For this first post, I’m going to start with an area that’s foundational to some of the things I’ll be talking about later: the changes to OneNote’s organizational system. Since shipping the first version, we've gotten some great feedback about where the current design shines and doesn't so much, along with many suggestions. We've gotten consistently positive reactions to the basic approach - a digital notebook with colored tab dividers. However, when you have a lot of sections in OneNote, they scroll off the screen and can take a LOT of clicking to get to. There's a drop-down which shows all your sections vertically, but not everyone finds it, and there's no way to keep it open. And folders, which are a way of organizing multiple sections within your notebook, make it a little hard to tell where you are.

One interesting request we've heard with some frequency is support for multiple notebooks (instead of having just one big notebook with structure inside it). This turns out to be one of those requests which, when made of a normal person, causes them to give a normal response (i.e., “OK”), but when made of product designers who have been obsessing over the design for several years, causes them to ask alarming questions about What You Are Really Trying To Accomplish. Which we did for a little while, because we weren’t sure whether this was a functional thing (i.e., “I can’t do X because I need feature Y”) or a concept thing (“I can do X but OneNote’s way is weird”). If you squinted, top-level folders within your notebook were similar to having multiple notebooks. And if we added support for multiple notebooks, would they in turn be contained inside some other new, top-level thing that you took with you? (What do you call a group of notebooks, anyway? "Shelf" or "Filing Cabinet" might be the obvious choices, but I'm sort of partial to "squadron", a word which, based on its sheer oddness, deserves greater usage outside military contexts IMO.)

While we were hearing this request from people trying to organize their personal information in OneNote, we were also talking to a lot of customers who were experimenting with using OneNote to share information between the members of a team. This was not their personal stuff, but separate stuff that was team knowledge – for example, precedents for a case being researched by a team of lawyers. And OneNote’s approach to storing your information – one big “My Notebook” folder on your hard drive – didn’t match the way they wanted to store those separate sets of information either. They not only wanted their personal notes stored in one place and their team notes stored in another, they already had a place to keep team files. (As many teams at many companies do.) We really wanted to really nail this “group notebook” scenario in OneNote 12, so we wanted the user interface to make this separation clear.

Putting this together with the other issues mentioned above, it gradually became clear that multiple notebooks could actually solve a number of user problems at once: (1) they could, obviously, satisfy the folks that just wanted multiple notebooks; (2) they could provide a clear boundary between sections that were shared and those that weren’t; (3) they could make it clearer where you were, relative to folders; and (4) they could cut down on the incidence of long, scrolling lists of sections. The primary downside of multiple notebooks is that they took a little more screen real estate from the page content – but only a little, and for that cost you also got another level of single-click quick access.

In the picture above, you're seeing my actual current set of notebooks in OneNote. I have six (Favorites, OneNote 12, People Management, Personal, Baudboys, and Travel).

The "mini-bar" of notebooks on the left also has an expand button at the top that widens it into a pane showing all your notebooks and all the sections inside of them:

When combined with the drag-drop support we've added in this release, this expanded pane is also great for re-organizing. Drag-drop is now enabled everywhere – you can drag page tabs onto section tabs, section tabs onto notebooks, notebooks above or below other notebooks, sections before or after other sections, pages before or after other pages, etc.

And that’s the basic organizational story in OneNote 12 – you can have multiple notebooks, each of which has its own set of sections, each of which (just like the first version) has its own set of pages. And folders still exist, by the way, to allow additional levels of hierarchy inside notebooks, in case you need them.

Next up... linking related notes together.