The Microsoft Whiteboard logo.

There’s no better visual way to express your ideas than by writing them on a whiteboard. If you’re missing it, check out Microsoft Whiteboard! It re-creates the dynamic of that loveable wall of melamine with digital pens, post-its, and more.

A lot of folks are finding that working from home can be productive and enjoyable, but missing the group brainstorming sessions integral to developing and refining ideas. Whiteboards make it easy to express your ideas, collaborate on designs, and teach people new concepts. Sometimes, they just provide a handy place for people to dump their thoughts in a shared area.

Microsoft Whiteboard is a free app intended to re-create this experience. Nothing beats the real thing, of course. However, a digital whiteboard might allow you to do more than you can on a physical board.

Microsoft grasped this possibility and provides templates, as well as allowing you to add images and documents. It’s not the same as working in the office, but it offers a lot of the benefits, and fewer of the drawbacks.

The Whiteboard app is available for Windows, iPhone, and iPad. You’ll need a free Microsoft account or a paid M365/O365 subscription to use it. There’s also a web version you can use to create simple whiteboards or view those that are shared, but it’s not nearly as functional as the app.

Once you’ve downloaded and opened the Whiteboard app, just click “Create New Whiteboard” to get started.

Click "Create New Whiteboard."

A new, blank board will open you’ll see the five controls shown in the image below.

The elements on a new whiteboard.

These do the following:

  1. Takes you back to the start page, where you can swap to other boards or create new ones.
  2. Shows you the sharing options for the board.
  3. Takes you to your account details, where you can sign out or switch to another account.
  4. Opens the Whiteboard app settings.
  5. Opens the creation tools.

We’re going to focus on the creation tools, shown below.

The creation tools.

You might notice there isn’t a Save button. This is because Whiteboard automatically saves your work as you go along.

How to Write and Draw

To get started, click the Inking tool on the left.

Click the Inking tool.

The toolbar will now display the Inking tools (or pens, to you and me).

The Inking tools.

There are six tools, shown in the image below.

The Inking tools broken down into sections.

Here’s what each of these tools do:

  1. Closes the Inking tools.
  2. The pens you can use to draw on the board.
  3. The Eraser tool.
  4. A ruler for drawing straight lines at any angle.
  5. A Lasso tool for selecting elements on the board.
  6. The Undo and redo actions.

Click a pen to start drawing or writing on your board. If you’re using a touchscreen, you can use your finger or a stylus. On a non-touchscreen, you can use your mouse or trackpad.

To alter the color or width of a pen, click the black dot at the top of the pan and select from the options in the menu.

The width and color options for pens.

Once you’ve changed a pen’s color or width, it will stay that way every time you return to the Inking tools, no matter which board you’re in. This gives you the ability to select your preferred options so they’re available every time you use Whiteboard.

The Ruler helps you draw a straight line at any angle. Click the tool, and a ruler appears.

The Ruler tool.

You can change the angle by using two fingers to rotate it (on a touchscreen) or by scrolling the wheel on your mouse (on a non-touchscreen). Select a pen and draw a line against the rule edge for a perfectly straight line.

A line drawn using the ruler.

According to Microsoft, you can also use the arrow keys on your keyboard to rotate the angle of the ruler, but we struggled to get this to work. When we tried, it rotated the ruler from 45 degrees to 0 degrees, without any intervening angle, and then stubbornly refused to rotate again.

While you can use the ruler without a touchscreen or a scroll wheel on a mouse, we wouldn’t recommend it.

Drag the ruler wherever you want to create a straight line on the board. To hide the ruler, click the Ruler option on the toolbar.

The Lasso tool allows you to select one or more elements on the board. Just drag the tool around the elements you want to select. You can then either move them together or delete them.

The Lasso tool and some selected lines.

If you want to write things on your board, it’s easiest to do so with your finger or a stylus on a touchscreen, although you can use your mouse. Whiteboard has a brilliant tool called Ink Beautification that turns your scrawl into an elegant font at the touch of a button.

Write some text, and then select it with the Lasso tool to bring up the context menu.

Some handwritten text and the context menu displayed from the Lasso tool.

Click the Ink Beautification button on the context menu.

Click the Ink Beautification button.

This turns your text into something much more readable, but it’s still more like handwriting than a traditional font.

Example text after using the Ink Beautification tool.

Ink Beautification is the perfect example of how this app is sometimes better than a real whiteboard.

When you’ve finished drawing or writing, click the Done Inking option to return to the creation tool.

Click the Done Inking option.

How to Add Images

You can add images to your board as a memory aid, goal, reference point, or simply to have something nice to look at. To add one, click the Add Image option on the toolbar.

Click the Add Image option.

A standard file dialog box will open, in which you can select an image to insert. When you do, it will appear on the board.

An image on a Whiteboard.

Click the image to drag it around the board or resize it.

How to Add Post-Its

For many people, a whiteboard wouldn’t be a whiteboard without Post-it notes. To add them to your board, click the Add Note option on the toolbar.

Click the Add Note option.

A note will be added to the board with a context menu that allows you to write on it, change the color, and so on.

A Post-it note on a Whiteboard with a context menu.

The same as you can with images, just click the note to drag it around the board or resize it.

How to Add Documents

Attaching a document, such as a specification or a reference guide, can be invaluable when you need to look something up while creating things on your board.

To add an item, click the Insert menu option on the toolbar.

Click the Insert menu option.

A menu appears with various options you can insert, including documents, slideshows, and lists.

The menu of items you can insert onto your Whiteboard.

Is Microsoft Whiteboard Any Good?

Microsoft Whiteboard is an excellent tool. In fact, it has plenty of options, functions, and settings we didn’t even cover in this introduction (but we will in the future). However, even the basics are pretty impressive. More importantly, they all work reliably and easily. The process of creating a board and adding things to it is quick and intuitive.

Microsoft Whiteboard has clearly been designed with touchscreens in mind, though. And this makes sense when you’re trying to re-create a free-form physical canvas, like a whiteboard. However, you can use it without a touchscreen, even though “writing” with a mouse can be frustrating.

Overall, this is a fine app. It does what you want it to do, and more—and we can’t stress enough how nice the Ink Beautification tool is. If you’re hankering to work on a whiteboard, but don’t have one around, this is the next best thing!

After you use it for a while—especially with a touchscreen and stylus—you might even prefer it to the real thing.

Rob Woodgate Rob Woodgate
Rob Woodgate is a writer and IT consultant with nearly 20 years of experience across the private and public sectors. He's also worked as a trainer, technical support person, delivery manager, system administrator, and in other roles that involve getting people and technology to work together.
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