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Why does OneNote have sparkly rainbow ink? Microsoft explains.

OneNote (opens in new tab) is a great, arguably industry-leading note taking tool. The free application is bundled with Windows 10, and is available on virtually every device you may own. The app synchronizes your content across devices, allowing you to share and collaborate on notes with friends and family, and if you have the educational licenses, your entire classroom.

Indeed, OneNote like many of Microsoft's products have enterprise and education-level versions, which often some with some sort of fee. For Office 365 users (opens in new tab), OneNote comes with some intriguing extra features, such as rainbow inking, which you might think is a bit of a useless feature.

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Ian Mikutel from the Microsoft Whiteboard team recently shared some interesting insights into why OneNote has rainbow inking, reminding us in the tech bubble that just because some of us might think a feature is useless, other people certainly won't.

Responding to a thread on reddit which opened with a dismissive comment about the rainbow and galaxy inking options, Mikutel jumped in to share an interesting story about how the colourful inking solutions can inspire youngsters to engage in class.

About that rainbow and galaxy ink: people really do care about these, especially in the education market, which is a major place OneNote is used and loved. This feature's origin story is actually pretty funny. I was at a school visit, learning how students and teachers use digital ink in OneNote, and asked a class "if digital ink could do anything, what would you want it to do?". This girl in the back of the class raised her hand, and said "I think...it would be cool...if the ink...looked like a rainbow?" and immediately the entire class erupted in "oohs" and "ahhs" as if fireworks were going off in front of them.I took that feedback back to our Design and Engineering teams, and we created Ink Effects, including Rainbow, Galaxy (which samples actual Hubble space imagery), and the more muted Silver and Gold pens so we offered a variety of effects that would work in settings from EDU to Enterprise. The result has been a pretty big hit, just search "rainbow onenote" on Twitter to see some examples for yourself. The best thing I got was a letter from a teacher thanking me after she re-wrote her content in Ink Effects, and said finally for the first time in 10 years the kids are paying attention now. The point was that in product development, especially in productivity software, it's super easy to focus on the practical, and forget the fun. Real people use our products, and real people get bored, need to stay engaged and inspired, and can use a bit of rainbow in their day to day to make that happen. Ink Effects are a small step in that direction.

It's an important thing to consider; productivity tech and software doesn't always have to be boring and functional. Microsoft itself often struggle to identify where it falls on the line between fun and work, claiming to be a productivity company in one breath while touting heavy Xbox and gaming investment in the next. I think the company could stand to embrace fun a little more, even in Office 365.

If you're an Office 365 subscriber, give rainbow inking a try, it might brighten up your day.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

40 Comments
  • :-)
  • That story just warms my heart. How cool!
  • Glad it brought some joy into your world :)
  • What TH does MS know about fun?
    Fun is for humans
    Fun is for consumers
    What does MS have to do with fun? Are cloud servers supposed to be fun for the average consumer now? 🙄🙄🙄
  • No, MSFT is now trying to make the enterprise realm cool.
  • Rude
  • Rude?? What do you disagree with?
  • Xbox can be pretty fun...
  • who hurt you bro
  • You did, Jez... You did😭
  • I freely admit that the rainbow ink was actually a selling point for myself and my other female family members subscribing to Office 365. It was just too cute, like the rainbow gel pens we all used to doodle with in middle and high school. Lovely story and nice to see MS can add fun things too in between business, business, and more business.
  • This is fantastic to hear, thank you so much for sharing.
  • I love the UWP OneNote. Why aren't all the MS Office products best on UWP :( We just need Omer Atays Onetastic extras, like CROP for photo. And its perfect :)
  • I can never understand it when ppl ask why when it comes to stuff like this when the whole premise should ALWAYS be Why Not?!
  • Exactly. We've all forgot that software can and should actually be fun to build and use.
  • Because implementing these features usually means useful features are delayed. This is not materially buseful seful. This is just mediocre marketing to 8 year olds.
  • What makes your needs more important than a growing, learning eight year old's? Or the teacher's needs? This inspired a classroom. It's very useful
  • I'm sure it "inspired" them. Also, I wasn't aware that only pre-pubescents leaned things and used software to facilitate the learning process.
  • who hurt you bro
  • As a 90s kid it reminds me of that black "paper" that you would write on with a stylus and it would "write" in rainbow! While I may not use that in a meeting it would certainly be nostalgic if I want to doodle. :)
  • Bring tagging once and for all and then the world of OneNote for Windows 10 will be complete.
  • I love the sparkly ink and the galaxy ink pens. But I do wish OneNote were as powerful and stable as the 2016 desktop version ... I'd take that over cool pens.
  • I thought would probably be some lame virtue signalling thing from MS to all the LGBTQFHSIDUFAV groups and all 9,625 genders. But I was wrong.
  • It's probably that too. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
  • aww the snowflake is offended by rainbows
  • Yeah this article probably should have had a trigger warning. Potentially too traumatic for some.
  • I recently wrote some very important motivational notes, I intentionally wrote those in rainbow ink to improve the effect of motivation. It is silly, I will not deny that. But it really does make a huge difference and puts a smile on my face every time I read those notes :) Next stop: Rainbow colour in Microsoft To-Do xD!
  • This made me smile :) I'll pass on your idea to my friends at To-Do too ;)
  • I find it sad that some dolt on Reddit found a need to criticize a feature that no one made him use and the presence of which did not impact his use of One Note in any way. It wouldn't take more than a moment of thought and far less time than posting on Reddit, to make an intelligent assumption that rainbow ink just might appeal to school kids.
  • Exactly. But even if it was about being LGBTQ-friendly, so what? Why do these small gestures of tolerance trigger insecure men so easily? Ugh, I'd like to just fast forward to the 22nd century. Hopefully we won't have to worry about these things then.
  • insecure men triggered over rainbows are pure cringe ;(
  • They are triggered easily for the same reason LGBTXYZ people are triggered when someone expresses disapproval of their lifestyle. Because they choose to be. You're triggered right now, so it's a bit inappropriate for you to be asking that question; especially in such a misandrist fashion. Just saying.
  • Very cool story and a great example of listening to your customer (as well as a now and possible future customer).
  • Take a mature tool and neglect or delay delay reimplementation of cut features cause a few kindergarteners want rainbow ink. Sorry, I just can't.
  • Yea, like Ms doesn't have multiteams and product groups and one person does everything bc develop DEFINITELY works like that.
  • can't what? find joy in life? shame
  • Use the tool anymore. It's utter shyt since the move to UWP and they are dog slow in bridging the gaps. Stop trying to be witty. It doesn't suit you.
  • Love it! Im in product management and love how the development team learned from kids (users). I use rainbow ink when i want something to stand out in my notes. Great product story. Chris
    42 yr old male & dad of 3 rainbow, unicorn, mermaid loving daughters
  • More features are cool. But one feature I would really, really, REALLY like is for search to move the cursor to the found text on the page in OneNote Mobile (Android, specifically). This alone would make my notes exponentially more useful.
  • While I no issue with the inking options (different strokes for different folks (pun intended)) , I do wish they'd consider some very simple upgrades such as the ability to change the shape of your pens (chisel tip highlighters aren't always the best option for outlining notes) , restore the template library that they pulled from Onenote 2010 so we have more than 3 template options, and maybe allow 3rd party addons such as Chemdraw.