Closing the Gap !

With the latest version, OneNote UWP is much closer than ever to OneNote desktop, in terms of features !

Last update : 19/08/2018

With the recent release of the “new” OneNote for W10 (version 17.8269) AND the numerous improvements brought to this version in the last couple of months, many users wonder which version is now the best, and whether an UWP Office App can actually replace its desktop counterpart.

This question is particularly sensible, because the OneNote development team has clearly stated that their priority is the App version in one hand (and they have been very busy at enhancing it, indeed !), and not a single improvement to the desktop version has surfaced for years on the other hand.

Sure, OneNote UWP has evolved so much lately, that one may believe that the desktop version is now useless. Thus I thought it would be interesting to compare both Windows version (OneNote 2016 vs OneNote for W10), having a look at their respective distinctive features.

This benchmark is by no means exhaustive, and since there are additions to the “App” version every month, you should expect that things get out of date rather quickly…

As you can see in the above table, there is still a significant gap.

But considering that more than 50 improvements / features have been added since August 2015, the gap has narrowed, and feature parity appears within reach.

There are even few exclusive features in OneNote UWP (equation solver and plotter, replay, rainbow ink and researcher) to address specific customers needs (students ?).

Nevertheless, what makes Office programs’ success : namely their tight integration, their highly customizable interface aimed at demanding users, and the ability to plug new features through add-ins… are still lagging behind.

One the other hand, what makes the appeal of UWP Apps, namely their simplicity (compare to desktop programs), may be jeopardized : Will all the upcoming improvements further clutter the User Interface (adding too many buttons in the Tab / Ribbon, or options in the contextual menus), and make OneNote for W10 less easy, intuitive or fun to use ?

The comparison below illustrates how the contextual menus of OneNote for W10 may become less effective than their counterpart in OneNote desktop :

Note the icons in OneNote desktop’ contextual menu, which help to locate the right option.

Obviously, besides a strict comparison of features, user interface’ ergonomics (both out of the box, and with customization options), day-to-day ease of use, and reliability (especially Synchronization, as far as OneNote is concerned !) matters most.

Read my comprehensive one week test drive to make your own decision, and feel free to share your thought !


Update 04/11/2017 : Some contextual menus are being enhanced with neat icons :









Update 27/03/2018 : No more “single page” sharing in OneNote UWP. It seems that sharing a page this way made it public and even indexed on Google search, which was a concern… I updated my comparison Table “other features” accordingly.

Update 28/03/2018 : Synchronization of custom pens is now available with version 17.9126.

Update 2 April 2018 : Also, after some experiment of the “ink to text” feature in OneNote UWP (see my blog post for a coverage of this feature, added in Sept. 2017) , I inserted some details about it in the “Core feature” table. Note that there are some incompatibilities : handwritten text in OneNote UWP can’t be “inked to text” in OneNote desktop. The opposite works.

Added Immersive reader, which I overlooked. 

Turn On/Off auto-capitalisation letter in UWP : added its counter part in Desktop.

Update 12/05/2018 : just casted the term “Commande density” : Office Desktop programs enjoy “high command density”, whereas their UWP counterparts, designed primarily for touch devices or usage, have rather “low command density”. Thus, the challenge facing OneNote UWP is to increase “command density”.

High command density in OneNote 2016 : 18 commands
Low command density in OneNote UWP : 9 commands

Update 19/07/2018 : OneNote UWP will soon offer more customization control (so far for Insider only) : the ability to paste web content without its source URL, to hide table borders or include header, and to select preferred pasting options. There are some new features as well : more eraser options, a new Symbol options and Microsoft translator. And an improved Clear formatting (now removing custom spacing)

Update 20/07/2018 : The simplified ribbon starting rolling out this week for O365 insiders users (see this article from Microsoft) may help getting there : Tab names will now be part of the white ribbon, simply underlined with a bold purple line. 

Nevertheless, this is mostly a cosmetic change : with a narrower purple header, the space dedicated to commands appears to have reduced significantly, although it hasn’t, as you can figure out in the overlay below :

It looks more professional, though.

Frankly, the real hurdle to increasing command density is the layout adopted in UWP app (better exhibited in the Insert Tab) :  The name of each command stands on the right of each command’ icon in the UW apps, whereas they stand below in Desktop programs (which, in turn, requires the ability to switch between pin / collapse ribbon to choose the space dedicated to commands).

Nota 31/07/2018 : worth reading also this article from Julian Knight for a more qualitative features comparison than mine. I updated my comparison tables with many “details” that I overlooked : thanks !



    • Yes. Apart from cloud-allergy, that’s a real issue because it doesn’t allow for a backup.
      But if you use OneNote desktop as well (and have your notebooks open there too), you can rely on the backup done by OneNote desktop, and enjoy the more modern UI of OneNote UWP (and its exclusive feature).

      Also, you may soon be able to get a backup directly from OneNote UWP, thanks to GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). See this blog post to know more about that new requirement steaming from the European commission :

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