Microsoft’s Free OneNote Hints At Its Larger Strategy

This morning, Microsoft announced that it was making OneNote, its note-taking service that syncs across platforms, free. The PC app, the new Mac app, and a variety of small tools for the service are now available for anyone to use without cost. Paid upgrades and corporate sales as part of Office 365, however, still exist, and that may hint at Microsoft’s overall strategy for Office going forward.

Until today, Microsoft offered a mixed OneNote experience, with most people getting OneNote through their Office subscription or purchase, the free web app or through Microsoft’s free Metro app for Windows 8 and mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Microsoft wants to drive OneDrive usage, an experience that is tied closely to OneNote. So the company lowered friction to entry by increasing its platform support in OneNote and by ending pricing questions. No matter where you want to use the service, you can, and Microsoft would like to welcome you into the larger Office-as-a-Service world with open arms.

For some time now, Microsoft has also used OneNote as a service for experimenting with new ideas and platforms. The fact that it’s now the first of the Office apps to go freemium both on the desktop and the web could mean Microsoft is considering this kind of freemium model for other Office applications, as well. For some, OneNote could also be the gateway drug into the Office ecosystem, which, after all, already includes the free Office Web apps.

Isn’t Microsoft depreciating the value proposition of Office 365 by making a component that it once sold, free? Perhaps, but you have to wonder who was buying that service for its inclusion of OneNote, and, secondly, what the potential value-add is for Microsoft to spur new, engaged users, as opposed to a minor potential drag on sales of its Office service SKUs.

The move falls under the current rubric of change at Microsoft: unification. A useful, but somewhat disparate service has been improved and brought into something approaching harmony. (Puns here about “One Microsoft” in the context of OneDrive and OneNote, are welcome.)