Take Note on Word

Greetings from MacBU and Happy New Year!  As you probably know by now, Office 2008 RTM’ed last month and we’re thrilled to start off 2008 with our product launch at Macworld Expo San Francisco.  Next week, we’ll be awaiting everyone at our Macworld booth with demo stations, theatre presentations, and insider tips-and-tricks on Office 2008.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to provide in-depth postings on how we developed Office 2008.  Thus far, we’ve provided details on new suite-wide innovations and application-specific features in Office 2008.  However, developing new features is only part of our efforts --- we also invest in improving existing features based on customer feedback.  One example is Notebook Layout View, first introduced in Word 2004 and now further enhanced in Word 2008.  In this post, I will begin with a brief history of this feature and take you behind the scenes on how it was designed, developed, and further improved upon over the course of two releases of Word for Mac.

So first, what is Notebook Layout View?  Simply put, Notebook Layout View is a specialized workspace that resembles a spiral paper-based notebook, in which you can take notes, flag items, and record audio.  Below is a screenshot of the latest reincarnation of this feature in Word 2008.


For years Word has been used by our customers for a myriad of tasks, including note-taking.  Whether it is jotting down the occasional idea, keeping lecture notes, documenting meeting minutes, tracking action items, or simply keeping lists --- these all represent different variations of note-taking.   While many of our customers have used Word for note-taking, given the product’s origins as a word processor, the overall note-taking experience was not as optimal.  Basically, the traditional word processor metaphor did not lend well to the basic goals of note-taking: transcribe, organize, and follow-up.

In addition, some customers who hadn’t yet taken advantage of the convenience of electronic note-taking lamented over having scattered post-it notes or paper scribbles that were difficult to maintain, if not lost altogether.  Based on these findings, it became clear that we could offer improvements to Word 2004 to better serve these user needs --- hence what we referred to internally as “WordNotes” was born.

+ click to enlarge

When drawing up the initial prototypes, one of the most important design goals was that WordNotes resembled the most widely-used note-taking medium --- the paper-based notebook.   (Shown above is an early prototype of WordNotes in Word 2008).  Given the popularity of paper-based notebooks, adopting this metaphor ensured the feature was intuitive by virtue of being self-explanatory.  Any user familiar with the paper-based notebook should feel right at home with WordNotes. This meant WordNotes was to offer the following basic elements: Notebook Header, Rule Lines, and Notebook Tabs.

Sounds simple?  Well, not quite.  What sounded like a simple design goal presented a myriad of design challenges in light of the established user interfaces in age-old word processing applications like Word.   To make things more interesting, how do we add new functionality while remaining compatible with existing versions of Word?

After several weeks of evaluating the desired functionality in light of the underpinnings of Word, it turns out over the years we’ve already added most of the functionality needed to deliver WordNotes.  Prior to my role as the Word Program Manager Lead, I was the International Program Manager.  This past experience offered me insight into how a relatively unknown Word feature designed for our Japanese customers would come to form the structural basis of WordNotes: Document Grid (aka., Genko Yoshi).

The Japanese version of Word had long offered users to set the number of lines on a given page and their relative line spacing in between.  These lines weren’t just for cosmetic purposes, as their purpose was to ensure text laid out along the lines.  By leveraging this work, we were able to implement Notebook Rule Lines and ensure typed text stayed in sync with the lines. 

What about the Notebook Header and Notebook Tabs?  Again, we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.   Word’s traditional “Headers and Footers” functionality formed the basis of WordNotes’ Notebook Header, but with important usability enhancements.  One of such enhancements was that WordNote users could freely enter and exit the Notebook Header with a single click, without realizing that under the hood they actually entered Word’s regular “Header and Footer” mode (which was a “semi-modal” state for those familiar with the concept of modality). For Notebook tabs, we mapped them to Word “Sections” and further allowed them to be re-ordered as users re-ordered their corresponding Notebook tabs.  Given that WordNotes functionality was carefully built on top of existing Word document properties, WordNotes was therefore compatible with existing versions of Word.

Thus far, these all represented the overall UI framework of WordNotes.  What about that actual method of transcribing text in WordNotes?  For this, we turned to User Research for guidance.   Based on studies done on note-taking patterns of both professionals and students, we saw a high correlation between note-taking and outlining.  In particular, note-taking is typically done in the following four styles:

These studies demonstrated that the first two styles accounted for nearly all types of note-taking.  By preserving the hierarchical structure of an outline or list at the time of note-taking, end results were more organized and actionable, as opposed to simply being “a mess of notes”.  Based on these studies, we adopted an outlining method that best covers the first two note-taking styles. 

Again, to ensure WordNotes was compatible with all other versions of Word, we built the outlining functionality on existing Word properties, namely "Word Styles".  For those familiar with the inner-workings of Word, Styles are the backbone of the application.  Styles are present in every document and down to every typed character.  We created 9 new WordNotes-specific Styles --- each with unique paragraph, bullets, and level properties --- all of which could be viewed and edited in other Word Views.  

As noted earlier, one of main goals of note-taking is follow-up.   To this end, we provided a series of note flags and checkboxes that users can append to a given task or line item.  Items can be marked with High/Low Priority flags or checkboxes that can be checked off following their completion.  (Shown below)  Users can similarly mark an item as an Entourage Task by setting up a reminder that will appear on a user-specified date and time.

To further the goal of notes being actionable, we added advanced Search capabilities to WordNotes.  When typing in a keyword into the Search field on the Standard Toolbar, not only will the notebook tab of the corresponding section “light-up”, but the actual keyword in document will also be selected.  This is particularly useful when searching across lots of notes, whether it's a semester’s worth of lecture notes or long drawn out meeting minutes (not that I know of any such meetings...) 

Additionally, to help users more effectively capture notes in situations where one’s typing can’t keep up with the pace of say, a lecture or meeting, we’ve provided real-time Audio Recording.

Given that the audio is time-stamped at the time of text-entry, users can chose to listen to only a specific segment of the entire audio recording.  Students have found this to be a very useful feature --- some even export the audio recording onto their iPods to listen to.  A very creative way to use the product --- and in turn get good grades.J  (If only I had this feature when I was in school, it would have all turned out differently).

So that’s the development history of WordNotes, which was subsequently renamed “Notebook Layout View” prior to its official debut in Word 2004.

So, what did we improve in Word 2008?  Since the feature’s debut in Word 2004, we’ve received many feature requests, many of which we’ve been able to deliver in the new version.  Below are a few examples.  As noted earlier the ability to quickly organize notes is an important goal of note-taking.  Spiral paper-based notebooks often offer color tabs for organization.  In Word 2008, we’ve similarly added the ability to set the color of a notebook tab, which can be changed to another color later on.  Additionally, when consolidating notes between two Notebook Layout View documents, you can simply drag a notebook tab from one document to another document.  By adopting many of the newer API's made available in the OS, we've also improved the overall performance of the feature.

Furthermore, spiral paper-based notebooks often come in a wide variety of appearances that customers can choose from.  In Word 2008, we similarly provided 5 specially crafted Notebook Appearances, each with unique notebook paper and tab designs.

+ click here to enlarge

In keeping with Mac tradition, we’ve paid special attention to the visual fidelity of each Notebook Layout View UI element --- whether it’s the new photo-illustrative Notebook Layout View icon, soft drop-shadows from notebook pages, translucent notebook tabs, or the metal sheen on notebook rings --- all were crafted and refined to deliver a polished yet elegant Mac-like experience.  Each notebook appearance can further be complemented with one of the special pasteboard backgrounds described in my earlier posts. Since notes are often no more than a single-page shopping list --- we’ve also covered this scenario with ring-less paper designs.  

So there you have it --- Notebook Layout View, reinvented.  Looking back, this feature has come a long way since the first moment that sparked the idea of “WordNotes”.  This goes as far back to Macworld Expo San Francisco of 2003.  Sitting amongst the crowds during the Keynote, I gazed upon the newly unveiled products, including the sleek aluminum alloy12” and 17” PowerBooks.  On stage, Steve Jobs heralded 2003 as the “Year of the Notebook”, where notebook computers represented the “next wave” that would eventually surpass desktop models in popularity.  What came to mind (other than “I want one!”) was “what could we do to make Word a better companion to these amazing notebook computers?”  Well, perhaps something that captured the essence of a “notebook” --- an information hub for our increasingly digital lifestyles.  After all, what good is a notebook if it doesn’t take good notes?

Fast-forward a couple years and my Notebook Layout View-equipped MacBook Pro has become indispensible.  I’ve since retired my old paper-based notebooks, my office is no longer scattered with post-it notes, and I’ve hopefully saved a few more trees.  As we’re riding this exciting wave of mobile computing, I hope you’ll also find Notebook Layout View to be your personal and dependable companion along the way.

Han-yi Shaw

Comments (32)

  1. Andrew says:

    The last time I used Word 2004 to take an audio recording it crashed at the end of the meeting. I lost the entire recording. Pissed off is an understatement. I swore never to use the Word audio recording feature again. It will take a lot to convince me to give it another shot.

  2. William Gallagher says:


    Very interesting post: I’ve used the audio capture part of the Notes layout in Word 2004 but not really examined anything else. I look forward to playing with the new version!

    One thing: you do use the phrase "a myriad of" a couple of times and it’s my bugbear, the one incredibly common mistake that throws me out of a paragraph. If I may, it should be just "myriad". So instead of "a myriad of design challenges", it’s just "myriad design challenges".

    Think of it like the word "endless". It doesn’t mean that but the structure’s the same; you’d say "endless design challenges", not "a endless of them".

    Forgive me, just had to say that.

    Can’t wait for Word 2008; still wish it had VBA, mind.


  3. Enterprise Mac User says:

    Instead of creating non standard, cross platform catastrophes, why build a OneNote for the Mac? What about a native Outlook client for the Mac? Please realign your priorities, because theres a lot of users that want interoperability between Mac/Windows Offices, and you don’t care. Thats why I hate Apple and Mac users, because they are too arrogant about their useless, and very simplistic platform.

  4. Silviams says:


    I have been using a lot this function in Word 2004. The one thing I would love to see in 2008 it the ability to associate someone from my address book as the "owner" of a task. This would be a great way to send todo’s to others in Entourage…

    Is this in 2008?

  5. Eric P says:

    Am I the only one that sees this feature as a great compliment for a Mac tablet PC (ala the ModBook, but much smaller)?  

    Ahh, one can still dream.

  6. Joe says:

    How about shipping the product on time?  When we ordered the new product we were told that it would be received at the time of MacWorld.  many users are not getting notes saying the product is back-ordered and won’t get here until the end of January.  While it’s not that huge of a deal, it doesn’t give one confidence that MS can actually deliver what you say it will.  Keeping promises is important.  Breaking them causes folks to loose confidence.

    Please give us a blog entry dealing purely with delivery times.



  7. Peter Yang says:

    Okay, so after reading the whole post, I identified the new features as

    – Setting colors of notebook tabs

    – Dragging tabs from document to document

    – New notebook appearances and designs

    None of those features can be termed reinventing. So allow me to correct your wording:

    "So there you have it – Notebook Layout View, trivially improved."

    How about a direct comparison with OneNote for Windows? Windows users rave about it but apparently Mac users have been left out (as with many other things Microsoft).

  8. Rahul Karnik says:

    So am I correct in understanding that the only new features for Notebook Layout in Word 2008 are cosmetic? Is there new functionality that was not listed?

  9. Kev says:

    Can you print in notebook view so that the printed sheet looks like it did on screen? (i.e. hole-punch, rules, grids, bullets, checkmarks)

  10. Geoff says:

    My experience with Notebook mode in Word 2004 was limited to "hmm, that’s different."

    Now I’ve gone back to school, and seeing this makes me anxious to try it out once 2008 arrives. I imagine it will fill a gap in my workflow nicely, perhaps even as well as a Mac port of OneNote would.

    Thanks for the exposé.

  11. Morgan says:

    Thanks for this!  I love the fact that the mac version of word incorporates and improves upon a featureset not found in the Windows version.

    I use this in word 2004 whenever I have to take notes in meetings, and it’s a life saver.  Stability is about the only minor complaint I have ever had – occasionally with long meetings, I’ve not been able to save and have been unhappy to say the least.

    but overall it’s a great tool for conference calls, class notes and internal meetings.

    looking forward to using this in 2008.

  12. BobR says:

    I’ve used both Notebook in Word 2004 and OneNote 2007 extensively. They are just different. Where as Notebook is simply a juvenile view of Word, OneNote is an actual digital notebook.

    Notebook kinda sucks. OneNote can be pretty useful.

  13. I Love Office 2008 says:

    Notebook Layout View reminds me of the mythical Lotus Organizer which had rings on pages 😉


    Office 2008’s ones are much much nicer looking.

    I’m very happy that Office 2008 has such wonderful  features!

    I can’t wait for February!!!!!

    Office 2008 will rule the world!

    Thank You Mac BU!

  14. Eric says:

    You’re making me wish for a Mac Notepad!

    Great looking feature. I might actually give it a try. 😀

  15. Han-yi Shaw says:

    To those wondering if we made more improvements to Word 2008’s Notebook Layout View than those listed in my blog post, the answer is yes.  🙂  My post went into greater detail on the major UI overhaul since that aspect garnered the most interest from our early users. My post wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, so there is more to look forward to in our latest version.  

    Again, improvements were based on user feedback, with special focus on improved usability, performance, and stability.  Below are a couple more examples with additional technical detail…  Again, not meant to be exhaustive. 🙂

    Audio Recording

     – Improved AutoRecovery of Audio files

     – For Audio Playback, added option to include lead-in time prior to playback, as opposed to starting abruptly

     – Provided a toggle to always show audio markers in the document

     – Streamlined Audio Recording Preferences

    Notebook Tabs

     – Added continuous upward/downward scrolling when dragging notebook tabs

     – Adding a new notebook tab places it after insertion point, as opposed to bottom of screen

    Scribbler and Eraser

     – Eraser now erases when dragging over multiple items

     – Improved accuracy of eraser during drag movements

     – Streamlined Formatting Palette controls for Scribbler

    Adopt new graphics API’s for modernized on-screen rendering

     – Rewrote drawing of Notebook Layout View UI from QuickDraw to Quartz for improved performance and new graphics capabilities

     – Adopted HIViews for modern graphics capabilities

  16. Han-yi Shaw says:

    To kev,

    Notebook Layout View prints through Word’s normal printing routines, which means that it doesn’t include such UI elements as notebook rings, rulers, and hole-punches.

    However, bullets, checkboxes, and note flags are considered in-document content so these do print.  

    As always, we continue to welcome user feedback for future improvements.  

  17. Clark Richey says:

    This sounds a lot like OneNote that has been available on Windows for a while. Will it be compatible with the OneNote files I have on Windows?

  18. MacMurphy says:

    Wow.  A lot of hostility between Mac and PC users.  The guys in the commercial seem to be getting along – even like each other – but the folks posting comments here seem to dislike each other immensely.  Interesting for folks to realize this is a Microsoft Website – not a Mac website.

  19. Trevor says:

    to Clark Richey:

    No, I don’t believe that OneNote is compatible with Word. OneNote uses its own file format, ".one" instead of ".doc" or ".docx".

    You can, however, export from OneNote to .doc, .pdf, and others, but the exporting isn’t very pretty from .one to .doc. After I realized that OneNote wasn’t compatible with Mac, I immediately ditched the program (as I am going to get a MacBook pretty soon here) in anticipation of Word Notebook View.

  20. Greg says:

    Unless I missed it in the blog entry, I saw no mention of whether notebook view would support a face-to-face view–i.e., as Word 2004 does when in Page Layout view and one stretches the view enough.  Given I have a MacBook Pro, I appreciate the ability to view two pages at the same time, taking advantage of the  widescreen monitor, while taking law school notes.  Will Word 2008 allow that sort of view in Notebook format.  I would absolutely LOVE that.

  21. Ted downing says:

    Taking notes is not simply about the appearance of the page, it is also about research capacity to USE the notes later on. This is difference between ONE NOTE (MS Office 2007) and Note on Mac Word (either 2004 or 2008).  The ability to clip and past from Safari (Explore) into a note page is very valuable in One Note. The keeping of the url references under the clippings is valuable in reconstructing where information was found.  The Synchronization of notebooks among different computers is CRITICAL if one is taking notes in the lab and then in the office – or on a home and laptop on the same topic.  I take notes that way and One Note syncs my work….meaning I don’t have to waste time sync’ing different notebooks.  Good grief, such naive development teams…who don’t look beyond the LAYOUT to the USE.  Embarrassing.

  22. MacManWA says:

    @Ted: I totally agree.

    The model for how note taking works in Word is completely broken.  It isn’t easy to put in screen clippings like One Note and within a single "section", you can’t add extra pages like in a real notebook, it just becomes a reeeeally long page.  When printing it breaks it up, but visually, it doesn’t.

    So the "sections" in the Note view are actually more like "pages" in a notebook as they are actually different pages (visually).  And the fact that I have to have a whole bunch of different Word docs that have individual notebooks in them if I truly want to break my content up by projects, then the projects by subjects (tabs), rather than just one like One Note is completely crazy.  Trying to remember which document had which notebook that I created is not what I call organized and efficient.

    For goodness sake, just rip out the note taking feature from Word, and actually finish it as a One Note client application–until you do, it is visual candy that has low utility.

  23. Eric Fandrich says:

    Please don’t tell me about the shine on the binder rings as a ‘feature’, or ‘Mac-like’. That kind of attention to detail is the starting line, not the finish, and you should be embarrased of the lack of such attention in other products if that is the case.

    While you have held meetings on the sheen level for binder rings, you seem to have neglected a fundamental design issue in laptops: available screen real estate as a productivity constraint.

    The typical laptop screen is constrained in the vertical (in the case of the MacBooks, severely constrained – proof that Apple is not really the king of human/machine interfaces). Due to the extreme cinematic aspect ratio of recent products, the laptop screen is fundamentally different than the workspace of a notepad.

    Take a look at your own screenshot above.

    You present the Window as a relatively square 4:3 aspect ration. Even so, there is plenty of space to the side of the document, unused by the application. At the same time, the extremely limited vertical space is compromised by the top and bottom menus and information sections.

    If you want to talk about ‘Mac-like’, take the initiative and do something new, groundbreaking in human-machine interface design that provides real productivity benefits to users.

    (As you know, Japanese, English is hard to write top/down, right-to-left.)

    Please don’t tell me about the sheen on faux interface items.

  24. Mike Perry says:

    Any chance in the future you might modify WordNotes to allow something like the Cornell Notes system described at:


    And here:


    Here’s how it’s defined there:

    "Forty years ago, Walter Pauk (1989) developed what is known as the Cornell notetaking technique to help Cornell University students better organize their notes. Today, Pauk’s notetaking technique is probably the most widely used system throughout the United States."

    There’s still more here:


    Linking this popular paper-based note taking system with an audio recording so notes could be tweaked later would be wonderful.

    Mike Perry, Untangling Tolkien

  25. Faramond says:

    "For Notebook tabs, we mapped them to Word ‘Sections’ and further allowed them to be re-ordered as users re-ordered their corresponding Notebook tabs."

    Wonderful! But why don’t ALL sections work this way, including in normal (i.e., non-notebook) documents?

    Users should be able to rearrange, add and delete, merge and split, and reformat sections with simple tabs, as well as creating them from external sources–like how Excel already works. The way Word currently is, sections are a mystery to the average user, and a bane to the expert. They’re hard to see, counterintuitive, and tend to destroy layout and impede the creation of multi-author documents. It’s a real shame, as sections otherwise could be very powerful layout and authoring tools.

  26. [gregory] says:

    in response to the comment on ‘myriad’ by William Gallagher:: both ‘myriad design challenges’ and ‘a myriad of design challenges’ are correct in use. Historically, myriad was used to express a static number, ten thousand, but today its use can entail both ‘endless’ and ‘large number’.

    on the note taking topic: i use onenote (on a tablet pc) and, though i can type faster than i can write notes, i do like to be able to ink quick doodles with my notes.

    but if you prefer a really simple text notes with tabs software, an open source alternative is available for windows users: keynote; v1.6.4 available at sourceforge (not to be confused with apple’s ppt alternative keynote)

  27. Antonio says:

    I rely heavily on Notebook and especially the audio recording feature as I am a senior in college.  The problem is that when taking notes with audio in a 2+ hour lecture, notebook crashes when I save and when closing the document almost always.  I have succumbed to a very strange procedure: saving throughout the lecture, and at the very end I hit quit and then the window asks me whether to save and I click save–all while still recording.  This still crashes sometimes, but not as much.  Also, if I am recording a lecture and have another notebook document open (say looking at a past lecture) it is inevitable that the document that I am recording crashes and I lose everything.

    This SUCKS as I lose valuable information regularly (including today!!).  This happens to almost all my friends who use Office 2004 and Notebook.  I hope that 2008 does not do this or I will be seriously pissed off at MS!!

    By the way I have a brand new Macbook Pro 2.4ghz with 2GB Ram and 160 GB hardrive.  i know it isn’t the MAC…

  28. James says:

    Han-yi Shaw,

    I for one would love to be able to print the lines and hole punch when I print it out. Yea it wastes more ink, but it asthetically pleasing actually makes it easier for me to read. Of course thats my opinion, but it should be at least an option.

  29. shalini says:

    It would be great if we’re able to print the lines. It would organise the notes, which is a great option for students. Is it possible for it to be an option?

  30. Brian says:

    I have a recording studio and love macs for this purpose: Generally they are work horses and do not needed to be pampered like PC’s.

    However, PC’s continue to be the stronghold in word processing and compatibility is the reason for it. ie.. from Dell to HP to Toshiba to Sony. All documents will open properly provided the same or similar software is installed. (they speak the speak language)

    Since most people who have mac’s at home have PC’s at their place of work, why are there so many compatibility issues between the software?

    It’s as if the 2 are relaying a message that macs are for fun and pc’s are for business. (think about it)…

    I don’t think it is fair to bash Mac lovers for this product, especially since it is developed by Microsoft. Whether this is a watered-down version of OneNote or vice versa is not what I’m asking. Rather, if the two are not cross compatible, whats the point?

    do the mac users need to go to one side of the room and the windows users the the other? Integrate please!

  31. naomi says:

    It is unreal that you can’t print the lines. When in a view, you should be able to print exactly how it looks onscreen. I liked being able to make my own lined paper so much that I now use notebook view and load up the paper with A4 blue-lined pages from a pad! For me this is another example of Microsoft’s useless almost-there functions.

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