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Microsoft 365

Taking the Next Step in Sync for OneDrive

We want OneDrive to be the very best way for people to store and share files, photos, and documents across life and work. Over the past year we’ve seen a massive increase in OneDrive use for people who use Windows and Office both at home and work. We want to take this opportunity to share how we are thinking about delivering a great sync experience and some of the things that are coming in the next few months. We are focused on making OneDrive a great tool for you to store content, share it, and collaborate with your friends, family, and co-workers. A fundamental part of that is ensuring that OneDrive reliably and securely syncs files between the cloud and your devices. That’s why we’re building features like the ability to sync shared folders, and selective sync across all platforms.

Prior to Windows 8.1, we had two sync experiences. One used on Windows 7/8/Mac to connect to the consumer service, and a second sync engine to connect to the commercial service (OneDrive for Business). In Windows 8.1 we introduced a third sync engine that supported placeholder files, an innovative capability that lets you access all the files you have stored in OneDrive whilst only using a fraction of the local storage space. Customers who use OneDrive extensively on small devices found this feature extremely useful.

Customer feedback indicated that user actions against placeholders was an area that needed improvement in reliability. In Windows 8.1 certain apps would occasionally fail to open files that were placeholders because the app didn’t know how to issue commands to download the file, or the download would timeout due to bandwidth speed. We noticed that certain file operations (including copy, move, and delete) had a higher degree of failure when placeholders were utilized. In parallel, we learned that many customers found the feature was confusing, as it wasn’t necessarily clear which files were available online versus offline. These challenges are particularly acute for people who use both the consumer and commercial service as sync behaves differently. As a result, we knew we had to step back and rethink our approach and figure out a way to provide the features that customers liked about placeholders, without the impact on reliability, and deliver them in a comprehensible way.

It was clear that the right approach was to converge to a single sync engine and experience that would be able to provide all of the benefits of the consumer and business service to all customers faster. We decided to start with the consumer sync engine foundation from Windows 7 and Windows 8 and add the right capabilities from the other two engines. This way, we could add features once and have them benefit all customers, while also ensuring that we didn’t run into any more reliability challenges due to placeholders in Windows 8.1. We understand that having one sync engine provide a superset for all three will take time, but this is the best option to meet our core goals.

The good news is that the vast majority of our customers will only see the benefits of this approach. For those running Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, or Windows Phone – or if you use OneDrive on a Mac, Android, iPhone, or iPad – your experience continues to improve every day. We’ve released our unified OneDrive app for Windows Phone and Android and will follow up with iOS later this month. We’ve made dramatic improvements in sync reliability and performance for Windows 7, we’ll release a preview of the Mac client for OneDrive for Business later this month, and we are working to sync shared folders by the summer. For customers running Windows 8.1, we have already made changes to the way OneDrive works to automatically sync smaller OneDrive accounts.

We do recognize that some of our best customers are using the Windows 10 Technical Preview and this is where we’re actively doing the work to converge to one sync engine and as a result, no longer have the separate engine for placeholders. There are important capabilities that we need to bring to Windows 10  some will make it into the first release – including shared folders and support for the consumer and business service. However, others will come in updates that follow later in the calendar year – most notably the core capabilities of placeholders that are both reliable and comprehensible.

We know that when you decide to use OneDrive you are trusting us with your files, and we work every day to earn that trust. For those of you in the Windows Insider Program and running the Windows 10 Technical Preview, thanks for bearing with us as we make these changes and be assured that we have a clear roadmap to bring the best experience we can to you between now and the end of the year. Keep sending us your feedback and suggestions through the Windows Feedback app. If you’re not yet in the Windows Insider Program and want to help shape Windows 10, join here.

Chris Jones
Corporate Vice President, OneDrive & SharePoint