Mike Tholfsen, OneNote Ninja!

It's been awhile since I have posted anything here, and for that I feel shame. It's just that Dan and John and others are doing such a great job.

Another guy who's doing a great job but isn't blogging yet (he's shy) is Mike Tholfsen. Mike is the test manager of the OneNote team, and he's also a tireless (and I mean tireless) OneNote promoter inside Microsoft. You may remember Mike as the guy who wrote "My One and only OneNote".

Microsoft is getting to be a pretty big company these days, and we make so many things that it is hard for people to keep track of it all. So as odd as it may seem, teams that make products that are not already ubiquitous (like Outlook or Windows) sometimes have to remind others that they exist.

Actually OneNote is in broad usage in the company already - it has taken off virally and in any meeting or lecture I go to, if a laptop is open more often than not OneNote is there as people keep track of what is said and what they need to do next. In fact the usage data shows that for people who have it installed (more than half the company - pretty good!), they use it more than PowerPoint.

Where Mike comes in is in expanding people's perceptions of what OneNote can do. When you first use it, it seems like a way to organize your stuff, but it can be so much more. For example, my new team uses many shared OneNote notebooks to collaborate and share ideas like a really capable wiki. OneNote notebooks can also be packaged up as a single file to email or download which will "unpack' inside OneNote when you open them. This may sound like nothing special, but the effect is that you can distribute entire "courses" or books of material to a broad set of people, replete with cross links and organization, tables of contents, etc. Plus the content can be added to or annotated by the recipients (unlike a PDF). and these materials can be searched and arranged with all your other material so they become part of your stuff in a way isolated PDF or Word docs or random web pages can't. The other day I got an email inviting me to download an entire course on how to manage email and tasks effectively (something everyone in corporate settings struggles with), and it came as a OneNote notebook.

What Mike has done is make a point of meeting with all the right executives, sales people, and so on to get across to them that OneNote can be more than a note-taking tool. He's made videos internally and externally, like this one to show the power and ease of use of OneNote, in particular focusing recently on this "content distribution" aspect of OneNote to replace paper for green corporate or academic initiatives. He's helped the Office marketing folks see this potential in OneNote too.

He's worked with the people who do internal training at Microsoft to get them excited, and through them connections have been made to customers who also are interested in training. It's been amazing to watch. He even demoed to Bill Gates! He's also been active in the academic world, visiting a local school where the staff and kids were independently using OneNote, and even going to a conference in Finland on technology trends in teaching with one of the teachers. There's a neat video of what the school has done here.

So hats off to Mike. Now we just need him to spend a few cycles on his day job :-)