What Can You Do With OneDrive?

Category: Cloud

Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage service now comes installed by default with Windows 10. That OneDrive folder is on your File Explorer tree and there is no getting rid of it, even if you deactivate the OneDrive app. Microsoft wants OneDrive to be always part of your Windows experience. So let’s see what OneDrive can do, and why MS is pushing it so hard...

Using OneDrive Cloud Storage

To get started with OneDrive on Windows, type “onedrive” in the Start menu’s search box and click the OneDrive app’s name in the results. Follow the setup wizard’s instructions to the final prompt, the “Open my OneDrive folder” button. That folder is where your computer meets Microsoft’s cloud.

You can place files or folders in your OneDrive folder by copying or moving them, just as you normally would. Moving is better to avoid duplicates that may get out of sync with each other. You can drag items to the OneDrive folder and drop them in, or cut-and-paste them. From within an application, you can “save as” to your OneDrive folder. The OneDrive folder is exactly like any other folder, except its contents get echoed in the cloud.

Every folder or file that’s placed in your local OneDrive folder gets copied to your OneDrive storage space in the cloud. Changes to local copies are synced to their counterparts in the cloud. You can access your OneDrive files from any device that can log into your Microsoft account. This beats carrying a keychain full of USB drives!

Only three folders appear in OneDrive by default: Attachments, Documents, and Public. The Attachments folder holds files that arrive or are sent as attachments to your Microsoft account’s email. The Documents folder is where any new documents that you create will be stored by default; you can always specify another location when you create a document, or save an updated copy of the document with the “save as” function found in most programs. The Public folder is where files that you share with the public go, either when you move a file to the Public folder or change its permissions to “share with public.

What can OneDrive do?

There already is a Documents folder on your hard drive. You can move it to the OneDrive Documents folder but that looks a bit redundant when viewed in File Explorer. The more elegant way to get all your Documents synced with OneDrive is to change the location of your original Documents system folder.

Right-click on the original Documents folder and select Properties. Then select the Location tab. Click on the Move button. Select OneDrive and then Documents as your target. Be sure the path shown is OneDrive\Documents not OneDrive\Documents\Documents. Finally, click “Select Folder.” Henceforth, everything saved to your original Documents folder will be synced in OneDrive.

If, by chance, you have Windows 10 but no OneDrive, get it at the Microsoft Windows Store. OneDrive is also available for Windows 7, Mac OSX and mobile devices running the Android, iOS or Windows Phone software. (Yes, you will need a Microsoft account, just as you need a Google account to get apps from that store, and to use Google Drive.)

But you still have to move the existing contents of your original Documents folder to OneDrive, if you want it there. Open your original Documents folder, select the content you want to be synced to OneDrive, and move it to the Documents folder in your OneDrive folder. Do the same for your original Pictures and Shared folders too, if you wish.

One Drive for Local or Cloud Storage

Be aware that if you COPY a file or folder to your OneDrive folder instead of MOVING it, the copy will be updated in the cloud but the original file or folder will not be updated. Also, any new content that you create in the original folder will not be echoed in the local or cloud OneDrive folders. Generally speaking, it is best to MOVE content to OneDrive. Having duplicate files and folders on your hard drive wastes space and gets confusing.

Let’s move from our local OneDrive folder to OneDrive on the Web and see what we can do there. Click once on the OneDrive “cloud” icon in your system tray and OneDrive’s dialog window will appear, tall and narrow on the right-hand side of your screen. Click on the three dots icon in the upper-right corner of the window and select “View online” to open your OneDrive cloud storage space’s dashboard.

Wow! It looks very different from the File Explorer view of your local OneDrive folder. But as you explore the options you will find they are much the same. Here are a few significant differences.

The Upload option is another way to move a file or folder on your local drive to OneDrive in the cloud and to the OneDrive folder on your local drive.

The “New” option include creation of new Microsoft Office documents using the Office Online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote. The online versions of these Office standards are limited compared to their fully-paid versions, but more than good enough for most consumers and even small businesses. Create content to your heart’s content!

Microsoft is hoping that you will do exactly that, and save it on OneDrive. Then, when you run into the 5 GB ceiling on your free OneDrive storage space, you will feel compelled to subscribe to one of MS’ premium services, Office 365 Home (($99.99/year or $9.99/month) or OneDrive Premium ($69.99/year or $6.99/month). The least expensive paid option is to buy 50 GB of storage space for $1.99 per month.

This table compares OneDrive plans side by side. It is worthwhile for you to study the features in each plan and choose the one that best meets your needs.

I'm sure many who read this will wonder how Microsoft's OneDrive compares to Google Drive. In fact, they are quite similar. They both offer free cloud storage, with syncing and collaboration features. They both work on a range of web, desktop and mobile platforms. They both have a suite of online office tools for word processing, spreadsheets, etc. One significant difference is that Google Drive offers 15GB of free storage, as compared to 5GB for OneDrive. And OneDrive is significantly more complex than Google Drive, in my experience.

But complexity comes with control of how you do things and how they look to you and others. Your needs will determine whether that much control is worth the extra complexity. For a sole proprietor or a small business with five or fewer employees who need to collaborate, the five-seat Office 365 deal looks pretty economical and functional. For a busy volunteer who shares a lot with volunteers, the one-seat Office 365 Personal looks good. Fifty GB of storage for less than two bucks a month is not bad.

For individuals who just want the convenience of being able to access files from multiple devices or locations, the free version of OneDrive with 5 GB of storage is a good option. It's also a painless way to ensure that important files and folders are backed up.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "What Can You Do With OneDrive?"

Posted by:

08 May 2018

Most backup systems might have no problems with One Drive but my copy/clone backup program choked and issued multiple errors. It did not understand One Drive and refused to continue.

Disabled One Drive and cloning worked.

Posted by:

Cold City
08 May 2018

Cloud is nice storage, but it costs a bundle (at least in Canada) to get decent upload speed.
It is not much worth to use the cloud in these conditions.

Posted by:

Jay Daniels
08 May 2018

Interesting, I am definitely a stick in the mud. I'll keep backing up my stuff I just have a voice in my head that tells me not to trust this "cloud".

Posted by:

08 May 2018

4th paragraph of 2nd section has the dreaded misspelling of Public...

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
08 May 2018

One important feature of OneDrive you missed mentioning: If you right-click on any OneDrive folder, you will see an option called "Free up space". If you left-click on that option, the files in that folder on your PC will each become a link to the same file on OneDrive at Microsoft. In other words, it can free up almost all the space that OneDrive takes on your PC if you do that for all your OneDrive folders. From that point on, clicking on one of the files in OneDrive on your PC takes you to that file in the Microsoft cloud.

Posted by:

08 May 2018

If I might add a couple of additional notes to a great article...

Be aware that the Desktop version of OneDrive that comes baked into Win10 is different than the downloadable OneDrive app in the Microsoft Store. Not better, just different.

But most importantly, if you ever need to rename the primary User Account (a convoluted, but manageable challenge in itself), it is very important to move the location of your OneDrive folder BEFOREHAND.

If you don't, good luck correcting the problems that will create with OneDrive. You will enter a realm of endless errors and suggested solutions that will ultimately lead nowhere, except waiting for the next major Windows Update to (maybe) correct - take it from one who's been down THAT path...

Posted by:

09 May 2018

Used Onedrive for many years and for many years one drive would delete(remove) my data at will. Anything of major important I always save to Box.com. OneDrive cannot be trusted with my most trusted files....Sorry thats it! 'Not fit for purpose' A few years ago ms decided to allow upload of 10GB files...nah, still lost data!

Posted by:

09 May 2018

A reckless security risk. Unsafe!

Posted by:

09 May 2018

All I have to say is "No Cloud for ME", especially MS, Google, Amazon etc.

And speaking of Amazon. I know we have no privacy here but at the end of your article 4 items that I've researched on Amazon showed up. What's that all about?

Is 'Ask Bob Rankin' a web site I need to not participate in any longer?

Posted by:

09 May 2018

Sorry, but I don't trust my crow soft. I dont use an acct. there, nor my real name or personal info, on even my own pc or any other cyber-where else that I can avoid doing it. I am so glad that I, years ago, updated (or never gave them any of my personal info to begin with...) as many of those "big brother" type of places as possible. Because of that, their business advertising partners (that I have NO say over whether or not they sell my personal data info to) have a harder time targeting me with their never ending advertising!

Posted by:

09 May 2018

GREAT explanation and detailing of a very troubling subject. This report will be a firm guideline for us. Thanks a bunch.


Posted by:

09 May 2018

Good roundup, thanks. Note! Google Drive space - including purchased - is shared across Google products such as Gmail and Photos associated with that account

Posted by:

09 May 2018

Haven't used OneDrive in years, since I found it didn't work for archiving stuff and then getting rid of it from my computer - no good for backup. Since the folders on the device and in the cloud are synced, I presume that still happens?

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