Mike Tholfsen, OneNote Ninja!

It's been awhile since I have posted anything here, and for that I feel shame. It's just that Dan and John and others are doing such a great job.

Another guy who's doing a great job but isn't blogging yet (he's shy) is Mike Tholfsen. Mike is the test manager of the OneNote team, and he's also a tireless (and I mean tireless) OneNote promoter inside Microsoft. You may remember Mike as the guy who wrote "My One and only OneNote".

Microsoft is getting to be a pretty big company these days, and we make so many things that it is hard for people to keep track of it all. So as odd as it may seem, teams that make products that are not already ubiquitous (like Outlook or Windows) sometimes have to remind others that they exist.

Actually OneNote is in broad usage in the company already - it has taken off virally and in any meeting or lecture I go to, if a laptop is open more often than not OneNote is there as people keep track of what is said and what they need to do next. In fact the usage data shows that for people who have it installed (more than half the company - pretty good!), they use it more than PowerPoint.

Where Mike comes in is in expanding people's perceptions of what OneNote can do. When you first use it, it seems like a way to organize your stuff, but it can be so much more. For example, my new team uses many shared OneNote notebooks to collaborate and share ideas like a really capable wiki. OneNote notebooks can also be packaged up as a single file to email or download which will "unpack' inside OneNote when you open them. This may sound like nothing special, but the effect is that you can distribute entire "courses" or books of material to a broad set of people, replete with cross links and organization, tables of contents, etc. Plus the content can be added to or annotated by the recipients (unlike a PDF). and these materials can be searched and arranged with all your other material so they become part of your stuff in a way isolated PDF or Word docs or random web pages can't. The other day I got an email inviting me to download an entire course on how to manage email and tasks effectively (something everyone in corporate settings struggles with), and it came as a OneNote notebook.

What Mike has done is make a point of meeting with all the right executives, sales people, and so on to get across to them that OneNote can be more than a note-taking tool. He's made videos internally and externally, like this one to show the power and ease of use of OneNote, in particular focusing recently on this "content distribution" aspect of OneNote to replace paper for green corporate or academic initiatives. He's helped the Office marketing folks see this potential in OneNote too.

He's worked with the people who do internal training at Microsoft to get them excited, and through them connections have been made to customers who also are interested in training. It's been amazing to watch. He even demoed to Bill Gates! He's also been active in the academic world, visiting a local school where the staff and kids were independently using OneNote, and even going to a conference in Finland on technology trends in teaching with one of the teachers. There's a neat video of what the school has done here.

So hats off to Mike. Now we just need him to spend a few cycles on his day job 🙂

Comments (35)

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  1. Blake says:

    I love your product–it’s amazing how easy and useful it is.  The only catch is, it’s hard to evangelize OneNote to other people when there’s not a good sharing path.  I read this post of yours:


    Unfortunately, I’m not seeing an PDF export path shy of buying the full Acrobat.  HTML and Word Export are one page at a time….and I’m not going to win anyone over by giving them 25 documents and telling them to re-order them all. 🙂

    Isn’t there some way for your team to use/borrow the Publish engine in FrontPage?  Or some Visual Studio trick?  It would seem that you could create some sort of cross-linked output file set, given how well your program retains that kind of information when the user performs operations like copy/paste in OneNote.  Publishing a simple HTML file/folder structure with links would make the recipient better able to see the content of a Notebook…and maybe want to have the better organized structure of the full product. *fingers crossed*

    Just thought I’d share that–keep up the good work!

  2. Hi Blake,

    For PDF, use File/Publish as PDF or XPS. This will download the bit of code that enables this – for various boring legal reasons Adobe made it difficult for us to include this in the box.

    For HTML, you can save notes as MHTML (Single file web page). Just change the file type in the Save as dialog. You can email that if you prefer, or place it on a web site.

    There is another option – a powertoy for exporting OneNote note books as web pages which is pretty much what you described: http://www.codeplex.com/ONWebber

    And of course using the email button in onenote will send an html version of a page to the recipients.

    Let me know if that helps!

  3. Leslie Bexten says:

    I created a OneNote "shared" notebook to collaborate with others on my team at work.  We have OneNote 2007 on a shared server.  For some reason, when five of us tried working on the same section (tab), OneNote did not synchronize and put all of our notes together.   Two people on the team could not get their notes merged into the same page.  I received a message saying, "This page contains changes that could not be merged during synchronization. Click here to show versions of the page with unmerged changes."  Versions showed up on the right of the screen.

    I could not find a merge button or a way to get these all in the same section.   I could not find anything in the Microsoft OneNote on-line Help or anywhere else on the web.  Please let me know how you would merge together these changes.  I am very perplexed as to why these changes were not synched when the autosynch button was on for all the computers.



  4. Leslie,

    Is the notebook on a file share or a sharepoint server?

    If file share, then sync should just be a few seconds, provided people are on the network. You should only get a conflict notice if two people edit the same paragraph in that brief period.

    If sharepoint, there are a number of issues that can arise. The biggest one is that the sync interval is more like 10min than 5sec, so there is a larger window to have these conflicts. The other issues with SharePoint which you may not be hitting (they show up as "section is read-only", or "section can’t be accessed") are being addressed in Vista Service pack and 2007 Office Service pack 1.

    Most changes get merged without your noticing. You get the message you saw when you have edits on exactly the same paragraph as I mentioned. If you click on the page tab to open the "Conflict pages" you will see the paragraph that couldn’t be merged. You can copy any content you like from the conflict page to the main page, then delete the conflict page.

    If you are seeing lots of conflcts, that is abnormal…

  5. Leslie Bexten says:


    Thanks for your response.  I have a files share, we have a shared folder on the network.  I am assuming from you message that the synch interval should be 5 seconds?  (Can you confirm?)

    Several of the users were editing the same text container at the same time.  Some of them worked but the other two did not.  The two that were not merged in were actually editing the same exact line in the container.

    What I think I may do is to create more text "containers" so that people will not be conflicting.  When the conflict happened we were testing this out with several people working at the same time.  In real-world use, only one or two people would be editing at the same time.

    I will test this out with a couple of people and see if things are improved.



  6. Leslie,

    The merge is automatic if people are not editing the same *paragraph*. Editing things in the same container but in different paragraphs is fine (as when people are adding items to a list together).

    It’s not surprising that this showed up only when you were trying it out (i.e. unnatural usage). It is designed for typical shared usage, not intense multi-user real-time editing.

    That said, OneNote *does* have a feature designed for intense multi-user real-time editing. You said people wouldn’t do that in normal use, but if you do want to use OneNote in a meeting with 10 people or so banging away at the same page, you can try Share/Live Sharing Session. Create one and invite the meeting attendees. When they join you can have at it – there are never any merge conflicts in this experience.When you quit, everyone has a copy of the team’s brainstorm or notes.

  7. Tiffani M. says:

    I have read and then skimmed almost of all of your blogs (found them last night) i have a headache trying to find on the internet a fix to the fact that I have OneNote2007 and a Wacom tablet input and everywhere I read says that handwriting recognition will not work unless I have xp tablet pc…and there is no guarantee that if I upgrade to Vista (running XP as my EVAULT is not compatible yet with Vista) that Vista will recognize the tablet.

    Point being:  searching my handwriting in OneNote, right now OneNote only sees it as a drawing.

    I will do anything.  Can I install Windows XP Tablet PC on a non-tablet pc?  or Will Vista upgrading fix this and let me be able to search.

    I have LOVED Notebook for my ibook, and now am considering getting our small office to change to all macs so we can use that program and Office.

    I bought OneNote because it was comprable to Notebook for Macs…

    Any advice would be great! Thanks…

  8. WacomUser says:

    Wacom tablets enable full tablet functionality in Vista, but only after the Wacom driver is installed.  See http://www.wacom.com/vista/index.cfm  Notice that you need any Vista edition EXCEPT Basic.

    XP Tablet PC Edition, like Media Center, is an OEM-only product, and not available to consumers directly.  There are places to buy OEM licenses legally, but you will NOT have support if you choose to install it.

    Get Vista instead.

  9. Tiffani M. says:

    thank you…Its time to go to Vista anyway.

    Questions:  will going to vista take care of the issue of starting a new text or graphic box?

    if I type and punch enter down it starts a new box

    but if I am using the Wacom and want a new "graphic box" (as that is how Onenote is seeing my handwriting) there is no shortcut that I can find?

    Any help?

  10. Tiffani,

    if you are typing, you should not get a new "container" just by hitting "Enter". if you use the down arrow when the cursor is on the last line of a container and that line is blank, it is by design that the cursor hops out of the container and allows you to move about the page to create another container. If what you wanted was more blank lines in that container, use "Enter" instead. This behavior is the same regardless of the OS you are on.

    For ink, there are no containers when you write. OneNote examines the ink on an ongoing basis and tries to understand if you are handwriting words or drawing. But it doesn’t create containers (in OneNote 2007).

    In any case, the word "container "is misleading. you never need to create these to add content to a page – they are just the visible boundaries of the content you create.

  11. Paul T says:

    Does anyone know how to crop images within one note?

  12. I want to use Onenote to organize my project.  One problem here is I’d liekt to list each contact and BMC job and have it keep up with the items I inser.

    It seem showever everythign i insert from outlook is placed in Onenote and then left dumb.  A finish the task, add a note,etc and it is not kept up to date in my outlook .

    If it doen’t sync it don’t work.  Is this note/audio/video package?

  13. Right now I have a directory of Letters, Billing, Documents, CAd Files etc.

    I either need a smart onenote that does not double my work or a smarter file exploer.

    Onenote is nice in that it sees everythign but it sure takes a long time to get all that date into onenote and then it is just a ocpy liek a paper notebook and not an active file that stays up to date.  Maybe that is good as I get a picture at that time.  But it does not keep up with this data automatically.

    And it does not keep up with all my files automatically.

    Am I missing something.  I want to use onenote to organize each job I have.  It seems like we have internet ecplorer, Outlook, BCM and Onenote, each doing something the other can;t and none doing anything completely.


  14. I’ve just gotten off the phone with OnceNote Offic eSupport an am ver disappoint but hope someone else can give solutions for my questions.

    I like the idea of this product as one keeping everything in one place.

    First If all documents are copies and not OLE items

    I like the backup but not having to reduo everythin it is double or tripling my efforts to keep a douments data in one place.

    I cannot insert pdf files as OneNote does not work if Quickbooks is installed.

    I like that emails are brought in each as it’s own page.  I’d like to see the date on the page name not just a copy of the emial subjetc.  I may be going back and forth on an original email and in OneNote they are all the same nd I have to go through as many as 50 to find the specific one.  It is quicker to do this directly in Outlook

    I wish new emails (that go directly to a folder already in Outlook) would automatically post in OneNote.

    I’d like to bring in multiple docs, odf, cad files and have each on it’s own page.  Ive a job with 3000+ documents and it is too difficult to bring them aqll into onenote as one long page.

    Probably because Outlook tasks do not work well, I cannot tell who any of my tasks or appointments belong to.  I’d like to see this in Onenote rather than opening each one everytime I wish to see what neds to be done.

    Also the flags are week as I can;t tell the difference between one pink flag or the other 3 pink flags by looking at them.  In outlook I can subdivide them into catagoies liek "today"

    BCM does not work with OneNote

    I’m somewhat takign this a step further:

    I’d like a basic project to have several section:

    Live email link to folder

    Live link to any task associated with that pwoject

    Live link to folders that contain files.  I can have several folders and view them quickly.

    A second type of folder which inserts any file that is placed in the folder and keeps a paper copy if you will for backup and good record keeping.

    Inserted files placed in separate pages.

    A way to create all these tasks from within OneNote and have it place them correctly.

    So if I am in Acme Widgets and:

    I type letter it places the .doc file in the proper directory associated to that folder

    I creates a copy in another folder as a demonstration of the time ine of events

    All emails sent and received from specific rules alrady established in Outlook are copied to a folder.

    It can og as far as placing all emails in wthe records folder above and adding that to the paper time record.

    The same is done for orther groups of elements.

    OLE woudl be great so I actually end up with three types of section.

    Live – emails and folder listings and view

    Copies – archival copy of that specific folder

    Record – One folder which sequentially copies all files as created.

    The last could be as simple as a squential viewing of the Copies folders selected.

    one key is that when any document is inserted it maintains a date of that document not when inserted.

    If these items can be done please let me know as many are a minimum to even begin using this product.

  15. Ilya & Tiffany says:

    Rewriting Notes.

    Hey, Chris – or anyone else.  Running into this problem.  We are trying to rewrite sloppy ink notes taken in class.  We have separate pages going for each class notes, and, as the professor talks very fast, they are sloppy.  

    The thought was to copy those to a new section – say Clean Notes, and then rewrite them in type (as much as possible), while preserving some of the graphics, etc.

    The problem is, once we copy and paste the ink in the new page, much of the formatting / layout is lost; even if we do the entire page into an already started age.  Worse yet, inserting more writing space sometimes screws up inking / diagrams below.

    Any thought on what is going on and how to fix it?

  16. Paul t: sorry there is no image crop yet, but a powertoy provides rotate: http://blogs.msdn.com/johnguin/archive/2007/12/14/image-rotator-powertoy-for-onenote-2007.aspx

    Eric: that’s a lot of requests, I don’t think I can respond to all. It seems like you have a very particular way of working that you would like to replicate in OneNote. What I can say is that soe fo your requests already are possible. For example, there’s no requirement to have all inserted documents on one page. Check out the choices in Tools/options, in particular under Outlook integration and Send to OneNote.

    for the "live" files request, what i do is put files in onenote and when I want to change them, I just double click them in onenote, modify, save and close. The version in onenote is updated. You could also use "insert link to file" when you insert files if you want to store the files outside the notebook.

    Outlook has tags and Outlook tasks. out look tasks are just what outlook uses, so you can assign Today, tomorrow, etc and a task is create din outlook with that settings. The state of the task (done/undone) is linked to Onenote. Onenote tags can add adiditonal value if you want to mark soem text as having a category or priority or whatever.

    Insert PDF should work regardless of quickbooks being installed. have you run office diagnostics? (Help/Office Diagnostics)

    Ilya and Tiffany: if you want to presevre the original notes and clean up a copy, I would copy the page (right click on the page tab and copy), not copy the content of the page to an already created page. For the inserting space issue, th extra writign apce tool moves down thigns that are completely below it, so try to find a spot on the page that has a clean break all the way across the page for you to add more space to. if you can’t find a place like that, you can experiment a little to understand how the tool adds space when you use it on top of existing things like diagrams. Sorry, this is a hard one to explain without specific examples and diagrams.

  17. Ilya (& Tiffany) says:


    Thanks for the quick response.  I actually do understand what you’re saying (I’m the more technical person of the two).  The biggest hurdle is in how OneNote (it’s 2007) creates containers and their relationship.  Or maybe it’s the inking engine in the first place.  Don’t know inking that well.  It’s her tablet anyway (growl; I want one too).  

    The point is, it’s difficult to select just the portion that you want because containers overlap and virtually impossible to either a) preserve the containers’ relative positions on paste or b) just retain the portions of the larger containers plus the overlapping smaller ones when editing, if it makes any sense.

    I was hoping there would be a way to select all -> merge all containers into one with individual strokes being saved.  

    You can do select all->treat as drawing, but that slows it down to a Ccccrrrraawwwlll and I imagine breaks searchability (if that’s even a word).  Anyway – too slow to be useful.

    Maybe something you guys could make a powertool for, if it’s doable (so it would be select all->treat everything as inking->merge all containers to preserve relative positions of the strokes).  Doable?

  18. Randy Spangler says:


    I am in the process of re-familiarizing myself with OneNote (2007). I started out with a Tablet PC way back when Tablet Edition first came out, but I was discouraged by short battery life, lack of software, and most of all, lack of personal discipline to make it work.

    My resurgence is sparked by the necessity to get my notetaking and info gathering consolidated. I have three PCs at my home, my Tablet, a PC at the office and my WM6 VX6800 Verizon PDA. I read with great interest the Live Sharing feature of OneNote 2007. Short of installing a Sharepoint Server for the explicit purpose of tying this stuff together, is there any way to use a Skydrive on Microsoft Live or some sort of public storage medium in the ‘cloud’ to host my common Notebooks? If so, this would be totally, extremely awesome.

    If the cloud thing is out, would the older version of Sharepoint Services that comes with SBS2003 be sufficient, or would I need to use a later version (WSS 3.0?)

    Thanks for your help!!!


  19. Ilya, can you send me the OneNote section that has this page in it? (just attach the section file to a mail and send it to chrispr(at)microsoft.com.

  20. Randy, SkyDrive doesn’t yet support the full file access APIs that OneNote needs for incremental update and also safe multiuser which you would be if you used it from different machines. It is just simple save and open right now. If you want to share notebooks across your devices, David Rasmussen’s blog is the best place to read about options. (http://blogs.msdn.com/david_rasmussen). He also mentions Hamachi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamachi) which some people use to share data from their home machine to work.

    SharePoint 2003 or 2007 works for shared notebooks. I use an ISP that supports Sharepoint.

    We’re all waiting for the killer cloud storage with complete API!

  21. Helio says:

    I have a wish item for the next release of OneNote.  While I think it’s wonderful for quickly taking notes and much more, it lacks the ability to easily associate note items with other notes/boxes/etc.

    When I take notes on paper, there are arrows, lines, etc. that show relationships between notes.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have links say from a master list on one page to detailed notes either on the same page or other pages?  I know we can insert a hyperlink, but that’s too cumbersome.  A form of click-and-drag to associate two items would be much preferred (perhaps [Ctrl]+drag)… Kind of like cognitive maps.

    Hope you can influence adding such a feature in the next release.

  22. Helio,

    It’s an interesting idea. I can see how it would work for different note containers on a page. A little harder to see how the drag gesture would work across pages a lot quicker/easier than "right click to copy hlink, then back button, paste on original page", but I see the value.

    A nice feature you might consider is when you are taking notes on one page, right click on any word and choose "Create linked page". Click the reuslting link to add the related notes, then use the back button to get back to main page.

    Another neat trick is to select all the pages in a section, click on one to select, then Shift-click or ctrl-click other pages. Right-click on that selected set of page tabs, copy hyperlink, then on a page surface use paste. You get a table of contents list of links to all those pages.

  23. JohnGuin says:

    Eric, you made the comment that the different shades of pink tags are hard to tell apart.  I had the same problem – lowering the gamma setting of my video card fixed it.  Details are at http://blogs.msdn.com/johnguin/archive/2008/01/07/tracking-a-bug-with-video-and-seeing-it-change-into-a-tip-for-onenote-users.aspx

    John Guin

    OneNote Test Team

  24. Robin says:

    I use OneNote 2007 during lectures and for studying but I have problems with how slow it is running, especially when it freezes in the middle of lecture! There is a significant delay in drag and drop when I’m moving text boxes around and the pages scroll very slowly. Do you know of anyway to make it run faster? I thought compressing pages that I am not currently using might help, but I didn’t find any options for that. I have a tablet PC and I am happy with OneNote because the handwriting recognition and having everything in one place, but I will have to go back to Windows Journal if it is going to run so slow.

  25. Robin, first question – do you have SP1 of Office 2007 (OneNote 2007)? (Help/About should say 12.0.6211.1000). Second question – what is on these pages? lots of ink? pictures? Third question – what OS are you on – Windows XP or Vista?

  26. Robin says:

    OneNote version 12.0.4518.1014 and MSO (12.0.6017.5000).

    Windows XP tablet edition

    The pages mainly are pdfs and powerpoints that have been printed to OneNote. These are very long pdfs (100 to 200 pages each, about 4 of them) but mostly contain text. They have a lot of ink on them. Some of the powerpoints that have been printed to OneNote have lots of graphics with them, others I have printed as 6 slides to a page in black and white.

    Thanks for your help.

  27. Robin, when you print any document to OneNote, an image is made of each page. The amount of graphics doesn’t matter for the slowness (only for storage) since the images are decompressed in memory for display so they take up the same space regardless. I wouldn’t put hundreds of images of pages on a single page in OneNote – it is very hard for any program to manage that many large images.

    You could print one large doc to a page or split them across pages, which woudl help a lot with performance (anything to reduce the number of printed pages on a single OneNote page below about 100 – the number varies with the power of your system)

    An alternative is to use ink annotations on the document in its original format:

    1. For PDF you can download "PDF annotator" (http://www.ograhl.com/en/pdfannotator/) and ink all over those PDFs. You can insert (not print) the PDF file as an embedded file in OneNote to keep track of it with your other notes. To add annotations, just double click it to open and view, make edits, save, and close. The file embedded in OneNote will be updated with those changes.

    2. For Word or PPT, as with PDF you can make ink annotations directly using the ink annotation capabilities (In 2007, these are on the "review" tab, or in reading view in Word in the upper right). You don’t need extra software to enable this – just your tablet PC.

    Of course you only need to do this when you are in the hundreds of pages and experiencing the slowdowns. For shorter files you should be able to do what you are doing without any problem.

  28. Cirocco says:

    "The other day I got an email inviting me to download an entire course on how to manage email and tasks effectively (something everyone in corporate settings struggles with), and it came as a OneNote notebook."

    Wow! How can we get a copy of this notebook? Please say it’s not proprietary….

  29. Cirocco – if you still have the email, why not download the linked notebook package and save it locally? I’m afraid I don’t understand what is preventing you from sharing the link or the package. Have you lost the link?

    I saw a similar mail internally to MS and the notebook was pretty awesome…a great example of how to use OneNote to distribute training materials.

  30. Steve says:

    I am looking for a cheatsheat to give new 2007 users.

  31. Steve: Have them read the "OneNote Guide" notebook that is installed as part of OneNote 2007. It is one of the notebooks in the list on the left. Another nice thing to have is the list of keyboard shortcuts. That is in Help/Keyboard shortcuts.

  32. Dialectically_Yours says:

    I am VERY glad to see the ‘buzz’ about One Note spreading away from high-productivity offices and soaking into everyday life the way Outlook has, but I *really* want to suggest an area where people are QUICK to adopt new technology when they feel it’s WORTH the hassle of ‘switching over’.

    You are missing a significant market area: HOMESCHOOLERS.

    We (parents) have to organize at least as well as a classroom teacher with thirty pupils, yet we almost always have MULTIPLE GRADES to track. So we have to keep track of studies, "After-school" activities like 4H, volunteer hours, sports and music lessons, often even MORE.

    Especially for those of us who already make use of the Internet, One Note is *FABULOUS* for both teacher and student. Is it included in the "Student Edition" discounted software Microsoft offers periodically? That’s a good start.

    Making One Note more visible to those *outside* "business users" OR tablet users spreads the word in email, discussions, etc., that form the backbone of guerilla marketing.

    For those of us VERY aware of how much *paper* schoolwork even one child generates in a week, the ability to put assignments into a shared Notebook –and peruse the child’s finished papers, assembled research notes, etc., is a HUGE help. (Each kid has a shared notebook where they ‘file’ finished essays and short papers. I read them, make comments, and "send" them back.)

    The only two things One Note *really* needs are:an upgraded compatibility/cross-updating between OUTLOOK and One Note and a bit more information *up front* for access/disability modifications which are already part of Windows.

    Tackling the second, smaller issue first: I’ve ended up copying parts of the standard Help files and reorganizing them, along with the handful of helpful posts on the Internet which apply to my needs (putting everything in what else, One Note) to make up for the lack of those notes in the startup notebook.  Even a basic reminder of the Accessibility features AS they apply in One Note would be VERY helpful in the default Notebook.

    Trying to use Outlook as an organizer for lesson plans, making ‘appointments’ for assignments due  for two kids actually CRASHED my Outlook some years ago. Instead, I’d like to tag key assignments in my PLANNER notebook and turn them into TASKS in Outlook, AND have the option of bringing up the original One Note page when I mark something as DONE, because frankly, I need the reminder!

  33. Satisfy Me says:

    Mike Tholfsen is an energetic and dedicated senior test manager at Microsoft, and I’ve had the pleasure

  34. Dating says:

    It’s been awhile since I have posted anything here, and for that I feel shame. It’s just that Dan and John and others are doing such a great job. Another guy who’s doing a great job but isn’t blogging yet (he’s shy) is Mike Tholfsen. Mike is the test

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