Microsoft video shows how its Journal app isn't just a OneNote clone

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11 best Windows apps for Surface Pen users (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft Garage recently launched the Journal app.
  • It's an ink-first app with gestures and other features that make it easier to take notes with a digital pen.
  • A new video from Microsoft shows the app in action and highlights its unique features.

Microsoft launched an app called Journal last week. The app provides an ink-first experience for taking notes. It has Ink Gestures, so you don't have to jump around between different modes, and has a page-based canvas experience that's optimized for tablets.

Some around the web compared the app to OneNote, which at first glance is a natural comparison. Both apps are from Microsoft, support inking, and are for taking notes. But Journal isn't just a OneNote clone; it has several features that make it unique. A new video from Microsoft shows the app in action.

With the Journal app, Microsoft is testing out ways that people can ink more efficiently. Journal's ink-first interface supports gestures that make it so you don't have to tap around for different modes or features. For example, you can cross out text to delete it and circle text to see several options. The app can tell when you've drawn a bullet point list or starred an item. You can also "@" people by drawing the "@" symbol and tapping on their icon.

Microsoft's OneNote and other apps also have inking features, but Journal has enough unique features to make it stand out.

It's also important to note that Journal is a Microsoft Garage (opens in new tab) project. These projects provide an experimental outlet to test out ideas and features. They aren't meant to compete with or replace Microsoft's other offerings.

Sometimes, Microsoft Garage apps expand, such as Arrow Launcher becoming Microsoft Launcher. In other cases, the project can be completed but not be developed any further, such as Plumbago (opens in new tab). In both types of cases, Microsoft receives feedback and can use it to either make a new app or improve existing apps.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at (opens in new tab).

  • This is software that needs hardware like the Neo to really make it shine.
  • Nothing new here that OneNote (classic or Win10) doesn't already do. They should put these guys on the OneNote team to build upon what already exists, rather than constantly reinventing the wheel and wasting time and resources.
  • OneNote was built for desktop and shoe-horned in the inking later. Conversely, Journal was built from the ground up for touch and inking. So the features are similar ...but the experience is completely different.
  • Actually, you're selling it short. Try the Journal app, and you'll see that it's quite unique and different compared to OneNote.
  • This is how Garage works. They build something novel, see how people use it, and if meet with positive reception, integrate it to existing products.
  • Why a new app? Why is the technology and functionality from this app not in OneNote where it belongs!!! I really hate such behavior from Microsoft and also Google! Only Apple is the only company that thinks before they start to tinker around! And no, i do not have a single Apple Device but maybe i should?!
  • From the article: "It's also important to note that Journal is a Microsoft Garage project. These projects provide an experimental outlet to test out ideas and features. They aren't meant to compete with or replace Microsoft's other offerings. Sometimes, Microsoft Garage apps expand, such as Arrow Launcher becoming Microsoft Launcher. In other cases, the project can be completed but not be developed any further, such as Plumbago. In both types of cases, Microsoft receives feedback and can use it to either make a new app or improve existing apps."
  • Thanks for this comment. It's still just a OneNote clone imho.
    This is simply an unnecessary duplication of effort - on top of the already existing fork of OneNote classic into OneNote Windows 10, you now have another note-taking app from the same company, as if they are completely unaware of the existence of OneNote Win 10?! This is just so inefficient and wasteful. Just integrate these so-called 'new features' into OneNote.
  • I think you've misunderstood the purpose of Microsoft Garage and its efforts.
  • Sean, what you're seeing here is what I always criticize Microsoft for not noticing when it comes to consumers; we don't care, nor should we have to when it comes to the function of different 'departments'. We care about the totality of a assorted effort. It's absolutely ridiculous to accept or except otherwise. Please stop trying to defend it.
    You know the redundancy has always been a Microsoft problem which is why less complex operating systems and products are preferred.
  • I think you still don't understand the purpose of MS Garage. It's just a testing place, dude. If it weren't for Windows Central, you wouldn't even know it was there. The app isn't searchable in the MS Store need a specific link to get to it. So you only find it if you went looking for it. Maybe one day they incorporate it into OneNote. Who knows. It's to let really smart people at MS re-envision some ideas and see if they can learn anything. No harm, no foul.
  • It is searchable in the MS store. It just doesn't come up any where near the top if you search for Journal.
  • Stand corrected. Point still stands, 99% of people that install it intentionally search it out. With this demographic, there is no confusion with OneNote.
  • Wrong. This is a published app now.
  • As I said above, you are focusing on feature parity and not usability and experience. The admiration you have for Apple vets exactly that point. It's a new app because this app focuses on usability first for inking. It's a nuanced difference that pays big dividends. OneNote is a train wreck for inking even though many of the features are there (as an after thought).
  • It's a train wreck for inking bc it doesn't have these inking features which is all the more reason why it should have been added.
  • I don't know if you've tried OneNote UWP. This Journal app does not even come close.
  • "It's also important to note that Journal is a Microsoft Garage project. These projects provide an experimental outlet to test out ideas and features. They aren't meant to compete with or replace Microsoft's other offerings." ^ Before pointlessly complaining that free software you are never going to use is nothing new, read this one paragraph from the article. ^ The whole point is to test new ways of implementing inking. They're doing exactly that.
  • People didn't seem to read that part. I worked so hard to write it too... :(
  • It's not like it wasn't noticed in your article. But from a practical point of view, this should be an extension to OneNote (classic or UWP or both if they can manage it) as a sort of Insider or Beta program. It's already being done very well in the Office Insider, Edge Beta/Dev/Canary or even the Windows Insider programs. The real testers for this are those that are heavily invested in OneNote, and chances that they'll move to a new standalone, less mature, or even experimental note taking app are slim.
  • OneNote has been around for ages and people are used to doing things one way.
    What if the new features aren't accepted or don't work any better?
    Making it a new app lets people on onenote keep on going uninterrupted while the Garage folks test their stuff.
  • If this feature was properly tested in Onenote, we can answer your question. As far as your last sentence, office insider buddy. Isn't that what the insider program is for? Microsoft already solved that issue... Or should I say came up with the solution. I can't say it's solved if they don't use it 🙄 There's zero benefit to a new separate app, especially considering the origins of Onenote, and the components of whiteboard/Andromeda's 'homescreen built this
  • Exactly. Shout out to the people who don't understand this though. I can give logic to why it makes sense for Onenote. I want to hear why this makes sense to exclude from Onenote. Microsoft has redundant products and redundant testing platforms for testing products lol
  • Because it's not ready?
    Because OneNote isn't ready for a big update?
    Because Journal is meant to be eternally standalone?
    Do you care that WordPad exists separate from Word?
  • It's not ready? It's a PUBLISHED app. The devs disagree with you. Onenote isn't ready for a big update? Nevermind that you just made that up but even if that was true, office insider program is a thing. Standalone? How much you want to bet this disappears overtime? We're talking about this and Onenote. Stay on topic.
  • WordPad is only relevant on a PC that does not have Word installed because it's bundled with Windows. It's not a 'choice' made between WordPad and Word. I can say I have never launched WordPad on any of my machines in 20 years. What's the point of WordPad? Notepad is ironically more useful (as can be seen from the fact it actually got updates from Microsoft!). If I want to read plain text, then Notepad, if I want to read a word file then Word. If WordPad vanishes from Windows, I won't even notice it.
  • Actually Wordpad can be quite helpful because of 2 things (besides it is free / Word is not installed):
    1) if you want test a .rtf file or such (mainly because support for .rtf can sometimes be easily incorporated in a custom app).
    2) Wordpad's menubars (just like with Notepad) can be set to hidden allowing the app the very effective with screen area while rich text is way more handy than non-rich text for typed notes.
  • Zero reason why this couldn't have been tested in Onenote. Office has an program for testing features
  • And who will test yet another 'new' note taking app? Even OneNote UWP is finding it difficult to gain traction. It's far more efficient to add this as an extension to OneNote. Make it an insider channel for OneNote or something similar were experimental ideas can be tested and demonstrated. Like the way Chromium Edge development works. Instead, a whole new standalone app is built, most likely destined to fade into obscurity because it's largely a clone of an existing, more mature app.
  • People who don't use OneNote?
    I tried ZoneNote ages ago.
    It was too much for what I might use it for.
    A friend of mine, however, lives in onenote.
    I might check Journal out; it might be WordPad to full word.
    In fact, if it pans out, it might be a worthy addition to Windows, just like Word Pad, Paint, etc.
    There's room for both.
    Or maybe not.
    But it's worth finding out for sure instead of just assuming.
  • If lightweight is the concern, then OneNote UWP is the ideal platform for this Journal app, not yet another note-taking app. It would have been understandable is this was offering something radically different. But the title of the article alone shows that it's trying to 'distinguish' itself from OneNote, which by itself is proof of its strong similarity to OneNote.
    It makes more sense to extend the features of the modern UWP OneNote, not split into another separate app, first cloning 99.9% of existing (and more tested/mature) features, then adding 0.1% of 'unique' features.
  • Lol what? If the people don't want to use Onenote, why would they want to use this? What was too much? The inking? Lol
  • OneNote is a three ringed binder full of tabbed spiral notebooks. This is a journal. Very different.
  • Exactly.
    Different GUI metaphor, different user base.
  • Lol oh you're serious? Wow
  • So, a new app for every note-taking format or feature? I really encourage everyone defending this approach from Microsoft to give OneNote UWP a try, and then compare it to the Journal app. See how much 'different' they are. This is nothing more than an extension to OneNote. It's not worth a standalone app by any stretch of the imagination.
  • Bruh - _- Extra character so I can post my comment
  • Really? How much different please? What is so special about this 'Journal' format? The inking? Have you tried the OneNote UWP? That is as simple, smooth, lightweight and elegant as a note-taking app will get. I have tried this Journal app and I just could not understand what was 'different' about it. I am amazed that this inefficient and wasteful attitude from Microsoft is even being defended.
  • Exactly my point. Somehow, they think people that weren't interested in using OneNote UWP (which is as silky smooth and as lightweight as it gets, and it's even available on Android and iOS) will somehow get interested in yet another note-taking app. All because it's a Journal. What a joke.
  • Best way to test it is to implement it. You want to know why people aren't going to use it? Bc it's not being implemented in the apps they're using!
  • This is my favorite implementation of inking yet. Sure, there are a couple of things missing, but it's so intuitive that I got started being productive right after going over the well-thought-out tutorial. The benefit is that everything is virtually right under your mode changing or moving between a menu of selections. And while it's been called ink-first, it's really ink-only, which eliminates the "switch to text for this activity" feeling of programs like OneNote -- which I adore -- but Journal (more a Journal Tablet PC replacement than OneNote) is all about writing. Now, should they incorporate this technology in OneNote? Absolutely, but in order for that to happen we have to give it an honest try and let them know why we like it and mention it would be an asset in OneNote. At the very least, I'd love to be able to store the pages in OneNote, and be able to launch it directory from OneNote. So if you use OneNote now, give it a few minutes and note the benefits. This is all about writing with the pen, and it works amazingly well.
  • Microsoft garage, sure. But I have a feeling that this app being published was less about testing and more about not letting these devs hard work go to waste from Andromeda. For those that haven't had the opportunity to know any devs there, Microsoft likes to hide internal politics behind 'feedback'. Garage is a great way to get your work into products or get greenlit for other projects. Someone is trying to get a promotion...
  • Thanks for this reply. This is the real reason as far as I'm concerned. There is either no internal communication between the groups, or it's just plain old politics which is common in these huge companies. I cannot for the life of me imagine if this app was being designed in my research group, and our team lead says - oh build a new separate app when we have an existing app that is extremely similar because of 'feedback'. Just extend the existing app, it's the most natural and simple thing to do.
  • I wish we could once again have the OG Journal - from the XP Tablet Edition days. I know it's downloadable as a stand-alone app but the security warning every time you load it gets old. Quickly.
  • It's okay - not great. The very first thing I noticed was the lack of the "page" fitting the entire screen. There's an enormous Title bar at the top and the "notes" page doesn't even fill up most of the screen on my Surface Pro 7. In portrait mode, I'd want the entire screen to be one page. It would be nice if it was a side-by-side page when horizontal. There are a lot of other little things that bothered me from a UI pov. Maybe it's different if you're using it side-by-side with another app, or in windowed mode. The inking is also okay - again, not so great it would draw me away from other apps.
  • I'm liking this app but it gets my SP7 hot and crashes dwm.exe via heatcore.dll. Its a black screen crash and I got the details from event viewer. Sent Feedback via the feedback hub.