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How to open your existing OneNote notebooks on Windows Phone 7

One of the great draws of Windows Phone 7 for me, and the many folks who have embedded all of their thoughts, memories, meeting notes and other titbits of information in OneNote, is the fact that OneNote Mobile can sync with notebooks on SkyDrive or SharePoint. To be honest, there was a distinct shortage of information about what the exact capabilities of OneNote on Windows Phone 7 were ahead of launch, but I was hoping that Microsoft had done the right thing. Initially I wasn't sure that they had...

In order to get you started, OneNote Mobile will create a new notebook called "Personal (Web)", which it will sync to a folder called My Documents on SkyDrive. It took me a short while to realise where it had put it because up to that point all of my OneNote notebooks had been in Documents and I don't believe I had a My Documents folder. In fact, I'm pretty certain that when the Office Web Apps were released, the only place you could create OneNote notebooks was in the Documents folder (that's no longer the case).

If this is your first time using OneNote, then you may want to just get started using that Personal (Web) notebook, but for those of us who are already invested in OneNote on the desktop and on SkyDrive, the next step to open your existing notebooks isn't very clear. You may guess that moving them into this My Documents folder on SkyDrive would allow the phone to see them - that's logical right? It seems to be where the phone likes to sync OneNote to. Nope.

You might think that the Windows Phone Help and How-To site would tell you what to do, say in the Use Microsoft OneNote Mobile topic. There's a section in that document entitled "To open a OneNote notebook that's on Windows Live SkyDrive". Surely that tells you how to open your pre-existing notebooks in OneNote Mobile? Nah.

What you have to do is visit in Internet Explorer on the phone, browse to your notebook and hit the icon. This will open it in OneNote Mobile and it will automatically start to sync with the phone. Repeat for each notebook. Easy when you know how, right?

Well that's not the whole story - I explained how that worked to another Windows Phone 7 user and it didn't work. It actually opened the notebook in the OneNote Web App. It turns out that's because he'd set IE on his phone to open the desktop versions of sites rather than the mobile version. Changing the IE settings back to mobile enabled him to open and sync his notebooks.

I'm sure that there are some people who will say "well of course that's how it works - that's perfectly intuitive", but it wasn't initially obvious to at least two people and I'm sure we aren't alone. As far as I'm concerned it's fine that it works like this, but there could be a bit more clarity - this is a unique selling point of Windows Phone 7, so I don't think that having some easy-to-find documentation of this feature would be too much to ask.

Incidentally, this does let you sync notebooks that have been shared with you by other users, which is good. They're listed below your own folders and files in the mobile view of on your phone's browser.

One of the things that OneNote Mobile can't currently do is sync password protected sections of your notebooks. This is a shame, but I can see why other things would've been ahead in the queue for the version 1 feature set. I expect this will come in a future update.

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Reader Comments (37)

I had a similar issue after uploading my LAN based notebooks to SkyDrive.
I presumed that it synced the online version with the LAN based one but when I set it up again after I wiped my laptop the LAN version was outdated.
I was hoping I could go to File>Open>Skydrive etc. but that option didn't seem to be available
I had to go to the web app version and click the "open in OneNote" button to get it on my PC.

October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThom

It's funny - I knew that was how the SkyDrive/PC sync worked, but I don't think of a mobile app in the same way. Plus things are confused by the first sync being from the phone to the cloud.

Irrespective of how it works, the fact that the section of documentation entitled "To open a OneNote notebook that's on Windows Live SkyDrive" doesn't tell you how to do it is pretty inexcusable.

October 29, 2010 | Registered Commenterjonoble

So as a prospective Windows phone 7 user and total onenote devotee I had the same experience as you. Everything I read said the only notebook that gives two way sync is the personalweb one. Can I double check a couple of things:
When you sync the other notebooks are they actually stored on the phone?
Can you search all notebooks from your phone?
thanks for this blog> like you say theres nothing useful on the microsoft site.

October 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterscoobie

Another thought - if you're accessing through internet explorer surely all it is using is the web access that any pc or most phones have. is it actually using the onenote app on the phone?

I remembered that pocketnow asked the offoice mobile group manager this question and he said that only syncing of the personalweb folder Is supported right now but they hoped to increase tomore notebooks -see the reader comments in:

its covered in this video too, at 9:11

So it sounds like maybe you have found a way around this, but does it give you the mobile onenote interface or the web one?

October 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterscoobie

Scoobie, I know those sources may contradict what I've posted, but this is what I've found on my Samsung Omnia 7 from 3UK...

If you have the browser in "desktop" mode, then it does indeed open the notebooks in the OneNote Web App and doesn't copy/sync them locally. However, provided you have the browser in "mobile" mode, when you try to open a notebook on it definitely opens it in OneNote Mobile on the phone and starts to sync that notebook.

I have definitely confirmed two-way sync with my own notebooks and a shared notebook owned by another user who has given me permission (I confirmed that another user of this shared notebook could see the change I made). The changes made on the phone are synced to th cloud and down to OneNote on the desktop.

You don't need to use the Personal (Web) notebook at all, In fact I have deleted it from the phone and removed the My Documents folder from my SkyDrive.

The sync most definitely keeps offline copies on the phone because I was able to access my notebooks while I was on a boat in the middle of the North Sea with no data connection at all.

Hope that clears everything up. :-)

October 30, 2010 | Registered Commenterjonoble

Johnathan, that it excellent news thanks, I will be buying a W7 phone asap!

October 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterscoobie

Thanks Jonathan, I've been going around in increasingly frustrating circles trying to sync an existing Notebook to my HTC've explained it perfectly and at last it's done. :-) Thanks again.

October 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Casey

Hi Martin,

Thanks for the feedback - I'm really happy to hear my post helped you out. Happy syncing!

October 31, 2010 | Registered Commenterjonoble

Awesome awesome work Jon. I've been trying to figure this out for days now - I initially even did a hard reset because of the mess I got into with it!

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJamie Thomson

Hi Jamie,

Thanks for that - glad to hear it helped you out. :-)

November 3, 2010 | Registered Commenterjonoble

Nay bother. By the way, I stumbled upon here because you're linked to from:

November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJamie Thomson

Thanks so much. What awful documentation from Microsoft. I mean, it makes since once you stop and think about it, but very few people would get this right the first time. Again, thanks for taking time from your day to post this.

November 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Shelton

And thank you for taking the time to comment Greg.

I must admit that when I worked it out, I was kicking myself for not having worked it out sooner, because it is "obvious" when you know how. The amount of feedback that I've had on this post (and the fact that it's been stolen by some other blogs) suggests that there were plenty people struggling with this.

November 10, 2010 | Registered Commenterjonoble

Thanks for this post! I was struggling for hours trying to find the information. I managed to use Windwos Live Mesh to sync my OneNote-Folders to Skydrive. Unfortunately, I cannot find them while browsing to - only some documents in the personal-folder are available.

Ok, I thought, so I manually added my notebook-files there. when trying to opening them my mobile says ".ONE-Files are not supported by Windows 7 Phone".

Does this only work with OneNote 2010? Any help is greatly appreciated, as I am a complete OneNote-Addict....

November 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMB

Hi MB,

Unfortunately the storage that Live Mesh uses for sync on SkyDrive isn't accessible via It's a separate 5GB quota on top of your normal 25GB on SkyDrive. I'm not sure why, but I can only assume that it's running on different infrastructure. I hope this is something that they will fix, since if a file is important enough to sync to the cloud, then it would probably be handy to edit it in the Office Web Apps too!

Syncing OneNote notebooks with Live Mesh was the best way to have access to them in multiple places before the Office Web Apps were available. Now they like you to do what you attempted and upload them directly to your SkyDrive (not in the Live Mesh synced area). However, you have found the final problem with all of this - OneNote's native sync via SkyDrive does require your Notebooks to be upgraded to OneNote 2010 format.

It's the only file format where they do require an update the latest version of Office, but it's also the place where they've done the most work in terms of multi-user editing across the desktop and the cloud.

If you create new notebooks via the OneNote Web App, obviously they will be in the new format and can sync with your phone, but I'm afraid that you're going to have to get OneNote 2010 to be able to achieve all the syncing goodness. Sorry to be the bearer of costly news. :-(

November 10, 2010 | Registered Commenterjonoble

Thanks for the fast reply - so, in order to use OneNote-Notebooks on my desktop-computer and on my mobile AND having them synced automatically (hey we have 2010! ;) ) - I would have to use OneNote 2010, and all my problem would be solved?

November 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMB

That's exactly right. Use OneNote 2010 and all your dreams will come true! ;-)

November 10, 2010 | Registered Commenterjonoble

Using your method, I found it worked similarly for opening office documents I had on; downside they don't synch like onenote but was still great to not have to jump through major hurdles to get a word doc, edit and then send it via emal.

November 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjkavanagh58

Yeah, it's a shame that there isn't any automatic sync for other Office docs, but at least that's a quick way to get them on the phone.

November 11, 2010 | Registered Commenterjonoble

I've done the steps and it opens the notebooks, but when I click on the Office tile it shows six OneNote tiles, but they are not the notebook titles, instead they are random sections and/or pages...? When I click the "all" button and scroll to "notebooks" then I can see the correct notebook titles and sections under that. My WP7 appears to be confused about the difference between what are notebooks, sections, and pages.

November 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersandrac

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