Mac Productivity Windows

OneNote Is Now Truly Free With More Features Than Before

Joel Lee 09-04-2015

Note-taking apps are a dime a dozen. Some are too simple for anything but the simplest of tasks. Others are abundant in features that are locked behind premium accounts. Can’t we have the best of both worlds?


For a while, the cross-platform note-taking app Evernote How to Use Evernote: The Unofficial Manual Learning how to use Evernote on your own takes a long time. This is why we've put together this guide to show you how to take full advantage of the most important Evernote features. Read More was the de facto standard. That’s not true anymore. While Evernote is still a remarkable app, Microsoft recently upped their game when they announced that OneNote would be more free than ever before.

Sounds like a funny statement, doesn’t it? But it’s true. OneNote has never been more free. Does that make it the ideal note-taking app for you? It might!

The Appeal of OneNote

The primary selling point for OneNote is its sense of organization. Take one look at its interface design and you’ll notice that it’s incredibly sleek, clean, and minimal. There are no distracting elements at all. You have your notes, your hierarchy of notebooks, and that’s it.

That kind of compliment isn’t typical for Microsoft, who is often known for clunky designs and unwieldy layouts. OneNote is their biggest exception and I have to say, I’m impressed. It’s truly one of the best apps on the market.

And I’m not the only one who has praise for OneNote.


We’ve looked at OneNote for Windows 8 The Perfect Modern Notetaking App: OneNote For Windows 8 Microsoft finally did something right! OneNote turns your Windows 8 tablet into a handy notebook. Quickly scribble down notes and pick them up anywhere. Syncing via SkyDrive automatically makes them available on the desktop. Read More and seen that it’s perfect for tablets, laptops, and desktops. We’ve remarked about OneNote on Windows Phone 5 Ways To Use Microsoft OneNote On Windows Phone 8 Windows Phone users don't need Evernote; they have OneNote! It can handle images, voice notes, transcribe audio to text, sync to your desktop, and others can add to your notes. Care to learn more? Read More and how easy it is to use. We’ve even compared OneNote for Android Springpad vs Catch vs Evernote vs OneNote - Which Is Best On Android? At one time, people actually had to carry around notebooks if they wanted to take notes - remember the once-big fad of Moleskine notebooks? Nowadays, smartphones have made most pocket objects obsolete. Why carry around... Read More against other note-taking apps and concluded that it’s a worthy contender.

Which brings us to another huge point: OneNote is cross-platform. Windows and Windows Phone are obviously supported, but it can also be used through Android, iOS, Mac, and the web with OneNote Online How SkyDrive And OneNote Web App Can Help Your Online Research I was really excited to learn was that SkyDrive provides you with a free OneNote web app that you can use to do just about everything you do with your desktop OneNote application. When it... Read More .

Thanks to built-in synchronization with OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), you can access the same notes on all of these devices.

Is It Really Free?

When OneNote first went free in 2014 Microsoft Releases OneNote 2013 As Free Download for Mac And Windows Microsoft's OneNote is now completely free and also available for Mac, meaning OneNote is now a cross-platform app available on Web, Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Read More , it was only cause for semi-celebration. Sure, it meant that anyone could download it and start taking notes right away, plus it was also made available for Mac at that same time.

But there were still a few killer features that were held behind a premium version only available to Office 365 and Office 2013 customers. With their most recent announcement, Microsoft has removed all restrictions from the free version of OneNote.


So which restrictions were lifted?

Sections can be password protected. What’s great about OneNote is that each notebook is split into sections and each section contains multiple pages. Rather than locking notebooks, OneNote lets you lock sections for more control.

Revision history for pages. Version control for writers Not Just For Coders: Top Version Control Systems For Writers The mention of version control or revision control makes it seem like something for geeks. You will be surprised to know that version control systems have their place not only in academic writing but in... Read More is incredibly important. Not only can it double as a system for data backups, it can help you retrieve past drafts that no longer exist on file. OneNote now has built-in version histories for all notes.


Audio and video notes. Audio and video notes are nothing new, but OneNote lets you take notes that are linked to specific timestamps in the recordings. That way, you can quickly jump to certain sections on demand (e.g. lecture notes).

Audio and video search. OneNote can even find certain sections of audio or video based on a text search. If your corporate manager mentioned “renovations” in the last meeting, but you don’t remember when she said it, you can literally search for it.

Embedded files. Feel free to embed files directly into notebooks. OneNote can handle them without a problem.

Become a OneNote Master

As you can probably tell, OneNote is simple but powerful. There are plenty of other features worth learning about in order to maximize your note-taking productivity 5 Ways to Get Productive With Microsoft OneNote Do you feel the need for an offline organization tool that also exists on the web? Surprisingly, Microsoft has come up with the perfect solution - OneNote. Read More . Done properly, OneNote can make your life so much easier.

Not sure where to start? Check out these OneNote tips for beginners 5 Ways to Take Advantage of Microsoft OneNote Read More . And if you’re still yearning for more, keep going with these advanced OneNote tips 10 Awesome OneNote Tips You Should Be Using All the Time Microsoft OneNote is just as good as Evernote. OneNote is the digital equivalent of a binder, giving you more organizational control. We show you effective note-taking tweaks you'll love. Read More .

Do you use Microsoft OneNote? If so, how does it compare to other note-taking apps you’ve used? If not, will these new free features be enough to pull you in? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Explore more about: Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, Note-Taking Apps.

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  1. Memma White
    November 18, 2016 at 2:52 am

    I used Onenote extensively until the 2016 upgrade. Suddenly, I find I can no longer configure the views as before. What happened to the section tabs to the left of the screen? The change makes it less attractive for my use. Is there a way to go back?

  2. Darwin
    May 29, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    I use OneNote. A feature to add if you are a student who loves taking pictures of your professors' slides on screen ir on a whiteboard, you may see that there is a crop button and turn that image into a semi-like pdf file. Great tool indeed fortaking notes.

  3. Katinka
    December 31, 2015 at 7:21 am

    I was talking about onenote on Windows 10, not on the web. If you have the latest update, do let me know HOW I can turn off spellcheck (or switch between languages). I can't find it. It's a recent innovation that it's gone.

  4. Katinka
    December 15, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    The recent update of onenote has created a problem for people who take notes in several languages (or a different language from their windows install): it now considers just about anything I type as a typo. I don't mind spell control, but it would be nice if I could at least turn it off if it is checking the wrong language.

    • Joel Lee
      December 23, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      Hi Katinka, are you talking about OneNote on the web, OneNote desktop application, or OneNote app from the Windows Store? I can say for sure that the desktop application has the option to disable spellcheck, but I'm not sure about the web or app versions.

  5. Tony Karakashian
    April 13, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Oh, my! The new 2.0 version of the OneNote web clipper actually works as one would expect it to! I can email notes to OneNote...better. IFTTT support, better... Zapier support, too? Oh, no, Evernote...

  6. Charles
    April 10, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Amazing, Have you ever actually used Evernote? I find it remarkable that the comparison is even made. Agreed, Evernote can be a little 'heavy' at first but, if you were to compare key functionality, features, offline features, search, document archiving, emailin and the 1000s of integration options with 3rd party apps, there is no argument. Evernote is simply in a class of its own.

    • Tim Walters
      April 10, 2015 at 11:35 am

      I used Evernote for over two years, with several thousand notes. I finally gave up and went to OneNote because of a huge amount of bugs, glitchy syncs, bad design, and lousy support. Admittedly, OneNote has its quirks, but is WAY more stable and usable than Evernote.

    • Joel Lee
      April 17, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Yes, I've been using Evernote for a little over a year. The web interface has been getting worse over time (slower, harder to navigate) and the desktop client has always been a mediocre experience at best. The Android app is pretty good, though.

      There are areas where Evernote beats OneNote and other areas where the opposite is true. For actual note-taking on a non-mobile device, I think OneNote wins.

  7. Glenn
    April 10, 2015 at 1:09 am

    Actually, correction to my previous response - you can make a PDF with the entire notebook by going to File -> Export, not print.

    • Ellen L
      April 17, 2015 at 3:48 am

      Alas, that option is not available in the Mac version (along with a host of other features). But it's still awesome.

    • Joel Lee
      April 17, 2015 at 2:21 pm

      Thanks Glenn. That's a neat feature that changes how I'm going to organize my OneNote notes!

  8. Ellen L
    April 9, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    A limitation that I have found: I made a group notebook for a conference. There is no option to combine all the pages into a single pdf document for sharing or printing.

    A wish: a way to compile all the to-do's or references (or whatever) into a single window.

    Otherwise, love it and I'm testing OneNote over Evernote with this conference notebook.

    • Glenn
      April 10, 2015 at 12:59 am

      You can combine a complete notebook into one big PDF, go to Print, and there's an option to print to PDF, and you can select the entire notebook.

  9. sean
    April 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    The only problem with OneNote is it requires a microsoft account to login and you have to use the cloud storage. I want a totally offline version that I can use without having to sign in

    • Ed
      April 9, 2015 at 1:15 pm

      Microsoft doesn't make it obvious, but you can skip by creating a Microsoft account if you're using the desktop version and then you can use it offline as you wish.

    • Yousef
      April 9, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      OneNote premium allow you to create notes on your hard drive.
      I wish "Microsoft has removed all restrictions from the free version of OneNote." include offline restrictions.

  10. Hildegerd
    April 9, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    I could not get into Onenote, can't say exactly why, I just wasn't satoisfied and I can't stand Evernote after they took away the audio option in the Android app, no you need another widget for that..

    Now I am using Centrallo, which I love, and is also dupping my toes into for more creative projects.

    • Callum
      April 9, 2015 at 12:17 pm

      Oooh, I absolutely love dupping my toes. It's so .... refreshing, don't you find!

    • Joel Lee
      April 17, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      Thanks for the hat tip on Centrallo. Never heard of it before. It seems like it's mobile-only, though. Is there a web version for it? If not, I'll still give it a try. Just curious. :)