Mar 13, 2022Liked by Steven Sinofsky

I am glad to see the emergence of the usefulness of MSO.dll in creating new apps. That is how it was envisioned when we started even though the immediate focus was on bringing better UI and feature consistency across the original apps. MSO was also useful anytime a product joined Office (Publisher, FrontPage, PhotoDraw). One very early use to build a completely new app was Hagaki Studio, a Japan specific program for making new year cards. That was in 1998 or 99 I think.

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Mar 13, 2022·edited Mar 13, 2022Liked by Steven Sinofsky

As I was reading about the kind of conflict with respect to integration Scribbler presented, all I could think of was OneNote, and then suddenly, ahah! In a way, OneNote became a kind of concept vehicle for cloud collaboration and that was nifty. The enthusiasm for OneNote was strong among some of my colleagues, although I was slow to make use of it. For me, it has the best browser article clipping mechanism ever, although quality has varied over the years.

I bought my first Tablet PC (XP version) from a little-known company whose name I forget. The fan died and killed the processor, which ran very hot with the fan. My second was a Toshiba Satellite which is still running about 8 feet from where I'm sitting, operating as a local web-development server. I never exploited the tablet capability although I had dreams about that as a developer. I did learn that Toshiba fell short with regard to updates and driver availability, ceasing at warranty expiration time. Still, the Satellite keeps on ticking though confined to the power brick and occasionally needing a reboot to get IIS running again. As a power typist, I never went for the tablet functionality. And these days, I just shrug and buy a Dell PC

when I finally have to upgrade. Well, the Surface Laptop Studio does catch my eye. Maybe when I finally have to work entirely with a laptop.

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Dec 31, 2022Liked by Steven Sinofsky

Great post on the Tablet PC and birth of OneNote. I joined the OneNote team as the Test Manager, just at the end of the V1 release in Office 2003. I was in love with the product, and many people still don’t realize that we shipped real time co-authoring in OneNote 2004 (fast-follow release), a couple of years before a Google bought Writely.

At some point during the early OneNote 2007 planning cycle, I started thinking about the really incredible new features that we were building in OneNote and how they could be revolutionary in education, not just as note taking, but delivering curriculum, feedback, collaboration, multi modal learning, and more. I called it “NextGen Learning with OneNote” I started going around doing a lot of early customer connection interviews, talking with educators and students about OneNote education world, blogging, and working with Anoop Gupta on OneNote EDU concepts and features. I became known internally as “the crazy OneNote education guy.” Unfortunately, as you’ve talked about in earlier posts, some of the things I was trying to do were way too early for the time period, and there were very few 1 to 1 computer deployments in schools. One of the only places was in Norway at that time, so I worked a lot with them.

I left the OneNote team in 2010, but then in 2013, unbeknownst to me, a Microsoft researcher named Jonathan Grudin had gone out across the US and was doing research about OneNote in the 1:1 environment as PCs in classrooms were getting much more common in schools. He came back and wrote a white paper called “OneNote - a killer education app in the era of 1:1 computing?” and sent it to Chris Pratley. Chris pointed Jonathan to me and said “Mike Tholfsen has been talking about this for 10 years” although that time I was working on the MS Project team. As a side project, Jonathan and I put together a proposal to supercharge OneNote to allow teachers to set it up in a special edu-permissioned way that some educators had been hacking together themselves. We pitched the idea to Pratley and he helped us get funding for a very small team of engineers in China to work with us to create what is now called the OneNote Class Notebook app. We iterated and tested it out privately with a small set of schools in early 2014, and quickly learned it had shades of product market fit. Teachers went nuts, students loved the concept, and there was nothing like in in the market. So I moved back to the OneNote team under Eran Megiddo, changed disciplines to PM, and worked on bringing the OneNote Class Notebook app to market.

Many years later, it’s being used by tens of millions of teachers and students, and has huge fans in the education space. I’m now on the Microsoft Education product team working on various other projects as well, but the OneNote Class Notebook is still going strong. The pandemic especially supercharged usage that has continued even with schools going back to in-person. As a bonus, there are legions of passionate teachers with purple OneNote capes that we call OneNote Avengers 💜

So Steven, that is a long winded way of saying THANK YOU for that initial email to Chris Pratley about the concept of OneNote! It ultimately led my to my true passion of EdTech, and I agree that it is one of the best apps from Microsoft.

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Steven, I'm wondering, What was the relationship between InkWriter and Scribbler?

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Mar 14, 2022·edited Mar 15, 2022Liked by Steven Sinofsky

(From my own Substack writing)

I joined GO in mid-1988 to form an applications team. Our thesis was that, as a new OS, no one would develop apps for it at first, so we would need to create them ourselves. My first assignment was to build a team and work with them and others to create a Lotus Agenda-like product. Later, when State Farm Insurance expressed interest in a field claims application, forms entry became the focus.

But it turned out that the industry saw the GO hardware and the GO OS, PenPoint, as the next Mac, which was still relatively new and exciting to people. Also, Windows was not yet successful, so everyone was looking for the next successful GUI train to ride to glory on. So, we often stopped my team's work and gave it to other startups investors were funding as part of the new ecosystem they were building around GO. This included Vern Rayburn and Dan Bricklin's company Slate, who wanted to build the next VisiCalc. We also gave our form creation code to the future founder of Splunk to create a forms package and an Agenda-like product, called Pensoft.

We had a parade of ISVs of all sizes come to our offices to look at what we were doing and brainstorm with our OS, graphics, file system & networking leaders, and myself about how their apps were architected and what they would look like on PenPoint. We had a cubicle with a PC that had our by-then massive Inside Macintosh-like documentation - written in Word for DOS - installed for easy browsing, and a development environment with binaries and header files, and a secondary monitor to test and debug programs on using the Notebook User Interface ("NUI").

Major ISVs were interested. Ashton-Tate was a natural fit, given Robert and my background there. They came up, audited the system, and agreed to port dBase IV to PenPoint. My team and I guided and partially developed the port which recreated the DOS character graphic system and ran what was a dBase IV DOS-based GUI app on Penpoint that always ran in landscape mode.

What a bizarre idea in retrospect. I suppose it had the virtues of being quick and cheap.

In 1989 another ISV that came down for a PenPoint GO audit was Microsoft. Like Apple, we were a hardware company, intent on building our own devices. At our company meeting the day before Microsoft arrived, there was a lot of angst expressed by company members about the "borg", Microsoft's characteristic rapaciousness, etc. Our Apple alumni were deeply suspicious. Our Sun alumni expressed disgust, etc. It all seemed a bit simplistic to me. I opined that what we were doing was an open secret in the industry, they knew more about OS development and shipping than we currently did, and so were not likely to give them any new ideas, whereas I could press them on what perceived shortcomings they saw in our approach, which could be constructive, and may lead to some understanding of what if any plans they had in 1989 for this area. Robert and Jerry agreed with the few of us that wanted to meet with MSFT, so Jerry approved the meetings, and they were set up.

By the time Microsoft came down from Redmond, we had running hardware, and were starting to talk with potential OEMs. IBM was particularly interested at the time. MSFT sent a guy named Lloyd Frink to come down, meet with the OS group heads, and my application team and I to review what we were doing and then sit in the ISV cubicle to get hands-on with the system and our documentation.

On the last day of Lloyd's review week, Lloyd came by my office and said that he wanted to ask me some blunt questions which he said he thought I would answer without defensiveness or rancor compared to the Sun and Apple mafias at GO. That got my interest.

I asked him what his recommendation to BillG would be. He offered that it was clear we were really building a substantial OS, which surprised him. He would form his thoughts and get back to us.

But then Lloyd opened up and asked me, "What are you going to do in two years (this was 1989) when Microsoft comes out with a Windows-based pen device with Kyocera? What will your reaction be?"

My response was, "Well, Apple came out with the Mac in 1984, and you came out with Windows two years later. You're still ramping that up. Meanwhile, Apple has now reached $4B (I was referring to 1988 results), and eventually you'll be a serious competitor with them (Windows 3.0 had not been released). We think we'll hit $1B two years after we ship, so that's fine. We'll be competitors in the same way. Doesn't bother me."

Lloyd said, "that's a very reasonable response". We laughed, shook hands, and he left for SFO and his flight back to Seattle.

Later in the day, I recounted this conversation with our CEO Jerry, who looked surprised and said, "he said that?". But that was the full extent of his reaction. He didn't seem to take it seriously, and leadership expressed no concern, either then or in the coming months about the idea of Microsoft entering our market. Everyone at GO was an adult about it and not upset at all. We never truly expected them to become an ISV for PenPoint.

Microsoft quickly communicated that they would like to stay connected with us but that it was too early to decide. It was just business, and we moved on.

"Microsoft Beat Us Up"

The next year, I had left GO to settle in at Autodesk, doing Mac and NeXT work. In mid-1990 Microsoft announced PenWindows. We read the press releases and they sounded a little like word-for-word copies of the marketing materials we had shown Lloyd. People at GO were pretty upset. I was at Autodesk by then and thought that the MSFT press releases were using the limited vocabulary for anyone writing a press release about pen computing in 1990. I did take issue with Jeff Raikes' comments in InfoWorld about the industry not needing another standard for developers, given that the successful one from MSFT at the time - DOS - didn't translate so easily to pen computers. I responded to his comments with a letter to the editor if InfoWorld which they published.


Soon after this appeared in print, I got a call from GO's corporate counsel whom I'll call "counsel". He said that the management team at GO had seen and liked my letter. We exchanged a few pleasantries, and then he told me that GO was considering suing Microsoft for stealing their ideas while concealing their intentions to create pen extensions for Windows. I would be a prime witness, and a deposition would be likely, to which I said, "I suppose". Counsel then asked me for a complete debriefing on my meetings with Lloyd.

I said, "before we get into this, I must tell you that Mr. Frink was quite transparent about their intentions." I relayed the two-year, Kyocera partnership comments verbatim. Counsel said, "he actually admitted that?" I replied, yes, he did. I said that Lloyd was very honest and above board about the whole thing. I told counsel that I had also debriefed Jerry on Lloyd's comments and that Jerry seemed unfazed about it.

Counsel didn't want to hear that at all, it was clear. He said, "I see. Well, something has come up, I have to go". He practically hung up on me. I understood that my meetings with Lloyd and his transparency about it, and my word-for-word memory of Lloyd's/Microsoft's honesty was an inconvenient truth for GO. Indeed, they never called me again or deposed me as promised.

"We are failing, but it's all Microsoft's fault" became a common copout in the valley when a market entry strategy wasn't working as planned. I would encounter this inability of valley execs and others to confront one's competitive failings with Microsoft many times in my career. This was my first encounter. It would not be my last.

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Mar 14, 2022Liked by Steven Sinofsky

This one was beautiful! I'm a big OneNote fan but in recent years have moved on to other solutions.

I first fell in love with OneNote on my Surface Pro 1 in business school, annotating case studies that I would pdf print to OneNote. I still show off the ink search feature to skeptical colleagues, and that too via OneNote on the web.

The reason I moved on though was that I came to believe that digital handwriting required a vertically integrated Hw/SW approach. The Surface Pro 1 was just not there, and while the successive generations got much better, esp on screen size, battery life, and build quality, something still felt off.

I then tried the ipad pro with the apple pencil. The form factor was better and I cycled through a series of apps (Goodnotes, Notability, OneNote; the space is still fragmented!). Plastic nib on a glass display just didn't cut it though.

After a brief stint back to analog land (moleskin and a nice ink pen) I finally settled on the Remarkable 2. This product has a tiny fraction of OneNote's features but does what I want: copy/paste/manipulate handwritten notes and sync them with GSuite, while still providing the tactile feel of pen on paper.

If I could get OneNote on it though, that would be epic (albeit in grayscale due to the eInk display).

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Mar 13, 2022Liked by Steven Sinofsky

A different frame for the "To be successful tablet PC needed Excel" idea is to go a little further back in time and revive the "killer app" idea. It is no question that spreadsheets were the killer app for PCs. The entire debate on tablet PCs should have revolved around what is the killer app for that kind of device? To me OneNote is as close as I can imagine. There is no reason it shouldn't be thought of as the "Excel" for tablet PCs.

I have had many conversations with people who love OneNote and only a handful of them used tablet pcs. That is a testament to its focus on the note taking and thought organizing metaphors.

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