Linking related notes together (really)

So the planned segue into this topic in my previous post was buried way up near the top where I said I received a piece of e-mail with a link. That innocuous-sounding statement is glossing over a fair amount of technology. This is the link in question (slightly censored):


Ugly, huh? This is the crazy behind-the-scenes version of the link… by the time we ship it will look more like this:

Persona Presentation

The reason for showing you the behind-the-scenes version is mostly so you see the onenote:// at the beginning. This is the technical starting point for a bunch of cool work we did to enable you to link notes together, link into your notes from other applications, and point other people at notes you share with them.

To take a real-world example, recently I've been giving a lot of presentations on OneNote 12 to customers and these generally involve demonstrations of the product. A product demo is a little bit of performance art in the middle of your typical corporate day, and I enjoy them and try to do them well. Which means, to me, not being slick and practiced, but rather making it real - showing something that a makes someone say "wait a minute, I have that problem - you solved my problem!"

To that end, I make considerable use of my "Customer feedback" section while creating demo notes. That section contains all manner of customer information I've accumulated, among which are a few super-high-value pages containing e-mail threads, personal insights, and/or meeting notes where I really "got it" - understood the value of OneNote to a particular customer. These feed directly into my demos.

So when I'm sketching out a demo, I'm often basing it on other information in OneNote, and aching for some way to just stick in a link to that other note. In OneNote 2003, the best you could do - if you were quite clever - was to insert a file:// link to another section. Couldn't get you to the exact page, was difficult to construct, broke if the other thing moved, etc.

In OneNote 12, when you right-click on a page tab, there's a new menu command called "Copy Hyperlink to this Page":

When you select this, OneNote builds a onenote:// hyperlink to the current page and puts it on the clipboard. Then you just navigate to the page where you want to insert the link, paste, and voila - OneNote inserts a nicely formatted friendly link (for example: Linking related notes together).

There are a bunch of technical reasons why it needs to be a onenote:// link, instead of the more common http:// or file:// links - most of which aren't relevant to this discussion. The one that matters here is that this allows the link to point at a specific page, not just a specific section. (There are actually ways to do this with http:// links, but we couldn't go that route for other reasons.) When you click on this link, it instantly jumps you to that page in your notes, scrolled to wherever you were the last time you looked at that page.

Now this is where it gets cool. First, this link works inside or outside of OneNote. You can paste it into a document, click on it, and bam! OneNote opens you to that page. You can even put it into e-mails and web pages - although this gets into a couple of details about sharing, which I'll cover in a moment. Second, if the page that this link points to moves, no sweat - OneNote fill find it again. Third - this is my favorite part, and where the segue at the beginning will start to make sense - these links aren't limited to pages. You can link to anything in OneNote.

Right-click on a section tab in OneNote:

A notebook:

A specific paragraph on a page (or a picture, or an attachment, or an audio recording):

You get the idea.

Now, if you're working in a shared notebook, links can have extra value because they're not just for your reference or convenience - they can call someone else's attention to relevant information that they might otherwise miss. Plus, the ability to link all the way down to a paragraph means that it's really easy to send someone a mail that says "here's the exact thing I'm talking about: link" that will jump them directly to the exact location in the shared notebook.

Additionally, when you send someone a link that's inside a shared notebook, if they don't already have a button for that notebook on their navigation bar (in our parlance, if they don't have that notebook open), then OneNote automatically opens it for them, which means that a button shows up on their navigation bar, the notebook is automatically cached for offline use, indexed for inclusion in searches, etc.

And that feeds into another scenario where we use these links, which is for inviting other people to shared notebooks. There's a new Share menu in OneNote 12, and one of the choices on it is "Send Shared Notebook Link to Others…" which creates an e-mail containing a link to the shared notebook (we also do this for you automatically when you create a shared notebook). All you have to do is fill out the list of recipients and click send. When they receive that mail, all they have to do to "join" the notebook is click on the link. That's it - one click and they're in. (To be fair, I am glossing over the details here of permissions, but most people have an H: drive or shared server for the team's use where the permissions are already set appropriately - so in most cases it will truly be this simple.)

And that's linking in OneNote 12, in a not very small nutshell.

Comments (29)

  1. Louie says:

    Hi Owen,

    Great post. A few related questions.

    Is it possible to give certain individuals read access and others read/write? For example on a project where everyone needs to be able to view the information but only certain individuals are allowed to change it.

    Is it possible to recover information? If I send out a link and someone ‘corrects’ my notes, is it possible to get my notes back if it transpires that the changes the other person made was wrong and as a result I’ve lost valuable info?

    Also if you send a link to a paragraph, what do the other user actually get on their side. The whole page/section or notebook? Can they then edit all of it? What I’m getting at is how carefull am I going to have to be when sending out links to my OneNote notebook.?Where do I put sensitive or personal stuff so people can’t get at it?

    Thanks again for all the insight into OneNote.


  2. Mikewo says:

    Excellent! Thank you for this feature. I’ve been wanting OneNote to do this since I started using it two years ago.

    Keep up the good "what’s coming" articles!

  3. Andy Y. Lin says:

    I’m confused. Can you move the section around and the link still works? Or only if you move the page or paragraph around inside the section itself?

  4. Andy Y. Lin says:

    Also, I think I see some drawing tools there. 😉

  5. Tim says:

    I drool… and it ships next year. There is going to be a massive puddle by the time is ships.

    Can one get on the beta list? Please? 🙂

  6. owenb says:

    Great questions!

    Louie –

    OneNote leaves the permissions management up to the server that’s hosting the shared notebook. In other words, whoever creates the shared notebook and decides what server to put it on is also implicitly deciding who else can access it. (If you have sufficient priveleges you can always go change that, and if you share out notebooks from your own machine you have complete control over this as well, using the standard Windows file sharing UI.)

    OneNote makes backup copies of all notebooks you have open automatically in the background (same as in the first version – you can control the frequency and how many are kept in Tools>Options). So everyone who works on a shared notebook will have backups of their own versions that they can roll back to (for at least a day, anyway, until they get aged out). We’re still evaluting whether this is sufficient for the shared scenarios.

    When you send out links, you aren’t implicitly changing any permissions – that’s all controlled by the server. And no actual content is included in the link, aside from the path & ID. So if the notebook is secured appropriately, you can send out links without fear of revealing anything you didn’t mean to.

    Andy –

    Re: drawing tools, stay tuned :).

    On your other question, links to paragraphs will continue to find the paragraph as long it remains on the same page (no matter where you move it). Links to pages will continue to find the page in all but extreme cases (even if you move the page to another notebook). If you move a paragraph to a different page, we treat is as though it was deleted from that page and OneNote falls back to just navigating to that page. This is a conscious heuristic because cut-pasting a paragraph isn’t necessarily always a deliberate "move the links to this thing" kind of operation, whereas for a page it probably is. So far this approach is working pretty well, but it’s one of the places we’ll be seeking feedback from beta users.

    Tim – there will be a public beta during the first half of next year. Hang in there :).

  7. Richard says:

    It sounds like I could use this for two things: 1) I could post a OneNote file to our server that had class notes let’s say – notes I don’t want students to be able to edit… 2) I could post a OneNote file I wanted everyone to be able to add to and edit with, say, a test-like question and have students post their proposed answer, with links to specific parts of the notes that back up their views, and responses from others who disagreed with a link to something that backed up their views…. and hyperlinks or screen clips to other sources of info too of course…

  8. Louie says:

    Thanks for the answers Owen, sounds great. Can’t wait anymore, got my invite to the office beta last week, hopefully this includes OneNote. Now I just got to get picked 🙂


  9. ray says:

    The one thing I get from the last two posts is that shared notebooks do not have a concept of history (who changed what, when).

    Is this true?

    If it does not have this, are you looking at introducing this?

    Word has a "Track Changes" feature, wikis keep a full history, SharePoint lets you keep revisions. All for a reason – not everyone does The Right Thing 🙂

    Also, related to this: are there plans to introduce any OneNote level security, rather than just file level security?

  10. Brent says:

    I am very excited about this linking ability. Does the linking feature extend beyond putting links to ON into other apps? What I need is to put a link from another app into ON. My main database/library program uses a similar linking tag (which works in IE and Word 2003). Will all hyperlinks that currently work in Word 2003 finally work in ON?

  11. m-dawg says:

    Owen –

    Been following Chris’s blog for awhile, glad to see you posting too! Great information about the linking features in ON 12. I was wondering if any changes have been made to Note Flags and if so, if you would speak to them. I am really hoping to see that become more robust.


  12. GRiNSER says:

    I like the new stuff in onenote 12 very much!

    but one thing i have to question is:

    why are there no ribbons in onenote?

    it would be great if the new office would have a consistent UI in every of its containing programs…

  13. Alok says:

    Excellent feature. But what really blew my mind was ‘squadron’ of notebooks! Sounds wierd, but heck, it sounds classy too :P. But since I’m right now using a trial version of OneNote downloaded from MS, I’m waiting for this version to come out! Tho, using it on a PC doesnt make much sense, unless I’m using it on a notebook, or a laptop… and even using it on that, wouldn’t make much of a diff, cuz in India, Colleggs don’t have the funda of using a pc/laptop for taking nots. Anyways great developments!

  14. Aaron Moore says:

    Hi Owen,

    Is there a way to open a .pdf file from a link in OneNote with an application other than Acrobat? I have changed the association in Windows, and clicking directly on the file in Windows Explorer opens it in the other application, but clicking on the link in OneNote still opens it in Acrobat. Any thoughts?

    Thank you.

  15. Chris says:

    Any chance of these links being able to pass variables, from the command line? So we could send a linked flash or video file to a particular point?

  16. Beta 1 of "OneNote 12" (and "Office12") is now available for download for those people who are signed…

  17. mike says:

    How to get the hyperlink of current/active page with ON2007 beta2 Microsoft.Office.Interop.OneNote library?

  18. Kevin Spear says:

    What would be really cool is the ability to automatically paste the hyperlink to an "issue" page that everyone in the group reads regularly.  Maybe a button that creates the hyperlink and automatically drops the link in a list on a page specific page specified in the settings.  Or, is there a way to write VBA/record a macro to do this now?

  19. I like OneNote and I like SharePoint.  I hope that "12" will make them a lot more compatible. Saving a "page" or a "page group" to a SharePoint site is less than effective. Either the save as a ".one" includes a lot more than is intended (even though a page group is selected) or a save as ".doc" results in a lock up of OneNote. A save as ".mht" works great but… not much to be done with with the file after that.

    I would love to see sharing of OneNote be very compatible with SharePoint rather than a mapped drives.  Is there any action coming in these area?

    Thanks for your considerations.

    My company is a Gold Partner that does a lot of SharePoint work for clients.

  20. Beta 1 of "OneNote 12" (and "Office12") is now available for download for those people who are signed

  21. Grjcepop says:

    Great page! I think it’s cool! When is the next update?

  22. Trpkxray says:

    Hi! Very nice and beautifull place! Keep it!

  23. Josh says:

    I can’t get the links created from OneNote 2007 trial to work in Outlook.  I get an email with something like


    But Outlook ignores the initial "onenote://" and just marks from "file://" on as the link.

    Any ideas?

  24. Trey Selman says:

    When I link (to a section, page, or paragraph) from a certain external application I get a dialog box asking me if I want to open the notebook (recommended) or the section.

    This happens if the

    The link works but why the dialog box?

    The application is Libronix Digital Library System or Logos Bible Software.

    Thanks for the great product! It is awesome!

  25. Bill says:

    when printing (sending to ON) a pdf file w internal links, the links disappear. Any workaround?

  26. Ashish says:

    When I am making hyperlink in one note, it works perfectly in one note, but when i save it as mhtl format and opens in browser,it doesn’t works and search for one note file.pls help.

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