Microsoft promises to fix OneDrive sync in Windows 10, with one engine for Business and Consumer

Microsoft’s Jason Moore has responded to feedback on the change to OneDrive sync in the latest Windows 10 preview. The change removed the “placeholder” feature, where OneDrive files and metadata all show up in Windows Explorer, but do not actually download until requested. It was not a popular move among Windows power users, as reported here.

It turns out there is more going on here than merely tweaking a feature. In his response, Moore states:

We stepped back to take a fresh look at OneDrive in Windows. The changes we made are significant. We didn’t just “turn off” placeholders – we’re making fundamental improvements to how Sync works, focusing on reliability in all scenarios, bringing together OneDrive and OneDrive for Business in one sync engine, and making sure we have a model that can scale to unlimited storage. In Windows 10, that means we’ll use selective sync instead of placeholders. But we’re adding additional capabilities, so the experience you get in Windows 10 build 9879 is just the beginning. For instance, you’ll be able to search all of your files on OneDrive – even those that aren’t sync’ed to your PC – and access those files directly from the search results. And we’ll solve for the scenario of having a large photo collection in the cloud but limited disk space on your PC.

This is good news since it goes to the heart of a more serious issue: the poor implementation of OneDrive sync in Windows, especially in the “Business” edition which has a sync engine based on Office Groove. The consumer OneDrive sync is not perfect either, with a tendency to create duplicate files if you use more than one PC. There is also some kind of bug which means you can edit a file, save it, email it as an attachment, and find that you actually emailed an old version (this has happened to me when submitting articles to editors; no fun).

I have written more on OneDrive issues and confusions here. The poor sync experience with OneDrive for Business is perhaps the weakest point in Office 365 currently; a significant problem.

Now we will get a single sync engine across both versions of OneDrive. If it is also a better sync engine than either of the current ones, Microsoft’s cloud customers will be delighted.

Moore adds: “Longer term, we’ll continue to improve the experience of OneDrive in Windows File Explorer, including bringing back key features of placeholders.”

Questions remain of course. Will Microsoft unify the server technology as well as the sync engines? Will the new sync engine come to Windows 7 and 8 as well as 10? Will the company fix the mobile apps as well? Will OneDrive ever approach the fast, seamless sync achieved by Dropbox?

Watch this space.