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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)

The tiles that you see when you open the Office hub will be the pages most recently opened on the phone - I'm not sure which ones it chooses to display before you've started really using it.

I definitely agree that the naming of the different parts of a notebook appears to be confused in OneNote Mobile, but at least everything should be there, even if it is in a slightly odd place in relation to the labels. The one exception to this that I've been made aware of, is section groups, but I don't use them personally, so I'm not sure to what extent they aren't supported in this version.

November 12, 2010 | Registered Commenterjonoble

I am an avid user of Onenote and use Live Mesh to sync across multiple computers. My notebook is about 57MB. I found out how to use the desktop client to sync to the Skydrive, versus the Skydrive Synced Storage used by live mesh. There must be a limit for size because it shows up on my phone, but it can't open the 57MB notebook, and gives erro code e0000578. Smaller notebooks work just fine. BTW, there is no search function for the notebooks. So even if it did sync my large file, I would be frustrated because I couldn't search for anything.

November 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjason

Ok, it makes sense now that I know what they were thinking, but damn!! Wow, thanks man, you saved my day. ;)

November 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllen Trevethan

@Jason, I'm pretty certain there's a 50MB single file limit on SkyDrive, so that's probably the issue there. That said, without a search, you're probably right that it's going to be hard to find stuff on a notebook that big!

@Allen, you're welcome. :-)

November 19, 2010 | Registered Commenterjonoble

Oh my god, I've been trying to fix this issue for the last 4 hours. Now it took 1 minute. Thanks a lot! Life saver!

December 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Nachev

@Martin, Glad I was able to help you out. :-)

December 20, 2010 | Registered Commenterjonoble

jonoble: Thank you, thank you, thank you! I've been wrestling with this since yesterday. None of the MS docs even come close to pointing us in the right direction. This method worked first time. MS really needs to improve this.

PS: This needs to be added to

December 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjrouette

A million thanks for this blog post!! I searched all over wondow phone help for the "how to" on this. I am shaking my head flabbergasted that one has to leave the OneNote Mobile context/experience to accomplish opening a legacy notebook and even worse there is no help on that shows how to do it!!!!! :-( When will we ever learn??!!

December 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterorrisj

@jrouette, @orrisj, Glad I could help you guys out.

Incidentally, it seems I was wrong in an earlier comment about the file size issue. As pointed out by my friend Ben Lee:

"The issue has been resolved. Effective immediately, you are now able to sync much larger OneNote sections to your SkyDrive account than before, due to changes we’ve made in the way that embedded files, printouts, images, and other data inside your OneNote section files are stored on SkyDrive. Such content previously counted towards your 50MB total file size limit, but we now store such section data in a more optimized way to help keep the overall file size low."

January 4, 2011 | Registered Commenterjonoble

Thanks! I actually work for Microsoft and couldn't figure that one out :)
Appreciate you taking the time to document that for everyone. I'll ping the product group and ask if they can add this to the help file.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris

@Chris, I'm not sure that's a good idea - they might not have expected this to work and may close the loophole! ;-)

It certainly seems to be something that a lot of people have been trying to do, judging by the comments on this post, and it even came up in a discussion at our NEBytes usergroup meeting last week.

January 24, 2011 | Registered Commenterjonoble

@Chris, when you ping them, if you don't mind asking also, ask them if they are planning on adding:
1)Search function to OneNote on WP7
2)ability to read tablet pc ink notes on WP7

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I have a LG Quantum and have tried syncing the windows website way and the way explained here and both come up saying that I am signed in but then comes back with a no data connection error. Any suggestions?

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShazmora


You don't say whether you're connecting via wifi or 3G?

I think I'm right is saying that you need to have cookies enabled in IE for this to work, so that's something else to check.

March 3, 2011 | Registered Commenterjonoble

Looks like this page now documents how to open other notebooks by going to in IE.

However, I have two Live IDs on my phone: the primary is my Zune/Xbox Live ID, the secondary is my hotmail. When I use IE (in Mobile mode) and sign in to using my hotmail account and then try to open a notebook that isn't shared publicly, I get an error (80630040). I assume this is because OneNote is hard-wired to use my primary Live ID credentials. Has anyone else run into this?

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDamon

@Damon - I see the exact same with my two accounts :( Any luck on figuring this out?

June 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjerick

@Damon - Got it working! Check out Rob's comment @

"Howabout you share a folder on your shared skydrive, and allow your personal live id to access it?
Create a onenote notebook in the folder (or move an existing one, etc).
You can then, on your phone, browse to, open that shared folder, and open the onenote notebook, which will then sync."

I have my personal account as primary and a shared account with my fiancee. In the web view I logged into the shared account and modified the permissions of the shared account's "my documents" to allow access to my personal account.

June 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Erickson

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