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ISSUE 19.34.F • 2022-08-22 • Text Alerts!Gift Certificates

In this issue

ONENOTE: Where to store your OneNote notebooks

Additional articles in the PLUS issue • Get Plus!

SOFTWARE: Thunderbird: A worthy alternative to Microsoft Outlook

MICROSOFT 365: Using PowerShell to manage Word documents

ON SECURITY: The Ransomware Task Force’s advice needs work


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Where to store your OneNote notebooks

Mary Branscombe

By Mary Branscombe

OneNote is meant to be one place for all your notes, but even though it’s great to have one location to look at all your notes, you might want to have a bit more control about where those notes are actually stored.

For many users, it might seem as if you didn’t have a choice: unless you’re using the Windows desktop version of OneNote and you paid for a license, your notebooks must be stored in OneDrive. That’s what allows them to sync onto any device you use — PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, or anything with a suitable Web browser.

But even though your notebooks must be stored in OneDrive, they don’t need to be stored in the same OneDrive account you use for other things on that device. You can even open notebooks that are stored in someone else’s account, if they share them with you.

Choose File | Account | Add a service | Storage in the desktop Windows OneNote app (or Settings, Accounts from the menu in the Windows 10 OneNote app), and you can add any other accounts you use yourself — whether personal or work, multiple work accounts for different organizations, or multiple Microsoft accounts to give you more OneDrive storage. You can choose which flavor of OneDrive each time (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. You can add as many OneDrive and OneDrive for Business accounts to OneNote as you need.

(Currently, there are still two versions of OneNote on Windows, which can be confusing. This is a good point to clarify names. When I refer to the Windows 10 OneNote app, I mean the version of OneNote that either comes pre-installed in Windows 10 or that you install from the Microsoft Store, which identifies itself as OneNote for Windows 10. When I refer to “desktop” OneNote, I mean the full OneNote application for Windows that comes as part of Office or can be downloaded separately, which Microsoft just calls “the OneNote app.”)

If you have work notebooks, you can — and should — store those in OneDrive for Business. That way, you can share them with colleagues without having to share a link from your personal OneDrive account. If you ever leave the company, the IT team will be able to assign ownership of the notebook file to someone else so it won’t get deleted when your account is removed. That also protects you from any liability issues that might come from continuing to have access to company information after you leave.

If you’re a consultant working with multiple clients and customers who use Microsoft 365, you might want to store relevant OneNote notebooks using the account you use to access their tenant. Again, this keeps any sensitive or confidential business information on a system they control. However, there may be exceptions. You may need access to the information in the notebook, even after the project ends. Or you might need to remove their access, because the information was part of the service you provided to them during your engagement. For such commercial arrangements, you will probably want your contract to include the details of where the notebook is stored and who will have access to it after the engagement ends.

If you create a OneNote notebook from inside Microsoft Teams, it will automatically be put into the OneDrive for Business storage associated with that Teams channel, and Teams will handle giving access to everyone in the channel (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. When you create a OneNote notebook in Teams, it is stored in OneDrive for Business so that everyone in the channel has access.

Many OneDrives

If you have multiple OneDrive for Business accounts, you can add them all to Windows (or to the OneDrive app on other devices), and OneNote will include any notebooks stored there in its list of notebooks. You can use OneDrive to sync only one personal OneDrive account per device, but you can still open notebooks stored in different OneDrive accounts and have OneNote handle that sync.

If you are using multiple personal OneDrive accounts to get more storage, you can put a OneNote notebook into any of them and open it on any device. OneDrive includes 5GB of storage free; you can increase that to 100GB with a standalone OneDrive subscription. If you need only a little extra space, you could put documents and photos into one account and your OneNote notebook into another.

Similarly, you get 1TB of storage with a Microsoft 365 Personal subscription, and you can pay for more in 200GB increments. But you can also share a Microsoft 365 Family subscription with five other people, each of whom gets 1TB. OneDrive for Business starts with the same 1TB per user, but if you have more storage available, an admin can increase that to 5TB (or even 25TB). You can’t reallocate the storage on a family account in the same way, but even if you don’t have six people in your family, you can still use multiple Microsoft accounts to access the extra storage.

You can tell OneNote about multiple personal OneDrive and OneDrive for Business accounts by using the Accounts dialog or as part of opening a notebook stored there.

Figure 3. Use the notebook properties option to find where a notebook syncs from; then move it if you need to.

In the desktop Windows OneNote app, choose File | Open (Figure 3 shows notebook locations); then, under Other locations, select Add a Place. In OneNote for Windows 10 or the mobile apps, click on the name of the current notebook in the navigation bar and choose More Notebooks …; then click Add account at the bottom of the Choose notebooks to open dialog. You can also click on the three dots in the top right-hand corner and choose Settings, Accounts, Add Account. You’ll need to log in to the account to see any notebooks stored in that account on the list of notebooks you can open.

If you already have the notebook open on another device, a faster way is to send yourself a link to the notebook. When you click the link on the other device, it will open in OneNote and start syncing.

Pick a notebook location

You need to add the OneDrive account in which you want to store a new notebook before you create it. (You can move notebooks later, but it will take time to copy the sections and pages.) In the desktop OneNote app, choose File | New and pick the account for your notebook. In OneNote for Windows 10, click the name of the current notebook in the navigation bar and then + Add notebook at the bottom of the pane. Then pick which account to use in the New Notebook dialog.

It’s even easier in the mobile OneNote app. When you tap on the + Notebook button, it shows where the notebook will be saved (under Location), and you can tap the dropdown to pick a different account.

If you use multiple OneDrive accounts and aren’t sure which account a notebook is stored in, it’s easy to check in the desktop OneNote app. Choose File | Open, and the list of notebooks you can open shows the location from which they sync. If you want to move the notebook, right-click on the notebook name and choose Properties (see Figure 4). The Change Location button allows you to move the notebook to any location to which you can navigate in File Explorer.

Figure 4. Use the Notebook Properties option to find where a notebook syncs from; move it if you need to.

It’s trickier to track down where a notebook is saved in the Windows 10 OneNote app. If you have access to the desktop OneNote app, you may find it easier to just add all your accounts and see where each notebook is stored by browsing through them. Otherwise, right-click on the name of the notebook you need to locate, and then choose Copy Link to Notebook. (You can also do that with a section or even a page.) Paste the link into Notepad. You can also paste into OneNote itself, but make sure you choose the text option from the Paste Options button that pops up.

That will give you what looks like two links. The first will be a URL you can click to load the notebook into the Web version of OneNote. The second is a link that loads the notebook into your default OneNote app. Both show the file path for the notebook. If you don’t recognize the account from the file path, go to and sign in with your different accounts until you find the matching folder. Note that when you do that, you might see your Documents folder called OneNote notebooks — it’s just an alias that is used if you visit OneDrive using a OneNote URL.

Moving a notebook

If you find that a notebook is stored in the wrong account, you can easily move it: create a new notebook in the desired account and open it, then right-click on each section in the original notebook and choose Move or Copy (that’s Move/Copy in the Windows 10 app). Select the newly created notebook as the target. For safety, choose Copy rather than Move. Once you’ve checked that all your content has been safely moved into the new notebook, you can go back and close — or even delete — the original notebook.

You can also close any unneeded accounts in the Windows 10 OneNote app. Doing so will close any notebooks you have open from those accounts. Make sure you don’t close any notebooks or accounts until you know where your notebooks are stored, in case you can’t find them again. And never close a notebook or account if you’re having trouble syncing the notebook. (We’ll cover how to troubleshoot sync problems in my next column.)

If you want to open a notebook someone else has shared with you, be aware that you can’t add their account to your OneNote directly — you must use the link they sent you. If you don’t have the original sharing invite handy, you can get a link from another device on which you already have access. Right-click on a section or page and choose the Copy Link command. Paste the link into a OneNote page, click on it, and the notebook will open in your default OneNote app and start syncing.

Another option is to go into your OneDrive and find the folder where the notebook is stored, which will have been shared with your OneDrive account when the notebook was shared with you. (You may even have added it to your own OneDrive folder list.) If you open the notebook from OneDrive on the Web, it will probably open in OneNote on the Web too — but you can click Open in App to open it in your default OneNote app.

You can see other kinds of notes in OneNote that aren’t stored in a notebook. You can sync the Samsung Notes mobile app into your OneNote feed, and you will see notes from the Windows Sticky Notes in the feed as well. Open the OneNote feed by clicking its icon on the ribbon and signing in to the account where you want to view those notes.

Outside the cloud

If you’re using the desktop Windows OneNote app and you paid for a license, you can store your OneNote notebooks anywhere you want — on your PC, on a network file share, in your company’s SharePoint library, or in a different cloud storage service. But you can sync that notebook only onto a Windows PC with the desktop OneNote app — you can’t see it on a Mac or a smartphone. And anyone you want to share it with must have access to the file location (and must also have paid for a license for the desktop Windows OneNote app). OneDrive takes care of that, making sharing straightforward and manageable (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Using OneDrive is the easiest way to make sure everyone has access to the notebook you share with them. You can revoke access later, if you need to.

SharePoint at work is a good place to save OneNote notebooks — if you already use it — because it makes them easy to share. However, there are some SharePoint settings that will stop OneNote sync from working properly. Pick a library that doesn’t require documents to be checked in and out, doesn’t enforce document version history, and doesn’t have any required properties. (Or ask the SharePoint admin to turn those settings off for the library.)

Storing notebooks outside OneDrive is an important option for a lot of organizations. Just remember that it has other implications.

The Mac, mobile, and Windows 10 OneNote apps can store documents only in OneDrive because the modern sync engine they use isn’t written to work with files — just cloud storage. When the desktop OneNote app on Windows eventually gets that same modern sync engine, it will unlock extra features such as syncing custom tags, and faster sync — because only the sections of a note page that have changed will get synced. It’s not clear yet whether Microsoft will update the way sync works when you store notebooks outside OneDrive to support those features, so choosing to store them locally might mean sticking with the older sync engine.

But Microsoft has promised that you will still be able to choose where to save notebooks with the Windows OneNote app — just be sure you know what trade-offs you’re making if you don’t leave them in OneDrive.

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Mary Branscombe has been a technology journalist for nearly three decades, writing for a wide range of publications. She’s been using OneNote since the very first beta was announced — when, in her enthusiasm, she trapped the creator of the software in a corner.

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