Microsoft Brings OneNote 2016 Back from the Dead

Posted on November 4, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Office 365, Office, Windows 10 with 56 Comments

Surprise! Microsoft revealed today that it will extend support for OneNote 2016 and begin adding new features again.

“Microsoft is extending mainstream support for OneNote 2016. Users who prefer it should continue using it,” the firm revealed quietly in its “Book of News” for Ignite 2019. “Office 365 subscribers will begin to see more features rolling out, starting with Dark Mode. The team is working hard to bring additional premium value features to OneNote for Office 365 subscribers next year, such as collaboration capabilities you’re used to in other Office apps, like @mentions for quickly pulling collaborators into your notebooks.”

Microsoft used to maintain two major versions of OneNote on desktop, OneNote 2016, which was part of the Office 2016 suite, and OneNote for Windows 10. But in April 2018, the firm announced that it would no longer update OneNote 2016, nor would it upgrade the application for Office 2019. Instead, OneNote for Windows 10 became the default OneNote experience, and it has been updated steadily ever since.

Well, cue the record-scratch because Microsoft is reversing course. It will once again maintain two major versions of OneNote on desktop, and it will add new features to each.

At least, I believe that’s the case: It’s possible that OneNote for Windows 10 will quietly fall by the wayside now as well. I guess we’ll need to wait and see what happens.

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Comments (56)

56 responses to “Microsoft Brings OneNote 2016 Back from the Dead”

  1. ronh

    I like  OneNote for Windows 10 on my surface, and OneNote 2016 on my PC with a very large screen. I hope they eventually get feature parity

    • kevin_costello

      In reply to RonH:

      Agreed! While I like the new OneNote on the iPad I love the 2016 experience on laptops — and especially how easy it is to organize the Notebooks and how “Section Groups” work.

    • wright_is

      In reply to RonH:

      The biggest feature missing in OneNote for Windows 10 is the ability to open and edit OneNote files!

      To misquote an old TV ad, it doesn't do what it says on the tin.

  2. wkriker

    I have never given up hope. I found a link on Microsoft where you could download OneNote 2016 and have been using it all along. I have even passed along the link to those who were not happy with OneNote for Window's. I do use it daily (many times a day) for most all my serious note taking. It's power is wonderful.

  3. jimchamplin

    Nice, nice. But the one thing that makes it hard to go back to 2016 is that I've gotten so used to the navigation in the UWP version that the tabs across the top now feel clunky.

  4. Rob_Wade

    I just don't understand this. What is it about the 2016 version of OneNote that people are hot for? And why a "desktop" version as opposed to the "Store" version? None of this makes any sense to me.

    • karlinhigh

      In reply to Rob_Wade:

      At least one person here needed OneNote to open local files. Apparently Store UWP OneNote is cloud-only, and couldn't comply with data security regulations.

    • rpspiker

      In reply to Rob_Wade:

      The only way I've found to manage the properties is in the 2016 version. I have a notebook for each client, about 30 notebooks and I like to store them in the client folder. I've not figured out how to do this in the Windows or O365 version. But right click on the notebook name in the 2016 version provides properties which give me control of the OneNote Notebook.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Rob_Wade:

      I just don't understand this.

      Could you understand this?

      I figure MSFT's telemetry shows more Office 2016 desktop OneNote usage than Windows 10 OneNote applet usage. If so, MSFT is just following where the users are.

      As for Store version, MSFT has apparently deprecated Store versions of Office 365 programs, and they've also made it difficult to find the mobile apps.

      I don't use OneNote, so I don't know what features the desktop version provides, but if it has an object model and supports VBA, then in theory it's capable of a helluva lot more than the applet version.

    • Byron Adams

      In reply to Rob_Wade:

      Windows store apps "Blank Screen" or should I say "Blank App" when I move to a different desktop. After a short time I press Alt+tab to switch and all the windows store apps have colored shapes, no live preview... they must be woken from their sleep.

      OneNote 2016 allows me to have some semi-automatic workflows. I can click on links and launch my .bat file, old folders, stuff that is not allowed in the OneNote store app.

      Those are my big problems but there are many more.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Rob_Wade:

      The ability to open and work on OneNote documents, for a start! OneNote for Windows 10 cannot open .one files, it can only work on its own cloudy files.

      For data protection and compliance reasons, only .one files stored within the company firewall are acceptable, which OneNote for Windows 10 can't see.

    • Steven Ball

      In reply to Rob_Wade:

      I use OneNote 2016 daily on my employer provided laptop, because the Windows store has been disabled so I cannot install the UWP version.

  5. Daekar

    I only stopped using 2016 because we were told the UWP version would be updated moving forward. Will be very happy to move back, the "modern" version never had feature parity.

  6. maktaba

    This is great news!

  7. pbeiler1

    Pros and Cons ...

    Pro ... 2016 has more functionality

    Such as in spell-checking on/off features.

    Like that it updates with the Office Suite products

    Con ... The interface (look) between the browser and 2016 versions is different.

    WishList ... Want to see one "look" across Desktop/Browser/Etc. I'm torn, as to which layout I prefer. I can get used to either.

  8. north of 49th

    I live in OneNote at work and I don't think the UWP version would be supported for several reasons people have outlined in the comments. Just by the sheer number of responses to this article, it is telling how important this application is for a lot of people. I have to believe there was an outcry somewhere from the user base about the death of OneNote2016. I appreciate whoever was listening at Microsoft and hope to see an OneNote 2020.

  9. melkiades

    Best news all day! The 2016 interface keeps my data more accessible. Glad to move back to it.

  10. Jim Lewis

    Great! The mobile version of OneNote is great for being "lite." I use it all the time on an 8-in. Win10 tablet with pen. But it lacks the features that I value for desktop use of OneNote with a mouse and keyboard. Desktop OneNote serves as a "memory" of stuff I want to remember about history and upkeep of home and yard on the one hand and at the other extreme, organizing useful information from the Internet that I want to keep track of without having to Google or Bing for it again and engage in a big Easter egg hunt. Thank You, Microsoft!

  11. ZeroPageX

    Excellent! Can I get it back if I have Office 365 and it's already been force uninstalled?

    • VMax

      In reply to ZeroPageX:

    • wright_is

      In reply to ZeroPageX:

      It is there in my Office 365 installation. Just ran an update.

      As we are only allowed to use local OneNote files (shared on an in-house file server) for legal reasons, this is great news!

  12. hrlngrv

    Could this reversal be due to built-in Windows 10 OneNote usage trailing Office 2015 OneNote usage? Perhaps the sheer force of usage obliged MSFT to change its position.

  13. dontbeevil


    OneNote 2016

    Your Office 365 subscription unlocks:

    Local notebook support

    OneNote for Windows 10

    Your Office 365 subscription unlocks:

    Ink replay


    Math Assistant


    and more to come

  14. huddie

    I switched from OneNote 2016 to OneNote UWP on my work PC a couple of weeks ago. Not because I thought I had to as 2016 was being dropped, but because I use OneNote across multiple devices all the time. It bothered me that the work PC OneNote had a very different UI to the others (Android phone and UWP on personal laptop). Switching between OneNotes was just awkward.

    Microsoft need to improve OneNote UWP integration with O365, but I'm happy enough now. I was able to manually place Send to OneNote controls in the relevant O365 app forms but it was a pain. Also, I hope they improve pen support in OneNote Android, which currently is lagging behind OneNote iPadOS. Other than that, the OneNote dev team need full respect, as it's amazing.

  15. mclark2112

    This is surprising, but I thought it may happen when MS killed UWP. Good news.

  16. jesam

    Today we say this, tomorow it might be the other way round. Get your act together.

  17. mattbg

    Great news. This seems like one of those halo products like XBox, Visual Studio Code, etc. that people who wouldn't normally gravitate toward Microsoft have an affinity for because it's just so useful. It needs to be treated as a first-class app.

  18. techreader

    Yeah, surprise. Ay yay yay.

  19. Stooks

    This kind of stuff is truly irritating from Microsoft.

    Adding new features in Windows 10 that most will never use, don't use them, it harms nothing. The occasional bug found in a big release (1809) that impacts edge case users (relocating default Windows folders and using OneDrive at the same time) well, you should BACKUP YOUR shiite up and get your booger hook away from the mouse button that is refreshing the update screen so you can update to the latest build, milliseconds after it is released.

    Changing directions on a app that is both highly used and highly liked, only to reverse direction again is simply irritating. We use Office 365 and we have been pushing our OneNote users to the Windows 10, UWP, version for that last year. Yes it has less features but I doubt our users even know this. From a UI perspective it looks way more like the Mac, Web, iOS and Android versions of OneNote.

    Is Microsoft going to put this in future Office 365 installs? Will they provide a separate link for the download? Will it even work with Office 365 or will you have to jump through hoops like you do to get Visio and project installed along side Office 365.

    Two steps forward, one step back.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Stooks:

      If it weren't irritating from time to time, would we be able to recognize it as MSFT?

      MSFT isn't populated with fools. They may have other character defects, but they're not stupid. Odds are their telemetry shows more desktop version usage, so MSFT may be cutting its losses concentrating on the Store/UWP/applet version.

      On a tangent, with Office 365 programs generally able to work easily with files on OneDrive, what advantage does the Store/UWP/applet version provide other than being simpler (because less capable) than the desktop version?

    • Alain Sylvestre

      In reply to Stooks: the OneNote Windows 10 was an inferior product compare to the full Onenote 2016. My daugther hate it when she could not share a page but just the whole .one not like the full onenote, where she could share jut the page with her friend.

  20. kleimark

    Good to hear.

    I am using OneNote 2016 heavily and really tried out OneNote for Windows as a replacement in the Enterprise, but I never become happy with it.

  21. sno_wacko

    I'm really happy about this because I've had more than one customer using the built in Win 10 version lose entire notebooks unrecoverable because that version does not have backup - and the new cloud sync does not actually create files in OneDrive, just links. Now I can tell them all to go back to using 2016 and setting up the backup settings.

    • overseer

      In reply to sno_wacko:

      Those backups are a must. I'm an office365 admin at a university and have had a number of people lose data in OneNote, it simply isn't reliable enough for an enterprise application. And if you don't have local backups of that data then you are just out of luck.

      Friends don't let friends trust important data to OneNote.

  22. Stooks

    In reply to dontbeevil:

    I do not plan on going back, unless the next bit of news is that they ditch the UWP version for an updated Win32 version as part of Office 365. As long as notes still open I guess it does not matter.

  23. thalter

    Luckily there we don't have to deal with this nonsense on the Mac. There is only one OneNote client, which appears to be based on the OneNote 2016 Windows Client. It has been getting updates all along (like Dark Mode).

  24. longhorn

    In reply to dontbeevil:

    but UWP is supposed to be dead...

    That picture must be one of those Internet hoaxes. :)

  25. CHanskat

    It will be nice to be able to keep my OneNote macros now. Thanks for the update.

  26. solomonrex

    I've seen Windows 10 deployments' Win10 apps lose too much data so I wonder if that has anything to do with it (I personally lost Sticky Notes in an upgrade, and no one able to restore it).

    It's really crazy that we're this far along, OneNote is theoretically a premium cloud-based app, it's 2019, and they are still taking a step back to Old Office. Considering another 'new' push into Windows on ARM, one wonders how they're going to get anything done, supporting everything new and old but not well.

    • wright_is

      In reply to solomonrex:

      I think you hit the nail on the head there, cloud. For a lot of corporate customers, it is unacceptable not to be able to use the local .one files and the cloud is somewhere where company data cannot be stored by policy or by law... As ON for Windows 10 can only work in cloud mode, it is totally useless for a lot of users.

  27. StagyarZilDoggo

    So OneNote is the new Skype, in terms of Microsoft having a hard time figuring out which version to support.

    I guess the UWP version will soon be deprecated, just like Word/Excel/PowerPoint Mobile was.

  28. wunderbar

    all they needed to do was add the ability to open local notebooks in the Win10 version and most of the need for 2016 would have gone away.

    They're fixing the correct problem the wrong way.

    • darkgrayknight

      In reply to wunderbar:

      There are a few other features that also need to be added. The Onetastic plugin is really great and should probably be entirely pulled into OneNote on all platforms.

    • rug

      In reply to wunderbar:

      My issues with the Win 10 version is that there are pages that simply won’t open, but work fine in 2016.

      I also can’t send to OneNote from Outlook (Win32/64), a feature I use all the time.

      I’m guessing quite a few people have their little list that kept them from adopting the Win 10 version.

  29. RonV42

    I can continue using Onetastic....

  30. ranjan12

    helpfull information