Quickly see which OneNote app you have on Windows

Previously we’ve explained about the upcoming changes for OneNote, including how Microsoft have decided to keep the OneNote desktop program ongoing, and retire the Windows 10 ‘modern’ app.

Microsoft failed to decide which OneNote program to prefer for years and had to run two programs side by side.  With Microsoft’s not-so-clear naming, it’s no wonder customers are left confused.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to quickly tell which OneNote app you have on Windows.

OneNote for Windows – two possibilities.

The two available options available for Windows users are:

OneNote – this was previously referred to as “OneNote 2016”, and “OneNote 2013” in earlier years. Now Microsoft wants us to just call it “OneNote” which is silly.  It’s asking for more confusion and misunderstanding.  We prefer to use the term ‘OneNote desktop’ or ‘OneNote for Windows desktop’.

It is a free desktop app included in Office 2019 and Microsoft 365 that runs on all supported versions of Microsoft Windows.

However, as mentioned, the app’s development has now stopped. Users should look at the desktop option for future use.


Main Differences between the two

Although the program’s icons look practically the same (one could argue the Windows 10 version is slightly more refined), the name of the application itself in the Start Menu will help you determine which app you have installed on your desktop.

At a glance – OneNote desktop or app?

Here’s OneNote desktop with some identifying features marked. There are some other distinct features within the programs itself to easily tell the difference between the two OneNote apps.

Look for the File menu and Section tabs just below the ribbon – that tells you it’s OneNote desktop.

Distinguishing features of OneNote desktop — the File menu and Section tabs just below the ribbon.

File menu button

Firstly, the OneNote desktop app will have a File menu button at the top left. This gives you options to open up additional OneNote files, access settings, create or share the files.

Section tabs

OneNote desktop has Section tabs right below the ribbon in a horizontal line.  In the OneNote app they are vertical next to the page list for that section.

OneNote app for Windows 10 (now deprecated) has Home button at top-left and Section tabs vertically.

For the Windows 10 app, the set-up is quite simplified. You’ll find all your sections/tabs available on the left side of the page, in a portrait style.

The app doesn’t have a File Menu, plus the tabs are the same background as the simplified ribbon – which you can’t customise. Although it has a ‘modern’ look, as we’ve noted before it only supports cloud stored notebooks, which is a major disadvantage for those concerned with privacy.

Customize the ribbon

Plus, OneNote desktop uses the Office ribbon features which you have the ability to customise.

Moving forward, we recommend for new users to use OneNote desktop. For those already using OneNote for Windows 10, it may be best to move across to OneNote desktop soon to take advantage of further updates and changes to come.

Understanding all the parts of OneNote
A start-up guide to OneNote
All the goodies inside OneNote Pages

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