2-25 2024

OneNote 2010 to 2016: The Upgrade Trap

A warning to all those who think that OneNote 2010 could be updated to OneNote 2016 for free without problems: There’s a big trap lurking here.

Recently, the Answers forum has seen an increasing number of calls for help from users who have accepted Microsoft’s free offer and have upgraded their old Office OneNote 2010 to the free version of OneNote 2016. After that existing notebooks could no longer be opened. Some suspected a format compatibility problem.

This is not the case. The data format hasn’t been changed since OneNote 2010. There is another issue:

The free OneNote 2016 may appear as a full-fledged Office OneNote. In fact, apart from the connections to other Office modules (Word export, Outlook tasks, integration of Excel spreadsheets), it lacks something very important: The ability to open notebooks that are not stored on OneDrive or OneDrive for Business, but are located in folders on the local disk or a network location as ONE files. The free version of Office 2016 is restricted to notebook access on OneDrive or OneDrive for business; the handling of locally stored notebooks has been removed completely (although there is a not very convenient workaround).

There are only two possible solutions:

  • Upgrade the entire Office package to Office 2016 (or an Office 365 subscription that includes the Office 2016 package). Of course, this is isn’t free. If you choose to do that, the full-fledged OneNote 2016 will land on the computer, which can also handle local notebooks that were created by OneNote 2010 without problems.
  • Undo the update and return to OneNote 2010, I can’t show you the exact way to do this, because I haven’t tried it by myself (I just don’t own an installable Office 2010 anymore). But it should work by uninstalling OneNote 2016 first and then using the Office setup program OneNote 2010.

Given the fact that Microsoft does not support Office 2010 anymore, the first option would be the better choice.

Just as a side: By updating from OneNote 2010 to 2016 you gain almost nothing apart from a somewhat more modern look. New functions have been only been added with OneNote 2013 (and these are hardly worth mentioning). On the contrary, if you use the ability to scan directly in OneNote, you should even stick to an older version. Microsoft has completely removed this function in OneNote 2016.

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