OneDrive, SkyDrive, whatever: Microsoft needs to make it better – especially in Office 365

This week brought the news that SkyDrive is to be renamed OneDrive:

For current users of either SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro, you’re all set. The service will continue to operate as you expect and all of your content will be available on OneDrive and OneDrive for Business respectively as the new name is rolled out across the portfolio.

I have no strong views on whether OneDrive or SkyDrive is a better name (the reason for the change was a legal challenge from the UK’s BSkyB).

I do have views on SkyDrive OneDrive though.

First, it is confusing that OneDrive and OneDrive for Business share the same name. I have been told by Microsoft that they are completely different platforms. OneDrive is the consumer offering, and OneDrive for Business is hosted SharePoint in Office 365. It is this paid offering that interests me most in a business context.

SharePoint is, well, SharePoint, and it seems fairly solid even though it is slow and over-complex. The Office Web Apps are rather good. The client integration is substandard though. A few specifics:

Yesterday I assisted a small business which has upgraded to full-fat Office 365, complete with subscription to the Office 2013 Windows applications. We set up the team site and created a folder, and used the Open in Explorer feature for convenient access in Windows. Next, run Word, type a new document, choose Save As, and attempt to save to that folder.

Word thought for a long time, then popped up a password dialog (Microsoft seems to love these password dialogs, which pop up from time to time no matter how many times you check Remember Me). Entered the correct credentials, it thought for a bit then prompted again, this time with a CAPTCHA added as a further annoyance. Eventually we hit cancel out of frustration, and lo, the document was saved correctly after all.

Another time and it might work perfectly, but I have seen too many of these kinds of problems to believe that it was a one-off.

Microsoft offers another option, which is called SkyDrive OneDrive Pro. This is our old friend Groove, also once known as Microsoft SharePoint Workspace 2010, but now revamped to integrate with Explorer. This guy is a sync engine, whereas “Open in Explorer” uses WebDAV.S

Synchronisation has its place, especially if you want to work offline, but unfortunately SkyDrive Pro is just not reliable. All the businesses I know that have attempted to use it in anger, gave up. They get endless upload errors that are hard to resolve, from the notorious Office Upload Center. The recommended fix is to “clear the cache”, ie wipe and start again, with no clarity about whether work may be lost. Avoid.

One of the odd things is that there seems to be a sync element even if you are NOT using SkyDrive Pro. The Upload Center manages a local cache. Potentially that could be a good thing, if it meant fast document saving and seamless online/offline use. Instead though, Microsoft seems to have implemented it for the worst of every world. You get long delays and sign-in problems when saving, sometimes, as well as cache issues like apparently successful saves followed by upload failures.

OK, let’s use an iPad instead. There is an app called SkyDrive Pro which lets you access your Office 365 documents. It is more or less OK unless you want to share a document – one of the the main reasons to use a cloud service. There is no way to access a folder someone else has shared in SkyDrive Pro on an iPad, nor can you access the Team Site which is designed for sharing documents in Office 365. Is Microsoft serious about supporting iPad users?

Office 365 is strategic for Microsoft, and SharePoint is its most important feature after Exchange. The customers are there; but with so many frustrations in trying to use Office 365 SharePoint clients other than the browser, it will not be surprising if many of them turn to other solutions.