OneDrive and OneDrive for Business review
It's tied into the Microsoft ecosystem but can it ever rival Dropbox?
Microsoft’s cloud storage service has been through many different iterations, but it’s now clear that OneDrive (and to a lesser extent OneDrive for Business) is becoming a key component of Windows. Deeply embedded into the operating system, Microsoft clearly wants us to store all our documents, music and photos in OneDrive, and is handing out generous amounts of storage to help us do so. But can it be trusted? Is it fast enough? And does it have the features and performance to match rivals such as Dropbox?
This review is split into two parts, first covering OneDrive then OneDrive for Business. Although they share the same name, these are two unique services, based on different technology that serve different purposes. They can even be run alongside one another. Here, then, is our verdict on each.
OneDrive has been baked into Windows since the launch of Windows 8. If you sign into the operating system with a Microsoft account, OneDrive folders will appear in Windows Explorer alongside local Documents, Photos and Videos folders – it could barely be less hassle to set up. Those running on Windows 7 will need to download the free OneDrive app [https://onedrive.live.com/about/en-nz/download/] to achieve the same effect, but older versions of Windows are no longer supported.
OneDrive on Windows 8 is pretty smart about what it syncs. Recognising that some Windows 8 devices – such as compact tablets – have limited storage, Microsoft doesn’t automatically create local copies of every file in a user’s OneDrive. Instead, it creates “placeholders” for files it doesn’t have room to store locally. These placeholder files are still searchable and appear in Windows Explorer as any other file would, but they are downloaded on demand when the user wants them, which means you need an active internet connection to open many of the files in your OneDrive.
Frustratingly, these placeholder files are near indistinguishable from files that are stored locally, which Microsoft admits has caused confusion among customers who take their laptop on a plane, say, only to discover the file they want to work on isn’t stored locally after all. So Microsoft is scrapping placeholders in Windows 10, instead asking users to choose which OneDrive folders they wish to make local copies of on each device. We think is a more sensible approach, albeit one that requires constant vigilance to monitor available storage on your devices.
OneDrive is a little disappointing when it comes to Windows Explorer features. Right-click on a file in a Windows 8 Dropbox folder, for instance, and you get options to create a shortcut link to share the file or view previous versions. To do that in OneDrive, you have to visit the website. Once there, however, the OneDrive website facilities are excellent. Most notable is the option to open and edit files in the online versions of Microsoft’s Office apps, making it dead simple to tweak a spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation, safe in the knowledge that any advanced formatting will be preserved (something which cannot be guaranteed with Google Drive’s web apps).
Performance used to be OneDrive’s Achilles Heel. Even small files could often take ten minutes or more to synchronise across devices, making the service difficult to rely on. However, after a concerted effort by Microsoft, sync speeds have greatly improved in recent months. We downloaded 6,200 files (3.5GB) to a new device in 1 hour 7 mins, using a fibre connection with 80Mbps download speed. Previously, that might have taken all day.
However, OneDrive still can’t match some of its rivals for sync speed. It took 1 min 25 seconds to upload a 24MB video to the OneDrive website and have it appear on our test PC; that same process took only 39 seconds using Dropbox.
We have concerns over reliability, too. On the odd occasion when our PC has Blue Screened during a document edit, attempts by Word to automatically recover and re-save the file to OneDrive are hampered because it erroneously claims another user already has the document open, forcing you to save another version. Upload errors aren’t uncommon, either, with large files saved in applications such as Word or Excel occasionally hanging. These errors have rarely resulted in data loss, but it’s not always the seamless experience we’d hope for.
There are decent OneDrive apps for Android, iOS and Mac and its integrated into every Windows platform, including Phone and the Xbox console. However, third-party app integrations remain patchy: you won’t find many photo editing apps, note takers, audio or video recorders that offer support for OneDrive like you will for Dropbox or even Google Drive.
Perhaps the biggest incentive to use OneDrive is the amount of storage on offer. Everyone gets 15GB for free, but Office 365 users get a whopping terabyte of storage included in their subscriptions, which should be more than ample for most users.
OneDrive for Business
OneDrive for Business is a different beast altogether. Whereas OneDrive is geared towards storing personal information, OneDrive for Business is intended for people storing and sharing information within an organisation. It’s included with the business-oriented Office 365 plans, giving each user 1TB of personal storage space. Organisations can also choose to host employees’ OneDrive accounts on their own SharePoint Server, in which case storage limits are determined by the company’s IT administrator.
OneDrive and OneDrive for Business are completely separate and use two different back-end technologies – although they will use the same back-end technology with the release of Windows 10. Indeed, you can run both on the same computer and there’s no fear of any conflicts or personal files consuming work space (provided they are saved to the correct location, of course). OneDrive for Business isn’t built into Windows like its sibling is, but users can download a tool from the company’s website to ensure PC and cloud are kept in sync. The OneDrive for Business client for Mac is still only in beta, though, and we’ve seen a few rough edges.
OneDrive for Business is preloaded with a Shared with Everyone folder, which means anything added to that folder is available to anyone within the company’s domain, a painless way to share business documents. It’s also possible to share personal documents with selected colleagues, and OneDrive for Business includes more advanced document management facilities than its sibling, such as the option to check documents in and out when you’re working on them (preventing others from editing) and versioning. You can also “Follow” documents, getting updates in your Office 365 control panel when colleagues make changes to documents, which is handy if you’re waiting for multiple people to review and sign off a document.
Interestingly, it took just 24 seconds to upload our test 24MB video file to OneDrive for Business, but almost six minutes for that file to synchronise to our OneDrive for Business folder on our test PC – sluggish performance reminiscent of the old OneDrive consumer service. That wasn’t a one-off blip either: files regularly take a couple of minutes to synchronise, which is unforgiveable for a business service. You can right-click on the OneDrive for Business icon in the System Tray to force a sync, which hurries things along, but that really shouldn’t be necessary.
Both OneDrive and OneDrive for Business are tightly woven into Windows and Office, and if you’re heavy users of both of those products than OneDrive has much to offer, not least generous storage limits.
As standalone cloud sync services, however, they’re harder to recommend. OneDrive doesn’t have the speed or near ubiquity of Dropbox (indeed, Microsoft was recently forced to include Dropbox support in its own Office app, so widespread is its appeal), while OneDrive for Business is too sluggish when you want to quickly download something to take out of the office.
OneDrive: 4 stars
OneDrive for Business: 3 stars
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