Microsoft’s OneDrive service has grown leaps and bounds from its inception as the Windows-only SkyDrive. It’s almost as if the service’s growth has mirrored the company’s own transition over the last decade, from a clunky, limited, and proprietary tool to a compelling feature-rich, cross-platform, and affordable backbone to something much greater than Windows.
Last year’s announcement that unlimited storage would be coming to Office 365 subscribers made a lot of waves within the industry, waves that have still not subsided. The service’s great pricing and well packed set of features make it one of the most intriguing cloud storage services out there today.
That said, it’s not perfect. The service lacks comprehensive security features, and even introduces a few security concerns. There are also some middling growing pains that the service still has to push through. But just as Microsoft is continuing to evolve, OneDrive is also not standing still, and this is still a service to keep an eye on.
- Up to 30 GB of free storage / Unlimited Storage for $70 / year
- Deep Office Integration and free Office Online editing
- Fast upload & download speeds
- Quick and responsible sync engine
- Easy sharing options
- Great app support Cross-Platform
- Remote web access to your computer with Fetch (Windows only)
- Custom location for desktop folder
- No at-rest encryption / keys kept and created by Microsoft
- 10 GB per file / 20,000 files per upload limit
- Mobile apps only support 1 account
- Limited sharing access controls
- No Linux support
If you use Windows or Office, you should probably have at least a free account, due to the impressive level of integration offered. If not, it’s still worth a look due to its intriguing feature set, but users should be wary of uploading sensitive data due to the service’s worrying lack of security features and odd Terms of Service.
Microsoft will give you 15 GB of free storage through OneDrive, but you can get an extra 15 GB of storage if you set up the OneDrive app on your smartphone and turn on a Camera Roll backup option. After enabling the option, you can then reap the 15 GB and turn it back off again, should you wish. That leaves you with an impressive 30 GB of free storage available for free, which should be enough for most users.
But of course, opting for an Office 365 package will net you a sweet unlimited storage capacity. Even if you don’t use the Office software, you’re still getting unlimited data for $70 / year for 1 user or $100 / year for 5. Considering many cloud services offer 200 GB or up to 1 TB for the same cost or more, it’s a pretty good deal.
The unlimited storage is still not reflecting well in the respective interfaces, so your OneDrive might say “1 TB of storage” instead of an infinity sign. But as you reach the 1 TB limit, your OneDrive should start showing “10 TB of storage” and will continue as such.
Should you not want to pre-pay for an entire year of OneDrive or simply don’t need unlimited storage, you can also buy storage and Office 365 subscriptions in monthly increments as shown below.
Fully Featured Web Client
The dashboard for their web version will show your files in Microsoft’s tile pattern. Photos, Videos, and Microsoft office supported documents will show a small preview thumbnail on the icon.
Should you prefer a more a more tried and true grid pattern to the modern tile-based interface, you can also select the grid interface and an informational sidebar with the buttons on the top right.
Since OneDrive is connected to a Microsoft account, you’ll also have access to Microsoft’s excellent Office Online suite for free, similar to Google Docs. This means you can create Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote documents and store them in OneDrive directly from the browser. Any documents you stick into OneDrive supported by Microsoft Office will open inside the browser window within Office Online. Should the file be an Office 2003 or older format, the service will automatically convert it to the new format before opening it in the browser.
Videos are also supported. Should you view or share one in OneDrive, the video will be automatically transcode into MP4 format and open in the browser.
Deep Office integration also allows you to view all the documents you’ve been working on lately, should you be using either the free Office Online suite or the 2010 and future paid Microsoft Office desktop programs.
You can drag and drop files from your computer directly to OneDrive in your web browser and it’ll automatically start uploading. Similarly, for downloads, just select a file, folder, or multiple files, and hit download. If you choose to download multiple files, the web client will automatically compress the files into a zip file for you to download.
It should be noted that file upload is limited to 10 GB per file and 20,000 files in a single upload. However, Microsoft notes that this is a temporary limitation that they hope to surpass with further technology upgrades.
OneDrive features a standard array of sharing options, including collaborative e-mail invites, file and folder links, and embedded links to stick into a website for public viewing.
You can “invite” people to see your document or folder by entering their e-mail address, or you can send invitations through a Facebook message to your Facebook contacts. You can assign read-only or full-edit access options and can require the receiver to sign into a Microsoft account. That said, Microsoft accounts are free and easy to create, so it’s odd you can’t force a particular account to sign into.
Similarly, the read-only access is fairly easy to get around. While the receiver won’t be able to edit the copy within your OneDrive, Microsoft included a button that allows the receiver to save the document in their own OneDrive with full editing access.
You can view files that you’ve shared or that have been shared with you, add additional people to your sharing list, change access privileges on a file, and also stop sharing a file.
Versioning is also included, which is important for a service built around collaboration. If you don’t agree on a change or you accidentally changed something you weren’t supposed to, you can go back and revert a file to a previous version. Along those same lines, you can restore deleted files with a built in “Recycle Bin.”
However, file versioning is only supported for Office documents. Adding it to all file types is “in the plans,” according to a discussion on UserVoice.com.
Photos and Tags
As you upload more and more photos to your OneDrive, the “Photos” section of your OneDrive will find them, no matter what folder they may be in, and display them as big tiled images within the photos section of the web-interface or mobile apps.
If you’re in the web-interface, you get the above slideshow UI for viewing your pictures. You can zoom in, rotate the picture, play your pictures in a slideshow, or add them to a new photo album. Thanks to Microsoft’s partnership with Walgreens drug stores, you can also order physical prints in the OneDrive interface.
Microsoft has also added a new “auto-tagging” system into the photos engine, whereby OneDrive’s servers will scan your photos and find defining characteristics to categorize them. For instance, in the above shots, Microsoft automatically tagged the photos, and you can see that it’s mostly accurate with finding these tags, but not 100%. I don’t think an artsy image of the Millennium Falcon counts as an “outdoors” photo, but maybe that’s about as outdoors as I tend to get.
If you desire, you can also turn off within the Options/Tagging section on the Web Interface.
A Completely Different Desktop Client
Like many other cloud storage providers, OneDrive offers a desktop client that deeply integrates within your computer’s file explorer so that using your cloud storage is just as natural as using files on your computer. The desktop software comprises of a sync engine and a OneDrive folder that OneDrive thankfully lets you put anywhere you want.
If you run Windows Vista, 7, 8.0, 10, or Mac OS, you’ll be asked to set up selective sync, which lets you pick and choose what you want to sync from your OneDrive to your computer. Want immediate access to your entire OneDrive and have the space to take it? Choose everything. However, you’ll probably want to choose what you’re going to need to have immediate access to and what’s most important for syncing.
Should you be running Windows 8.1, you will not have selective sync, because it doesn’t need to. Your entire OneDrive is viewable because the software downloads tiny “placeholder” files that carry file metadata. If your file is only available online or offline, the desktop software will note that on the right side of the file browser. If you want to change the file’s status, just right click the file and choose the option you want.
Unfortunately, this version of the software is going away in favor of the Selective Sync template. Microsoft contends that users got confused by files that look like files but aren’t accessible without an internet connection. It’s a bit disappointing to see such a defining feature being ditch, but Microsoft has promised some sort of replacement feature in the future.
With either version of the software, you can drag and drop files from anywhere on your computer to the OneDrive folder. Changes to these files will be automatically saved to your OneDrive in the background. Should you set up multiple computers with the same OneDrive account, or go to a mobile OneDrive app, your changes will sync up pretty quickly.
There are a couple of caveats to keep in mind. OneDrive’s desktop software doesn’t really support sharing. Hitting the above sharing link will go straight to the website. Files shared with you by other OneDrive users will also not be visible in this software unless you download the file to your OneDrive.
Also, there’s no way to prioritize syncing events. If you open your laptop to update a 12KB Word Doc, but forgot that you uploaded 100 GB of video files earlier, the sync engine will update the 100 GB before it manages to sync your Word doc.
Fetching is an incredible feature that will let you access the file system of any computer you own with the OneDrive desktop application installed on it, from your web browser.
It should be noted that this feature does not work on Apple computers or on Windows 8.1, but it will work on every other Windows version, including Windows 10.
The first time you access the file system, it’ll ask you to verify your identity with a text to your mobile phone or an e-mail to a secondary account, which is a good idea for something like this.
Because you can literally access any file on your system. Seriously, any file. I was able to get into the System32 files without any impedance.
Thankfully, your file options are limited. The only time you’d need Fetch is if you left a file on your computer and need to access it. Thus, you only have the option to download files or upload them to OneDrive. You can’t edit or save files back to your desktop, which is a limitation that I fully agree with.
You’ll be asked whether you want to set this feature up when you set up the desktop client, so keep an eye out for this option if your account is shared with other people or if you just don’t like the idea of Fetch.
Should you disable it at first, and need it back, you simply need to go into the desktop client’s settings and enable “Let me use OneDrive to fetch any of my files on this PC.”
Microsoft’s OneDrive service has an impressive cross-platform app presence, including iOS, Android, Windows, Windows Phone, and even the Xbox One and Apple Watch. Microsoft even appears to favor iOS and then Android over their own Windows apps oddly enough. The iOS app recently received an update supporting LastPass and 1Password, but none of the additional platforms have received this yet.
That said, all mobile apps are mostly at parity with each other and the web. You can upload, download, and move files. You can see files shared with you, files you’ve shared, and share files as easily as with the web-interface. You can also see docs that you’ve recently used within Microsoft Office, just like in the web interface and within Microsoft Office.
Unlike the web interface, your files and photos will open up with whatever apps support it on the device, not natively in the app. If you have Microsoft Office mobile apps, your docs will open with that. Also, you cannot upload entire folders from the phone’s file system, so you’ll have to create a folder and select multiple files for upload.
OneDrive features a Camera Roll auto-upload feature, as mentioned previously. If enabled, any pictures or videos that you take with your mobile phone will be automatically copied to your OneDrive, over WiFi by default. These photos will automatically be sent to a “Camera Roll” folder and will appear in the previously mentioned “Photos” section of your OneDrive.
The only exceptions are the Xbox and Apple Watch app, which are much more barebones. OneDrive integrates with the Xbox One for saving and sharing screenshots and gameplay videos, but that’s about it. Otherwise, you can only view photos and album slideshows on these devices.
As another note, there isn’t a single instance of OneDrive that supports multiple accounts. You can use a OneDrive personal and Business account in the same app, but not two personal accounts.
Back in February, Microsoft upgraded their sync engine on both the client side and the server side, and as a result the service used my bandwidth quite well. The service’s sync engine is quick to respond and speedy with transfers. To test, I uploaded a 500 MB, 1 GB, and 10 GB file.
Across the board, I was seeing OneDrive hit my provider’s max 12.5 Mbps upload speeds. Microsoft’s new sync engine uploads files in chunks, which is why it looks like a seismograph.
I downloaded the same files, and saw 50-65 Mb/s download speeds on my 50 Mb/s cable connection. There was very little impact on system performance during uploads and downloads.
Microsoft offers Two-Factor Authentication with phone, e-mail, or an Authenticator app and 128-bit SSL encryption on uploads and downloads. I’ll also note that while others advertise 256-bit encryption, unless your enemy has broken quantum computing, there is no need for anything beyond 128-bit. They also recently enabled Perfect Forward Security (PFS) to web instances of the client to prevent the hack of a single sign-on instance from becoming a compromised account. All of these are great client-side protection methods.
Where their security lacks, oddly enough, is the server side. Transmission encryption keys are generated and stored by Microsoft, and that user data is not encrypted at rest within their servers. Should Microsoft’s servers get compromised, user data would be at risk. Microsoft allows and encourages users to encrypt their own data prior to uploading it to OneDrive, but it seems a bit unreasonable for Microsoft to ask a consumer service’s users to encrypt their own data.
It should be mentioned that if someone gets access to your computer, they also have access to any files locally stored in your OneDrive folder, as they are also not encrypted unless you use a 3rd party tool or BitLocker. I can’t really fault them for this as no service can promise that the data you downloaded onto your computer is encrypted. But keep this in mind when deciding whether you want to use the desktop software.
Technically, Microsoft does offer 24/7 troubleshooting support. But as with all Microsoft products, getting to someone who can actually help you means navigating a maze of support pages, troubleshooters, and FAQ’s. There is no upfront phone number you can call for OneDrive and no easy to find e-mail address that I could find. The most readily available support option is to chat with some representative of the “Answer Desk.”
|Average Upload Speed||12.5 Mbps (5 Mbps connection)|
|Average Download Speed||50 Mbps (50 Mbps connection)|
|Free Online Storage||5 GB|
|Mobile Apps||Android, iOS, Windows Phone|
|Keep Deleted Files||1 Year|
|Back Up to Local Drive|
Sync and Share Features
|Public File Sharing|
|Data Center Location(s)||Global (100+ data centers)|