TL;DR Executive Summary
If you want to “Get OneNote 2013 on your PC for Free”, the version that “Works on Windows 7 and Windows 8” and thus is a Win32 desktop application and not the modern version that requires Windows 8 and the Windows Store, you need to be aware of two simple requirements.
1) You MUST have a Microsoft account (formally known as a Live ID).
2) You can ONLY create and open OneNote Notebooks that are stored up in OneDrive (the product formally known as SkyDrive).
This isn’t a big deal if you’re aware of these truths and accept them, After all, it’s a free download.
Then why am I writing this blog post?
I’m writing about this because as of July 4, 2014, Microsoft does not tell you these requirements anywhere on http://www.onenote.com/ or the download page at http://www.onenote.com/download. Microsoft also does not list the Microsoft Account & OneDrive requirements at the System Requirements page. The System Requirements page does not make a distinction between the free version of OneNote 2013 and any of the other “editions” on said page.
This post is here because as a raving fan of OneNote 2013, I want people to love it and use it like I do. I want there to be as little friction as possible.
While folks like Mary Jo Foley point out some of these requirements and limitations, the average user doesn’t tend to read the geek press.
They see FREE DOWNLOAD and just go for it.
I just want Microsoft to do two things.
1) Please make it crystal clear on their marketing and download pages that FREE OneNote isn’t the same as the PAID edition.
2) Fix the out-of-box download experience so that I don’t have to deal with activation dialogs and other crap. (You can read more about this issue below).
The Long Version
A recent discussion about software tools to be better organized came up recently on a mailing list of which I’m a member.
As part of the e-mail discussion, one of the participants commented on how they couldn’t try out OneNote 2013 because it required a Microsoft account.
I found this odd. I’ve used OneNote since the first release and have OneNote Notebooks stored in all manner of locations including my local hard drive, local network shares, SharePoint on my Intranet, SharePoint on Office 365 and yes, even OneDrive.
But I knew also that I am using a paid version of OneNote that comes as part of a larger Office 2013 Professional product. I wondered, could things be different with OneNote 2013 fro Windows 7/8 desktop (my name)?
I quickly spun up a Windows 7 SP1 virtual machine in Microsoft Azure. I then connected to http://www.onenote.com/ .
I clicked the Free Download button which sent an small installer stub down to my machine.
I clicked the Run button. The installer started.
After a little bit, I was offered the opportunity to Sign In. Hmmm. My spidy -sense was tingling.
I didn’t. I clicked the X in the upper right corner to see if OneNote would start. It didn’t. I let the installer finish up. The installer pointed out it still had more to do but that I could start using my “programs” (This is obviously a side effect from Microsoft using the main Office installer for a single program).
I waited until it was all done. It turns out the installer was also installing OneDrive on my computer.
As you can see from the above screen shot, OneNote is running. How did I get there? Well dear reader, please read on …
Now that the installer was done, I tried to start OneNote without signing in with one of my (sadly) many Microsoft accounts. No dice. As mentioned in the TL;DR Executive Summary above, you must log in and use OneDrive at a minimum.
Once I did log in, OneNote started and asked me what I wanted to do. Normally, I would say yes to use the recommended settings, but I wanted to see what I had to do versus what I could do.
The next screen was a total surprise until I thought about it a bit.
I thought Microsoft said OneNote 2013 was free? Yes, OneNote is telling me my trial has expired and that I need either a) a key or b) an “active account”. Now as a long time Microsoft user, I know what’s going on. But does the average non-geek user? We’re seeing a side effect of the product coming from code base that actively uses registration and anti-piracy technology as opposed to say software that is written from the ground up to be a front-end to a service (think Evernote).
I don’t’ have a key, so I choose the Sign In option. See the Side Bar below for some additional information related to signing in again.
Now it’s asking me to Activate Office. Oh boy.
I entered the same e-mail address I’d already used and clicked next. Because it was a e-mail address bound to Microsoft account it prompted me for my e-mail address and password for good measure.
But alas this wasn’t going to make OneNote happy. It produced a long winded dialog (see below) telling me that “This account … isn't associated with this Office product.”
So I clicked OK and then clicked the X in the upper right corner of the “Your trial has expired dialog. At this point, OneNote finished loading and I was presented with my first Notebook.
To be honest I expected OneNote to close. I then went to check and see if OneNote thought it was activated. It indeed thought it was. Bottom line this whole initial experience with activation warnings, etc. needs to be addressed.
The last thing I wanted to check in this exercise (remember, I’m a raving OneNote fan and use it daily already), I tried to create a local Notebook on my hard drive. Turns out this is not allowed nor is opening existing notebooks that you might copy to your local drive from another location including Office 365.
By using the term “edition” it seems Microsoft considers this to be a special version of OneNote 2013 even though that is not made clear when you first go to download it.
This “edition” of OneNote 2013 is very much inline with the other free versions of OneNote which Microsoft encourages you to download also:
Each of these platforms carries restrictions based on platform as well as Microsoft’s choices.
“Modern” OneNote that works on Windows RT devices as well as Windows 8.x PCs, supports both OneDrive and Office 365 hosted notebooks for free.
OneNote on the Mac (only available as a free option, not as part of Office on OS/X) on the other hand only supports OneDrive hosted notebooks currently.
OneNote for Windows Phone, iOS, and Android supports both OneDrive and Office 365 hosted notebooks for free.
It’s funny the Android version has the message “All you have to do is sign in!” Very appropriate.
Thus only the PAID version of OneNote that runs as a Win32 PC application supports local, network, and SharePoint not hosted on Office 365 in addition to Microsoft’s cloud-based storage.
The bottom line is that OneNote is a great product. I use it every day and find it an invaluable tool.
My Surface Pro 3 is on order and one of the top features I’m looking forward to is the OneNote integration,
If you want full access to all the power with all the choice possible as to where you store your data, you’ll need to spend some money.
That said, I’m betting, as others are, that Microsoft has big plans for OneNote and hopefully that includes more choice when using OneNote on other devices.
Sidebar: Why “Sign In” to activate when I’m already signed in?
When you first start OneNote 2013, you have to provide a Microsoft account e-mail address. If you attempt to activate, they ask you for the e-mail address again, why? Because OneNote supports opening content from multiple accounts. One of those accounts could in fact be tied to an Office 365 subscription and thus provide as part of that subscription, a full license to OneNote,
Updated 2014-7-7 10:10 resized a couple images.
Updated 2014-9-5 16:37 fixed title.