OneNote is turning 10 this month. We started with "OneNote 2003" and have made many releases since then, gorwign in leaps and bounds, alogn with our user base. If 2003 was its birth, its conception was back in Nov 2000, when Steven Sinofsky and I exchanged some email about creating a new app, a topic I covered in my second-ever blog entry. We called it Scribbler, and working on that team was one of the best experiences of my career. It isn't often that you get to work with smart, dedicated people all pulling together and aligned as a team, passionate about making a great product. And now, 13 years later, that still describes the OneNote team - it remains one of the tightest knit, most loyal engineering teams around. While people do come and go from the team, it has very low turnover and everyone who has ever been a part of OneNote feels a connection with it.
In my current role I have been managing the OneNote program management team once again for the last year, after a hiatus of 6 years. (I also manage the teams for Word and several new "secret" things we're working on). I am pumped to be back involved day-to-day with OneNote.
It's a terribly exciting time for OneNote. The team has spent many years improving the Windows desktop version of the product, polishing its personal and team note taking, information management and collaboration features (hello! real-time multi-user sharing that works!). Just in the last year we've stepped up our game to include big new releases on Windows8, iPhone, iPad, and Android. We also have the web app (on Skydrive) and of course we are built-in to Windows Phone 8, and you'll see more from us shortly.
We made three videos recently to highlight real people using OneNote, for real things! We found out about them via the intertubes (and Twitter) and their stories were so interesting that we contacted them and they generously agreed to show us all how they use OneNote. Check these out at http://onenote.com.
If you are interested in being organized, especially with your spouse, or collaborating effectively with your team, you should check out OneNote. You probably already own it, and it is free on mobile/slates. And it is about to get way more awesome, but I can't tell you more just right now. (wink!)
Go OneNote! (and don't forget my favorite feature, screen clipping: Windows-S, or Win-Shift-S on Windows8.1)
I came across a couple of very interesting videos from two different schools using OneNote in the classroom and with faculty. I thought you might enjoy. You really see the power of pen/ink, freeform writing surface, capturing images and media, and shared notes.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yW1NjHoRrAY&hd=1 This is from Whitfield School in St. Louis.
http://countryday.smugmug.com/Other/HANDBRAKE/10944710_tdfbDJ#!i=1790107080&k=kknrpnZ&lb=1&s=A. This one is from Cincinnati Country Day.
It is great to see these educators using OneNote in ways that we designed for, and taking it to new heights.
I recently came across a nifty free add-in for OneNote 2010 called Onetastic that provides some capabilities OneNote users have wanted for a while: image rotate and crop, quick text styles, the ability to pin links to any part of your notes to the desktop, and importantly, gives you a "Favorites" list within OneNote itself so you can easily access your favorite note pages from a pick list.
Perhaps my favorite feature is OneCalendar, which builds a calendar view of your notebooks. You can easily see what notes have appeared recently, and browse by date in a familiar calendar view. OneNote already have view by date but OneCalendar really made the notes in my notebooks pop. It is especially useful for anyone using team shared notebooks, since you can see at a glance just how much others have been adding to the notebooks. Turns out - there's a lot I wasn't aware of!
Onetastic is made by Omer Atay a developer on the OneNote team in his spare time. What better assurance that it's safe and compatible with the product?
Onetastic requires OneNote 2010 (or a later version - wink wink), and requires OneNote to be on Windows Vista SP2, Windows 7 or higher (I am running on Win8 Consumer Preview and it works fine)
Give it a spin. It's small, free, and useful. Hard to argue with that.
In case you missed it, the always updating Web Apps (available at http://office.live.com and embedded all over the web) got a refresh yesterday. You can read about it more here: Announcing new features you've requested.
One of the big ones for me was that the OneNote Web App can now display ink notes. So for those of you who use the stylus a lot, your notes are now visible for you to refer to on any device.
Also check out the OneNote App for iphone, now at v 1.2 with kinks worked out, and of course WIndowsPhone 7.5 (Mango) being rolled out now has improved Office app support including OneNote. Julian Kay has a nice overview with pictures.
Don't ask me about support for more platforms: Like Sgt. Shultz, "I know nothing!"
Ribbon Hero 2 has been out for about three weeks now. It is outpacing all our past projects in downloads by a wide margin. So far, I'd categorize the user feedback on "RH2" in the following way:
|Haven't tried it:||that is the dumbest thing I can imagine|
|Have tried it:||this is cool, fun, clever, and I am getting value out of it|
So, the verdict is clear: you should try it. Don't read about it and judge it. Download it, install it, and try it. If you have Office 2007 or 2010, try it at work - our data shows that most other people do. It is one of the few work-safe games imaginable - after all, you are improving your work skills through workplace training. If anyone asks why you're playing a game, tell them "you should play it too - I've already learned three new things that improve my productivity and help me go home sooner (ahem, I mean get more work done). Also I dare you to not get addicted to the lounge-y theme music."
In 2010 Office Labs released Ribbon Hero, a game that helped you get better at Office while you played it. Our major finding at that time: "that is not as dumb an idea as it sounds". In fact, people played it, liked it, and learned about Office making them more productive. Schools started using it. Some corporations deployed it. Training centers used it. Ribbon Hero has since become a poster child for the "gamification" movement, where fun is used to help learning. That's also called "serious gaming", although its catchier (and more fun!) to say "gamification".
The new version, RH2, is a complete overhaul, much more polished with a narrative and "bling", and updated to more than "sort of fun". We learned from our pals the experts in XBox and added "charming", "clever", "humourous", "self-deprecating", "tongue-in-cheek", and some other personality elements I am sure you'll enjoy. And it is a *lot* more fun. After all, helping people recover after Clippy has messed them up - how can that not be rewarding? We had some fun turning Clippy on himself:
Here's a sample of the feedback we've gotten from people who have tried RH2. You should believe them.
groovyPost: “Overall, Ribbon Hero 2 is hands-down the best training tool I've ever seen.”
GeekWire: “Never let it be said that the people at Microsoft don't have a sense of humor.”
istartedsomething: “I can’t imagine a better way to incorporate learning for a productivity application”
I know there are a lot of fans of our Search Commands 2007 prototype from Office Labs out there, and many of you have written to ask us to update it to work on Office 2010. Well, thanks to some volunteer work and a little burning of the midnight oil from a few Labsters, we now have the requested update.
Search Commands is used by many people to find that one command that you know exists but can't find. It's used by others to discover what capabilities exist - for example you might search on "math" in Word and be surprised to see the deep support for equation editing that Word 2010 supports natively. Still other people prefer to navigate the Office applications using search for anything other than the most basic commands. Use Win-Y to get the search box, type a few letters, then use the number key to jump directly to the command you want. It's a different experience than clicking with the mouse or remembering a lot of shortcuts, but quite a few people seem to like it.
BTW, it's this variety of usage that interests us in Labs - we release our prototypes to see how people like to work when given alternatives. So give Search Commands 2010 a try and leave feedback on the site for the people who worked on it...
It's not often these days I post twice in one week, but I just loved this post about The Garage @ Microsoft. This is a community that started up about 18 months ago as a grassroots effort, initiated by my team, Office Labs, but now is self-sustaining and run by the community itself. In the picture, I'm the one on the farthest left with the big cheesy smile. I think Quinn did a great job explaining what it is all about in the interview. The Garage is one of the reasons its so fun to work at Microsoft. People come together to work on their passion, and they have the support and resources they need to follow their ideas to fruition.
It's another great day for OneNote lovers. OneNote Mobile is available for the iPhone. It's been a top customer request for awhile, so it's great to finally have this out. You can read more about it on Takeshi Numoto's blog, and Mike Oldenburg's blog goes into more detail. And if you happen to be reading this on your iPhone, the link to OneNote Mobile in the app store is here.
The icing on the cake is that it is free for a limited time, so go get it now!
I am sure people will have lots of questiosn about this release, and want to know if there will be OneNote for iPad, Mac, Andorid, whatever. I won't be able to answer those questions, so please don't bother asking :) . If you have specific questions about OneNote Mobile for IPhone, you can ask Mike Oldenburg on his blog. I use a Windows Phone these days (which already has OneNote Mobile) so I am not the best guy to ask. As always though I am happy to chat with anyone who wants to leave a comment.
Three great things are newly available.
- When you want to use OneNote's multi-user collaboration capabilities with a friend who doesn't have OneNote, that's not an issue. Either or both of you can use the web app or the rich client, see each other's edits as they're made and generally get down to work with no hassle. Of course you can work with a large group of friends as well - you're not limited to two. Great for class projects, or virtual teams at work.
- If you need to check your notes for a piece of info and don't have your PC handy, you can access all your notes (the ones stored in Skydrive) via a browser on a friend's PC or some phones (via the browser).
The second great thing is related, but may be subtle and lost in all the discussion of the web app. As great as the idea of a web app is, the full "rich client" version of OneNote 2010 is a far better experience for extended work. But one thing has been hard to make work for many people until now: keeping notes in sync across more than one PC. For example, I have notebooks I need to use on two work PCs (one laptop, one desktop), as well as my home PC. I also share a notebook with my wife and she has two PCs. Before Skydrive, keeping these notebooks up to date across all these machines needed a service such as Live Mesh or Live Sync. But these solutions don’t work well if you modify files in two locations when not connected to the internet, and other glitches.
With Skydrive, you just place the notebooks on SkyDrive, open them from every machine, and you are done. You get the full feature set and ease of use of the "rich" OneNote application, plus offline access (work literally everywhere including airplanes and "the cabin"), plus automatic syncing of changes made by multiple users across machines, *without* any of the glitches that can arise when using a sync service. It just works. This is the same benefit users of OneNote inside organizations with file shares or SharePoint servers have always had, but now Skydrive provides the "anywhere" access.
Third, (and with this I get to tie together my old job and my new job), Office Labs has just released an update to the Ribbon Hero game which adds support for OneNote 2007 and 2010. So if you feel that Office (and especially OneNote!) must have a lot of capability that you don’t have the time or inclination to discover and learn, try playing Ribbon Hero and have fun picking up some "wow-that's-so-useful-I-didn't-know-it-could-do-that" sort of tips - in just a few minutes. Note for 2010 beta users: Ribbon Hero works with the beta versions of Word/Excel/PowerPoint 2010, but with the final code coming on the market now and a free 2010 trial download available, we decided to make the new OneNote support work only with the final version of OneNote 2010. So ditch the beta and get the free trial!
Years ago I remember playing the original Halo game and marveling at, among many marvels, how the game seamlessly taught me the controls as part of the storyline of the game. I had not owned or played console games before then since my old Atari days. The complicated controllers with multiple joysticks and buttons and seeming focus on button mashing over strategy hadn't excited me. Games for PC and consoles tended to come with complicated help cards that described all the button sequences you could perform and it just seemed a little overwhelming.
But here was this game that invited me to check out the function of my armored suit by having a lab tech take me through the paces. When I remarked on this experience the next day at work, several other folks from Office mentioned they had the same reaction.
Although Office doesn't offer joystick controls, its button count outweighs the Xbox controller significantly. We spent some time wondering how we could build that "in game" learning experience into our products, especially OneNote which I was working on at the time. These days many games - all the major ones at least it seems - use the approach of building teaching into the gameplay. Whether the teaching is part of the plot or not, players are eased into the game and do not need to learn all the options until later stages.
For us, this concept morphed a bit and became the OneNote Guide notebook for OneNote. The idea was that rather than rely on the help system which operated outside the product, people would be more open to looking at OneNote's capabilities in situ, and if the Guide encouraged them to try some features and see what happened we could make some progress educating users on some simple yet novel concepts we were introducing (e.g. the click anywhere to type editing surface, tags and tag searching). The guide tested very well with new users, especially as we refined it to make it look less like dry help and more like a fun interactive experience. But we did not build any actual gameplay into the Guide or OneNote.
The challenge of designing a product like Office is considerable. Each of the core applications has over a thousand "features". Each feature was added for a set of people who needed it. Each is used by some set of users. Collectively all are used by the user base of Office. Although each user only uses a certain fraction of the feature set, the collection of features each person uses is slightly different from the others, so that a randomly selected group of just a couple hundred users will collectively cover nearly all the functionality of the suite in their normal usage over time.
Even organized into activity-centric and contextual groups as with the Ribbon, it is a lot of functionality to expose and expect hundreds of millions of people to navigate. We hear all the time from people who say they are sure Office can do something, but don't know where it is, or wish that we would add some functionality the product already has, or simply say they don't have time to discover what the product can do. Although the Ribbon has been controversial with some users who were very proficient with the old UI, all these problems were more pronounced with the earlier menus and toolbars. That's in part because that interface was designed when the products were much less capable, so as commands were added it became unwieldy and impenetrable. You may be able to use the old system well for what you already know, but learning to use anything new (especially that it even existed) was very difficult.
Now it is 2010, and my team, Office Labs, has a released a new project called Ribbon Hero (and on FaceBook) which is using gaming to expose users to the capabilities of Office. Although I was initially doubtful that a game could be built on Office that was any fun, the Ribbon Hero team surprised me. From early builds I've been a fan. I was surprised that some seemingly simple gaming features drew me in and engaged me.
Since I used to lead the design team for Word, I enjoyed scoring easy points in all the areas I knew so well. But I also enjoyed the challenge of decoding exactly how the challenge authors created certain end results. And since I didn't work on Office 2010, I found a few capabilities especially around images that were new to me. Although I know them well in many ways I'm still just a user of PowerPoint and Excel, so for both of those I learned several useful capabilities (e.g. around slide show control, transitions and animation, and charting). Often I knew that certain features existed, but had never bothered to use them. After completing the challenges I felt familiar enough with them that I have used them since.
Although I learn quite a bit about Office as I play Ribbon Hero, to describe Ribbon Hero merely as "training" does it a disservice in my view. It is best described as a game, albeit one that as a side effect increases your awareness of Office capabilities. I found that I could play a couple of challenges in a few minutes of downtime, and then once I started, I had a hard time stopping. I wanted to maximize my score. When I learned something new about Office that only made me want to play more - what other hidden gems were in there? When the team added sound effects the desire to score more points intensified: I wanted to hear that cha-ching of points being added - so satisfying. When the team enabled score sharing I suddenly found I wanted to beat some people who were ahead of me. Some were barely ahead and I felt I could pass them quickly so I always felt I was making progress. Definitely a game.
As a casual game, Ribbon Hero appeals to more than one type (or "persona") of gamer. There are people who want to get credit for what they know. It's positive and affirming to score points doing something you know how to do. These people are motivated to get a high score so they can feel accomplished. Enjoy scoring 100% on a test? Ribbon Hero is for you.
Although Ribbon Hero does not yet have a strong competitive element, there are those who want to see how they stack up against others. Partly to see where they land, sometimes to do better than someone else. Then there are people who just like gaming and diversions - Ribbon Hero appeals as a set of challenges that people are measured on and they can improve at, hence it is a game (see a great analysis of what constitutes a game and Danc's comments on Ribbon Hero at Lost Garden)
When we released Ribbon Hero we weren't exactly sure what the reaction would be. From talking to folks internally at Microsoft we knew there would be initial skepticism from some (just say the phrase "a game based on Office"). We also knew that if people played it, that skepticism would change since just about everybody converted to some sort of fan (from grudging to enthusiastic) after trying it. We really had to get the game out into the wild to see what the full range and distribution of reactions would be. The game has been downloaded 25,000 times already, which is pretty exciting. We're collecting the feedback now. Early indications are people are pleasantly surprised that Ribbon Hero is entertaining, and they are even happier that they are discovering truly useful capabilities of Office they didn't know about.
Some sample tweets about Ribbon Hero (these reflect my own feelings):
- I'm finding Microsoft Office 2010 funner to use with Ribbon Hero installed. Makes me get creative w/what I'm working on.
- But i wanna play Ribbon Hero all day!! Memo to self, play ribbon hero all weekend.
- Really enjoying Ribbon Hero - surprisingly addictive (and pretty useful too)
I don't want to overstate what Ribbon Hero is. It's our first game, and we're learning. What is available now is also only our first release. We have a number of improvements in the pipeline that should keep things interesting. This is only the beginning!
Good old David Rasmussen who is Group Program Manager of OneNote has built (in his "spare" time) a way to send printouts to OneNote 2007 directly on 64-bit Vista and Win7. It's a little clunkier than the built-in 32-bit only solution that comes with OneNote 2007, but if you use a 64-bit OS like I do you've wanted this for a long time.
David's project lives on codeplex, which is an open source location for projects that Microsoft employees work on. If you want to improve David's stuff, go right ahead. It's pretty impressive that a guy as busy as David had any time to do this at all, but the OneNote team has always felt the need to respond to customers and this has been a top request for awhile as 64-bit machines have really taken off since OneNote 2007 was released.
There's a new website called iheartonenote.com. It's a place to discuss OneNote with other people, share tips, notebooks, etc. So many people post emotional connection stories about OneNote that "heart" seems appropriate (FWIW, last time I checked a piece of software can't yet have your baby). That Marcus guy seems a little kooky though. I'd only trust a fictional host as far as I could throw him. Check out my profile there to see how old I really am (fictionally, of course).
Anyway, for my first post in the community I thought I'd share my top OneNote tips. Here's the post I put up:
Top fifteen OneNote tips
I tried to do ten but couldn't stop myself.
15. Send to OneNote printer driver. Print anything to OneNote from any app. PDF, Word, web pages, AutoCAD, whatever!
(currently not now also on 64-bit Windows - bummer yippee!)
14. Email these notes button (Ctrl-Shift-E). Click the button in the toolbar, choose recipients, and my notes are distributed without any retyping or hassle. Even sends ink. (you need Outlook 2007 for this to work best)
13. Type a word, right click on it, click "Create Linked page", then click the link and presto you're on a new page with that title that is linked to from the first page. Great for things like "here is the recipe for Grandma's cookies". highlight "Grandma's cookies", right click, create linked page.
12. Type simple math (like "12*29.99= ") on the page, hit Enter (or space bar) and OneNote solves it!
11. Right click on anything (notebook, section, page, piece of text or image on page), and choose "copy hyperlink to this". Paste that in OneNote or in other documents. You can even hyperlink to other places on the same page. I often type "see note above" right click on the referenced note elsewhere on the page, copy hyperlink then put cursor on the word "above", then Ctrl-K, Ctrl-V, Enter to add that link.
10. Ctrl "." (period) to toggle bullets on and off. Tab to indent.
9. Ctrl-1 to triple-toggle ToDo checkbox (Todo|Done|nuthin). Customize the built-in tags and use Ctrl-1-9 to tag things, Ctrl-0 to remove tags. Don't forget View/All tagged notes to query across all your notes and build summary pages pulling out quotes you liked, questions to follow up on, ToDos, etc.
8. Right-click on image (e.g. screen clipping), copy text from picture (also works great when searching for a screen clipping - Find (Ctrl-F) will find text inside your images!)
7. Using Live Mesh (mesh.com) to put notebooks in folders that are synced across my many machines
6. Win-N for a new "always on top" side note. Great for taking notes while reading other stuff like web pages, docs, PDFs.
5. Shared notebooks with my team (File/New/Notebook, select shared when the instructions ask you). anyone can edit at any time, even offline! Don't forget to use features like 'View/Pages I Haven't Read' and 'View/Pages Changed Recently'. Also right click on anything to see who added it. Work disconnected if you like - your changes will sync and merge cleanly later. Offline/online, easy to use super capable group wiki!
4. Tab key after text to create tables on the fly. Type the first column heading, then Tab (Table magically appears!), next column heading, Tab and so on. Enter when finished the header row, keep going. Use Enter twice on an empty row to break out - never touch a mouse while taking notes!
3. I'm falling behind with my notes! Click "record audio" button to capture what people are saying so I can participate instead of take notes. Take the occasional one word note to indicate what was happening. Later click on those words to hear what we were saying. Great for brainstorming and interviews!
2. Flag OneNote items as Tasks to track in Outlook with Ctrl-Shift-1 through 5. The task is created in Outlook, and the done/not done status is kept in sync with OneNote.
1. Win-S to take a screen clipping and auto-file it in OneNote! Bonus: right click on the system tray OneNote icon, customize screen clipping to send only to clipboard to paste in other apps or OneNote as you like. (my all-time fave)
Ok one more for bonus: Full Page view. F11 to toggle, or the button to the right of the Help menu. Nice clean screen for uncluttered note taking and maximum "paper".
What are yours? (feel free to respond on the iheartonenote site...)
It's been about a month since we went live with officelabs.com. Of course as a team we’ve been operating a little over a year, but only now do I get to talk about that period. I thought I might fill you all in on my transition from OneNote to Office Labs.
As Office 2007 was wrapping up, my second son Skye was born. (I'm sitting next to him on a plane to Toronto as I write this). I took my paternity leave and when I came back in the fall of 2006 Office 2007 was just wrapping up. I went to work for Jeff Raikes, the president of the Business Division at the time. He had asked me earlier to come do a job for him whenever I was able to move on from Office2007.
Jeff had a two-part mission for me that was simple to say and hard to do. Basically he said, "help the division try more ideas", and "explain to the world and the company what our long term vision is for productivity". Right, roll up those sleeves and start knitting Petunia!
For background, the business division covers several product lines: Office System (which includes the Office applications, SharePoint server and a lot of other components and servers), Office Live - the productivity service, Unified Communications (UC) which includes Exchange, Live Meeting and Office Communicator (enterprise IM), and Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS), which provides "software to run businesses" such as ERP, CRM and several other three letter acronyms . Basically the business division as a whole is focused on "productivity" - helping people get stuff done - whether it be at home, school, or work.
I worked in the Office group for 12 years, first a little on Excel, then a lot on Word, all of OneNote, and a little on Publisher. I was quite familiar with the Office team's processes for developing software which are in my opinion first-rate. Relative to just about any software project in the world, the scale of a release of Office is huge, the quality that comes out is excellent and always improving, and it gets done more or less on time which is a semi-miracle in software development. But that doesn’t mean Office and its processes can't improve - in fact the Office team is first to criticize themselves and work on ways to do better.
The other parts of our division have their own styles and personalities. Office Live is fairly fast moving, Unified Communications is always up for a new idea, and MBS is consolidating and growing its scope at the same time. Jeff had asked me to help the division "try more ideas". Ok, where to start?
One thing that was clear was the different viewpoints on "innovation". Some people in the company felt that we didn't explore new ideas and technology well or fast enough. Others felt we had no problem and that we took the right measured approach to new things. I think many readers who work in corporations are familiar with this range of opinions about their business. Sometimes it can get a little nasty - the "gotta innovate" people think the others are blind curmudgeons who couldn't imagine anything other than what they have today. The "steady as she goes" folks think the others are lightweights, chasing the latest trends and not being appropriately thoughtful about business results. That's a caricature but you get the idea.
Our popular culture definitely is biased toward the new - we tend to place it on a pedestal, and imbue words like "invention, innovator, entrepreneur" with mystical heroic qualities. People admire and many aspire to be seen as innovators. The innovator who makes a $100m/yr company is lauded. The guy who quietly makes a billion dollars a quarter doing what they did last year is ignored. Note: as much as John Q. Public admires the former, shareholders really like the second type of guy. Delorean makes a good story, but we can't name who at Toyota made them the #1 car company in the world.
I'm conscious as I write this that the "blogosphere" tends to have a huge bias in favor of rapidly embracing the latest thing - most of us are in that "gotta innovate" group - more than even the general public. But a criticism of that approach especially for a larger company is that you can't always be chasing "shiny objects". You have to deliver business value. Speed for speed's sake is also not a good idea. How do you act appropriately fast enough without just churning? After all, while consumers might say they want a new thing every day, enterprise customers tell us they can't handle the pace of change we throw at them today. What to do?
I didn't want to fix a phantom problem. I also felt during my time in Office that we could make some improvements to the system, as good as it was.
One thing I felt strongly was that the people who said we don't have enough good ideas were flat wrong. There is no shortage of great ideas at Microsoft. I also felt that our product groups, even the "old" ones, had the appetite to take big risks. Just look at the new Ribbon UI for Office 2007. We also had the capacity to develop entirely new things on our own - look at OneNote, or SharePoint. Where it seemed we could use a "tweak" was in five areas:
- Improving the number of risky or uncertain areas we explore at any time
- Increasing the "stakes" of the areas we explore - place bigger bets
- Decreasing the iteration time for designs (more iterations, faster in response to user feedback)
- Accelerate in time the delivery of new ideas (get them to market faster)
- Easier exploration of ideas that didn't already have someone working in the area
We're trying to tackle all of these with Office Labs. Our team extends the already solid Office development process to enable those product teams and others across the business division to try more stuff. When I write next I'll go into more detail.
One closing thought. We work with the whole business division (which makes more than Office). We also aspire to create entre products and services, which may not be called "Office". So why did we call ourselves Office Labs? The answer is that Office is really well known and is much bigger in scope than most people realize. So it actually covers a lot of the productivity area. Trying to come up with a name that was generic like "business division labs" or "productivity labs" seemed lame. And choosing a fancy sounding name just to be cool was not our style. So Office Labs it is - Office System is our largest and most important client, and its definition is always growing - in fact we hope to be part of that growth.
For some time I've been quiet about what I have been up to since leaving the OneNote team in the capable hands of David and the gang. Well, today my new team's external site went live at http://officelabs.com.
As you can see on that site, Office Labs is a "try it and see what there is to find" kind of place. We experiment with many different ideas, large and small. Most of them stay internal to Microsoft because they just aren’t as interesting as we hoped, or we can find out what we need from internal usage. But some of them we will be putting out on officelabs.com for the general public (you folks!) to try so we can understand how "normal" people would use these tools. Now of course, as we bloggers and blog-readers know, we're not actually normal - you could even debate whether the blogosphere is more warped than the set of Microsoft employees, who comprise an interesting cross-section of job types, experiences, and cultures. But I digress.
Head on over to http://officelabs.com and check it out. We'll have more projects to share throughout the year.
Another guy who's doing a great job but isn't blogging yet (he's shy) is Mike Tholfsen. Mike is the test manager of the OneNote team, and he's also a tireless (and I mean tireless) OneNote promoter inside Microsoft. You may remember Mike as the guy who wrote "My One and only OneNote".
Microsoft is getting to be a pretty big company these days, and we make so many things that it is hard for people to keep track of it all. So as odd as it may seem, teams that make products that are not already ubiquitous (like Outlook or Windows) sometimes have to remind others that they exist.
Actually OneNote is in broad usage in the company already - it has taken off virally and in any meeting or lecture I go to, if a laptop is open more often than not OneNote is there as people keep track of what is said and what they need to do next. In fact the usage data shows that for people who have it installed (more than half the company - pretty good!), they use it more than PowerPoint.
Where Mike comes in is in expanding people's perceptions of what OneNote can do. When you first use it, it seems like a way to organize your stuff, but it can be so much more. For example, my new team uses many shared OneNote notebooks to collaborate and share ideas like a really capable wiki. OneNote notebooks can also be packaged up as a single file to email or download which will "unpack' inside OneNote when you open them. This may sound like nothing special, but the effect is that you can distribute entire "courses" or books of material to a broad set of people, replete with cross links and organization, tables of contents, etc. Plus the content can be added to or annotated by the recipients (unlike a PDF). and these materials can be searched and arranged with all your other material so they become part of your stuff in a way isolated PDF or Word docs or random web pages can't. The other day I got an email inviting me to download an entire course on how to manage email and tasks effectively (something everyone in corporate settings struggles with), and it came as a OneNote notebook.
What Mike has done is make a point of meeting with all the right executives, sales people, and so on to get across to them that OneNote can be more than a note-taking tool. He's made videos internally and externally, like this one to show the power and ease of use of OneNote, in particular focusing recently on this "content distribution" aspect of OneNote to replace paper for green corporate or academic initiatives. He's helped the Office marketing folks see this potential in OneNote too.
He's worked with the people who do internal training at Microsoft to get them excited, and through them connections have been made to customers who also are interested in training. It's been amazing to watch. He even demoed to Bill Gates! He's also been active in the academic world, visiting a local school where the staff and kids were independently using OneNote, and even going to a conference in Finland on technology trends in teaching with one of the teachers. There's a neat video of what the school has done here.
So hats off to Mike. Now we just need him to spend a few cycles on his day job :-)
It's getting hard to keep blogging about OneNote in detail now that I am no longer on the team, but I thought I would do a little round-up of some interesting developments in the last couple of months.
Onenote usage is really taking off as I talked about last post. The numbers are good of course, but I also love the anecdotes. Recently I have had the opportunity to talk in front of several large audiences internal to Microsoft and asked them if they used it significantly. Holy Smokes! More than 3/4 of the room each time. You might think that's nothing special because they're Microsoft people, but they're too busy to use products that aren't valuable to them just like everyone else. A great rush each time. It's the shape of things to come.
David Tse released his Web Exporter PowerToy. This tool allows OneNote to publish an HTML+JScript view of a notebook to a web server (including SharePoint). There are several nice things about this tool:
- it allows casual browsers to read the notebook contents - they don't have to have OneNote
- it automatically republishes the notebook on a schedule so it stays up to date as you (and others) update the editable OneNote version
- it helps out a lot of OneNote fans who were concerned about being the first few people in their organization who use OneNote
- it is released via the Microsoft Shared source program on Codeplex so you can see how it was made and use the code yourself.
- David made it in his spare time at work - it's cool to work at Microsoft!
There are several new MS bloggers about OneNote:
- David Tse (Program Manager on the OneNote team, mentioned above)
- John Guin (Tester on the OneNote team)
- Michael Oldenberg (User Assistance and documentation specialist - big OneNote fan)
Dan Escapa (another PM on the OneNote team - you really should subscribe to his feed) continues to fire out a prodigious amount of material about OneNote including these gems:
- Snag-it outputs to OneNote 2007
- including OneNote pages in Vista's start menu search
- search and replace PowerToy
- sort pages PowerToy
- sort sections PowerToy
Jeff Raikes, President of the Microsoft Business Division, huge OneNote user, and also my new manager got profiled here on how he uses OneNote. You might think this is some gimmick but it's not. I'm impressed with his usage since *on his own* he has adopted just about every scenario we envisaged for the product such as taking notes (in ink!), keeping track of tasks connected with Outlook, connecting meetings in his calendar with OneNote notes, annotating files like PowerPoint slides, even sharing notebooks with his assistant. Unfortunately they couldn't show his actual data for privacy reasons in the demo because his real usage is way more detailed and impressive than the demo. The demo captures the essence though which is the point. He's probably the best most complete, effective user of the product I know. All that and he happens to run the division. I can't say he got there because of OneNote but he is showing me a thing or two about how to be organized and on top of things!
A couple of Microsoft colleagues went to a local grade school awhile back to see how they are revitalizing the classroom with computers. This school has put a lot of thought into their program. They use OneNote for every student with a shared notebook for each class. The teacher puts assignments in the notebook and the kids work on them individually or in groups, with OneNote syncing the data and a keeping it organized. They use OneNote's features for capturing web pages, keeping documents together, and drawing. What they told me was really impressive - even more than the ideas we had for OneNote in education. It made me jealous for no longer being on the team!
A big shout-out to the guys at gottabemobile.com. Rob Bushway, Warner Crocker and others are big OneNote fans and keep everyone up to date on the latest news about hardware, OneNote and anything mobile - especially Tablet PCs.
I follow the comments that are posted here and any mail sent to me through the blog. I love hearing from you all - it's my daily pick-up! If you have support questions however, I highly recommend posting to the user group since the experts there can usually help better and faster than I can.
Cheers, and have a great rest of summer!
What an exciting three months OneNote 2007 has had out in the marketplace. By every measure OneNote 2007 is a hit! Check out this blog activity for one thing:
Blog posts containing "OneNote" over the last 360 days taken May 9 (from Technorati)
Traditionally many people measure a product's success by a particular metric: the number of units sold. But there are many other metrics to use: of course one is "profit" - if you gave away all those units for a song (or for free!), you didn't make any money. Also its not clear how dedicated those customers are. Conversely if you held the price high enough and people bought a lot of it, you have a good sense that people see value in the product.
Another measure is usage. You want to see that people are really using your product. That means they are getting value out of it, and also indicates loyalty.
Another measure is "buzz" like the blog measure above. Are people talking about your product? If so, that's also a good sign. Notice there is a spike not just on the "news" of availability (around Jan 30) but there are higher spikes later - that's when people are using the product and talking about it. For examples of what people are saying, check out Dan's "blog roundup" posts: January, February, March, April. Some of my favorite quotes:
"OneNote 2007 sharing is indistinguishable from magic"
"I just purchased a copy of Microsoft OneNote, my life will never be the same."
But those are tame. Why not really go for it?
"The Greatest Invention in Human History? I vote for Microsoft OneNote"
"I need Office OneNote 2007 to live."
And for the you-know-who crowd:
"I can't believe I'm so excited over some program that M$ came up with. It's probably just all the adrenaline that's been pumping through me lately."
And we're just getting started!
There are other measures. For software there is also "deployment" - many companies have purchased long term contracts with Microsoft for most or all of our latest software, but they don't always get around to putting the new stuff on their users' machines since they have a lot of work to do. So we care about whether that has happened or not since it is a measure of how much they value the new stuff.
I can't share specific sales figures with you all and they don't tell the whole story anyway (there's that "deployment issue" plus lots of people get OneNote on their laptop but don't know it, and so on). I do want to show the existing trends we're seeing however.
First, it's worth noting that OneNote 2003 (the first release) was a success in its own right. A new product that costs money and isn't a visible lifestyle item (e.g. software to get work done vs. an iPod) takes time to build its user base. And as I said, the nice thing about free products or services is that they can build users fast, but because they are free their users often have no special investment in the service. OneNote 2003 shipped well over 10million units and racked up several million actual users over the 3 years it was on the market (as best we can tell). Pretty good for a whole new "category" of software most people didn't know about or know they needed, with next to no marketing budget and not being included in any Office Suite! By contrast, the top web productivity apps and suites that everyone writes about because they're "hot" all have less than 500K users, most of them far less (I can't tell you how we know that though!)
Our plans for OneNote are for it to build momentum like "rolling thunder" over several years. Each release retains users from the one before and adds proportionally more. The great majority of people only try a new thing when their friends recommend it, and that takes some time. If you think about how an application like PowerPoint went from obscurity to ubiquitous over the course of a few years - that's the idea.
Fortunately, in addition to raving fans and sales figures, we are able to get more quantitative and explicit measurements on popularity. One way is through the Customer Experience Improvement Program. Some of you may know this - it is the little balloon that pops up to ask you if we can (anonymously and in aggregate) track which commands you use in the application, how long you use the application, etc. We use this data to make the product better in the future, but it is also a handy measure of overall activity. CEIP data is returned to us in the form of "sessions" which are fixed length blocks of time containing data.
Here's where it really gets exciting. Although we can't know for sure how many users these session counts represent, we think variables like what % of the users have signed up for the program are about the same for each release, which makes them comparable. Look at these relative numbers!
Number of CEIP sessions added over
Do you need a chart? Can someone say hockey stick?
How many users is this? It's really hard to say since it depends on people agreeing to join the program which is off by default. Only a tiny fraction actually send us data. But it's a lot, and look at that trend!
I'm hearing some buzz about a 90-day offer going on in Australia. If you are a student at one of about 30 universities, you can get the "Ultimate" edition of Office 2007 (includes OneNote!) for AUS$75 which is about 5% of what it costs to buy if you were to pay full price (which no one does of course, but it is still an amazing deal). Alternatively you can "rent to own" for AUS$25/yr for three years. Too good to be true? No, it's for real.
You can read more here: http://www.itsnotcheating.com.au/form.asp
And bland details here: http://www.microsoft.com/australia/education/unistudentoffer/default.mspx
I looked into this a bit and while some people in Australia are speculating a lot about why this promotion is going on, the background is pretty simple. The fact is most university students can already get Office for about this price from their university because their university negotiated it into their purchase agreement on behalf of the students. The students just don't know it. And the universities find it a hassle to get the product out to students because they have to do all the muck work: getting boxes stocked, checking IDs, making sure people don't buy more than one, etc. So they don't promote it. This trial offer in Australia is experimenting with Microsoft handling the work. As long as the particular university you attend has purchased the right for all its students to have the software, you can just get a licence key directly from Microsoft. The difference is that the students have to get their own bits (usually download the free trial).
Pretty good deal. If you're a student in Australia, go for it!
I don't know anything about whether this program will be extended or offered in more places, so please don't ask, OK?
Dan Escapa is on a tear releasing a set of new PowerToys for OneNote 2007. What's going on is that a whole bunch of PowerToys were written internally on the OneNote team and by some of our "friends" inside the company over the last six months. As the 2007 has now shipped (and therefore the API set is frozen) these Powertoys are getting finalized. And if I know Dan, he's been too busy to get them out but now he's a man with a mission. PowerToys are a way to add features that we couldn't do in core code on the main schedule. Of course powertoys are not tested as much, so they are basically "use at your own risk". (rarely a problem is encountered though in my experience)
Here are the ones out so far:
Word Count. We get asked by some people to be able to know how many words are on a page for articles and essays and so on. here you go.
Send to OneNote (from the file explorer/shell). Ever looked at a file in My Documents or elsewhere and thought, "I want to push that into OneNote so I can add it to my project, make some comments about it, etc? Now you can.
Export Outlook Notes to OneNote. Lots of people use Outlook's Notes feature to keep track of little scraps of info. Or rather, they used to use it until OneNote came along and blew it away. Now you can push all those little honeys into OneNote where they belong.
More to come. Stay tuned to Dan's blog.
UPDATE: Dan's got another powertoy, this time it is "Sort Pages". You can now put all your pages in alphabetical order. Rock on, Dan!