Which Version of Microsoft OneNote should I use?

Screenshot of OneNote 2016

Which Version of Microsoft OneNote should I use?

You may or may not be aware that there are different versions of Microsoft OneNote currently available depending partly upon the device you are using.

There is a OneNote version for an Apple Mac and then one for your IOS device. There is also a version of OneNote to suit Android devices and still another when you open OneNote on your Browser at www.onenote.com . These are all fairly self-explanatory. Obviously if you have a Mac, then you can only use the Mac version and same for IOS or Android devices of course.

It is important to note that the Mac, iOS and Android versions do not have the same functionality as each other or the Windows versions, though there’s nothing new about that situation. The good news is that despite this, each version syncs seamlessly with all the others. You can access all your notes on whatever platform you’re working on, such as a PC a work, your Samsung phone on the way home and your Mac when you get home.


Windows 10 PCs

On Windows, there are two different versions of Microsoft OneNote! What’s more, it’s possible you could have both of these versions sitting on the same computer. I did say confusing didn’t I?

The two versions are called OneNote for Windows 10 (UWP) and OneNote 2016 (for Office), the latter sometimes just being called OneNote. You might see both listed in the Start Menu of a new Windows PC, like the image below.

Picture of Windows 10 Menu items for Microsoft OneNote

At the time of writing , OneNote for Windows 10 comes with all new Windows 10 installs. OneNote 2016 was not included in new installs until February 2020, after which it was included as well..

If you are not sure what version of Microsoft OneNote you have, here are a few screenshots that may help:


OneNote for Windows 10

In the Windows 10 version below, notice how the Sections and the Pages are on the left-hand side of the page. To switch between notebooks you use the dropdown menu above the sections column. The ‘ribbon’ at the top is quite simple and lacks some of the features you will find in the ribbon of most other Office products today.

Screenshot of ONeNote for Windows 10

OneNote 2016

In OneNote 2016, the notebooks are on the left, the sections appear as tabs along the top of the page and the pages within each section are on the right (though you can change that). This version also has a more traditional Office ribbon, which I much prefer. I will explain why later.

Screenshot of OneNote 2016


Brief history of OneNote

OneNote has been part of the Microsoft Office family since Office 2003, and every new version of Office since has had a new version of OneNote. Office 2010 and OneNote 2010, Office 2013 and OneNote 2013 and so on… But in 2018, Microsoft announced that they were no longer going to provide updates to OneNote 2016. It was going out to pasture so to speak. They would continue to support that version until 2025, after which it would effectively be finished!

The intention was to delink OneNote from the Office suite. There would be no OneNote 2019, and instead the standalone OneNote for Windows 10 would be the default version. This upset a lot of OneNote users, me included, since we considered OneNote 2016, the Office version, to be a better version.

In November 2019, Microsoft announced a change of mind. OneNote 2016 would continue to be supported as part of Office and, what’s more, it would now get updates and improvements! OneNote and Office enthusiasts have been speculating ever since as to why the change of mind and what the long-term future of OneNote now looks like. I won’t go into that speculation here – personally I’m just happy that there has been a change of mind!


Which version of Microsoft OneNote should you use?

In my training, I’ve long suggested to my clients they use OneNote 2016. In my opinion, it has some important features that the Windows 10 version doesn’t have. It has a few more integrations with Microsoft Outlook for instance. It has better options for tags and templates. There a few other reasons too. OneNote for Windows 10 was going to be updated with all these features, but that just hasn’t happened. Some have speculated that they just could not make the updates happen in the behind-the-scenes code of that version.


In any case, when all is said and done, OneNote 2016 is still a better version in my opinion, so I continue to encourage all my participants to use that version. It has a more traditional Office feeling about it that most find intuitive.


If you are on a Windows PC but don’t have OneNote 2016 installed, you can download it here. – https://support.office.com/en-us/article/onenote-2016-is-missing-after-installing-office-365-or-office-2019-1844ba87-7248-4bd8-a735-66a52f98e6e5?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US


It’s a very confusing story unfortunately, and it seems there is a lot more to it than I can explain here. For now, I hope that’s been helpful.


Geoff Prior – Lingford Consulting, May 2020

Workload & Email Management Training/Coaching. MBTI Consultant


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  • A O
    Posted at 05:11h, 19 August Reply

    I’m afraid I had to switch to the new OneNote, since OneNote’s search feature (ctrl+F, Ctrl+E) is terrible: It doesn’t find parts of words, one must type the beginning of the word. This is useless if you’re doing SW/HW/IT, searching for a command and you remember only a part of it.

    Since then I’ve been constantly cursing the new OneNote and its stupefying simplicity.
    Why can’t it look like the other office apps?!?!?!

    • Geoff Prior
      Posted at 07:00h, 19 August Reply

      Thanks for your feedback. I need to test that a little more. It’s not something I’ve run into personally, but maybe I search for full words more often. Hopefully, OneNote 2016/Desktop search feature gets improved soon then. I’m aware that the Windows 10 version has some advantages…dictation for example. However, all things considered, I much prefer the Office version (2016/Desktop). BTW, as I understand it, the new OneNote as you called it (OneNote 2016/Desktop) will never look like other Office Apps. It was never meant to. Thanks again for your response and I will test the Search feature out a little….

  • Vince
    Posted at 22:27h, 09 October Reply

    Geoff, what’s the advantages of OneNote for Windows 10? I know that the 2016 version is your favorite, but I’m sure people reading this article would like info. on both versions – not just on one version. Would you be able to either update the article or place the advantages for the Windows 10 version here in a comment? Thank you.

    • Geoff Prior
      Posted at 19:02h, 14 October Reply

      Thanks Vince…that’s a great question! It probably deserves it’s own article actually. I will email when I’ve written and uploaded it!

  • Vince Lupe
    Posted at 09:36h, 17 October Reply

    Okay, perfect, Geoff; I’ll be looking forward to that article ☺️

  • Geoff Prior
    Posted at 10:57h, 03 November Reply

    Hi VInce…finally been able to pull something together and uploaded it. You can read it here. Appreciate your thoughts on it there perhaps. https://www.lingfordconsulting.com.au/ms-onenote/i-chose-microsoft-onenote-2016-over-onenote-windows-10-heres-why

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    Posted at 15:02h, 17 February Reply

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  • Paul USA Lieblich
    Posted at 19:19h, 05 March Reply

    i find the folder menus on the left side and not along the top a better layout, for years i used the pages on the rightside and folder across the top but it was not convenient to be scrolling across the top and then to a drop down menu to get to the folders now showing, if the windows 10 version could add the option fill ribbon at the top that would be nice, but for most uses the simple ribbon at the top does the job well for me at work or at home 97% of the time.

  • Tony H
    Posted at 03:09h, 04 November Reply

    The huge issue with OneNote is that OneNote [2016] seems like the obvious choice for business, until you realise the iOS, Android and Mac versions use the vertical tabs view like OneNote for Windows 10. If you want a consistent user experience across all of your platforms (I do!), then OneNote for Windows 10 seems to be the one. However, I have users using both versions in my environment, so whichever I take away, I am going to hurt someone.
    The fact that OneNote for Windows 10 is no longer bundled with the OS in Windows 11 (though it can still be installed from the Store), maybe Microsoft finally decided for me? Why doesn’t Microsoft have the ability to switch between horizontal and vertical tabs so we could standardise on one version less painfully?

    • admin
      Posted at 19:40h, 04 November Reply

      Thanks @Tony H. Since I wrote this, Microsoft have indeed made the decision for you. OneNote (2016) is the version they are going forward with. I’m certain that they will take the best that both versions have to offer and keep them in OneNote program going forward. Quite the reversal, though I for one am quite happy about it.

  • Janice
    Posted at 03:38h, 30 March Reply

    Hi is there any way to improve the search please as trying to use it for an exam and it doesn’t find most of the terms

  • Michael Shemesh
    Posted at 21:33h, 21 September Reply

    Hi Geoff,
    Is there any way, to only share a section group only, with someone in my organization? Without sharing the entire Notebook? Or can i only share an entire NoteBook?

  • Michael Shemesh
    Posted at 21:34h, 21 September Reply

    Hi Geoff,
    Is there any way, to only share a section group only, with someone in my organization? Without sharing the entire Notebook? Or can i only share an entire NoteBook? I am using Onenote (not OneNote for win 10).
    Thank you

    • admin
      Posted at 06:40h, 22 September Reply

      Hi Michael, you have to share an entire Notebook unfortunately. You can “Password Protect” a Section,(Right-Click on any section) however, there is “NO Password Recovery option” within OneNote, so if you lose your Password, you lose access to that Notebook! So my general advice is to create a new Notebook and share that. Hope that helps.

  • oh Translate
    Posted at 17:03h, 23 September Reply

    I love how you break down the different versions of OneNote! This is really helpful for me as I am trying to decide which version to buy.

    • admin
      Posted at 15:08h, 25 September Reply

      Thanks very much! Glad it was helpful.

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