its own right. A new product that costs money and isn't a visible lifestyle item (e.g. software to get work done vs. an iPod) takes time to build its user base. And as I said, the nice thing about free products or services is that they can build users fast, but because they are free their users often have no special investment in the service. OneNote 2003 shipped well over 10million units and racked up several million actual users over the 3 years it was on the market (as best we can tell). Pretty good for a whole new "category" of software most people didn't know about or know they needed, with next to no marketing budget and not being included in any Office Suite! By contrast, the top web productivity apps and suites that everyone writes about because they're "hot" all have less than 500K users, most of them far less (I can't tell you how we know that though!)

Our plans for OneNote are for it to build momentum like "rolling thunder" over several years. Each release retains users from the one before and adds proportionally more. The great majority of people only try a new thing when their friends recommend it, and that takes some time. If you think about how an application like PowerPoint went from obscurity to ubiquitous over the course of a few years - that's the idea.

Fortunately, in addition to raving fans and sales figures, we are able to get more quantitative and explicit measurements on popularity. One way is through the Customer Experience Improvement Program. Some of you may know this - it is the little balloon that pops up to ask you if we can (anonymously and in aggregate) track which commands you use in the application, how long you use the application, etc.  We use this data to make the product better in the future, but it is also a handy measure of overall activity. CEIP data is returned to us in the form of "sessions" which are fixed length blocks of time containing data.

Here's where it really gets exciting. Although we can't know for sure how many users these session counts represent, we think variables like what % of the users have signed up for the program are about the same for each release, which makes them comparable. Look at these relative numbers!



Number of CEIP sessions added over
the 5 months after RTM (code final)




2003 SP1






Do you need a chart? Can someone say hockey stick?

How many users is this? It's really hard to say since it depends on people agreeing to join the program which is off by default. Only a tiny fraction actually send us data. But it's a lot, and look at that trend!

Comments (28)
  1. I won’t go as far as some of the people Chris Pratley mentions , but I am definitely turning into a OneNote

  2. rob says:

    Great to see another post Chris. I’ve been with OneNote since the first beta and it has definitely impacted more on my productivity and organisation than any other program. Everyone I show it to gets the "Wow", many of them asking where they can buy it from etc. I am surprised though how many of these people who immediately can see how OneNote would benefit them have never even heard of it before. It looks like the marketing department is not getting the message across, however if my word of mouth experiences are anything to go by then you should see some exponential growth as the word spreads.

  3. Rob, thanks. As for marketing, it’s expensive. Especially advertising – which is designe dot increase brand awareness btu doesn’t do much for individual sofwtare products (you need to see a demo or play with a trial to "get" OneNote). We don’t think the return on investment is there relative to other approaches. The other approaches include things like campus promotions, pre-install agreements with PC makers, word-of-mouth, inclusion in certain Office suites, and many other ways to get people using it.

    I know it seems counter-intuitive. I would love to see an ad for OneNote (we actually did run a limited set on some web sites to test reaction).

    As you can see though, word-of-mouth is definitely working and it tends to snowball so we’ll see…

  4. Jerry says:

    Chris, what happened to your spell checker?

  5. No spell checker in the blog comment tool. And I am a bad typist (I rely on autocorrect – that’s why I write my blog posts in OneNote.)

  6. Erin says:

    Can I sync OneNote data between my Tablets?

  7. Erin – yes. You have a number of choices of how to do this. The easiest is to treat the notebooks on one tablet as the "master copy". Make a file share out of the "OneNote Notebooks" folder. From the second machine, use File/Open>Notebook to open the individual notebooks on the "master" machine. Done.

    More details here:

  8. John Ellis says:

    Just wanted to say I have a tablet PC and some exams coming up soon, the inkball game has dominated my life recently and revision has taken a back seat.

    Now Onenote has entered the picture (I was procrasinating and discovered it) and I can say I am amazed, this has to be one of the most underrated programs MS makes. I may actually pass these exams now, so thank you for such a fantastic program.

  9. Where are the Onenote 2007 books? I cannot even find a sniff of any in the pipeline.

    I would have thought it would warrant a book or two, seeing how popular a product it is, and how much is in it.

  10. LaVidaMD says:

    I just started using OneNote 2007 a week ago and I have been enjoying it thoroughly.

    I apologize for asking a tech question here, but I can’t seem to find the answer.

    Let’s say you are typing a note (perhaps a side note) when you are on the phone. You are typing as your colleague is talking. As the discussion shifts to a different topic, you would like to start a different text box, because you are talking about a different subject.

    Is there a keystroke to "force" OneNote to start a new text box? I know that just clicking anywhere in the unoccupied screen will start a new text box. But, I am a typist first, and having a keystroke, such as ctrl-Enter to "force" a new text box would be great.

    Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Best regards,


  11. Andrew Rimmer: That’s an interesting question. There are quite a few books for 2003, but none yet for 2007 that I know of. You can speculate as to why. There are several factors I think:

    1. We tried to design OneNote so you would not need help (or a book using it), so there is probably a lower % of people needing help from a book. It’s just not that complex.

    2. We included the Guide notebook in OneNote 2007 which serves as a kind of “book” for many people

    3. Books are sort of an “old school” way to learn about software, and our user base is more cutting edge than average – i.e. not as into books. More into blogs, on-line help, etc.

    4. OneNote is not too expensive, so people may not want to invest money into a book for something they didn’t spend much money on (think about this in reverse – if you paid a couple hundred dollars for something you might buy a $20 book to understand it, but not if it came “for free” with your computer or cost you less than $100 – or less than $50)

    5. the market of potential book buyers in English is not as large as for other established software like Word, Excel, etc. Only about 2-3 million total, reduced by factors 1-3 above, then reduced by the factor of people who would buy a book for software

    The books for 2003 (about 6 of them) were written before the product was finished. I suspect they didn’t sell too many copies. The authors (or rather, the publishers) I think assumed that a new product would have a big market for a book as past (complex) new products have but the factors above worked against them, so they are probably little shy about investing in a book right now until they see how the market shapes up. As OneNote2007 takes off, the market for a book will increase even with the factors above.

    LaVidaMD: use down arrow. Or, enter first to get a new blank line, then down arrow.

  12. LaVidaMD says:

    Thanks for the tip, regarding starting a new text box while typing. Hitting Enter-Down Arrow does the trick.

    When I use just the down arrow (I have to hit it twice to open a new text box), it indents the new text box. I suppose that  could be useful in certain situations.

  13. LaVidaMD: if you are not at the start of a new line, then down arrow twice will create a new box with the level of "indent" that you have now. If you are at the start of a new blank line, you just need to hit down arrow once to get the new box lined up with the one above. So if you always hit Enter, then down arrow, you always get a box lined up with the one above.

  14. Chris,

    You make some very good points regarding the possible reasons why there are no books. The help is very good, and the software is simple and intuitive.

    Also, one of the good points about Onenote is how it integrates into Office 2007, maybe there are some Office 2007 books out there that have decent coverage of Onenote?

    I like online help, blogs etc, but I like to read things in hard copy, to the point that I often print out web articles and long blog entries…

    What I would like to see is a Onenote 2007 book that is heavy on case studies – with lots of user scenarios. Covering different types of users and how they would use Onenote – from software developers to graphic artists to business men to students, and non-tech people. I guess such a book would be as much about productivity and managing information as it would be about Onenote.

    Would anybody else be interesting in something like this?

  15. Lea Owen-Keenan says:

    Hi Chris

    Fab product – I’ve actually convinced others to buy it too and they are hooked.

    One itty-bitty little item.  In using OneNote with another product it has come to light that copying stuff to the clipboard from OneNote doesn’t seem to be handled in the same way as it is in, say, Word or Excel.  The example is that I should be able to highlight a word, Ctrl-C to put it on the clipboard and when the relevant dialog box is open in the other product the word on the clipboard should appear automatically in the dialog.  This happens just fine for Wordpad, Word 2007, Excel 2007, Powerpoint 2007, Frontpage 2003, Publisher 2003, but not OneNote.

    Do you have any ideas or thoughts?

    Many thanks


  16. Lea, what’s the other product? A couple of apps (Open Office Writer is one) have a bug pasting from the clipboard that manifests when OneNote has placed data on the clipboard (correctly). They know about it and I expect it will get fixed someday. If you tell me the application we can investigate the cause. Although the clipboard seems like a simple thing there is actually a complex negotiation that goes on under the covers and each new app combo risks exposing a bug.

  17. Lea Owen-Keenan says:

    Hi Chris

    Thanks for answering – it’s Instant Text (text expander).  They have looked into it and are releasing a fix (I trialled it for them) but they mentioned that they thought the  OneNote-to-Clipboard action seemed to be a little different from, say, Word-to-Clipboard.  In case you haven’t seen IT, the action I’m talking about is highlighting a word or phrase etc, then using IT’s shortcut of Alt,= which opens an Add to Glossary dialog box with the highlighted phrase already "pasted" into the dialog.  As I said in my other post, all the other MS products handle this fine with IT, doing exactly what is supposed to happen.

    As I have a fix, I guess was in IT’s ballpark, but I thought I’d mention it in case there was something a little different about OneNote.

    Many thanks, again, Lea

  18. Mel Torrie says:

    Hi Chris,

    Hooked on OneNote.  Almost kept me from switching to Mac.  I run it in Parallels.  It hurts and I may switch back.  

    I’m CEO of a robotics company and want to put all our corporate info in front of the employees.  I’ve got some Wiki proponents who are pushing that solution.  It is a little pricey for all employees to have a seat of the ON 2007.  Will there be viewer that I can buy for the non-managers?

    Thanks! Mel

  19. Lea: thanks for the name of the app. We will take a look. FWIW, the reason the clipboard can work with every app you’ve tried but not a new one (i.e. OneNote) is that there are many ways to place things on the clipboard, and many combinations of what formats you can publish. What OneNote does is perfectly legal and not odd in any way, but instant text might not be expecting it. Especially if they are trying to grab text from the application rather than using OneNote to make the copy to clipboard.  Some apps have only been tested with a few existing apps. So you get odd problems where an app might not choose text when a picture is available, or assumes RTF is preferable when HTML is available, but didn’t take into account that not every app produces both. In any case, its just another example of why you have to test software…

    Mel: you can give everyone the free trial, which acts as a viewer after the trial expires. See this post:

  20. Lea Owen-Keenan says:

    Hi Chris

    Thanks for the info.  I hope you didn’t think I was suggesting that ON was doing something wrong – it was just interesting, from my point of view, that it was "different".  I think IT took it that way too and they certainly were able to come up with their "fix" (for want of a better, less suggestive, term) really quickly.  I love my ON and can’t do without it and they (IT) were happy to accommodate tweaking their product.

    Thanks again.  All the best.


  21. Lea, no problem. The rule in software is that it is your problem until you prove it is the other guy’s. That’s why we wanted to know what app you were having trouble with so we could look into it – and if you want to point them my way to let us know what they are doing to work around that would be great.

    Sometimes people don’t understand why something as "simple" as the clipboard might not work, so I thought I’d add some explanation. The clipboard is actually an example of something fairly complex that computer designers have done well to make look simple. It’s really surprisingly more involved than you’d think given how easy it is to operate. Yay! One success, now on to the other 1000 bedevilling complexities…

  22. Chris: When you have some time to blog again, could you please provide us with more information about OneNote Mobile? I just got a T-Mobile Dash and installed OneNote Mobile on it. Since there isn’t any documentation I can find, I’m sure I’m missing some key features or some interesting tricks that can be done with it.

  23. Kim says:

    I’m a new GTD devotee, using the Treo 700P. Many GTD followers recommend OneNote. Is there any plans or any way to sync OneNote to a palm device? Thanks for any help you can give me.

  24. Gary says:

    I wish to emphasis a need for a OneNote book (as mentioned in an earlier post).  I’m a user that has worked with OneNote, but has yet to get hooked on it.  I really haven’t put any data into it since I’ve upgraded to OneNote 2007.

    It seems like a wonderful idea, but…

    When I get so stuck, but think there is value I am just missing, that is where the book can help.  Then, once the product becomes part of my life, the book becomes a technical reference.

    Yes, Virginia, we do need at least one solid OneNote book…

  25. James K says:

    What you need is a OneNote Viewer, or at least a decent export to XPS. And when I say decent, I mean at least 2 things: (1) A full table of contents and (2) don’t repeat images when they are cut off. Please finish this product before adding 1,000,000 other features that only 6 people will ever use.

  26. Pam G says:

    Relieved to see the comments regarding the NEED for a good OneNote 2007 book. Thought I  had lost my researching prowess, as I found nadda. Heck, if distributors don’t want to risk the outlay for hard copy, there’s always the ebook format. C’mon folks, some of us ON2007 devotees are getting kinda desperate. While there are resources out there, I’ve grown weary of always having to run searches to get the answer to a question which would likely be covered in a text devoted to the subject (sigh).

  27. Jack McKittrick says:

    Any plans to include OneNote in the Mac version of MS Office 2008?

  28. tom says:

    I use CircusPonies Notebook on the Mac platform at home and love it, does anyone here know how OneNote compares?  OneNote seems to be similar in function and I really need something like this for the peecee world at work.  

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